For the first time since the long national housing slide began, the median price of a house that sold in Los Angeles County was lower than the same month a year before, according to new figures on home sales in October. The number of homes that changed hands plunged as well.

The median price dropped to $525,000, a 3.7 percent fall from October 2006 when it was $545,000 and 9.5 percent off this September's $580,000, according to data provided to the Business Journal by Melville, N.Y.-based HomeData Corp.

Until last month, the cost of a median home had remained persistently high in the county even as the number of home sales fell by a third or more. The relative strength of the upper end of the housing market held up the price.

But with only 3,269 homes changing hands last month a 57 percent plummet from a year earlier the median price declined to a level not seen since February 2006. The largest previous home sales decline since the housing market lost its steam was in September, when sales were off 47 percent.

The decline is being attributed by real estate brokers and economists to the broadening effect of the credit crunch, which is now forcing owners of high-end homes to reduce prices. What's more, many don't expect the market to pick up until next year or even 2009.

"It is a very tenuous market and over the next few months I expect more price declines," said Mark Cohen, who heads the Beverly Hills-based mortgage bank and brokerage Cohen Financial Group. "I hope I'm wrong, but that's the way I'd bet. A couple of deals fell out of escrow today. It's no fun."

In past months, some of the biggest falls in sales and prices had been limited to lower- to mid-priced neighborhoods. But in October the decline in the county median reflected a broad drop in sales from the San Gabriel Valley to Malibu.

(The Los Angeles Times data service reported a median price decline throughout Southern California for September. However, the price for L.A. County did not show a decline.)

In upper-middle-class Agoura Hills, the 91301 ZIP code had a year-over-year price decline of 13 percent to $600,000. In the City of Commerce 90040 ZIP code, one of the county's most inexpensive, the median fell 14 percent to $389,000. Even in tony Malibu, the 90265 ZIP code saw a 31 percent price drop to $1.23 million.


For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.