Southland home prices are sizzling this summer.
Prices in the Los Angeles metro area are up 19 percent from a year ago, according to a widely watched index released Tuesday.
In the San Fernando Valley, the median price of a previously owned home soared a record 39 percent in May and cracked the half million mark again, a trade group said.
And San Bernardino County's median price jumped 28 percent last month, according to market tracker DataQuick.
Sale volume is showing signs of life, too. A report issued Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development said that sales of new home in May increased 29 percent to an annualized rate of 476,000 units from 366,000 a year earlier. May's total was the highest in five years, the department said.
It adds up to a housing market recovery gaining steam.
"I think it's on track and firmly entrenched," said David Blitzer, chairman of the Index Committee in charge of Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller Home Price Index.
The April index for Los Angeles, the most current, shows that Los Angeles area prices increased 18.8 percent from 2012 and were up 3.4 percent from March.
By comparison, the index that tracks 20 major metro areas was up 11.6 percent from a year ago.
For Los Angeles, it's the biggest gain since the index jumped 20.5 percent in February 2006 as prices were climbing toward their zenith before the price bubble deflated.
This market is not in for a repeat performance -- yet, Blitzer said.
"I think there may be some small additional gains but the rate of increase has to level off pretty soon or we're back to the bubble. But I don't think we are at the bubble at this point," he said.
Price increases across the region are being fueled by scant inventory, a sharp drop in foreclosure activity, an increase in sales of more expensive properties and a decrease in sales of lower priced homes.
Although the Case-Shiller index lags the market by a month, it's relied upon as a good price marker.
"I think the index gives you a somewhat more pure view of how prices are adjusting in the market," said Robert Kleinhenz, chief economist at the Kyser Center for Economic Research in Los Angeles.
Competition among buyers is heating up, too.
"Extremely lean supply is bumping up against strong demand from investors and other would-be buyers," he said.
During May the Valley's median price hit $520,000, increasing $145,000 from $375,000 a year earlier, said the Van Nuys-based Southland Regional Association of Realtors. And the price increased $60,000 from April. It was the biggest year-over-year increase since a 35.4 percent jump in February 1989.
But May's median is still $135,000 under the record $655,00 in June 2007.
"It's going to be a while before we get back up to that level," said Jim Link, the association's CEO.
The market mix and scant inventory get credit for the Valley price gains.
"There is a lot more activity at the upper end of the market and the low-end sales that were driving the market are pretty much done," he said.
Home sales perked up a bit, too, rising 6.5 percent to 604 properties from 567 a year earlier. Sales increased 7.8 percent from April.
The condominium median price increased 40.9 percent to $310,000 from $220,000 a year earlier and rose 11.9 percent from $277,000 in April. Sales increased 21.6 percent to 253 units from 208 a year ago and surged 31.8 percent from 192 in April.
Inventory continued declining. At the end of last month there were 1,142 properties listed for sale with the association, down 30.5 percent from a year ago and just a 1.3 month supply at the current sales pace.
Rising prices may help change that.
"We expect inventory to gradually increase because of the gains in the median price. A majority of homeowners are no longer under water and that means there is an incentive to put their homes on the market," Link said.
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