For the first time since house prices began plummeting nearly two years ago, the median sale price of Los Angeles County homes has gone up from the previous month.

Granted, the increase was small. The median price of homes that sold in May was $305,000, up from $303,000 in April, according to data supplied to the Business Journal. Still, prices have been firming up lately; month-to-month declines have been small this year leading up to May's modest increase. That's dramatically different from last year when prices swooned month to month.

The latest numbers are "consistent with what we've seen since the beginning of the year," said Delores Conway, a real estate economist and director of the Casdan Forecast at USC's Lusk Center for Real Estate. "We are in a bottoming process."

Home prices in the county peaked at $585,000 in May 2007 and again two months later. They crashed into the $400,000s at the beginning of 2008 and then into the $300,000s in September.

The May median is 30 percent lower than the $435,000 median of one year earlier.

Condominium prices, meanwhile, have already increased. They went up 2.8 percent in March to $297,000, stayed at that level in April, then declined modestly to $295,000 in May. The median price of a condo in Los Angeles County is now 25 percent lower than a year ago.

The home price information is supplied to the Business Journal by HomeData Corp. in Hicksville, N.Y.

Of course, no one can say that prices have hit bottom yet in the L.A. area. Paul Habibi, a developer and lecturer at the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate, said more months of data would be needed to "establish that the bottom is behind us."

What's more, Habibi suggested the median price increase could be more reflective of a change in market sales from lower-end distressed properties to higher-priced homes than an indication that the values of individual properties have gone up.

"It's basically a shift in the mix," he said, noting a buying surge in recent months is depleting the inventory of rock bottom-priced foreclosed properties. "A lot of the subprime stuff has worked its way through the system."

In fact, the 3,866 homes sold in May countywide was 7.6 percent off from April. Home sales had been fairly high for almost a year because of the thousands of foreclosed homes dumped on the market.


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