MERCED, Calif. — Where did everyone go?
Merced, once the state's hottest housing market, is headed back to being, well, Merced again.
Real estate agent Mark R. Gregory is holding an open house to sell a nearly new three-bedroom on a corner lot, and it's as if the Earth had been emptied.Last year, this Central Valley city enjoyed the state's hottest real estate market. Sure, things have slowed since then, but Gregory possesses a salesman's indestructible optimism.
He put a sign on the lawn, a note on the Internet, an ad in the paper. He's hoping for investors from the coast marveling at how much house you can buy here for $359,000. Or local couples looking to move up into something nicer. Or Bay Area workers willing to make the long commute.
Three hours quietly pass. At 4 p.m., the agent pulls up the sign and locks the door. Total visitors: zero."It's like everyone got together and said, 'Let's not buy for a while,' " Gregory says.
The good times have already ended here, in the same way slamming into a wall reduces your speed. A house will fetch 20% less today than it did last summer, brokers say, assuming it finds a buyer at all. Just a little while ago, Merced was an investor's dream.
The Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight reported this month that prices in the city and surrounding area increased 31% in 2005. The housing agency ranked Merced first in price appreciation in California and ninth in the nation