Local real-estate market shows signs of improving

Leonardo Paoreo
Editorial Intern

It’s difficult to imagine that Jerry Bowley could have sold his home and bought another one so easily in 2009– but in 2013? No problem.
Earlier this year, Bowley and his wife were able to sell their house in Long Beach, which they purchased in 1997, and purchase a condominium in Signal Hill without any of the problems associated with the past few years in the real-estate market.
“It really wasn’t much of a challenge at all. We had one open house, and we didn’t even need to. I think there were multiple offers before we even had the open house,” Bowley said. “It took no time to sell.”
With home prices rising and a low supply of homes, the real-estate market in Long Beach and Signal Hill is showing signs of improvement, according to experts.
The Standard and Poor’s Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, which gauge the U.S. housing market, reported this week that home prices in February rose compared to both the same month last year and earlier in the year. Also, the California Association of Realtors recently reported that the median home price in the state rose “to its highest level in March since May 2008, while inventory shortages continued to stifle home sales.”
While prices are up and supply is down, prices still aren’t as high as they were five years ago, said Heather Stephens, associate professor of economics and director of the Office of Economic Research at California State University, Long Beach. The same goes for sales.
“We see that house sales are still at a lower level than they were in the past. There’s a slow recovery,” Stephens said. “As long as inflation continues to stay low…then interest rates are going to stay low, and that will help drive the housing recovery.”
“But I think that a true housing-market recovery depends on what happens with the economy as a whole,” Stephens added.
Rental prices are also up in Long Beach as well as in Los Angeles County, Stephens said.
However, the increase in prices isn’t necessarily a good thing. If prices rise sharply due to investor sales but the economy’s unchanged, then it might not improve the ability of Long Beach residents to buy homes, Stephens said.
“You have a few people who are retiring and leaving the area who might be able to benefit if prices go up, but if you’re going to continue to live in the area, if prices go up and you sell your house, you still have to find a place to live,” Stephens said. “That’s the double-edged sword of rising housing prices.”
But even with the potential perils of rising home prices, Signal Hill’s real-estate market is faring well these days.
The market was languishing, but then investors started to buy homes when the market was at its bottom, elevating the market and absorbing stock, so then first-time home buyers entered the market, said Mike Murphy, a Signal Hill real-estate agent who represented Bowler and his wife Lee in selling their house and buying their condominium.
The market in Signal Hill has been especially busy in recent months.
“It’s been picking up quickly, more quickly…than anybody would have envisioned in the last year. It’s been recently, in the last two or three months, favoring sellers,” Murphy said. “Because of the lack of inventory, when a property comes on the market, it is sold very quickly, generally with multiple offers.”
Specifically, the busiest housing markets in Signal Hill are for condominiums selling between $250,000 and $400,000, and houses selling for $500,000 to $850,000, Murphy added.
It also helps that Signal Hill has features that make it attractive to homebuyers.
Some of its attractive features include its convenient location, views, and the fact that there’s new construction and, compared to Long Beach, newer homes, Murphy said. Moreover, the city’s services and the fact that there are no utility taxes also make the city appealing, Signal Hill Councilmember Larry Forester said in an email.
But it wasn’t just the natural appeal of Signal Hill that led Jerry Bowler to purchase a condominium there– he wanted to buy before prices rose further.
“I’m glad we did it now because I have a feeling that the prices are going to go up even higher. I­t looks as though it’s starting to climb even more,” Bowler said. “I think we got a pretty good price.”

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