Los Angeles County home values shed nearly six months worth of appreciation in January as the market continued a slide that shows no sign of ending soon.

The median price of an existing single-family home in L.A. County fell to $519,000 in January, a $6,000 decline from the month earlier and the lowest median price since July, according to HomeData Corp. a Melville, N.Y.-based company that tracks housing data.

While the January median price is 17 percent higher than it had been one year earlier, it's also the narrowest year-over-year increase in L.A. County home values since May.

Real estate agents said the retreat in home sales and pricing is being sparked by everything from higher mortgage interest rates to buyers being more selective as the available stock rises.

"What's backing up right now are the homes that would have been snapped up before for just having the right zip code," said Michael J. Collins, general manager of the Manhattan Beach office of Shorewood Realtors. "Buyers are being more choosy, and a lot of times they can wait to see what comes out next week."

Homes on high-traffic streets, those located on odd-shaped lots or that have unflattering additions are being passed over while nicer homes on quiet streets that are reasonably priced are still getting snapped up quickly. "Those are still getting multiple offers," Collins said.

The January figures also point to a Los Angeles housing market that is steadily cooling off after nearly three years of red-hot appreciation that has more than doubled the value of many L.A. County homes.

While year-over-year appreciation levels continue to be well above normal historical rates of between 5 to 7 percent, January is the sixth straight month of declining or stagnant median home prices for L.A. County.

However, concerns that L.A.'s housing market could go into a free fall, leaving some homeowners owing more than their properties are worth, aren't likely, according to Leslie Appleton-Young, the senior economist for the California Association of Realtors.

"We are definitely transitioning to a lower number of transactions and lower pricing," she said. "We're calling it a soft landing and we've been seeing evidence of it now for several months."

Mixed bag
For several months, the year-over-year appreciation rates in other Southern California counties have slid to single-digit rates.

However, homes in L.A. County have continued to appreciate more rapidly because of a less volatile economy and a greater range of prices, Appleton-Young said.


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