Bank owned homes are still putting downward pressure on residential prices in the East Bay counties of Contra Costa and Alameda. The largest cities in these counties are Oakland, Richmond, Berkeley, Concord, Fremont, Livermore, Hayward and Antioch.

While home values climbed up in other parts of the San Francisco Bay Area, house prices in Alameda County inched upward by only 0.06 percent in the final quarter of 2009 compared to the previous quarter.

Prices also remained flat in December, after they rose month-over-month in the eight months prior to November. The median sales price in the October-December quarter in Alameda was $427,484.

In Contra Costa, home prices inched upward only by 0.09 percent in the fourth quarter to $338,652. Just like in Alameda, the median price stayed flat in December last year compared to November.

The slowdown in price appreciation in the two counties alarmed housing officials who were hoping the East Bay market is already on its way to recovery. The weakening trend is especially significant because this year, the market must be strong enough to bear the impact of higher mortgage rates, the expiration of the tax credits, the end of the mortgage-backed security purchase program, the tightening of bank lending practices and the possible increase in bank owned homes.

In 2009, the San Francisco metropolitan area suffered an 18-percent jump in foreclosure filings compared to total filings in 2008. More than 54,000 houses were hit with foreclosure postings, representing 3.2 percent of all residential units in the area. The filings also marked an increase of 137 percent from filings in 2007. In contrast to price depreciations in East Bay, areas in the San Francisco Bay where better school districts are located, prices have been climbing up due to rising demand for homes.

Based on data from Altos Research, there are around 1,900 homes available for sale in Alameda in the second week of February and there are around 2,250 units on the market in Contra Costa. Compared to the sales inventory during the same week last year, the inventory dropped by 40 percent in Alameda and fell by 48 percent in Contra Costa.

One hopeful sign that could indicate a slower increase in bank owned homes in the area in the coming months is the drop in number of underwater mortgage loans in Santa Clara, Contra Costa and Alameda, with quarter-over-quarter declines of two to 4.3 percentage points in the October-December quarter last year.

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