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California home sales rise in September, breaking yearlong slide as price increases moderate

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SAN DIEGO — California home sales rose for the first time in a year in September, a research firm said Tuesday, as cooling prices and a strong economy encouraged buyers.

The median sales price for new and existing houses and condominiums was $389,000 last month, down 1 percent from $393,000 in August but up 9.6 percent from $355,000 the same period a year earlier, CoreLogic DataQuick said. It was the 31st straight month of annual increases but only the third straight month that percentage gains were not double-digit.

There were 36,316 homes sold in the state, up 0.8 percent from 36,027 sales a year earlier. It was the first annual sales increase since September 2013 and the strongest September in five years.

A rally of the housing market sparked about three years ago by cash-paying investors has given way to more traditional buyers looking for places to live, said Christopher Thornberg, founding partner of Beacon Economics, a Los Angeles research firm. Buyers are motivated by rising personal incomes, confidence about their jobs and increasing home equity.

"A more normal housing market is starting to form," Thornberg said. "There's a whole second wave in housing that is really just now emerging having to do with the retail buyer."

Jeff Campbell, a San Diego real estate broker, said waning interest from investors is translating into fewer bidding wars. Cash-buying investors typically withdraw if their first offer is rejected.

"They're pulling out a lot earlier, and those who need the home to house their families are staying in," Campbell said.

In Southern California, the median sales price was $413,000, down 1.7 percent from an 80-month high of $420,000 in August but up 8.1 percent from $382,000 a year earlier, CoreLogic DataQuick said. The Irvine-based firm said it was the first month in more than two years that none of the six counties surveyed posted double-digit annual percentage gains.

There were 19,348 homes sold in the Southern California region, up 1.2 percent 19,112 sales in September 2013.

The San Francisco Bay area's median sales price was $604,000, down 0.5 percent from $607,000 in August but up 14 percent from $530,000 in September 2013. The median price in the city of San Francisco was $938,000, down from $1 million in June.

There were 7,443 homes sold in the nine-county Bay area last month, up 4.2 percent from 7,141 sales a year earlier.

Absentee buyers — mostly investors and second-home purchasers — bought 23.3 percent of Southern California homes in September, down from 27 percent a year earlier to its lowest level since October 2010, according to CoreLogic DataQuick. Absentee buyers accounted for 19.1 percent of sales in the Bay area, down from 20.9 percent a year earlier.

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