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A chronic shortage of homes on the market added up to fewer homes sold and sharply higher home prices across the entire nine-county San Francisco Bay Area in the first quarter of 2013, according to an analysis of MLS data by the research division of Better Homes and Gardens Mason-McDuffie Real Estate.

According to the company, sales of existing, single-family detached homes in the Bay Area fell to their lowest level in five years. Only 9,985 homes changed hands in the first quarter, down 25 percent from 13,391 homes sold in the fourth quarter of 2012 (a difference of 3,406 homes sold) and 16 percent below the 11,906 homes sold during last year’s first quarter. Contra Costa County reported the greatest number of homes sold with 2,182, followed by Alameda County (1,977 homes sold) and Santa Clara County (1,972 homes sold).

Despite the downturn in home sales, demand from homebuyers remained robust, and that led to higher home prices. The Bay Area as a whole reported a median sales price of $667,021 in the first quarter, up 10 percent from the previous quarter’s median price of $604,863 and 25 percent higher than the median sales price of $520,834 reported at the conclusion of last year’s first quarter.

All nine Bay Area counties reported double-digit, year-over-year increases in their median sales price for the second consecutive quarter. San Mateo County led the way with a 43 percent annualized increase, followed by Alameda County (+33%), Contra Costa County (+31%), and Santa Clara and Solano counties, which reported 30 percent year-over-year increases. San Mateo County recorded the region’s highest median sales price at $1,075,097, followed by the City and County of San Francisco at $1,052,626 and Marin County at $878,945. Solano County recorded the Bay Area’s lowest median sales price at $243,006.

Behind the decline in sales and increase in prices is the continued lack of inventory. As of the final day of the first quarter (March 31, 2013), only 4,098 existing, single-family detached homes were listed for sale in the entire nine-county Bay Area – an improvement from 3,370 homes on the market at the end of the fourth quarter of 2012 but nonetheless down 55 percent from 10,282 homes available for purchase on the final day of the first quarter of 2012.

Once listed, homes sold at a brisk pace. For the Bay Area as a whole, homes were on the market an average of 54 days before receiving a final purchase offer, down from 55 days in the fourth quarter of 2012 and 74 days in the first quarter of last year. Homes in Alameda County sold in an average of 29 days, while Napa County recorded the highest average with 94 days on the market.

Looking ahead, what’s the bottom line for Bay Area homebuyers and sellers?

Buyers need to bring their “A” game to the negotiating table, and that increasingly means being able to offer more than the listing price and waive appraisal and other contingencies that may add to the ultimate price. An experienced REALTOR® with extensive local market knowledge and negotiation skills is a must in a market where all-cash offers continue to be a factor.

“Given the likelihood that inventory will continue to be an issue in the months to come, homeowners with mortgages that are “above water” (or nearly so) may find now is a good time to list their home,” says Keith Robinson, COO. “While prices are rising, it is important that sellers price their home competitively. Again, working with an experienced REALTOR® who can help price the property for sale and vet the offers that follow is critical.”

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