California home sales, median price increase in March

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California homes notched increases in sales and price in March, hitting a $415,000 median last reached during 2015's strong summer market.

Research firm CoreLogic Inc. reported Tuesday that the statewide median price was up 5.1 percent from the previous March. Prices have risen from year-ago levels for 49 straight months.

The firm also reported that 38,215 new and existing houses and condos closed escrow in March, up 2.3 percent from the previous year. It's the highest for a March in three years, but still below the historic average of about 45,000 for the month.

Sales were up more than 30 percent from February, which is expected as March traditionally launches the home buying and selling season. The number of homes available tends to hit its peak by Memorial Day.

Overall, home sales and median price increased year over year in the six-county Southern California region, with sales up 1.9 percent to 20,370 and prices up 5.6 percent for a median of $449,000.

But in the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area, sales slipped 2.9 percent to 6,754 and the 1.4 percent increase in median price to $643,250 was the smallest gain in four years.

"This suggests that despite the improved economy and still-low mortgage rates, many would-be buyers continue to face hurdles such as waning affordability, moderately tight credit and a relatively slim inventory of homes for sale in many communities," said Andrew LePage, a research analyst with CoreLogic.

Sales in more affordable pockets of the Bay Area are up, including Solano, Napa and Contra Costa counties, as residents search for cheaper housing away from San Francisco and the Silicon Valley.

Phil Weingrow, a vice president of Alain Pinel Realtors whose specialties include Alameda County's Oakland, said Tuesday that buyers are moving inland as prices climb along the coast.

"People who can't afford $2.5 million homes in San Francisco discover they can get a fantastic house in Oakland for $1.5 million," he said.

And for people priced out of Oakland?

Weingrow said they move to places such as Dublin or Stockton east of San Francisco, where a perfectly nice home is closer to $700,000.

A $415,000 statewide median sale price was last reached in June and July of 2015. It's also the highest median since November 2007.

California's peak median price was $487,000 in May 2007.