In the last snapshot of the Bay Area's housing market to be released in 2012, November continued yearlong trends that have rewarded investors, challenged first-time homebuyers and sent prices upward.
A shortage of homes for sale and competition from buyers paying cash jacked up the median price of a single-family home by double-digit percentage increases from a year ago, real estate information company DataQuick reported Thursday.
The report reflects a year of dramatic changes in a housing market battered by the collapse of a bubble and the credit crunch that followed in 2008. The year saw bidding wars at every level of the market as prices rose in response to strong demand for homes in the East Bay, Peninsula and South Bay.
Sales of all types of homes in the nine-county Bay Area were the highest for any November since 2006, DataQuick said. But that was still below the average going back to 1988.
Median sales prices for single-family homes in November reached $667,000 in San Mateo County; $616,000 in Santa Clara County; $448,500 in Alameda County and $320,000 in Contra Costa County.
"We're getting multiple offers on anything that shows well and is priced well," said Joe Cutrufelli, manager at Alain Pinel Realtors in Walnut Creek. "We're seeing it from the bottom all the way up" the price range, he said. "I feel sorry for first-time homebuyers."
This year, bidding wars for scarce homes have been largely won by people who can pay cash.
"For every qualified buyer there are many more ready-cash buyers," said Doreen Roberts, president of the Bay East Association of Realtors. "Every property that comes on the market receives incredible attention," she said, with some commanding 20 to 40 offers.
Pleasanton broker Don Faught, who is 2013 president of the California Association of Realtors, said one client just back from Afghanistan was struggling to buy a home with a VA loan.
"No one will touch him. He's going up against all-cash buyers, who typically are investors. That's a terrible consequence of what's going on in the market," Faught said. "But definitely, prices are going in a positive direction."
A drop in foreclosure sales is also contributing to the mismatch between a flood of buyers and the number of homes for sale. Those sales reached the lowest level in the Bay Area for any month since 2007, DataQuick reported. The drop reflects a switch by banks to short sales and loan modifications to deal with homeowners who had fallen behind on their mortgage payments.
The pressure on prices is beginning to pull more underwater homes -- worth less than their mortgages -- back above water, stirring hopes for a stronger recovery in the spring.
"It will take until about March for sellers to catch up to the fact that now that they have a little more equity they can put their house on the market," said Suzanne Yost, president of the Silicon Valley Association of Realtors.
Although November's sales of existing single-family homes were down from October in a normal seasonal trend, the East Bay, Peninsula and Silicon Valley had gains of 15 to 19 percent from the previous year.
The median sales price rose more than 20 percent in Contra Costa and San Mateo counties, 17.3 percent in Santa Clara County and about 10 percent in San Mateo County.
The median sales price for condos in the nine-county Bay Area jumped almost 36 percent to $350,000 from a year earlier, reaching $456,750 in San Mateo County, $396,500 in Santa Clara County, $286,000 in Alameda County and $227,500 in Contra Costa County.
Reflecting steadily increasing prices, the percentage of homes sold in November for less than $500,000 dropped nearly 13 percent from a year earlier, while the number sold for more than that increased 36 percent, DataQuick said.
"There were definitely signs of recovery at every level of the market" in 2012, said Barbara Lymberis, president of the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors.
Distressed property sales, a combination of foreclosure and short sales, accounted for 35 percent of the market, down from 50 percent a year ago.
Foreclosure resales were another 11.5 percent of the market, but that was down sharply from 25.2 percent a year ago. It was the lowest number of foreclosure resales since November 2007, DataQuick reported.
Short sales, in which a home is sold for less than the amount of its mortgage, made up 23 percent of the sales in November.
Investors were out in force, typically paying cash. Absentee buyers bought 24.4 percent of all Bay Area homes in October, well above the monthly average of 14.7 percent going back to 2000.
Contact Pete Carey at 408-920-5419 Follow him on Twitter.com/petecarey