Marin's million-dollar home sales plunge

In the latest sign of a crumbling economy, Marin's million-dollar home sales took a dive last year to match plummeting sales of high-end homes statewide.

The number of Marin homes that sold for $1 million or more last year dropped 34 percent, from 1,279 in 2007 to 843 last year, according to a report Tuesday by MDA DataQuick of San Diego, a real estate information service.

Mill Valley's 178 million-dollar home sales in 2008 put it at the top of the county - and 15th in the state - in terms of number of high-end home sales, but that was down 41 percent from 301 such sales in 2007.

Across the state, the 24,436 homes that sold for $1 million or more in 2008 plunged 42.5 percent from 42,506 sold the previous year. Last year's figure was the state's lowest million-plus sales count in five years.

"Discretionary spending in the housing market has pretty much been on hold the past 15 months," said DataQuick president John Walsh, noting home sales in much of the high-end market "have been on hold for months, waiting for financing."

John Karevoll, an analyst with the firm, said Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties continue to have the bulk of the state's high-end real estate activity. He highlighted Ross as a town where just about all home sales were in the million-dollar category.

"There may be more in some parts of Los Angeles, but L.A. is a hundred times bigger than Marin," Karevoll said.

He said while Marin "seems to dance to its own tune" compared with state real estate trends, that might be changing.

"A lot of Marin households can absorb the economic downturn longer than the rest of the state can, even in the high-end market," Karevoll said. "What's changing, especially in Marin, (is) a lot of activity has been put on hold."

Mill Valley Realtor Melina D'Arro of Coldwell Banker, who deals in high-end properties in Southern Marin and elsewhere in the county, said the recessionary climate requires more effort and attention to detail for people in her business.

"I really think we have to re-think in real estate and work harder for this," said D'Arro, who said her million-dollar home sales last year more than doubled such sales from the previous year.

"People need to see a value if a house is listed at an extraordinary amount, (but) we have to be realistic," she said. "It used to be you didn't have to put a sign on the property. It's not that way anymore. It requires a lot of attention to the sellers and the property. The buyers are still out there and they are waiting for prices to drop and drop and drop."

Statewide, home sales at all price levels increased 2.5 percent to 393,703 last year. Of those sales that sold for under $1 million, 2,052 of the homes had previously been sold for more than $1 million. One in 16 homes sold for $1 million or more in 2008; the year before it was one in nine.

Of the 8.51 million homes in California, 254,745, or 3 percent, are assessed for more than $1 million by county assessors' offices, according to DataQuick.

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