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Research firm: Calif. home sales for March rise
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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The number of homes sold in California during March hit a five-year high as prices held steady, according to a survey released Thursday.

More than 37,000 new and existing homes and condominiums sold in the state last month, real estate research firm DataQuick reported. That's almost a 3 percent rise from the same month last year and the best March since nearly 40,000 homes sold in March 2007.

The median price paid for a home in California last month was $251,000, up less than 1 percent from a year earlier.

More than half of last month's sales statewide were of homes either in foreclosure or being sold for less than what the seller owed on the mortgage.

The statewide figures reflected little disparity between the housing markets in the northern and southern parts of California.

Home prices across much of the San Francisco Bay area showed signs of leveling off as March sales hit their highest point in five years, DataQuick reported.

Nearly 7,700 new and existing homes and condominiums sold in the nine-county Bay region in March, up more than 9 percent from the same period in 2011. It's the highest tally for the month since more than 8,300 homes were sold in March 2007.

San Diego-based Data Quick said the jump was spurred in part by lower prices, though the decline from the same time last year was minimal. The median sales price last month was $358,000, a drop of less than 1 percent from the median March 2011 price of $360,000.

"While the changes we're seeing are incremental, they're incremental in a positive direction," said DataQuick President John Walsh.

About one-quarter of existing home sales in the region were for properties in foreclosure during the previous year. Another 19 percent were "short sales" — when the price is below the amount owed by the seller.

All-cash sales favored by investors accounted for slightly less than 30 percent of March sales in the region, while absentee buyers made up a little less than one-quarter of all sales. Both rates were near historic highs.

Foreclosures in the Bay Area remained above typical levels but were down compared with the peak of the housing crisis.

In figures released Tuesday, DataQuick found that high-end home sales lifted prices to a six-month high in Southern California in March, as the region's housing market remained in a gradual recovery.

In the region, sales of homes for at least $500,000 jumped 36 percent in March from February, outpacing the total sales increase of 28.1 percent for those months, DataQuick said.

"The year is young and lots could still change, but the results from the first big sales month of 2012 suggest the market is stuck in low gear. This remains a very gradual, not to mention fragile, recovery," Walsh said.