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California home sales jump in February
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SAN DIEGO (AP) — Home sales rose sharply in California last month as investors snapped up the lowest-priced properties, often paying cash, a research firm reported Thursday. Prices continued to fall.

There were 29,630 new and existing homes and condominiums sold in the state during February, up 8.5 percent from the same period last year, DataQuick reported. It was the highest February tally in five years, boosted by an extra day of sales because of leap year.

The median price in February was $239,000, down 2 percent from a year earlier. It is the 17th straight month that home prices registered a year-over-year decline.

"Distressed sales" continued to account for more than half of transactions for existing homes, DataQuick said. Properties that were foreclosed upon in the previous year made up more than one of every three existing-home sales. Short sales — in which the price was less than what the seller owed on the mortgage — accounted for more than one of every five.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, the number of homes sold for less than $500,000 jumped 14.9 percent from last year, while sales of homes costing more grew only 1.8 percent. The median sales price in the nine-county region was $325,500, down 3.6 percent from a year earlier.

Buyers who paid all cash — meaning no purchase loans were found in public records — accounted for 32 percent of Bay Area sales in February, the biggest portion since San Diego-based DataQuick began keeping track in 1988. Cash buyers paid a median price of $247,000.

Figures for Southern California, released Wednesday, mirrored the trend. Sales of homes less than $300,000 soared 9.5 percent from last year, accounting for the entire increase in the six-county region. Sales of homes between $300,000 and $800,000 slipped 0.8 percent, while transactions for more than $800,000 tumbled 12.6 percent.

Jason Hernandez, 32, paid $268,800 for a 1,600-square-foot home in San Diego's University Heights area. He said competition from other buyers grew significantly since he paid $130,000 for a San Diego condominium in 2010. This time, he lost bids on several other homes.

Hernandez plans to rent his condominium and move into his new home with his girlfriend.

"My new home has almost doubled in size and it's just where I'll be for the next five or 10 years," he said.

Roston Thomas, who paid $280,000 in cash for a home in Los Angeles' Mid-City area, is also looking to pad his income. He will rent the Los Angeles home that he purchased in 2009 and hopes to add another rental property within a year.

"The timing is definitely right for income properties," said Thomas, 40.

The state had 5.3 months' worth of unsold homes in February, down from 7.5 months a year earlier, according to the California Association of Realtors.