Sonoma County's housing market in June recorded its biggest sales month in nearly seven years.
Buyers purchased 533 single-family homes last month, according to The Press Democrat's monthly housing report compiled by Pacific Union International Vice President Rick Laws.
June sales increased nearly 17 percent from a year earlier and were the highest for any month since September 2005, when 608 homes were purchased. Back then the median-priced home in the county was selling for $615,000.
In contrast, the county median price last month was $348,000. That amounted to an increase of nearly 6 percent from May and almost 9 percent from a year earlier. The median was at its highest point since May 2011, when the price reached $354,200.
For the first half of the year, buyers have purchased 2,630 single-family homes, up 22 percent from 2011 and the most sales since 2,932 homes were purchased in the first six months of 2005.
"The first half of the year has been wild," said Stephen Liebling, manager of Coldwell Banker in Sebastopol. The starter home market has been "off the hook," but sales also have picked up in other segments, including for homes priced above $1 million.
In what became a historic housing bubble, the county's median price hit a record high of $619,000 in August 2005, before tumbling to $305,000 in February 2009.
Since hitting that low point, the county's sales have been concentrated on homes priced below $400,000.
But for the first six months of 2012, sales have jumped 33 percent from a year earlier for homes priced between $400,000 and $700,000. For homes priced $1 million or more, sales increased 36 percent.
Inventory fell to 1,047 available homes at the end of June, roughly half the number of a year earlier. It amounted to slightly less than a two-month supply of homes at the current sales pace.
"Everybody's crying that there's no inventory," said Laws.
The total number of new listings in the first six months decreased 10 percent compared to 2011. The number of new listings remains sizeable, Laws said, but not enough to keep up with demand.
The small inventory has been a benefit to sellers of starter homes, who often receive multiple offers and bids above the asking price, said Ross Liscum, a broker associate with Century 21 North Bay Alliance in Santa Rosa.
But some buyers, including investors, have stopped seeking properties for the time being after repeatedly "getting beat up and beat out" in the bidding wars, Liscum said.
Short sales, where the home is sold for less than the amount owed on the mortgage, set a county record in June. Buyers purchased 127 short-sale houses last month, the most since Laws began compiling the data more than three years ago.
For the first half of the year, short sales increased 39 percent compared to the same period for 2011.
However, fewer bank-owned foreclosure homes are coming to market. In June foreclosures and short sales made up 39 percent of all sales, the lowest rate in almost two years.
Law said there is a connection between the falling rate of distressed sales and the jump in the sales of higher-priced homes.
A large portion of home sales above $400,000 involve owners who still have equity in their properties, he said.