April 16, 2009 / 5:17 PM / 8 years ago

San Francisco area home sales jump in March

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - San Francisco Bay area home sales rose for a seventh straight month in March, up 25.7 percent from February, while the median price slipped only slightly, suggesting the market may be near a bottom, a report on Thursday said.

The nine-county region had total sales of 6,325 new and resale houses and condominiums in March, up 29.1 percent from a year earlier, amid continued bargain hunting for foreclosed properties in the most affordable areas, the report by MDA DataQuick said.

The median price in March fell to $290,000, off 1.7 percent from February, "indicating that the market might be near its price bottom," the report by the real estate information service said.

The median price was down 45.9 percent from a year earlier, reflecting the drag from brisk sales of foreclosed properties.

"The drop in median price overstates the decline in the value of the typical Bay Area home, reflecting more the sluggishness of high-end sales, which are now under-represented," the report said.

Last month 51.2 percent of all resale homes in the region had been foreclosed on at some point in the prior 12 months, compared with 52.0 percent in February and 23.2 percent a year earlier, the report said.

Credit for buying the region's low-cost homes proved increasingly available, with rising sales helping to trim the area's inventory of foreclosed homes, bolstering home prices.

"The use of government-insured FHA loans -- a common choice among first-time buyers -- represented a record 25.4 percent of all Bay Area purchase loans in March, up from 1.5 percent a year ago," the report said.

By contrast, mortgages for more expensive homes remained difficult to obtain, which slowed sales of higher-end homes. The Bay Area is one of the nation's priciest housing markets.

"Jumbo" mortgages for more than $417,000 were used to finance 19.0 percent of the region's home sales in March, compared with more than 60 percent two years ago, according to MDA DataQuick.

"For now, the extent to which prices have fallen in the upscale markets is more difficult to gauge ... because many of those areas are essentially in hibernation, with scant sales," said John Walsh, president of MDA DataQuick.

"More than any other region, the Bay Area is waiting for so-called jumbo loans to come back on line. Even with prices off their peaks, most home purchases in the upper half of the market still require a mortgage for more than $417,000, which are far more difficult to come by," he said.

Walsh said he sees a "good chance those larger loans will become more available during the second or third quarter."

Reporting by Jim Christie; Editing by Leslie Adler

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