updated 3/13/2008 4:49:46 PM ET 2008-03-13T20:49:46

Median home prices plunged in many of California's most populous counties in February, with Southern California leading the slide with an overall drop of 17.9 percent compared to a year earlier, according to new housing data released Thursday.

The drops reflect a deepening housing crisis in the state, which saw home values soar during the housing boom then decline sharply in most areas.

Median home prices fell this year in 15 major counties, DataQuick Information Systems said.

The median price in a six-county area of Southern California fell to $408,000 _ the lowest level since October 2004, when it was $402,500. That median is 19.2 percent below the region's peak price of $505,000 last summer, and it's 1.7 percent below January's median, the firm said.

In the nine counties of the San Francisco Bay Area, the median price fell 11.6 percent to $548,000 compared to a year earlier and 17.6 percent from the region's peak median price of $665,000 last summer. Bay Area prices were essentially flat from January.

Home sales volume also kept sliding last month.

Sales fell 39 percent from a year earlier in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. In all, 10,777 homes were sold in February in those six counties, up 8 percent from January, DataQuick said.

Southern California's home sales volume has hit new lows every month since September.

The nine San Francisco area counties saw a similar slowdown, as sales dropped 36.7 percent last month from February 2007.

Some 3,989 homes were sold in San Francisco, Marin, San Mateo, Napa, Alameda, Sonoma, Contra Costa, Santa Clara and Solano counties. That was up 11.2 percent from January.

Even as prices fall, buyers remain slow to dive into the market, with many waiting for prices to fall further.

Others have been unable to find affordable financing because lenders stung by soaring mortgage defaults and foreclosures have cut back on the easy lending that helped propel the housing boom.

The dynamic has worsened the prospects for many homeowners desperate to sell as falling home values drain their equity.

Statewide figures were expected later Thursday.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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