SAN DIEGO (AP) -- California home prices rose more than 20 percent in December — with the San Francisco Bay area witnessing its sharpest increase in at least two decades — as buyers competed for scarce inventory, a research firm reported Wednesday.
The median sales price for houses and condominiums was $299,000, up 21.5 percent from $246,000 in the same period of 2011, DataQuick said. It was the 10th straight month that prices rose from the previous year.
There were 39,760 homes sold in the state, up 5.4 percent from a year earlier.
The numbers provide the latest evidence of a housing market recovery marked by thin supplies as sellers sit on the sidelines, anticipating additional gains. The California Association of Realtors said Tuesday that its index of unsold inventory of single-family homes in California stood at 2.6 months in December, down from 4.3 months a year earlier.
The figure represents how long it would take to sell all homes at the current sales clip. Supply in a normal market is considered to be five to seven months.
"I haven't been to a place that had fewer than five or six offers, and some had as many as 20," said Joe Camicia, 30, a land use consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area who has been shopping for about a year and lost a bid on a San Jose home to an all-cash buyer last month.
The median sales price in the Bay Area reached $442,750 in December, up 32 percent from $335,500 a year earlier. It was the nine-county region's highest price since $447,000 in August 2008 and the sharpest annual percentage increase since DataQuick began keeping track in 1988.
There were 7,832 homes sold in the Bay Area in December, up 4.5 percent from the same period of 2011, DataQuick said. Buyers without a record of a loan — meaning they appeared to have paid cash — accounted for 29.3 percent of sales, exceeding the monthly average of 12.5 percent since 1988.
"As soon as new listings come up, we sort of pounce of them," said Neil Golke, an engineer who has found slim pickings while shopping for a home with his wife in the San Jose area.
Golke, 30, said he offered $1.09 million for a Menlo Park home in December — more than $100,000 above the asking price — but ranked in the bottom 10 of more than 30 offers. Golke, who plans to finance about 80 percent of his purchase, discovered the ultimate buyer agreed to pay $1.58 million in cash.
In Southern California, The median price for new and existing houses and condominiums reached $323,000 in December, up 19.6 percent from $270,000 during the same period of 2011, DataQuick reported Tuesday. There were 20,274 homes sold during the month in the region, up 5.3 percent from the same period last year.
Foreclosed homes, which tend to sell at steep discounts, made up a smaller part of the sales mix statewide in December, lifting the median price. Properties that were foreclosed upon in the previous year accounted for 15.5 percent of existing home sales in California, down from 33.9 percent a year earlier and 58.8 percent in February 2009.