May saw 3,420 buyers – the most in 20 months – close escrow for new and existing homes in Amador, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties, according to DataQuick Information Systems.
Prices, however, didn't show the same strength. Median prices have dropped in double-digit percentages in all eight counties over the past year.
The May sales burst, coming after a similarly strong April performance, raised hopes that the market is trying to stabilize. Yet as the housing downturn nears the end of its third year, worries remain about the growing pileup of foreclosures overrunning the market.
Since January, banks in the region have foreclosed on 10,224 homes, according to the Web site Foreclosures.com, based in Fair Oaks. At the same time only about half the number – 5,448 – of repossessed homes were sold, DataQuick reported.
"The sales numbers are great, and if we can keep on that track we could have just a slight decline in value," said Scott Thompson, a partner in Mortgage Resolution Services in Carmichael. "But we're still foreclosing on more than we're selling, and that's the troubling part."
The highlights from DataQuick include:
• Sales rose from 3,163 in April and 3,216 in May 2007 to 3,420. The peak year for May sales during the boom was in 2004, when 6,761 homes sold.
• Slightly more than half the region's sales of existing homes – 51.1 percent – involved repossessed residences owned by banks. That cut the market share for new-home builders to 13.9 percent, down from 24.4 percent a year ago.
• Absentee owners, typically investors seeking rental properties, accounted for an estimated 19 percent of all sales. At one point near the peak of the boom, investor share reached almost 27 percent.
• The number of for-sale signs continued to fall in May across El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento and Yolo counties. Sacramento researcher TrendGraphix reported 12,366 homes for sale, the lowest number in 14 months.
"The Valley for a lot of people is discount central, and Sacramento is in the heart of that," said Andrew LePage, analyst for La Jolla-based DataQuick.
LePage said several inland California counties burdened with foreclosures – San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Riverside and San Bernardino – also saw year-over-year sales gains in May.
Sacramento County, the largest player in the area's real estate market, propelled most of the gains. The county tallied 62 percent of escrow closings, a 30.8 percent gain over the same time last year.
The result: Sacramento County had its strongest year-over-year performance since March 2005, according to DataQuick.
Year-over-year sales were up 15.2 percent in Yolo County, 1.8 percent in Yuba County and 1.4 percent in El Dorado County.