Single-family home prices continued to jump in the Bay Area in September, with the numbers suggesting the "move-up" buyer is back, the latest sign of the market's strength.
The region saw double-digit price increases, according to a report Monday from DataQuick, a real estate information company. The biggest surge -- 21 percent -- came in homes costing $500,000 or more, partly because homeowners appear to be selling their houses to move up to more expensive ones.
"More people, at least in the Bay Area, are feeling good enough about the economy, secure enough in their jobs, to step off the sidelines and buy a house, particularly move-up buyers," said Andrew LePage of DataQuick. "More people are worrying less about prices going down in the future. That's our sense of how the psychology has changed in the last year."
Move-up buyers are a key segment of the housing market but they have been missing since the crash, and they're still missing from some parts of the region.
"I haven't seen a single move-up buyer this year," said Bryce Ellsworth of Windermere Ellsworth & Associates in Brentwood. That's because the eastern part of Contra Costa County is still driven by investors and first-time homebuyers, he said.
But they're popping up elsewhere.
Havi and Bhupinder Thind are scrambling to stage the Union City home they bought seven years ago for a showing this weekend.
The Thinds are planning to buy a new home in Dublin, drawn there by schools for their two children and the opportunity to own a newly built house.
Their home was never underwater, Havi Thind said, "but we're definitely not selling for the price we bought it for."
She said they were going to wait until next year, thinking their four-bedroom, 2,415-square-foot home might fetch a higher price then. But realizing that the new home they hoped to buy would probably be more expensive too, they decided to sell now.
They've installed new appliances and the kitchen and bathrooms have been upgraded. The asking price is $688,000. "It looks good. We'll keep our fingers crossed," she said.
"I told them I think you'll get a great price because there's nothing for sale," said their real estate agent, Steve Dhillon of Realty Expert.
Overall, Bay Area single-family home prices climbed 16 percent. Alameda County's median sales price was up 12.6 percent to $422,250 from September 2011. Contra Costa County was up 25 percent to $325,000. Santa Clara County was 13 percent above last September at $610,500. San Mateo County's median sales price was $688,000, an 18 percent increase.
Resale condominiums also saw large yearly price increases, according to DataQuick. The median price of a condo sold in September in Alameda County was up more than 21 percent to $261,500; 48 percent in Contra Costa County; 22.5 percent in Santa Clara County and 7 percent in San Mateo County.
Sale numbers for all types of homes in the nine-county Bay Area rose for the 12th consecutive month. Sales below $500,000 fell 12.4 percent from a year earlier while sales above that jumped almost 21 percent.
"The bottom of the market is gone," said Barbara Lymberis, president of the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors. "The sales that are happening are either move-up buyers or people who have been saving their money forever and can afford to buy."
"More sellers are putting their homes on the market because they are not as much underwater and feel they can put their house on the market, get a decent price for it and then move up," she said.
Two big obstacles remain for anyone shopping for a home: There aren't enough for sale to meet the demand, and credit requirements are making it tough for buyers to get a loan.
Cash buyers made up just over 28 percent of home purchases in September, DataQuick said.
Just over one-fifth of all sales were short sales, where a home is sold for less than the outstanding value of the mortgage.
Contact Pete Carey at 408-920-5419. Follow him at Twitter.com/petecarey.