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The state that gave America Alt-A loans, the first tidal wave of foreclosures, the highest prices during the boom and the fastest fall during the bust is now leading the nation out of the six-year housing depression.

In the second quarter, California replaced Florida as the state dominating REALTOR.com®’s quarterly list of top turnaround towns. In the first quarter of 2012, seven Florida markets and one California market made the top 10 positions in the Realtor.com® ranking. Just one market in Florida and six in California now dominate the first 10 positions.

Leading economists like Clear Capital’s Alex Villacorta now describe the West, led by California, as leading the recovery beyond its first phase.

“Now at the start of a more advanced recovery, mid and top tier price segments in the West reported yearly gains in July of 5.0 percent and 2.7 percent, respectively. These gains indicate the buyer pool in the West has expanded beyond the segment focused on investment opportunities in low tier homes, to the owner occupied segment purchasing higher priced residences,” wrote Villacorta in Clear Capital’s July market report.

The California Association of REALTORS® reports prices continued to improve, with the median home price posting both month-over-month and year-over-year gains for the fourth consecutive month in June. June’s price rose 1.3 percent from a revised $316,410 in May and 8.1 percent from a revised $296,410 recorded in June 2011. The June 2012 figure was 30.7 percent higher than the cyclical bottom of $245,230 reached in February 2009. The median price has posted above the $300,000 level for the third straight month after remaining below that mark for 15 months.

Major California markets have cut inventory dramatically, reduced REOs and now are witnessing growing demand and improving prices. REOs are down 41.7 percent from last year, according to Foreclosure Radar, and short sales are up. In Sacramento, for example, 54.4 percent of all resales (single family homes and condos) were distressed sales. This was up slightly from 54.2 percent last month, and down from 61.3 percent in July 2011. The percentage of REOs fell to 22.4 percent, according to the Sacramento Association of REALTORS®.

From REALTOR.com® and a few other sources, here’s a review of turnaround markets:

Oakland. In the second quarter of 2012, median list prices in Oakland are up 10.79 percent compared to the same time last year, and inventory is moving 58 percent faster than in Q2 2011. Oakland also reduced its inventory by just over half (57 percent). The foreclosure rate in Contra Costa County is one in every 242 units while Alameda County is one in every 402, both significantly greater than the national rate of one in every 666 housing units.

San Jose. The median sale price of Silicon Valley homes neared a four-year high in June 2012, also the 12th consecutive month with year-over-year increases in home sales. One of the sharpest inventory level decreases occurred in San Jose in Q2 2012; totals were down 41 percent compared to Q2 2011, while median list prices increased 12.03 percent over the same quarter last year. Homes moved 29 percent faster in the last quarter compared to Q2 2011.

Bakersfield saw median list prices appreciate 7.62 percent in the second quarter of 2012 on a quarter-over-quarter basis. While Kern County today generates one foreclosure filing for every 197 homes, its for-sale inventory decreased 49 percent compared to the same quarter last year. Bakersfield’s 35-day median age of inventory, 40 percent faster in the second quarter of 2012 than the same quarter last year, positions this agricultural capital as the fifth fastest-moving market. New-home closings in Bakersfield in April 2012 were up 66.1 percent from a year ago.

San Francisco housing costs have been one of the most expensive in the nation for years, and its median list price of $699,000 for Q2 makes it one of the most expensive in the nation. Yet, its Q2 2012 inventory is 39 percent lower than it was a year ago and prices are up 11 percent on a year-over-year basis. Its 8.5 percent unemployment rate is higher than the national average. Key to the market’s improvements is fewer foreclosures and an increased number of high-end sales, as well as improved mortgage availability and ultra-low interest rates.

Fresno has seen a nearly 50 percent year-over-year quarterly reduction of inventory. Its age of inventory was 37 days in Q2 2012, which placed it in the top 10 fastest moving markets in the country. Fresno still suffers from very high negative equity at 46.3 percent, compared to 27.3 percent nationwide. Fresno County’s foreclosure rate – at one in every 145 homes – and its 15.3 percent unemployment rate may make it especially challenging to generate the demand that its housing market will need to continue to improve at the current rate.

Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Lompoc has seen a 31 percent decrease in year-over-year quarterly for-sale inventory and an increase of median list prices of 17 percent compared to the same time last year. Santa Barbara’s housing market moved 21 percent faster in the second quarter of 2012 than the same quarter last year. Santa Barbara County today generates one foreclosure filing for every 330 homes.

For more information, visit www.realestateeconomywatch.com.

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