Sonoma County home sales picked up in October after an end-of-summer lull.
Buyers last month purchased 426 single-family homes, according to The Press Democrat’s monthly housing report compiled by Pacific Union International Vice President Rick Laws. Sales increased 6.5 percent from September and 6.8 percent from October 2014.
The housing market showed other signs of increased activity last month. Sellers placed 489 new listings on the market, the most for October in four years.
And buyers and sellers last month signed purchase agreements for 496 houses, the most for October since Laws began collecting such data in 2009. Some of those “under contract” agreements will fall through, while others will be completed over the coming months.
Lori Sacco, broker manager in the Sebastopol office of Vanguard Properties, said the housing market seemed to slow in summer as children returned to school, but activity resumed this fall.
“It felt like it picked up in October,” she said.
As activity increased, the county’s median home price dipped 2.3 percent to $529,275 from September. That price remains 8 percent higher than a year ago.
The median price reached a high this year of $546,000 in June but has dropped slightly each month since.
With a relatively limited supply of homes for sale, “you would think prices would continue to rise, but I don’t see it,” Laws said. “There’s definitely a plateau.”
He suggested that an increasing number of people may be priced out of the market. The California Association of Realtors last week reported that only about a quarter of the county’s residents could afford a median-priced home last summer.
“Maybe it’s not just a matter of ‘I won’t pay that,’” Laws said. “Maybe it’s a matter of ‘I can’t pay that.’”
The county’s median price hit a record high of $619,000 in August 2005 in the midst of a national housing bubble. After the bubble burst, the median plunged to a low of $305,000 in February 2009.
As prices fell and the nation entered a historic recession, the number of homeowners in economic distress soared. From 2007 to 2013, more than 15,000 property owners in the county lost their homes to foreclosures or short sales.
October ended with about 860 homes for sale in the county, roughly a two-month supply at the current pace of sales. Experts generally consider that level indicative of a seller’s market.
However, inventory varies considerably by price level. It remains much tighter in the starter-home segment, while the luxury market offers buyers far more choices.
The county ended October with fewer than 65 single-family homes for sale priced below $400,000. Meanwhile, there were 250 houses available for $1 million or more.
Laws calculated that based on current sales, the county has a five-month supply of homes priced between $1 million and $2 million; a 14-month supply between $2 million and $4 million; and about a four-year supply over $4 million.
Though the housing market has remained active this fall, buyers are showing more restraint, apparently not wanting to overpay or to pay more than they can afford, said Leon Geisberg, a broker associate in Santa Rosa with Better Homes Realty, formerly CPS Real Estate.
“It seemed like people are starting to be more cautious,” Geisberg said.
Looking forward, agents and brokers expect activity to undergo a seasonal slowdown during the holidays. Even so, sales will continue.