The Federal Reserve continues to throw cold water on the housing market. Mortgage lenders are worried, too, and executives at homebuilding companies are cashing out stock that's worth billions of dollars.

And homebuyers in Los Angeles County? They just keep setting new records.
September proved to be another robust month, with the median price soaring 22.8 percent from a year earlier, and sales volume jumping nearly 9 percent, although the number of sales slowed significantly from August.

The median price for a single-family home in L.A. County rose to $528,000 in September nearly $100,000 more than a year earlier and up from $520,000 in August, according to data provided to the Business Journal by HomeData Corp., a Melville, N.Y. firm that tracks existing-home sales nationwide.

Experts, surprised at the strength of the market, are nevertheless seizing on data anecdotal and otherwise that might point to declines in coming months. Besides sales volume, which fell to 8,601 resales from 12,107 in August, the number of homes listed for sale in L.A. County has been rising steadily for several months.

Last week, Angelo Mozilo, chief executive of Calabasas-based Countrywide Financial Corp., told Bloomberg News that he thinks the housing market has peaked. He predicted falling condominium prices and a leveling off of single-family home appreciation levels.

"I have been doing this for 53 years and it seems we're at a level where we're topping out," Mozilo said.

The California Association of Realtors' Unsold Inventory Index rose to 2.7 in August from a low of 1.8 in March. Still, inventories are historically low and well below the 5.7 of August 2004.

With more homes on the market, price appreciation and sales volume typically flatten. Indeed, Leslie Appleton-Young, CAR's chief economist, said real estate agents are telling her that business has been cooling off.

"I'm hearing anecdotally that properties are staying on the market longer," she said. "But it's been all anecdotal, and for whatever reason, it's not showing up in our numbers yet."

The strong September results, representing escrows opened mostly in August, have flummoxed housing experts. Many were expecting half the appreciation amount and fewer transactions than a year ago.

Alan Long, president of the Southern California division of Cendant Corp.-owned Sotheby's International, said that with interest rates hovering near where they were a year ago, he hadn't anticipated strong sales.

"Knowing that prices and interest rates are higher, that should slow things down," he said. "But here we have prices and transactions up. I'm a little surprised."


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