Luxury home sales jump 21% in California


Beautiful luxury home in Studio City, CA-- $1,849,000

By Lauren Beale, Los Angeles Times

February 12, 2011
In California, sales of luxury homes rise for the first time in five years even as overall home sales decline.

Even the rich love a deal.

California homes priced at $1 million or more experienced a sales boom in 2010, the first increase in five years, even as overall home sales in the state declined, a real estate information service reported. The reason: High-end home shoppers went bargain hunting as certain parts of the economy improved but luxury home prices remained depressed.

Last year, 22,529 homes sold statewide for $1 million-plus, a 21% increase from 2009, according to DataQuick Information Systems in San Diego. In contrast, the total number of California homes sold last year dropped 9%

“Certainly, we’re pretty sure we’re at the bottom” for home prices, said economist Christopher Thornberg, principal with Beacon Economics in Los Angeles.

Even if prices fall further, he said, “if you are borrowing, buying today makes a lot of sense because interest rates are just incredibly low.”

Cash purchases also inched upward among $1-million buyers last year to 29.4% of sales, up from 28.9% in 2009 and the highest for any year since 1994. But even cash purchases can be motivated by low interest rates.

“A lot of cash offers are done on the basis of the person trying to get a leg up and then they turn around and refi,” Thornburg said.

Million-dollar-plus sales hit a high of 54,773 in 2005 and then dropped through 2009. Last year’s sales increase came despite a winnowing in the category; 3,380 of the homes that sold statewide for less than $1 million had previously sold for $1 million or more, DataQuick analysis shows.

L.A.-area real estate offices also noticed the uptick in $1-million-plus sales.

“I think last year there were a lot of buyers who said now is the best time to buy,” said Jeffrey Hyland, president of Hilton & Hyland, whose Beverly Hills office doubled its dollar volume from 2009. “We noticed it on the high end.”

His office, for example, sold seven houses for more than $20 million last year.

Most of the high-end sales, 79%, fell between $1 million and $2 million. The median-size home in the million-dollar-plus category was 2,840 square feet, with 4 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms, and the median price paid per square foot was $601, down 0.6% from $605 in 2009. For the overall California housing market, the median price per square foot was $164 in 2010, up 10.1% from $149 in 2009, DataQuick said.

The most expensive confirmed purchase statewide last year, based on public records, was a 35,000-square-foot-plus mansion on 2.2 acres in Bel-Air that sold for $50 million.

lauren.beale@latimes.com

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