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Sonoma County in September continued to report strong home sales, as other parts of the state grabbed attention with the highest median prices in four years.

County buyers purchased 407 single-family homes last month, according to The Press Democrat's monthly housing report compiled by Rick Laws, a Pacific Union International vice president. September sales increased 4 percent from a year earlier, and the sales total so far this year is the highest since 2005.

The median price in September climbed 4 percent from a year earlier to $357,000.

In contrast, California's median price soared 20 percent from a year earlier to $345,000, according to the California Association of Realtors. That was less than a 1 percent gain from August, but it amounted to the highest median price since August 2008.

The statewide jump was fueled largely by price gains in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Bernardino counties.

Los Angeles and parts of the Bay Area have rebounded the most since the state's housing market hit bottom more than three years ago. Real estate brokers and an economist suggested prices in those regions have been boosted because companies there are hiring more.

"You're talking about areas that I think have a lot more access to jobs," said Brian Connell, broker/manager for Frank Howard Allen in Santa Rosa.

Sonoma County's median price reached a record high of $619,000 in August 2005 before tumbling to $305,000 in February 2009.

The price since has rebounded 17 percent. In contrast, the state's median has increased 41 percent, according to the Realtors association data.

That jump was led by gains in Los Angeles County, where the median price climbed 39 percent. For the nine-county Bay Area, of which Sonoma County is a part, the median rose 46 percent.

<NO1><NO>North of San Francisco, the median since February 2009 has increased 20 percent in Napa County and 10 percent in Marin County. In contrast, it has declined 4 percent in Solano County, 8 percent in Lake County and 23 percent in Mendocino County.

Leslie Appleton-Young, chief economist for the state association, said bigger gains in the median price may be partly because of a "much sharper swing" toward higher-priced homes, especially by those who have equity in their properties. At the same time, the number of bank-owned foreclosure sales has dramatically decreased.

"The equity-traditional market really took off in 2012," Appleton-Young said.

However, she agreed that Sonoma County's housing market may lag in price increases because portions of its economy "are struggling in terms of job creation."

"It's just not a booming labor market," she said.

Brokers predicted the county eventually will benefit from improvements in the economy already showing up in parts of the Bay Area.

"The ripples go out from Silicon Valley and San Francisco," Laws said. "We do lag them a little bit."

So far this year, Sonoma County has had 4,079 homes sold, up 19 percent from a year earlier.

September ended with an inventory of just 919 homes for sale — less than a three-month supply at the current pace and half the amount of a year ago. Appleton-Young said a normal market has a housing supply of six to seven months.

As a result of the low supply, buyers often find themselves competing for homes.

"We're seeing multiple offers in a lot of different price ranges, not just at the bottom," Laws said.

San Diego-based Data Quick reported Monday that the Bay Area last month had half the number of foreclosure properties for sale from a year ago.

In September, the Bay Area reported a decline of 12 percent in the number of homes sold for less than $500,000. In contrast, sales of more than $500,000 increased 21 percent.

"It's obvious that a lot of fence-sitters are getting active," said DataQuick President John Walsh. But potential buyers are finding fewer homes for sale and getting qualified for a mortgage "is still a real grind."

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 521-5285 or robert.digitale@pressdemocrat.com.