Bay Area home sales remained sluggish and prices stayed flat in December, a real estate information service reported Thursday.
The nine-county region had sales of 7,178 new and existing homes and condominiums last month, according to San Diego-based DataQuick Information Systems.
Home sales rose almost 18 percent from November, but analysts dismissed the increase as typical at the end of the year. More importantly, they said, last month’s sales were 8 percent lower than a year earlier and 17 percent below the average for December sales over the past 22 years.
The median price declined to $375,000, down 1.3 percent from both a month and a year earlier.
The region’s median price peaked at $665,000 in June and July of 2007, and hit a new low of $290,000 in March 2009. Analysts said about half that decline was due to the drop in home values, while the other half was due to a sales shift toward lower-priced homes.
DataQuick concluded that many buyers appeared to be holding back, including those seeking to move up to more-expensive homes.
“Right now, most of what we’re seeing are distress sales and bargain hunting, with a smattering of discretionary buying,” said John Walsh, DataQuick president.
“While the dicey economy and employment concerns are major factors, tight mortgage credit is also a big issue right now, especially for the upper half of the market,” Walsh said.
Nearly 31 percent of December sales involved homes that had been foreclosed on in the prior 12 months. That portion was up for the fifth consecutive month and the highest rate since last March. The monthly average for such sales over the past 15 years is about 8 percent.

— Robert Digitale