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Sep 11, 9:43 PM EDT

California home sales drop to 4-year August low

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AP Photo/Nick Ut

IRVINE, Calif. (AP) -- The number of homes sold in California fell to the lowest level for an August in four years as a supply crunch pushed prices higher and kept homes out of reach for many buyers, a real estate research company reported Thursday.

An estimated 37,228 houses and condominiums were sold in California last month, down sharply from the same month a year earlier. Such year-over-year slumps have now hit the state for 11 straight months, CoreLogic DataQuick reported.

The statewide median sales price for a home was $393,000 - a jump of nearly 10 percent from August 2013. Still, the increase was much less than the double-digit hikes recorded in the past couple of years.

That probably was because issues with affordability are starting to bite, CoreLogic DataQuick analyst Andrew LePage said.

Supply remained tight, and the recovering housing market may be to blame.

There were fewer troubled properties for sale, and construction of new homes hasn't taken up the slack, LePage said.

California had about a four-month supply of unsold single-family homes in July, according to the latest figures from the California Association of Realtors. Five to seven months is considered a normal supply.

Foreclosures and short sales - those in which the sale price fell short of what was owed on the property - represented only around 6 percent of the market, down from a year ago. By comparison, more than half of sales were foreclosures in February 2009.

"Prices are high enough to be a hurdle for a lot of potential buyers, even though mortgage rates have fallen in recent months," LePage said. "And price isn't the only impediment. Some still struggle to qualify for a loan or to mend their household finances in the wake of the Great Recession. Others are simply waiting for price appreciation to give them enough equity in their homes to make a move up."

LePage said he expected prices to keep increasing into early next year, but more slowly. He also said the single-digit increases already are a far cry from last year, when pent-up demand saw monthly prices jumping 25 percent or more compared with a year earlier.

"We've got job growth and income growth, but it's not stellar enough to help a lot of people overcome the jump in home prices," LePage said. "Now we've ratcheted down. We've had to. We're running into the affordability constraints."

The sales dip and price hikes affected both Northern and Southern California.

In the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area, home sales in August dipped 10.6 percent from a month earlier and 12 percent from August of last year, while the median price was $607,000 - down 1.6 percent from July but up 12.4 percent from a year earlier.

Sales in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Ventura, San Bernardino and Orange counties were down 7.7 percent from July and 18.5 percent from August 2013 - a four-year low. The median sales price was $420,000, up 1.7 percent from July and 9.1 percent from a year earlier.

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