At least that’s what first quarter numbers compiled by the Van Nuys-based Southland Regional Association of Realtors suggest. (The association didn’t produce quarterly numbers before, but it joined a bigger multiple listing service and a new computer system hung up churning out data in February. The problem’s been fixed and a regular quarterly perspective should be soon.) In this year’s first quarter, both the median price and home sales fell from their year ago levels. Sales fell 13.3 percent to 1,867 transactions, and the median price dipped $1,000 to $606,000. That’s too small on a percentage basis for an online calculator to crunch the number. But it works out to 0.0016 percent. It’s the first quarterly price decline since the first quarter of 1997. But the last time both sales and the median price fell in a quarter dates all the back to the 1995 fourth quarter. Finally, we have a reference point on the last two San Fernando Valley residential real estate market tankings. The current one and the Great Collapse of the 1990s. So far, a hiss accompanies price appreciation leaking air in this market. The prior one came with a pop, as in a price bubble bursting. And both did so by bigger margins. Sales fell 15.2 percent to 2,351 transactions and the median price declined 7.3 percent to 174,000. “I don’t think that this particular markets is anything like what we experienced in the early- and mid-90s,” said Jim Link, the association’s executive vice president. “I think this market is a correction based on the longest sustained increase in median prices that we can recall.” The peaks and valleys are impressive. Back in 1989, the median price peaked at $245,000 on three occasions. It took 129 months to get back above that level. And finally, the median house price – the point at which half the units sell for more and half for less – moved above the year ago level again in March of 1997. It then increased 127 consecutive months on an annual basis, finally dipping below the year ago level again in November of 2006. In the 1990s the market teeter-tottered. Sales and prices generally rose and fell in a haphazard pattern. That mostly held true for sales but prices started falling annually on a consistent basis in April 1992. We didn’t see another annual increase for 66 months. That market got hit by a one-two punch of a local economy that completely restructured first and then the Northridge Earthquake in 1994. The price bottom came at $155,000 in November 1995 but relatively attractive buying opportunities existed for about five more years. Then appreciation came in waves, and it did not take long for prices to pass levels in increments of $100,000. For example, between 1989 and 2001 the annual median averaged between $236,958 and $258,583. By 2006 the median averaged $605,917. Both markets featured different kinds of pain. In the 1990s it was falling prices and sales and rising foreclosures. This decade it became financial pain for someone trying to buy in. We can pinpoint the pain threshold in this market, though. The fourth quarter of 2005, when the median price hit $600,000 for the third time that year. “Prices outpaced buyers’ willingness to buy, not buyers’ ability to buy,” Link said. That’s one reason sales can fall for 18 months and prices barely move. Daniel Blake, director of the Economic Research Center at California State University, Northridge, said the present may persist for a while. “It suggests it could continue this way for a while with basically no change in prices and really suppressed sales.” [email protected] (818) 713-3743160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!