Bargain Hunters Snap Up California Homes The housing market may be in a downward spiral, but it's a buyer's market for many deal seekers in California. Yet for first-time buyers, the path to home ownership can still be rocky.

Bargain Hunters Snap Up California Homes

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The drop in oil and gas prices is a relief to many Americans, like people we've been interviewing in recent days in the far suburbs, people with long commutes. It's almost the first thing they mention. The continuing drop in housing prices may not be such good news for everybody, unless you're a homebuyer who can finally afford to get into the market.

In California, among other places, home prices have fallen so much that many people are now buying houses that have been out of reach for years, though for first-time buyers, the path to home ownership can still be rocky. From member station KXJZ in Sacramento, Steve Milne reports.

(Soundbite of shoveling)

STEVE MILNE: Debbie Payne(ph) is in her new backyard, shoveling a pile of fist-sized gray and white rocks.

Ms. DEBBIE PAYNE: These little rocks weigh a lot more than I thought.

MILNE: Payne is scooping the rocks into a planter near her swimming pool. Do-it-yourself projects like this are one of the pleasures of home ownership.

Ms. PAYNE: This to me is just like paradise. We pretty much live in the backyard.

MILNE: Payne and her partner, both approaching 50, are nurses. They bought this two-story house in Sacramento's modest Rosemont neighborhood last month for $275,000. A year ago, it would've sold for $100,000 more. The 30-year-old home has four bedrooms and two-and-a-half bathrooms.

Sitting at her dining room table, Payne remembers when she and her partner got the call from the realtor that after three long years of house hunting, this house was finally theirs.

Ms. PAYNE: Oh, my gosh. Just, I mean, we were screaming up and down. Just couldn't even believe it.

MILNE: But now, after six weeks in the house, this is what they can believe in: home repair.

Ms. PAYNE: It was pretty much a mess.

MILNE: This house had been foreclosed upon and was left vacant for six months.

Ms. PAYNE: We've had some major repairs to do, some pluming problems. and we've got holes that are in the floor that we have now discovered. So we've got some work ahead of us.

MILNE: And that's pretty typical for people buying a foreclosed home. Knowing how to swing a hammer will definitely come in handy, according to Kathy Fox, a real estate agent in Sacramento.

Ms. KATHY FOX (Real Estate Agent): In many cases, a bank-owned home needs some fixing, and more fixing than a neophyte is prepared or understands that they can do. And some of the best buys are in areas that maybe are not the favorite areas in terms of the neighborhoods that people want to live in.

MILNE: They may not be dream homes, but bargain hunters are snapping them up. The real estate research firm DataQuick reports that sales in the Sacramento area are up more than 70 percent from the same time last year. DataQuick's Andrew LePage says it's the same story across California, as buyers embrace falling prices.

Mr. ANDREW LEPAGE (DataQuick): We see that from the northern stretches of the state all the way down to the border with Mexico in inland areas, where we've seen a lot of depreciation. These are the areas that are seeing sometimes a doubling or more in sales relative to a year ago.

MILNE: In fact, a year ago, only 24 percent of Californians could afford to buy a home, according to the California Association of Realtors. Now it's 48 percent.

Ms. PAYNE: And then this is the master bedroom, which I loveā€¦

MILNE: Bringing more proud home owners like Debbie Payne into the housing market.

For NPR News, I'm Steve Milne in Sacramento.

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