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San Diego Realtors report

Home prices, rates climb; student debt worrisome

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Countywide home resale prices and interest rates are edging upward, inventory levels remain low, and student loan debt is forcing recent graduates to leave the state for more affordable housing.

The Greater San Diego Association of Realtors reports that rising inventory levels will lead to more choices for qualified buyers "but as the summer reaches toward fall, the prospect of more homes coming online begins to wane."

While interest rates have remained quite low, the inventory shortage has meant prices have continued to climb.

The SDAR pegged last month's median resales price at $456,995, or about 7.5 percent more than the $425,000 figure registered in July 2013.

The overall dollar sales volume in July 2014 was about $1.58 billion – down from the $1.9 billion volume recorded in July of last year.

The five Chula Vista ZIP codes had a combined 126 single-family detached resales in July. The median prices in those submarkets ranged from $185,000 to $609,000, with the lower ranges tending to be in the western part of the city, versus the more expensive new housing that tends to be in the eastern part of the city.

Jackie Metcalf, a McMillin Realty sales associate in Chula Vista, said up until the past few days homes were going into escrow within a couple of weeks of being listed.

"It's still very good," Metcalf said. "Everything has slowed down slightly, but Chula Vista is one of the more active markets."

Metcalf, who said it is still a sellers' market, said her buyers had greatly favored eastern Chula Vista earlier in the decade, but related that the sales in the eastern and western part of the city are about evenly distributed today.

Metcalf added that the foreclosures that had plagued eastern Chula Vista during the recession are over and all cash buyers, who had accounted for as much as 30 to 40 percent of the total two years ago, represent a much smaller percentage today.

Something else that Metcalf has noticed is homes seem to resell better when there is a range of prices rather than one that is fixed.

Oceanside's four ZIP codes yielded 110 multiple listing service resales. The median price ranged from $397,500 to $486,000 last month.

John Hartman, broker of Century 21 Mission in Oceanside, said that although the resales pace isn't quite what it was in the third quarter of last year, "there is a little bit more inventory.

"It's more of a normal market. Some pockets are stronger than others," Hartman said adding that what is happening in the economy has much more influence on resales than a particular time of year.

Hartman said prices for first-time homebuyers have climbed between 4 and 8 percent depending on location and the type of unit. Although interest rates have been climbing as well, Hartman seemed less concerned about those incremental increases.

Hartman did concede that student loan debt is becoming an issue in the industry.

"If you have a person who is leaving school with six figures in debt, that's less for them to live on. A lot of young professionals are choosing to leave the state," Hartman said.

The four Carlsbad ZIP codes recorded 86 detached resales according to the association's multiple listing service. The median prices ranged from $650,000 to $1.15 million.

Harry Joseph, an agent with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, said he simply needs more quality inventory to sell before he can declare that the market is strong.

"If you have a good-looking house it sells very quickly. The more average houses are selling slowly. The buyers are being more cautious. If they don't make a bid and they lose out, they don't seem to care as much," Joseph said. "The market is just a little back on its heels."

Joseph seemed much more concerned about higher interest rates than Hartman.

"If interest rates go from 4 percent to 5 percent, that's a 20 percent increase," Joseph said.

El Cajon had 80 MLS resales in July, The prices for the single-family detached units ranged from $391,000 to $442,000.

Lon Underwood, owner of Broker Direct Service Inc. in El Cajon, said he doesn't anticipate interest rates will be a problem for at least a year.

The student loan situation is another story, despite some federal student loans that are being forgiven after a long payment history.

"It's a staggering amount of debt -- a debt that's going to be with them much of their lives," Underwood said.

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