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In California, Prices on Foreclosed Homes May Be Firming

BusinessWeek’s Mara Der Hovanesian reports today on what passes for good news in the housing market. She’s attending JPMorgan Chase’s annual investor conference in New York.

Charlie Scharf, head of retail financial services at JPM, said today that the discounts for their real-estate-owned sales in California fell in 2008. That means the percentage they have to mark down a foreclosed house to sell got smaller. The number of days that foreclosed houses stay on the market before being sold shrank as well, Scharf says. Loss-severity numbers rose but appeared to stabilize in the second half. January 2009 was worse than December 2008, but not by a lot.

Scharf’s hopeful bottom line: “There seems to be some bottoming in California. It’s one place where we see a meaningful [stabilization of] … house price deterioration.”

Discounts for JPM Chase’s owned or confiscated homes in California fell from 17.7% in January 2008 to 3.8% in December 2008, before ticking up to 5.6% in January 2009. Average days on market fell from 153 to 104 in December 2008, then crept back to 120 in January 2009. The percent of loss severity rose from 16.5% to 42.%, but that number has hovered from 36% in August to 41.6% in January 2009.

It’s way too soon to call a bottom in the housing market in California, much less the nation as a whole. Not with the Commerce Dept. reporting today that sales of new homes nationwide dropped 10% in January to an annual pace of 309,000, the lowest level since data began in 1963. On the other hand, as Hot Property blogger Prashant Gopal observed recently, housing starts are extremely depressed. Whenever housing turns around, you can expect a “massive” jump in starts.

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