Real Estate Roundup: Home Sales Down Across the Bay Area, but Prices Shoot Higher

Illustration of a houseHere’s a look at recent news of interest to homebuyers, home sellers, and the home-curious:

Home sales were down in February across the Bay Area, with one exception: Sonoma County, where sales rose 6.6 percent from a year ago.

February sales fell 13 percent in San Francisco, according to the research firm DataQuick, followed by Napa County (down 11.7 percent), Alameda County (down 3.3 percent), Contra Costa County (down 1.7 percent), and Marin County (down 1 percent).

Median sale prices showed no declines, however, with all counties reporting double-digit increases: Contra Costa (32.3 percent), Napa (29.7 percent), Alameda (26.1 percent), Marin (21.4 percent), Sonoma (16.9 percent), and San Francisco (12.3 percent).

Statewide, home sales fell 3.1 percent from February 2011, and median sale prices rose 20.9 percent.

Here’s a top-10 list that doesn’t include California — and we’re glad for it.

RealtyTrac, which monitors the U.S. foreclosure market, announced last week that California didn’t make its February list of the 10 states with the highest foreclosure rates — the first time since December 2006 that the state wasn’t among the top 10.

California fell to 13th after 15 straight months of declining foreclosures.

The federal Home Affordable Refinance Program, better known as HARP, helped refinance 1.1 million home mortgages last year, double the number in 2011 and exceeding government forecasts, according to a Bloomberg News report.

States hit hardest by foreclosures and underwater home values benefited most from HARP refinancing. In Nevada, where home values fell by half during the housing downturn, HARP accounted for 68 percent of refinancing activity. In Florida 58 percent of refinancing went through the program.

Wealthy borrowers are increasingly opting for interest-only mortgages, according to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal. That’s the same kind of loan that drove many homeowners into foreclosure in recent years, but lenders say their affluent clients are at a much lower risk of getting caught up in financial trouble.

Interest-only mortgages, where borrowers pay interest but no principal during the first few years of a loan, offer significantly lower monthly payments, allowing borrowers to divert the savings to income-generating investments.

(Illustration courtesy of the Korean Resource Center, via Flickr.)

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