Stanislaus County home prices dropped again in March, sliding to a median $349,000. That was $6,000 less than February and $30,000 less than March 2006.
The number of homes sold in March rose significantly compared with January or February, according to monthly statistics gathered by DataQuick Information Systems.
There were 589 homes sold last month in the county. That was 132 more than in February and 100 more than in January. Sales, however, still lagged behind March 2006, when 941 homes sold.
Real estate professionals see the March sales boost as a good sign that the market might be stabilizing. "The traditional spring market is probably kicking in," suggested Dale Gray, chief executive officer for the Central Valley Association of Realtors. "Realtors and brokers are reporting that things have picked up a bit."
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New home builders also have started selling more, according to Stephen Madison, executive vice president of the Building Industry Association of Central California.
"I am hearing cautious optimism from area builders. We know the market is not presently poised to come roaring back," Madison said. "Foot traffic is up at model homes, and during the past several weeks builders have been selling more homes, particularly during the weekends."
Florsheim Homes, which has developments in Ceres, Turlock, Manteca and Lathrop, "had a very good first quarter," said its president, Joseph Anfuso. Florsheim sold about 80 percent of what it had projected to sell, which Anfuso said he considers good during a slow real estate market.
To keep its homes selling, Anfuso said, Florsheim reduced its prices 5 percent to 10 percent last year. At its Rose Walk project in Turlock, for instance, prices were dropped $30,000 to $35,000.
"We don't have much left we can cut from a pricing standpoint," Anfuso said.
Florsheim will continue to develop subdivisions, he said, including Rose Way. It will open this summer in Modesto. Anfuso is reassessing future land purchases, however, to make sure the property is appropriately priced.
Proper pricing also is crucial in home sales, according to realty agents.
"It's definitely a buyer's market," said Michelle Griffith, a Modesto agent with Prudential California Realty who is a director for the California Association of Realtors. "Buyers have a lot more bargaining power now."
To close one recent deal on a $280,000 Modesto house, Griffith said her seller had to lower the asking price $39,000 plus provide more than $5,000 to cover the buyer's closing costs.
Audrey Hermanson, who is on the Modesto Council for the Central Valley Association of Realtors, said many homeowners got used to homes appreciating in value by 10 percent or more every year and are reluctant to accept that property values have dropped.
But in the current real estate market, sellers must compete. In Modesto alone, there are more than 1,600 homes for sale.
"Buyers need to come out of hiding," Hermanson said. "The inventory is huge. The mortgage interest rates are great, and the sellers want to sell."
Bee staff writer J.N.Sbranti can be reached at 578-2196 or firstname.lastname@example.org.