May home sales dropped to their lowest level in Sonoma County in four years, due primarily to a decrease in the sale of financially distressed properties.
The county recorded 360 single-family homes sold last month, according to The Press Democrat monthly housing report compiled by Coldwell Banker manager Rick Laws.
That was the lowest level since May 2007 when 343 homes were sold. The latest numbers were down 13 percent from May 2010 but up 1 percent from April.
In the first five months of 2011, buyers purchased 1,685 homes. That pace falls slightly below that for the same period of 2010, a below-average year that ended with 4,300 homes sold.
The county’s median price in May rose to $356,000, up 9 percent from last month. It was the highest amount since November.
County median home prices peaked at $619,000 in August 2005, before plunging to $305,000 in February 2009. In the past year, the price has hovered between $315,000 and $370,000.
Laws’ data indicated that buyers in May purchased the largest number of non-distressed properties since September — about 56 percent of all sales.
But sales of distressed properties fell to their lowest number since January. Besides foreclosures, such properties include short sales, where the owner tries to sell the home for less than the amount owed on the mortgage.
Distressed homes last month made up about 44 percent of all completed sales.
In contrast, for the first five months of 2011, such properties made up 57 percent of all contracts signed by buyers and sellers. In considering the data, Laws and other agents suggested Tuesday that a number of those contracts probably involve short sales, which for a variety of reasons often fall through and don’t result in a completed sale.
Short sales are “eventually turning out to be disillusioning for a lot of people,” Laws said.
However, efforts to sell such “underwater” homes appear to be on the rise. Allen Seelenbinder, a Bank of America portfolio retention manager, told a gathering of 250 agents Tuesday morning in Santa Rosa that the bank now receives four requests for short sales for every foreclosure property it has taken back at auction.
“There’s definitely more short sale activity out there,” Seelenbinder said after a meeting of the North Bay Association of Realtors.
— Robert Digitale