Slow start for Sonoma County home sales in 2014

Amid tight inventory, Sonoma County's housing market has gotten off to its slowest start in six years.

Buyers purchased 260 single-family homes in February, according to The Press Democrat's monthly housing report compiled by Pacific Union International Vice President Rick Laws. Last month, sales fell 11 percent from a year earlier.

For the first two months of 2014, buyers have purchased 535 houses. That is the lowest number since 347 homes were purchased for the same period in 2008, a time when prices were tumbling sharply.

"Without a doubt we're off to a slow start," Laws said.

Experts say housing is still going through a transition in the aftermath of a historic housing crash.

"The market has been driven by the investor buyer," said economist Christopher Thornberg, founding partner of Beacon Economics in Los Angeles.

Over the last year, investors have pulled back, he said. Eventually the market will shift more toward the "move-up buyer" who is selling a home in order to buy a more-expensive property.

"We're in between these two waves," Thornberg said.

The county's median price declined 2 percent from January to $449,825. The median still increased 18 percent from a year ago.

During the last decade, the county's median price reached a record $619,000 in August 2005, before falling to a low of $305,000 in February 2009.

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