State - INACTIVE

Stanislaus County home prices dip to $135,000 median

Stanislaus County's median-home prices slipped slightly to $135,000 for April, while houses in the Northern San Joaquin Valley remain among the most affordable in the state.

The median price dropped 3.7 percent from $140,000 in March, according to data released Thursday by real estate research firm MDA DataQuick.

Meanwhile Stanislaus County's was the second most affordable market in the state, the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index revealed Thursday.

Merced County overtook Stanislaus as California's most affordable market with medium-income families being able to buy 82.4 percent of the homes sold, while Stanislaus was at 81.5 percent, according to the index.

Affordability in the valley has improved as home prices went into a free fall in early 2006 as the housing market collapsed.

Despite the decline in median home prices from March to April, Stanislaus County's median prices are up from a year ago for the third straight month, improving by 1.5 percent from April 2009.

Veteran valley real estate agent Mary Prieto of Prudential California said April's dip is a blip in what have been relatively stable home prices of about $140,000 since fall. The problem, she said, is the lack of market-ready houses, despite continued foreclosures.

"Everyone is excited about the affordability and interest rates. Why rent the future when you can own it. But there are not enough available properties out there," Prieto said.

Better figures for Merced, Tuolumne

In the surrounding area, Merced and Tuol-umne counties saw their median sale prices increase in April. Merced went from $115,000 to $118,750 and Tuolumne from $184,250 to $201,000. Both increased by about 12 percent from this time last year.

San Joaquin County remained steady at $165,000, up 13.4 percent from 2009.

While entry-level houses remain affordable, that doesn't necessarily translate to a slew of new homeowners, said Modesto real estate agent Phil Schmidt.

"If you look at the demographics of Modesto, it's where prices need to be for first-time home buyers to enter the market," said Schmidt, who has been with PMZ since 1974. "It's great for first-time home buyers, but the unfortunate thing is a lot are competing with investors who are buying houses and renting them."

Schmidt said part of the problem is that banks have been holding onto a number of foreclosed homes, limiting the affordable properties on the market.

"For us, it's very frustrating. We have people who want to buy but not a large number to show them," he said.

Schmidt and Prieto said interest has cooled some since the $8,000 federal tax credit for first-time buyers expired at the end of April. Other buyers might have been waiting until a new $10,000 state tax credit kicked in May 1.

Statewide, the median home price was $255,000 in April, unchanged from March and up more than 15 percent from $221,000 in April 2009, when prices reached their low for the current cycle.

During the height of the housing market boom in 2005, median prices in Stanislaus County peaked at $396,000.

"Prices have bottomed out," Schmidt said. "But prices aren't going up. We'll be in this market for quite some time."

Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at mrowland@modbee.com or 578-2284.

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