Median home prices have plummeted below $160,000 in several Antelope Valley ZIP codes, and home-sales volumes in several of those areas in July nearly doubled from year-ago levels, according to figures compiled from county records for the Business Journal.

Most purchases are by first-time homebuyers, but local real estate agents report increasing numbers are by investors looking for great deals.

"We've had some comments from investors: 'Anything under $115,000 or $120,000 that's less than 15 years old, we'll take,' with almost no questions asked," said Bob Stickney, general manager for Century 21/Doug Anderson & Associates in Lancaster.

Stickney said sales activity in his office is quickly approaching the levels reached in 2005, at the peak of the housing boom. About one-fourth of the clients on the buyer side are investors with no intention of living in the home but are eager for a good deal.

This surge in activity at the bargain-basement level is the key factor driving down the countywide median price. According to the figures supplied to the Business Journal by Melville, N.Y.-based HomeData Corp., L.A. County's median price in July fell 28 percent to $420,000 from July 2007. It was the lowest median price since $409,000 in May 2004. The number of homes that sold in July in the county was down 17 percent from the same month last year.

Meanwhile, the median price of a condo was $395,000, down 12 percent from a year ago. Condominium sales volume was up 6.4 percent year over year in July.

The increase in sales of condos, which generally sell for less than single-family homes, is further evidence that sales of low-end units have picked up steam in recent months, especially in areas that have been hardest hit by distressed home sales.

At the same time, home sales in high-end neighborhoods have slowed or even fallen, with sales volume in some pricey ZIP codes on L.A.'s Westside falling about 20 percent. Prices of Westside homes in the $1 million-$2 million range have fallen about 10 percent year over year, according to one local Realtor.

The surge in low-end home sales and the slowing of high-end home sales are combining to force L.A. County's median home price down more than normal. That's the opposite situation from a year ago, when sales of high-end homes were propping up the median price. In fact, the median price in July 2007 was $585,000 the peak price even though the number of homes that sold dropped.

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