Bay Area home sales rose 14 percent in February as investors and other cash buyers snapped up properties at record rates.
Buyers purchased 5,702 houses and condos last month in the nine-county Bay Area, up from 4,991 a year ago, according to a report issued Thursday by DataQuick, a San Diego-based real estate information service.
The median price fell nearly 4 percent from a year earlier to $325,500.
"The market is still strange, just a little less strange than it was," said John Walsh, DataQuick president.
February is statistically the least typical month of the year, he said, adding that springtime will allow "a much better read on the market" partly because that's when many traditional buyers start their search. He also noted that "drum-tight credit conditions continue to undermine housing."
Absentee buyers — mostly investors — purchased a record 26 percent of the homes sold last month.
Buyers who appear to have paid all cash — meaning no purchase loan was listed in the public record — amounted to 32 percent of February sales. That was the highest level since DataQuick started tracking such sales in 1988. The monthly average over that period has been 12 percent.
Cash buyers and investors often, but not always, comprise the same group of home purchasers.
Bay Area home prices peaked in the summer of 2007, when the median reached $665,000 and then tumbled to $290,000 in March 2009. DataQuick estimates that about half of that drop was the result of a decline in home values and about half reflected a shift in the sales mix toward less expensive properties.
About half of February's sales were foreclosures or short sales, the latter meaning the home's price was less than the amount owed on the mortgage.