The median price paid for a Bay Area home moved above the half-million-dollar mark for the first time in almost five years, pushed up by pent-up demand, an improving economy, investor activity, low mortgage interest rates and constrained supply, as well as a continued decline in distressed sales, according to San Diego-based DataQuick. The median price paid in the nine-county Bay Area rose to $510,000 in April. That was up 17 percent from $436,000 in March, and up 30.8 percent from $390,000 in April a year ago. The 17 percent month-to-month increase is the highest in DataQuick’s Bay Area statistics, which go back to 1988. “There’s somewhat of a perfect storm here, statistically speaking. The pent-up demand, the economy, interest rates, investor buying. Everything is in alignment right now, but that won’t always be the case. Also, it’s easier to regain lost ground. A major element to watch for between now and fall is how many homes are put on the market at these higher price points,” said John Walsh, DataQuick president. The Bay Area's median sale price first passed the $500,000 threshold in May 2004, when it rose to $501,000. It continued rising and held well above that level for four years, then dropped below $500,000 in June 2008 as home prices tumbled. From its $665,000 peak in June/July 2007 to its $290,000 trough in March 2009, the median plunged 56.4 percent, or $375,000. As of last month most of the Bay Area’s peak-to-trough loss had been regained. The median was up $220,000 from its March 2009 trough, meaning it had made up about 59 percent of its loss. Much of the median's ups and downs the last five years can be attributed to shifts in the types of homes sold. When the recession hit, low-cost inland foreclosures dominated, while sales in mid- to high-end markets languished. In recent months the opposite has been the case: Sales of pricier move-up homes have surged and sales of low-cost foreclosures have plummeted. It appears a little more than half of last month’s 30.8 percent year-over-year increase in the median was price appreciation, while the rest was shifts in market mix. A total of 7,621 new and resale houses and condos were sold in the nine-county Bay Area in April. That was up 5.2 percent from 7,243 the month before, and down 0.6 percent from 7,667 for April a year ago. Sales have fallen year-over-year for three consecutive months, mainly reflecting the constrained inventory of homes for sale. Historically, sales have increased an average of 4.2 percent from March to April. Since 1988, when DataQuick’s statistics begin, April sales have varied from 5,636 in 1995 to 14,430 in 2004. Last month’s sales were 15.6 percent below the April average of 9,033. The number of homes that sold in April for less than $500,000 decreased 25.7 percent year-over-year, while the number sold for more increased 24.9 percent, DataQuick reported. Last month distressed property sales – the combination of foreclosure resales and “short sales” – made up about 24 percent of the resale market. That was down from about 27 percent in March and 44 percent a year ago. Foreclosure resales – homes that had been foreclosed on in the prior 12 months – accounted for 8.5 percent of resales in April, down from a revised 10.2 percent in March, and down from 21.9 percent a year ago. Last month was the lowest since 8.2 percent in October 2007. Foreclosure resales peaked at 52.0 percent in February 2009. The monthly average for foreclosure resales over the past 17 years is about 10 percent. Short sales – transactions where the sale price fell short of what was owed on the property – made up an estimated 15.0 percent of Bay Area resales last month. That was down from an estimated 16.4 percent in March and down from 22.1 percent a year earlier. Jumbo loans, mortgages above the old conforming limit of $417,000, accounted for 48.1 percent of last month’s purchase lending, up from a revised 43.2 percent in March, and up from 35.8 percent a year ago. Last month’s jumbo share was the highest since August 2007 when it was 58.6 percent. Jumbo usage dropped as low as 17.1 percent in January 2009. Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs), an important indicator of mortgage availability, accounted for 14.4 percent of the Bay Area’s home purchase loans in April. That was up from a revised 13.1 percent in March, and down from 14.9 percent in April last year. Since 2000, ARMs have accounted for 48.2 percent of all purchase loans. ARMs hit a low of 3.0 percent of loans in January 2009. Government-insured FHA home purchase loans, a popular choice among first-time buyers, accounted for 11.0 percent of all Bay Area home purchase mortgages in April, down from 11.5 percent in March and down from 18.4 percent a year earlier. In recent months the FHA level has the been the lowest since summer 2008, reflecting both tougher qualifying standards and the difficulties first-time buyers have with competing with investors and other cash buyers. The most active lenders to Bay Area home buyers last month were Wells Fargo with 13.8 percent of the market, RPM Mortgage with 4.3 percent, and Stearns Lending with 3.7 percent. Last month absentee buyers – mostly investors – purchased 24.2 percent of all Bay Area homes. That was down from a revised 27.0 percent in March, and up from 23.5 percent a year ago. Absentee buyers paid a median $362,000 in April, up 31.6 percent from a year earlier. Buyers who appear to have paid all cash – meaning no sign of a corresponding purchase loan was found in the public record – accounted for 27.8 percent of sales in April. That was down from 30.8 percent the month before and down from 28.3 percent a year earlier. The monthly average going back to 1988 is 13.0 percent. Cash buyers paid a median $365,000 in April, up 35.2 percent from a year earlier. San Diego-based DataQuick monitors real estate activity nationwide and provides information to consumers, educational institutions, public agencies, lending institutions, title companies and industry analysts. Because of late data availability, sales were estimated in Alameda, San Francisco and San Mateo counties. The typical monthly mortgage payment that Bay Area buyers committed themselves to paying last month was $1,821. That was up from $1,581 in March, and up from $1,492 a year ago. Adjusted for inflation, last month’s payment was 35.8 percent below the typical payment in spring 1989, the peak of the prior real estate cycle. It was 52.6 percent below the current cycle's peak in July 2007. Indicators of market distress continue to decline. Foreclosure activity remains high by historical standards but well below peak levels reached several years ago. Financing with multiple mortgages is low, down payment sizes are stable, DataQuick reported.