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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on September 3rd, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 26 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 26

Cities in Santa Barbara County rank third for housing market turnarounds

BY CAMILLIA LANHAM


FINALLY HOME
Chris and Annie Looyson opened the door to a Santa Maria home that’s their very own after two years of searching.
PHOTO COURTESY OF ANNIE LOOYSON

After two very long years of trying to buy a house, Annie Looyson and her husband finally purchased one three weeks ago.

“It was a crazy chance of circumstances,” Looysen said. “We walked in and started high-fiving each other.”

It’s a three-bedroom, two-bath on Santa Maria’s east side. Looysen said it was a short-sale home. After five months of waiting on escrow, the original buyer lost his job and could no longer afford to purchase the house. Escrow is a process some home sales go through before a sale is final; funds are held by a third party either until financial obligations are met or all the conditions of the sale are met.

Looysen and her husband pretty much had the house dropped in their laps, and they didn’t have to wait on escrow because it never got re-priced or re-listed.

“It was basically January pricing, we got in on,” Looysen said.

And that’s a good thing, considering what’s happened to housing prices and the amount of buyers in the Central Coast market over the last year and a half.

An increase in housing prices, coupled with the average amount of time Santa Barbara-area listings spend posted on Realtor.com, have put “Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Lompoc, Calif.” at No. 3 on the list for top turnaround towns in the nation for the second quarter of 2013. Realtor.com released its second quarter top-10 list at the beginning of August.

Now, that turnaround status is a good indicator of where the economy’s headed, but it also signals the difficulty first-time homebuyers such as the Looysens face when trying to purchase a home. Looysen said they made several offers on homes—well over the asking price—in Nipomo, but never got a bite.

She remembers one house in particular: They offered $30,000 over the asking price, but 34 other people also bid on the property, so Looysen and her man had to continue their search.

A lot happened in the two years the couple combed the Central Coast for that perfect fit. For instance, Looysen’s husband got a new job—a better job—so the housing price they could afford went up a couple of notches. He now works at Atlas Copco in Santa Maria and she runs a house cleaning business.

“Our budget went up, but so did the houses,” Looysen said.

When they first started looking, houses were between $100,000 and $200,000, and those homes weren’t exactly desirable. Looysen said all at once, it seemed like those homes disappeared and practically overnight prices jumped up to $300,000 or higher.

That price increase is a huge indicator that more and more people want to stop renting and buy. It’s not just in Santa Barbara County; it’s all over, but that turnaround is happening quicker in this county than it is in other parts of the United States—that is, at least according to Realtor.com.

In an e-mail to the Sun, Lexie Puckett with Realtor.com said placements for the top 10 turnaround towns were put together based on statistics generated from the houses listed on the website.

“Realtor.com gives a very accurate and comprehensive view of the national and local housing markets—98 percent of all MLS (Multi Listing Service) listings are included on Realtor.com,” Puckett said in the e-mail.

She added that Santa Barbara County’s dynamic trio of cities climbed seven spots up the list since the second quarter of last year. Ahead of the third-place trio are Oakland and Orange County, first and second place, respectively, and on the list at No. 4 is San Jose. California-designated real estate areas actually take up six spots on the list, with Los Angeles-Long Beach at No. 6 and San Diego at No. 9. 

Shea Hutchinson, president of the Santa Maria Association of Realtors, said one of the reasons California is rising so fast is because it was hit so hard when the recession came around. He said he can’t speak for homes in Santa Barbara, but the market in Santa Maria, Lompoc, and Orcutt is in good shape and the system is steadily moving toward a normal market.

Although Realtor.com lists the median price at $685,000 for the Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Lompoc area, Hutchinson said Santa Barbara’s super-high housing prices—say, $1 million for a house in Montecito—skewed the totals.

“They always throw Santa Barbara in with us, [but] it doesn’t really reflect us,” Hutchinson said. “[Realtor.com’s] numbers are accurate other than the prices.”

Those numbers are a 34.3 percent increase in median housing prices, a 30.9 percent decrease in the amount of time a house spends on the market—down from 56 days in 2012—and a 
27.8 percent decrease in the number of houses 
on the market.

Another good market indicator is the percentage of homes on the market that are distressed—foreclosed upon or short sales. Hutchinson said the numbers have dropped from 50 percent to 9 or 10 percent.

Hutchinson shared housing market statistics from the Santa Maria and Orcutt areas with the Sun that show 105 houses currently listed on the market—of which about 10 percent are distressed. Properties with pending sales number 177, and a total of 625 homes have been sold so far this year. About 40 percent of the homes this year were distressed sales.

Hutchinson said the low number of homes on the market—normally it’s above 200—has resulted in multiple offers per home and consistent overbidding above the market price. He added that just about the only thing that could prevent the market from its steady upward clip is an increase in interest rates.

After two years of watching the housing market fly to what they thought was just beyond their income’s reach, the Looysens are ecstatic with their recent purchase. They’re happy to finally be settling into a new home with their dog.

“It’s wonderful,” Looysen said. “I just really feel like we’re meant to be here.”

 

Contact Staff Writer Camillia Lanham at clanham@santamariasun.com.