March 16, 2012 (Chris Moore)

Monthly sales of new and existing homes in Southern California increased more than expected in February as investors and cash buyers accounted for a record amount of purchases during the month according to real estate information provider DataQuick.

Sales in the Southern California region, which includes Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Ventura, San Bernardino and Orange counties, totaled 15,573 new and re-sale homes in February, a 7.2 percent increase from the 14,523 homes sold in January and 8.4 percent higher than the 14,369 homes sold in February of last year. It was the highest number of home sales for the month in five years.

Home sales in the area typically increase 1.1 percent between January and February and despite the larger than average increase, sales were still 12.3 percent below the average for the month of February. It was also the sixth time in the last seven months that year-over-year sales have seen an increase.

Cash buyers accounted for a record 32.8 percent of the homes sold for the month, up from a revised 32.2 percent in January, paying a median price of $200,000 for their purchases, the same as the previous month.

Absentee buyers, usually investors and vacation home buyers, accounted for a record high 29.7 percent of all sales, up from a revised 28.0 percent in January and paid a median price of $192,750 for the homes they purchased, down from $195,000 last month.

The median sales price paid for all new and re-sale homes in the Southern California region increased 1.8 percent in February to $264,750 from $260,000 in January. The median price a year ago was also $275,000.

The median sales price has declined year-over-year for the past 12 months and has declined or remained unchanged since December 2010.

Transactions below $300,000, where most cash buyers and investors make their purchases, was the only price spectrum to see an increase in sales activity last month.

The highest median sales price for homes in the region during the current housing cycle’s peak was $505,000 in mid-2007 while the lowest was $247,000 in April 2009.

John Walsh, president of DataQuick, “February sales got a big boost from investors and others paying cash for relatively affordable homes, as well as from an extra day’s worth of sales thanks to the leap year. Without the latter, sales might have been up a bit, but not to a five-year high. It’s just one more reason for us to remind everyone that January and February usually aren’t good months to use for forecasting purposes. The big picture remains one where the bottom of the housing market continues to see much of the action, while move-up activity remains sluggish. Financing is still difficult for many and lots of potential move-up buyers and sellers are stuck because they owe more than their homes are worth.”

Distressed properties accounted for 53.0 percent of the re-sale market in January, down from 53.9 percent in January, with foreclosure re-sales accounting for 32.5 percent of the market, down slightly from 32.6 percent in January, while short sales made up an estimated 20.5 percent of re-sales, down from 21.1 percent the previous month.

Tags: DataQuick, Southern California, new homes, re-sale homes, median price, home sales, investors, absentee buyers