Home prices in Los Angeles County rose last month even as sales volume fell to its lowest level for a January in three years, continuing a trend that started in the middle of 2006.

The $549,000 median price for an existing home was 6 percent higher than January 2006, though it was off $1,000 from December, according to HomeData Corp., a Mellville, N.Y. company that tracks housing prices nationally.

January is typically a time of slow sales, and that was particularly true this time around. Only 5,418 homes sold in January, about 26 percent fewer than a year ago and 13 percent less than December.

Home prices in upscale suburbs such as Calabasas were holding up the best, with the January median of $1.29 million rising more than 17 percent even as the number of sales dropped more than 26 percent.

But some high-end markets saw not only sales but prices decline. In Beverly Hills' famed 90210 ZIP code, sales were off a whopping 50 percent and the median fell under the $2 million mark to $1.8 million. Brentwood saw its median slip by nearly 1 percent to $1.7 million, with sales down 25 percent.

Leslie Appleton-Young, chief economist for the California Association of Realtors, said that while sales may be lagging, it appears some buyers are finally giving in to the demands of sellers who reasonably price their house.

"We've had this stand-off between buyers who were waiting for the fire sale, and sellers who were expecting to get 20 percent above a year ago, and it seems to be ending," said Appleton-Young, who expects the statewide median price to decline 2 percent this year, compared to 7 percent appreciation last year.

Indeed, a few high-end markets bucked the county trend and saw rising sales and lower prices a trend toward a more reasonable equilibrium.

Pacific Palisades saw its median price fall more than 23 percent to $1.3 million as sales volume rose nearly 12 percent with 19 deals. Rancho Palos Verdes, a haven for South Bay executives, dropped out of the $1 million club as its median fell more than $21 percent to $898 million, as sales rose 8 percent.

And the realtors' association Unsold Inventory Index in December showed it would have taken 6.8 months to deplete the supply of homes on the market at the current sales rate, compared to 8.9 months in November. A figure of six months generally indicates a balanced market. (By comparison in December of 2005 when the market was still hot the index sat at 3.5 months.)


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