Sonoma County home prices surge to 5-year high

Sonoma County's median home price jumped to $479,000 in July as sales shifted dramatically from starter homes to properties in pricier neighborhoods.

The median price for a single-family home now stands at its highest level for any month in more than five years, according to The Press Democrat's monthly housing report compiled by Pacific Union International Vice President Rick Laws.

The median price rose 9 percent from June and 37.5 percent from a year ago. It hasn't been this high since January 2008, when it was recorded at $500,000.

But brokers said its rise last month was due mostly to a shift in the type of homes sold rather than a bump in property values. Sales of starter homes plummeted in July from a year earlier, while those in more expensive areas jumped sharply.

"Our upper-end sales have shot way up," said Stephen Liebling, manager of Coldwell Banker in Sebastopol.

Sales of homes priced under $400,000 were cut in half in July, declining to 158 from 325 a year earlier. Meanwhile, home sales above $400,000 increased 81 percent to 327 from 181 a year ago.

Even the number of homes selling above $1 million rose last month, climbing to 45 from 17 a year ago.

During the last housing boom, the county's median price soared to a record high of $619,000 in August 2005. But when the market crashed, the median tumbled to a low of $305,000 in February 2009.

Even two years ago, the July median price stood at $325,000.

But prices began rising more than a year ago, and for the past 13 months the median has consistently increased on a year-over-year basis.

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