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Sonoma County’s median home price rose 12 percent last year, the third straight year of gains after a historic housing market crash.

In 2014, the median sales price for a single-family home reached $485,000, according to The Press Democrat’s monthly housing report compiled by Pacific Union International Vice President Rick Laws. It was the highest annual median price in seven years, but still 19 percent below the record of $595,000 set in 2005.

“After coming out of that hole we were in, it’s great to have that third year of appreciation,” said Cary Bertolone, a co-owner of Bertolone Realty in Santa Rosa.

Last year was the first time since the housing crash when Bertolone wasn’t working with clients in danger of losing their homes, he said. He welcomed the change because “real estate’s never been so depressing as it was three or four years ago.”

Last year ended with buyers purchasing 377 homes in December, an increase of 10 percent from a year ago. The monthly median price rose nearly 11 percent, to $515,000.

For all of 2014, buyers purchased 4,716 single-family homes, a decline of 5 percent.

Despite that drop, the higher prices increased the dollar sales volume for existing homes and condominiums by 6 percent, to $3 billion. That was the largest total volume in eight years. The record, also from 2005, was $4.4 billion.

From that high, the market’s dollar volume fell steadily for the next six years, bottoming out in 2011 at $2 billion, or less than half the record value. The annual median price that year fell to $325,000.

But the annual median price in the past three years has climbed 49 percent. Some of the gains came from rising values and some came from a shift in the types of homes that changed hands.

Foreclosures and short sales have steadily declined since 2009, when they made up more than half of all single-family homes sold. By 2013, such distressed property comprised 18 percent of sales, and last year they fell to 7 percent.

Mike Kelly, an agent with Keller Williams in Santa Rosa, said the distressed market appears so weak that “at least it’s on life support.”

Many of those distressed properties sold in previous years were starter homes. That helps explain why the drop in distressed sales in 2014 coincided with a 40 percent decline in the sale of homes priced under $400,000 compared with the previous year.

Part of the rising median price in 2014 also came from a jump in sales of higher-end properties. Completed deals for homes priced at or above $700,000 rose 28 percent last year.

After the crash, many homeowners had delayed selling their properties because the values had fallen so far, said Ann Harris, an agent with Coldwell Banker in Sebastopol. But last year “the market had bounced back so much … that people felt comfortable selling and making a move.”

As well, she said, most of the properties she listed had multiple offers and most sold for more than $1 million.

The shift in sales last year is a reason “why people really shouldn’t expect this 12 percent appreciation rate to continue,” said Gerrett Snedaker, a senior vice president for Wine Country Group by Better Homes and Gardens in Sonoma.

Even so, Snedaker and others expect some lesser amount of appreciation in prices next year. The reasons include an improving economy and a relatively low number of available homes for sale.

December ended with fewer than 500 single-family homes for sale in the county, less than 1.3 months’ worth of inventory at the current sales pace.

“I think it’s going to be remembered as a tough inventory year,” Snedaker said of 2014.

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

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