While sales slowed markedly in December, Sonoma County's housing market in 2013 still posted its best year since 2006.
Buyers purchased more than $2.86 billion worth of houses and condominiums last year, according to The Press Democrat's monthly housing report compiled by Pacific Union International Vice President Rick Laws. The total value increased 12 percent from 2012 and reached the highest level since 2006, when nearly $3.29 billion worth of homes were sold.
The sales value rose even though the total number of transactions declined. Buyers purchased 4,971 single-family homes last year, a drop of 8 percent from 2012. Condo sales fell 11 percent to 662 properties.
The activity suggested a return to more of a normal housing market, Laws said. Sales shrank dramatically for homes priced under $300,000 but increased 42 percent for properties priced above $400,000.
In the early years of the housing crisis, he said, "all we were selling was the bottom of the market, primarily distressed sales."
The county's real estate boom peaked in 2005 with $4.4 billion in sales. That year, the annual median price for a single-family home soared to a record $595,000.
But prices plummeted during the next six years, sending the median price to an annual low in 2011 of $325,000.
As prices dropped, foreclosures skyrocketed. Since 2007, more than 11,000 homes in Sonoma County have been sold at auction or taken back by banks -#8212; greater than one in every 10 homes here with a mortgage.
Home sales picked up in 2012 and the annual median rose 8 percent that year to $350,000. Last year it jumped an additional 23 percent to $431,500.
Among the changes in 2013 was a sharp drop in the sale of economically distressed properties. Foreclosures and short sales comprised just 18 percent of single-family home sales last year, compared to 40 percent in 2012.