Los Angeles home prices continued their downward slide in February while sales volume fell to its lowest level since the boom began to fade.

The countywide median price, which dropped below $500,000 in January, fell another 6 percent to $468,000 last month, according to data provided to the Business Journal by Melville, N.Y.-based HomeData Corp. That's down 15 percent from a year ago and 20 percent from May's market high of $585,000.

Only 2,046 homes were sold in February, 44 percent fewer than a year ago. With foreclosures starting to crowd the market, real estate professionals said more prospective buyers appeared to be waiting to see how far prices would drop. Also, buyers were finding it more challenging to get financing.

Realtor Connie De Groot at the Beverly Hills office of Coldwell Banker is seeing two trends. First, callers want to know if the seller is desperate before they look at a home. Second, potential buyers are looking for foreclosures, but then find that the properties have challenges.

"They're all, 'Get me a foreclosure,' until they see what kind of shape some of these homes are in," De Groot said.

The consensus among her colleagues is that it might take another six months for the market to stabilize.

"People can sell their homes to the right person for a good price now, but they have to commit to the process," she said. "It's put on a new coat of paint and have cookies baking in the oven time."

With few exceptions the downturn was widespread throughout the county. Sales volume in the moderately priced 90011 ZIP code in southeast Los Angeles dropped from 35 homes a year ago to only five, according to HomeData. Sales prices, however, held up fairly well, with the median dropping only 3 percent to $500,000.

Encino's 91436 ZIP saw only three sales, down from 21 in February 2007. The median price of the three was $1.4 million, up 19 percent from a year ago.

Homes prices in highly desirable communities generally withstood the downward pressure, though even homeowners in upscale neighborhoods were scaling down expectations from housing boom highs.

Sales volume so far this year remained steady and in some cases prices actually appreciated compared with a year ago in Brentwood, Beverly Hills, and the Hollywood Hills above the Sunset Strip, De Groot noted.

"Higher-end, picture-perfect homes are selling quickly, but with the cost of materials these days people aren't pulling the trigger on anything that might need some work," she said. "Last year people were excited about what they could do with a fixer-upper. Now they're scared to spend money."


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