Great New Mapping Tool: Los Angeles

Wow! The L.A. Times has produced a really great new mapping tool of all the neighborhoods in L. A. It’s interactive, so all you do is run your cursor over a neighborhood and then up pops a landscape view along with all sorts of information about demographics of the area. Way to go L.A. Times! I predict this map is going to get hits from all around the world. People are crazy to know more about our fair city and this is a great introduction.

Plus, the paper intends to keep adding to the mapping tool so that points of interest, restaurants and who knows what else will appear interactively as well..What a great idea! As a faithful reader of the N.Y. Times, I can attest to the many interactive maps produced by that paper and they are awesome, such as the interactive electoral districts during the 2008 presidential elections.

We have really needed such an ability to get around our neighborhoods as well. I’ve always wondered exactly where among other unfamiliar areas is  Lake View Terrace ? Now I know. Somehow I thought it was near CalState L.A., but it’s certainly not. And where’s the lake? Anyway, this tool is way cool.  Thank you, L.A. Times…

Here’s a screen shot:

LA Times Neighborhoods

Now, how about the rest of L.A. County? We’ve got some great stuff to share as well…

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What’s This? SoCal Home Prices Going Up?

Yeah, amazing, eh? Today, the L.A.Times ran an article in the Business Section pointing out that homes in three SoCal counties had actually gone up a notch, a tick, a blip…

Portents for the future? It’s all over now? Not so fast, my friends, not so fast. It’s far from over as the article did mention further down the column. It seems Orange County, Ventura and San Diego County Counties had all edged up in median price just the teeniest, tiniest bit, a couple of thousand, because home sales in the higher price ranges had finally come out of their year-long stall and moved again, thus bringing up the median.

Here’s the L.A. Times graphic illustrating the three: highest Orange, then Ventura, then San Diego.

SoCal prices up

Overall, SoCal sic counties’ median price moved to $249,000 from $247,000 last month. That’s for all So/Cal counties, including L.A., San Bernardino and Riverside alongside the lucky three with higher medians.

Orange County’s median is up 8% over April, Ventura is up 4% and San Diego 2%. Of course, these are more affluent areas, ranking first, second and third in income levels and so have a larger stock of  middle- and high-priced homes. Still, it’s at least a bit of a breather…It seemed as though the real estate plunge was into a bottomless pit. Now we know there’s a bottom.

This is the first upward tick since July of 2007. The new SoCal median is 51% below that peak. Wow. Still last month it was down 54% and still down 33% from last year May 2008. It’s been a brutally fast crash. We are definitely injured, but maybe we’ll make it after all.

What’s the cause of this seeming miracle? Partially, it’s 18 months of solid declines in San Diego and more like 12 in Orange County, convincing many stubborn sellers that the good times weren’t coming back anytime soon. Sellers are becoming more realistic and buyers are buying at appropriate prices.

Another reason is that the jumbo loan market has been virtually frozen for almost a year, and, gradually, banks are getting back into this formerly extremely lucrative market.  Banks  do charge higher rates for jumbos, and they do get better performance. The thaw has helped buyers who wanted to buy but couldn’t get financing.

So, what’s the story for L.A. County?  Holding steady at last month’s median..$300,000. as is Riverside at $180,000 and San Bernardino at $137,000.

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Good SoCal Housing News Or Is It?

After months of plunging home prices, Southern Californians heard today that, yes, it’s true….homes have not tanked for the last three months!  It might be a trend! That’s almost all the good news. The other good news is that last month saw a veritable frenzy of home buying as prices throughout the Southland surged 52% over last year. Of course, last year was abysmal, but, oh well, you gotta get your good news where you can.

Here’s the wet blanket to douse those little flames of hope that might be springing up around us. Well, for one thing, there was a foreclosure moratorium and then lenders were holding back the flood, waiting for the new Obama housing policy to be revealed. Obama’s plan came out last month and the first refis started last week.  It will help. But, for so many there will be no help.  Expect foreclosures to surge again soon, putting more downward pressure on prices as lenders try to unload their inventories. It seems that in this first quarter [Q1] of 2009, foreclosure notices, NODs, have jumped 24%. More than 805,000 homeowners got such notices in the past three months. That means during the next three months we’ll see a tsunami of trustee sales and then a few months later a mountain of lender-owned property will hit the market.

Unless government has a few more tricks up its sleeve, prices here will continue to decline in the face of foreclosure. That will, in turn, put more homeowners “underwater” or owing more than their homes are worth. Man of these homeowners will decide it’s simply not sensible to pay the $3000 a month on the $400,000 or $500,000 mortgage when the property is now worth only $250,000. They will short sale their homes and  later buy another for $250,000, effectively cutting their  housing costs in half with today’s low rates.

As an illustration of how crazy we were:  A few days ago I did a BPO, a broker’s price opinion, of a 738 square-foot single family property with a double garage in La Puente. This tiny little house is now a repo, but it sold back in 2006 for $419,000! That’s just wrong. It has a nice lot with a wrought-iron and block fence in front and good curb appeal. But, it’s only a 2 bedroom/1 bath. The former homeowner slapped up a lean-to in the back with an exterior toilet in a little cubicle and a tiny studio wtih another bathroom as a crude rental, it seems. It’s all illegal, of course, and must be torn down. The sad remains of people desperate to save the home and perhaps their life savings. How could it ever have seemed like a good idea to buy that house?

Just as a souvenir, I guess, the L.A. Times today published a chart showing all SoCal Counties and home values during the last 8 years. Now, median SoCal home value is $250,000, less than half what it was in 2007 at the peak of the market.

It’s reached the point now that in many cases it’s cheaper to buy than to rent or at least it’s equivalent. Builders are telling us that new home values are now below replacement costs. Since these two factors are true, that also tells us that just like the last Great California Recession in the mid-90s, prices will come roaring back….sometime. Last time, it took a full 5 years. This time will possibly take as long.

socal-home-sales-and-prices

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