Despite widespread fears of a downturn in the housing market, the median price of an existing home in Los Angeles County broke a record last month, hitting $536,000.


The median was 15 percent higher than a year ago and 2 percent higher than February, continuing gains made after a dip in December that had wiped out six months of appreciation, according to data provided to the Business Journal by HomeData Corp., a Mellville, N.Y. company that tracks housing prices nationwide.


While the sales volume was well off the record pace of the last several years, the region's still-robust economy is continuing to fuel demand for housing and prop up pricing, even as other markets across the nation falter, analysts said.


"The reality of the Southern California market is that demand still exceeds supply," said Leslie Appleton-Young, chief economist for the California Association of Realtors. "Once people work out the psychology of the current market we're going to be at a reasonable clip this year, though of course not as high as last year."


There were 6,864 homes sold last month, down 25 percent from a year ago but up 29 percent from February an expected seasonal boost since sales tend to drop off over the holidays but then recover as the year progresses.


That drop in sales contributed to a rise in market inventory. The Realtors association estimates there was 7.2 months of inventory on the market in February, the most recent period available, compared to 2.7 months a year earlier. In the San Fernando Valley portion of the market, inventory was at 5.3 months


Steve White, president of the Southland Regional Association of Realtors, said inventory in his region, which includes the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys, was too tight last year and the local market has benefited from the increase in inventory.


"When you consider that six months of inventory is considered a balanced market, what we're seeing is a good market for both buyers and sellers," said White. "Last year, in many cases, was just out of control, so when you compare that to a more balanced market it makes it look slow, when in fact it's not."


Market cooling
Still, industry experts are now reporting that buyers are taking more time before making a bid on a property, and sellers are still struggling to moderate their expectations.


"Buyers and sellers are on either side of the line waiting to see who crosses first," Appleton-Young said. "Buyers don't want to overpay and sellers don't want to give up more than they have to."

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