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RISMEDIA, Jan. 22, 2007-(MCT)-Two months ago Mark Aizenberg and his wife were Sunday driving when she spotted an open house and said four fateful words, "Let's stop and look."

The rest is 2006 house-hunting history. The couple fell in love with the 2,400-square-foot Arden Hills home and watched the price tumble from $745,000 to $699,000 — then to $624,000.

The Aizenbergs offered $575,000. Then came a $600,000 counteroffer.

"We said $585,000 and they said 'Yes,' " says Aizenberg, a Wachovia Securities vice president who moved into the house in mid-December.

Perhaps no story better captures Sacramento-area real estate during 2006, a year when a small number of buyers wielded immense power amid greater supply than demand.

Last year marked the first time in the region since 1999 that annual sales of new and existing houses and condominiums didn't break 47,000, according to statistics released Wednesday by DataQuick Information Systems of La Jolla. And though the number of homes still on the market has dropped from summer, 2006 ended with nearly 11,000 houses for sale in four area counties.

DataQuick reported about 42,300 homes and condos closed escrow in Amador, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties in 2006-about 23,300 fewer than in 2005. The region's record tally for home sales: 70,179 in 2004, the year the housing boom peaked.

A turbulent 12 months that brought a definitive end to the housing boom also closed with lower prices. Median sales prices — the point where half cost more and half cost less- were down 16.9% in Placer County from December 2005. Yolo County reported prices down 14.1%. Sacramento County prices were down 7%.

DataQuick attributed much of the year-over-year declines-the steepest among California's urban counties-to huge discounts offered by new home builders eager to clear inventory before year's end. Price cuts from $30,000 to $100,000 were not uncommon as 2006 ended.

December's 3, 113 capital-area sales mirrored a downturn statewide. DataQuick reported a nine-year low for December sales in Placer and Sacramento counties and 10-year sales lows across much of the Bay Area and metropolitan Los Angeles.

The drops in 2005 forced all sectors of the state's housing industry to downsize, with land buyers, customer representatives in the home building industry, loan officers and real estate agents losing their jobs. But economists report that employment in other industries helped fill the vacuum, preventing the reductions from becoming a major drag on regional and state economies.

Meanwhile, December 2006 continued a traditional pattern of outperforming November in several capital-area counties.

"December usually holds up pretty well and is the stronger of the cold months," said DataQuick analyst Andrew LePage. "People have various motivations, including tax reasons, to close by year's end, and builders end up wanting to close by the end of the quarter or year."

El Dorado, Placer and Sacramento counties reported more sales in December than in November.

DataQuick, which tracks county property transfer records back to 1988, said sales typically rise 9.3% from November to December in Sacramento and Placer counties. This year they jumped 8.5%.

Median sales prices also rose slightly from November to December in El Dorado, Nevada, Sacramento and Sutter counties, DataQuick reported.

The number of homes for sale in El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento and Yolo counties also continued a five-month fall to 10,931 by month's end, according to Sacramento researcher TrendGraphix. That's 4,500 fewer houses for sale than last July.

In 2005, the year ended with 8,538 homes on the market.

Two real estate agents on Wednesday said they're seeing a strong start in January. Between the two of them, Elizabeth Weintraub of Lyon Real Estate and Carlos Kozlowski of Coldwell Banker say they have six sales in escrow.

"If they're priced right, boy, they're moving," Kozlowski said.

Copyright © 2007, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.