Sonoma County's median home price jumped above $400,000 in April for the first time in nearly five years, a symbolic marker that shows just how much the local housing market has changed in the past 12 months.
The median price of a single-family home climbed to $435,500 last month, according to The Press Democrat's monthly housing report compiled by Pacific Union International Vice President Rick Laws.
The price increased 10 percent from March and 26 percent -- or $100,000 -- from a year earlier.
Part of the price jump was driven by a shift in the mix of sales, with an increase in transactions involving more-affluent neighborhoods. At the same time, sales of financially distressed properties have fallen to their lowest level in more than four years.
But brokers said home values also are rising as multiple buyers bid on properties and the number of available homes remains at its lowest point in nine years.
"Prices are going up rather dramatically," Laws said.
Buyers purchased 460 single-family homes in April, an increase of 4 percent from a year ago. Four out of every five sales involved owners with equity -- the highest rate in more than four years.
Homebuyers first saw the median price exceed $400,000 in April 2003, when a housing bubble caused home values to nearly double in five years. The median peaked at $619,000 in August 2005.
Three years later, the median fell below $400,000 in July 2008. Prices kept plunging and hit a new low for this real estate cycle of $305,000 in February 2009.
As prices tumbled, more than 10,000 county homeowners lost houses and condominiums to foreclosure during the past six years. An additional 4,000 relinquished properties through short sales, where the transaction price was less than the debt owed on the mortgage.
The result: more than 14,000 distressed homes were thrust onto the market, or roughly three years' worth of sales.
A year ago, four out of 10 sales involved foreclosures and short sales.