SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Southern California home prices surged in March to the highest level in nearly five years, as buyers competed for tight supplies, a research firm said Wednesday.
The median price for new and existing houses and condominiums jumped to $345,500, up 23.4 percent from the same period last year and the highest since reaching $348,000 in July 2008, DataQuick said.
The median price rose by $24,500, or 8 percent, during one month alone.
"It's remarkable how much the housing scene has changed in a year," said John Walsh, DataQuick's president. "At this point in 2012 there were still plenty of folks sitting on the market's sidelines, waiting to be sure the recovery was real."
Gains were spread across all six counties in the region. The median price in Orange County, the region's most expensive, surpassed the half-million dollar mark in March, jumping 26.3 percent from last year to $505,000. San Bernardino, the least expensive, posted a 26.7 percent gain to $190,000.
There were 20,581 homes sold in the region in March, up 3.1 percent from a year earlier. It was the highest March sales tally since 2007.
Lack of inventory continued to hamper sales.
The California Association of Realtors reported Monday that its index of unsold inventory in the Los Angeles metropolitan area stood at 2.9 months in March, compared with 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.
Los Angeles-area homes were on the market for a median of 38.3 days in March, down sharply from 57 days a year earlier, according to the Realtors group.
Foreclosed homes, which tend to sell at a discount, were a smaller part of the sales mix, lifting the median price for the overall market, DataQuick said.
Homes that were foreclosed during the previous year accounted for 13.9 percent of existing home sales in March, down from 31.5 percent a year earlier and down from 56.7 percent in February 2009.
Investor buying remained strong. DataQuick said absentee buyers — mostly investors and second-home purchasers — bought 30.6 percent of Southern California homes last month, up from 28.2 percent a year earlier and up from a monthly average of 18 percent since the San Diego-based research firm began keeping track in 2000.