Bay Area home sales continued a steady string of yearly gains in October, with middle to high-end homes accounting for the increased inactivity, according to a report Wednesday.
The nearly 8,000 sales of all types of homes in the nine-county Bay Area last month shows the market is continuing to recover from the worst downturn in decades, the real estate information service DataQuick reported.
Homes sales were up 21 percent from a year ago, and have increased over the previous year for 16 months in a row, the company said. But sales still are about 9 percent below the average October for the past 25 years.
There were 50 homes sold for $2 million or more in Santa Clara County in October, the most for an October in DataQuick's records going back to 1988.
"The middle and high end of the market are driving the increase," said Andrew LePage of DataQuick.
"We're seeing more and more people getting off the sidelines, drawn by low rates that have gotten even lower and improvements in consumer confidence," LePage said. "More people feel more confident in their jobs and believe we've probably hit bottom with home prices, so they're not worried about being underwater."
The average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage was 3.4 percent in the past week.
Sales of expensive homes in Palo Alto "have been really strong," said Peter Giovannotto with Dreyfus Properties. "Generally, in the winter it slows down a fair amount, but it's still hyperaggressive" for any home priced under $2 million.
Sales of existing single-family homes were up 14 percent from a year ago in Alameda County, 9.5 percent in Contra Costa County, 24 percent in Santa Clara County and 20 percent in San Mateo County,
The median sales price of a single family in the nine-county Bay Area was $440,000, up about 16 percent from a year ago.
Alameda County's median price of $420,750 was 12 percent above last year; Contra Costa's median of $300,000 was up 15 percent from last October; Santa Clara County's median of $619,750 was nearly 20 percent above a year ago, and San Mateo County's median $680,750 was up nearly 16 percent from last year.
Still, the question remains how much the increases in sales price are due to a different mix in the market rather than actual appreciation in home values.
In the lower price range, sales continued to fall below levels seen a year ago, thanks to a declining inventory because of a drop in foreclosures. Distressed sales -- foreclosures and sales for less than the amount of the mortgage -- made up 33 percent of sales, down from 63 percent in October 2011.
Sales for all types of homes under $300,000 fell 15 percent from a year earlier, while sales in the $400,000 to $800,000 range rose nearly 26 percent, DataQuick said. Sales above that nearly doubled from the previous year.
In Santa Clara County, sales of homes priced over $800,000 increased more than 42 percent from the previous October, but dropped 17 percent for those priced under $400,000.
The same pattern prevailed in diverse Contra Costa County, which includes the hard-hit eastern cities of Brentwood, Antioch and Pittsburg and affluent areas such as Danville, Walnut Creek and Lafayette. Sales there for homes under $300,000 were down about 11 percent, while sales above $500,000 were up nearly 43 percent.
At every price level, the complaint from real estate professionals was a lack of inventory -- too few homes for too many would-be buyers.
"There's just an extreme lack of inventory," said Colleen Badagliacco, a broker at Altera Real Estate in San Jose and a former president of the California Association of Realtors.
Condos sales were strong throughout the Bay Area, DataQuick said, reaching the highest number of sales for an October since the boom times of 2005.
Contact Pete Carey at 408-920-5419. Follow him on Twitter.com/petecarey.