Home prices still slipping in north valley

The slide in Stanislaus County home prices continues, but April's losses weren't as brutal as previous months.

The median home sales price slipped to $133,000 last month, which is about what Stanislaus houses were selling for nine years ago.

Median prices were nearly three times that high in 2005 when the real estate market peaked, but they've been plummeting since, MDA DataQuick Information Systems statistics show.

The decline seems to be easing. Median prices -- the point where half the homes sold for more, half for less -- have dropped $7,000 since January. During 2007 and 2008, the median price sometimes fell by more than $20,000 during a single month.

Merced County home prices edged up a tad in April, rising $1,000 to a median of $106,000. But home values there have lost a decade's worth of appreciation.

San Joaquin County took another big hit last month. The median price plunged $8,500, falling to $145,000. That's what houses there sold for in 1999.

So what's it going to take for the Northern San Joaquin Valley's real estate market to recover, and how are home price declines affecting potential buyers?

The Bee posed those questions Thursday to some readers who are interested in home buying. Here's a sampling of the e-mail responses:

Peggy Nenque, Modesto

"I'm not happy about the economy, but I'm glad I'm in a position to buy (a home) while the market is low. It's a long-overdue dream for me, after raising three children on my own and always sacrificing. Now I'm in a position to fill that dream and have family gatherings in my own home with my children and grandchildren."

Lisa Rojas, Modesto

"Buyer incentive programs. That's the answer to help stabilize housing prices! Myself, as a first-time home buyer, I love the down payment assistance program. Let's face it: In this hurting economy, no one can afford to save for a down payment. The program isn't just a handout, but a reasonable loan ... for the hard-working families."

Paul Borkenhagen, Modesto

"I'm not sure I want to buy a foreclosed home, due to concerns about repairs needed, which may or may not be evident at the time of purchase. ... Down payment and closing costs are the greatest obstacle in my particular situation, since it is very slow and difficult to get enough saved for these extremely large expenses, especially on just one income."

Paul Tunison, Modesto

"Most of the incentives that are available, while advantageous, I don't believe it will transform our area into a stable, appreciating market with historically average returns. ... Until our city fathers get aggressive and progressive about attracting new jobs to our city, I am afraid that home values may still decrease along with our population. No incentive other than zero percent interest and a half-price home at today's pricing would get me to pull the trigger."

Brenda Dudley, Modesto

"Most buyers may need to make as many as nine offers on different properties before they get an offer accepted. If you have to drag out pay stubs and bank statements and have your credit run three or four times, it can be very frustrating. ... The banks have done a terrible disservice to the country by making loans they shouldn't have made in the past, and now they won't make the good ones they should."

John Dennis, San Francisco

"I still own several single-family homes as investments in Modesto. Prices will continue to fall as long as unemployment continues to go up. Job losses won't stop until debt -- federal, state, corporate, personal, etc. -- is either paid off or liquidated via foreclosure or bankruptcy. Once the debt returns to sustainable levels, a real recovery can begin. ...

"With banks beginning to release their shadow (foreclosure) inventory, I suspect that the market will fall at least another 15 to 20 percent before Modesto reaches bottom, to approximately $100,000 to $108,000 for the average home price."

Nora Arreola, Modesto

"Even for people that have a good job, and may be able to afford a home, they cannot purchase a home as a result of their FICO (credit) score. This is a domino effect. It is very frustrating to have the income, to be doing everything you know you're supposed to do to increase your FICO score, and then the banks continue to pull the rug from under you."

Sandra Graves, Modesto

"I am a first-time home buyer in Modesto. The $8,000 (federal) tax credit and the low interest rate is what is making me really busy looking for a home to buy. The only problem with buying a home right now is short sales are almost impossible for the banks to approve, foreclosed homes are in high demand and people are outbidding me by thousands over the asking price.

"In my opinion, the banks are pricing the foreclosed homes way too low, and that is causing people to fight to get the houses. If a house is in really good condition, then the bidding war is on, which leaves a lot of us out of the running."

Chris Oliveira, Modesto

"My take is that when it's time for a market to drop, stand back and let it run its course. It's not unlike a natural disaster in that regard. As a nation, we have recently artificially inflated both the housing and equity markets.

"We are now seeing the market's response to those actions. I wish our leaders would quit trying to prolong the agony with their intervention. When there are deals to be had, buyers will step in and snap them up. When that happens enough, the market will stabilize."

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at or 578-2196.

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