Home prices in Los Angeles County rose for the fourth straight month in April, countering perceptions at least some perceptions of a cooling market.

The median price of existing homes sold in April was $545,000, up nearly 15 percent from the same period last year. It was also up $9,000 from the previous month, according to numbers provided by HomeData Corp., a New York state firm that tracks residential sales nationwide.

However, volume the number of homes sold was down more than 16 percent from the same month last year.

On a month-to-month basis, volume looks a bit better. After dropping to a three-year low of 5,309 homes sold in February, down even by traditionally slow post-holiday standards, volume bounced back to 7,159 in April. While that was well off the blistering pace of last August, when more than 12,000 homes traded hands, it still represented an increase of 295 homes over March.

Data from Hanley Wood Market Intelligence, a Costa Mesa-based housing data and consulting firm, indicated strong job growth was helping prop up the region's housing market.

"We're not dependent on one or two industries, i.e. aerospace and entertainment, as we were in the '90s," said Patrick Duffy, managing director of consulting for Hanley Wood "And we haven't had to deal with things like riots and earthquakes that hurt the economy back then. Most all of our sectors are strong."

Some 35,300 jobs were added in L.A. and Ventura counties last year, with an expected 30 percent increase in 2006, or an additional 44,200 jobs.

In addition, interest rates remain at reasonable levels. Financial Forecast Center LLC, a Houston, Texas, firm that tracks economic trends, said the 30-year fixed mortgage rate in April was 6.43 percent and would not reach 6.5 percent before September.

However, the uptick in price did not sway some economists from their belief that a general cooling is ahead.

Christopher Thornberg, a senior economist at the UCLA Anderson Forecast and a prominent bear about the local housing market, noted the big drop in the number of home sales from last April to this one.

"Every slow-down in the real estate industry has been led with (less) activity followed by a drop in price growth," said Thornberg. "People are making this (price upturn) into a big deal, but prices always lag activity."

Thornberg said he expected price growth to disappear by the third quarter of the year.

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