Sonoma County home buyers last month continued to snap up properties at the fastest pace in nearly seven years.

Buyers purchased 500 single-family homes last month, according to The Press Democrat’s monthly housing report compiled by Pacific Union International Vice President Rick Laws.

It was the third straight month where county sales reached or exceeded 500. Since May 1, buyers have purchased 1,541 sales, the most for any three-month period since 1,600 homes were sold between August and October of 2005.

“This is what recovery looks like,” Laws said Tuesday when sharing similar data at the Santa Rosa breakfast meeting of the North Bay Association of Realtors.

County home sales to date this year are up 22 percent from the same period in 2011.

July’s median price remained essentially flat from the month before at $348,500. The price has increased 7 percent from July 2011.

Homes sales also increased last month for the entire Bay Area, and the median price increased to its highest level in nearly four years.

Buyers purchased 8,461 single-family houses and condos in July in the nine-county region, according to San Diego real estate information service DataQuick. Sales were up nearly 23 percent from a year ago.

The median sales price for Bay Area houses and condos rose nearly 13 percent from last year to $421,000. That was the highest median since the price reached $447,000 in August 2008.

DataQuick attributed about half of last month’s median price increase to a shift in the sales mix, with more homes being sold in the mid- to upper-segments of the housing market.

“The market has really been lopsided the past couple of years, tilted toward low-end bargain chasing,” said John Walsh, DataQuick president. “Now it’s re-balancing, slowly, with increased activity in mid- and move-up markets.”

In what became a historic housing bubble, the county’s median price hit a record high of $619,000 in August 2005, before tumbling to $305,000 in February 2009.

At the bottom of the market, three out of every four home sales involved foreclosures or short sales, where the price is less than the amount owed on the mortgage.

But last month 62 percent of the sales involved sellers with equity. Of the remaining sales, 25 percent were short sales and 13 percent involved foreclosures.

Laws maintained that the increase in equity sales is good news for the housing market because it means “people actually have money to buy something after the sale.”

— Robert Digitale