Sonoma County home sales slowed in September in keeping with the traditional close of the summer buying season.
Buyers purchased 380 single-family homes last month, down 19 percent from August, according to The Press Democrat monthly housing report compiled by Coldwell Banker manager Rick Laws. September sales were down only 2 percent from a year earlier.
The median price rose 6 percent from August to $350,000. The median reached $366,500 in September 2010, but in the months since it has stayed in a range between $315,000 and $354,200.
Buyers and sellers last month signed a record number of contracts for short sales, transactions where the sales price is less than the amount owed on the mortgage. The data reported 175 such contracts in August and 151 in July.
Not all those agreements will result in a final sale. Even so, the number was noteworthy because such contracts rarely exceeded 100 a month before this year.
Agents who sell distressed properties said sellers, buyers and banks have become more willing to consider such transactions.
“People are just becoming more comfortable with the short sale,” said Teri Shaughnessy, a broker associate at Coldwell Banker in Santa Rosa. “There’s not the stigma that they’re used to be.”
Doug Solwick, broker owner of Advantage One Real Estate in Santa Rosa, said more underwater homeowners are realizing the economy may not pick up for years, and the short sale may be the best solution to their financial difficulties.
“People are having a reality check here,” he said.
Agents will be watching to see if the record number of short sale contracts results in a jump in completed sales in the coming months.
“I believe it will,” said Belinda Andrews, a broker associate with Century 21 in Santa Rosa. “I believe it’s just in everybody’s best interest to do the short sale.”
Foreclosures and short sales made up 45 percent of all sales last month.
To date this year, buyers have purchased slightly more than 3,400 single-family homes in the county. The pace is similar to last year, which was slightly below average.
Home sellers stuck to a pattern of marketing homes with a goal of sales before Labor Day. The inventory of homes on the market rose steadily this year and peaked at more than 2,000 homes in June. Since then inventory has fallen and by the end of September was down to 1,682 homes — a four month supply at the current pace of sales.
— Robert Digitale