Triglia, the Sacramento broker, says the relative scarcity of Eichlers means they are still selling at a premium to non-modern homes, although they have declined about $50,000 from the height of the market.
The Eichlers are in South Land Park, one of Sacramento's premiere neighborhoods, which has retained values better than much of the area, Triglia says. Some Streng neighborhoods have done well also, including the upscale Wilhaggin development, which had few if any foreclosures, Steve Streng says.
Another area that has fared relatively well in the downturn was the San Francisco Peninsula, Sennett says, where values fell 20 percent both for modern and non-modern, but where prices began firming up earlier than most other markets. Sennett credits the area's relatively low unemployment rate, high-paying technical jobs, good schools, and convenient location between San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
Santa Clara Valley is another pocket where prices held fairly well. Nil Erdal says the price drop after October 2008 was ten to 15 percent. She also says that sales of Eichler homes slowed several months after other home sales in the area were affected by the downturn.
Not surprisingly, values in upper-income neighborhoods have often fared better than lower-income.
Although home values declined everywhere in Los Angeles, Craig Terrien says, "The Westside's been hurt a little bit less because the people there have more money, and they don't have to sell as much as people in lower-income neighborhoods. There are more people there who say, 'This is what my house is worth, and if I'm not going to get it, I'm not going to sell it.'
"In the (San Fernando) Valley, people often have to move. If you have to move, you have to sell. That's the way it is."
In some markets, prices have already returned to pre-boom levels, including San Mateo Highlands, where values had fallen 20 percent. "We weren't at our absolute high for very long," Glenn Sennett says. "We're back down now to 2004 prices. From 2004 to 2007, houses went up about 20 percent."
In the East Bay, Sam Benson says, things are also looking up. "You're seeing a lot of people at open houses. There's good, strong activity." An Eichler recently sold in Oakland for more than the asking price, and with multiple offers. Benson attributes the improvement to "buyer confidence. And the rates are down so low."
Another positive note for the housing market: Congress extended the tax credit for first-time homebuyers and add a credit for move-up buyers.
Good news can be found statewide. In Northern California, the median price for a home rose seven percent in October 2009, and 1.8 percent in Southern California, from the prior month.
But bad news can be found also. In Northern California in the third quarter of the year, one in 20 mortgages was facing foreclosure—a record. Also, a third of the new foreclosures were on fixed-rate mortgages, suggesting that job losses, more than over-enthusiastic borrowing, were to blame.
And the downturn in prices may not be over, some agents warn. Even though prices are going up in modern neighborhoods throughout Sacramento, Streng says, "It worries me a little because there's still a lot of inventory of bank-owned homes out there, and it would adversely affect prices if they all come onto the market."
Nil Erdal believes this is a good time to sell an Eichler for someone who's thinking about moving within two or three years, because interest rates are low and are more likely to rise than to decrease much. And it's unlikely home values will rise significantly for the next several years, she says. But an owner who has no reason to move for the next six or seven years may do better to stay put, she says.
As for buyers, Erdal suggests not waiting for interest rates to drop further, because they may not. "And you have to live somewhere," she says.
Asked to predict how soon housing prices will return to previous levels, Heidi Slocomb laughs. "Who knows? How can you discover that? You can't."
Photos: David Toerge, Ernie Braun
Where once buyers could qualify for loans by smiling and properties by having four walls, today "there are tighter standards for loans that are securitized," says Cynthia Kroll, senior regional economist at the Fischer Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business. "Freddie (Mac) and Fannie (Mae) are going to hold the line more now than in the past. We could also see more regulation."