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Jump in upper-end home sales amid slowing market

Despite a sharp jump in sales of upper-end properties, Sonoma County home sales slowed in January.

Buyers purchased 272 single-family homes last month, according to The Press Democrat's monthly housing report compiled by Pacific Union International Vice President Rick Laws. Sales fell 5 percent from a year ago and were the lowest for January in three years.

But the month featured a tale of two markets. Sales of homes priced below $400,000 declined 45 percent in January from a year ago.

In contrast, 57 homes sold for $700,000 or more, compared to 21 a year earlier. Of last month's transactions, 22 homes sold for $1 million or more, compared to eight a year ago.

The upper-end sales were a sign that “health and recovery has worked its way up the market,” said Laws.

The county's housing market rebounded last year after a historic bubble and crash, which took the median price from a record $619,000 in August 2005 to a low of $305,000 in February 2009.

For January, the median sales price was $461,000, down less than 1 percent from December but 26 percent higher than a year ago.

Eileen Morelli, the operating principal and broker for the four Keller Williams offices in Sonoma and Napa counties, said the higher-end properties selling last month included both city and country properties.

February sales remain slow, she said. But activity should increase as usual this spring because agents have lined up plenty of sellers who are getting ready to put homes on the market.

“They're doing the last-minute fix-ups,” Morelli said.

Laws agreed that many sellers are thinking they'll get more for their homes if they wait until springtime.

“They want to see flowers in the yard and green grass on the hills and birds chirping,” he said.

Sales have declined under $400,000 because of a lack of supply, not demand, brokers said.

“That's a slow market because there just aren't that many listings in that range,” Morelli said.

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