Fueled by mushrooming tech wealth, sales of Bay Area luxury homes for more than $1 million in 2013 were at their highest level in six years, according to a report Thursday. While sales between $1 million and $2 million did not set all-time records, "once you get up to $2 million and above, it was a record year in California and the Bay Area," said Andrew LePage of real estate information service DataQuick.
In Contra Costa County, two of that county's three top sales were in Lafayette -- one for $5.585 million and one for $4.484 million, DataQuick said. A home in Danville commanded $4.5 million.
Valerie Cook-Watkins, manager of Coldwell Banker's office in Orinda, said that on a recent real estate tour, six of eight houses just coming up for sale were priced at more than $1 million. The highest was $3.75 million and the rest were between $1.5 million and $1.85 million, Cook-Watkins said.
"In Orinda, Lafayette and Moraga, $1 million to $1.3 million is not a luxury home," she said, "but a million can buy you a very nice home."
Based on public records, DataQuick said that one Alameda County home sold for $4.9 million, while two other homes sold for $4.1 million and $4.091 million last year. All three were in Piedmont, but in some other parts of the county homes were commanding well over $1 million.
"Berkeley is one of the hottest markets around," said David Valdez of Pacific Union Real Estate in Montclair. One of his sales last year was a 4,351 square foot home in nearby Kensington for $2.775 million.
The number of multimillion-dollar home sales broke records in the South Bay, Peninsula and San Francisco and were the highest since 2007 in the East Bay.
"This was a very, very good year," said Mary Gullixson of Alain Pinel Realtors. There were 23 sales over $10 million in Atherton, Woodside, Portola Valley, Palo Alto and Los Altos Hills, she said. Some of it was tech money, she said, and another factor behind the increase was that some estates that had not been on the market in years finally came up for sale, she said.
In Atherton, one palatial home sold for $36.75 million -- the highest Bay Area sale of the year, at least according to public records, although some buyers of very expensive homes go to lengths to keep their purchases private.
In Palo Alto, the top sale was $15 million for a house in an old, exclusive neighborhood. The pace of price appreciation in that leafy suburb was demonstrated in the recent sale for $11.4 million of a vacant lot in Palo Alto that had been purchased for $9 million in October 2012.
Economist Stephen Levy with the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy in Palo Alto said prices are being driven by too many buyers and not enough homes for sale. "You have all of this tech growth, and they're basically competing for the existing stock of single family homes," he said.
Santa Clara County added about 30,000 jobs last year, Levy said, while the region had roughly 8,000 new building permits. "So you have rapid job growth and not nearly enough supply coming on line."
With a rising share price, "Facebook really came back" in generating high-end buyers, said Ken DeLeon of DeLeon Realty in Palo Alto. "Buyers felt more confident. Google buyers also played a larger part."
Many ordinary homes in pricey areas were pulled into the million-dollar bracket by rising prices, DataQuick said.
"The $1 million to $1.5 million range was bulked up by a lot of homes in the $800,000 to $900,000 range finally popping up over the million-dollar threshold," said LePage.
But a million dollars doesn't go very far in some parts of the Bay Area following a year or two of feverish bidding and multiple offers.
"For $1 million, you're talking about a decent townhouse or a condo these days," said Arthur Sharif of Sotheby's International Realty in Menlo Park. Sharif represented sellers of two big ticket homes last year -- one in Woodside house for $12.5 million and one in Atherton for $8.9 million.
In Cupertino, Los Altos and Los Gatos with their good schools, "$1.5 million is entry level," said Mark Wong of Alain Pinel Realty in Saratoga. "We just sold two over $10 million properties in our office," he said, but there are still more buyers than sellers.
Contact Pete Carey at 408-920-5419. Follow him on Twitter.com/petecarey.