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No winter break for area real estate

Sellers hold the cards in a market marked by low inventory and high demand.

By Bill Kisliuk, bill.kisliuk@latimes.com

7:02 PM PST, December 19, 2012

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Home buyers are skipping the traditional holiday hibernation in the residential real estate market, vying for available properties and pushing price increases in cities in and around Pasadena.

The average purchase price of homes in Pasadena and La Cañada Flintridge rose in November compared to a year earlier, continuing a trend that took hold in the second half of 2012.

In La Cañada, the average price of a home sold in November was $1.66 million, according to statistics compiled by agent Keith Sorem at Keller Williams in Glendale. That is a 12-month high and is nearly $600,000 higher than the average sale price of $1.08 million in November 2012.

In Pasadena, the average price of a home rose from $726,000 in November 2011 to $894,000 last month.

In La Crescenta, the average sales price was $672,000 compared with $550,000 a year ago.

Average sale prices dropped in both South Pasadena and San Marino, where few homes are on the market and a single transaction can skew the figures. South Pasadena saw the average price drop from $1.03 million in November 2011 to $829,000 last month, despite an increase in average price per square foot. In San Marino, where eight homes sold, the average price was $1.75 million in November 2012 compared with $2.5 million a year earlier.

Inventory remained low and activity robust in the region, with a total of 237 homes on the market in November and 134 sold.

That compares with 447 homes on the market and only 95 sold when the market was in the doldrums in November 2011.

Phyllis Harb, with Prudential California Realty in La Cañada, said homeowners with equity are in a great position.

“Sellers are able to name their terms,” Harb said, adding that sellers are successfully asking for conditions such as staying in the home for a period even after the transaction because buyers are so eager.

“That might be enticing to someone who has been in their home for 40 or 50 years,” she said.

In contrast, she said, a quarter or more of owners have been forced to the sidelines because they are underwater from purchases made at the height of the market or otherwise do not have enough equity to sell.

Ed Afsharian, office manager for Podley Properties' 60-agent Pasadena office, said the market is strengthening, but it is also posing some headaches.

Appraisers hired by lenders are undervaluing homes, Afsharian said, because they base their estimates on comparable sales in the last six months. As prices rise, those estimates are increasingly out of touch.

“It is a very good market, but it is also a difficult market,” he said.

Harb and Afsharian said interest rates, now hovering around 3.5%, are driving demand even as uncertainty about the economy and possible changes to federal tax policy linger. Sellers who price their homes at or slightly below what the market will bear are drawing crowds, Afsharian said.

“It's like casting your line,” he said. “There are a lot of fish ready to bite.”