SAN DIEGO -- Southern California home prices posted a sixth straight annual increase in September as buying shifted to more expensive houses along the coast and the supply of heavily discounted foreclosed properties dwindled, a research firm reported Friday.
The median price for new and existing homes and condominiums in the six-county region reached $315,000, up 12.5 percent from $280,000 the same period last year. It was the highest median price since August 2008, when it was $330,000.
There were 17,859 homes sold last month, 1.6 percent fewer than the same month last year. DataQuick blamed the decline on fewer business days last month than in September 2011 and fewer sales of distressed properties.
Sales of homes that were in foreclosure during the previous year accounted for 16.4 percent of September's existing home sales, down from 32.3 percent a year earlier and 56.7 percent in February 2009. Foreclosed homes tend to sell at steep discounts, dragging on the overall market.
"There's been a major change in the market mix, meaning fewer low-priced sales, fewer foreclosures re-selling, and more sales in middle and upscale markets," said John Walsh, DataQuick's president.
Sales of less than $300,000 slid 11.5 percent from last year, while sales between $300,000 and $800,000 jumped 11.5 percent, DataQuick said. Sales above $800,000 rose 5.2 percent.
Orange County, Southern California's most expensive with a median price of $450,000, witnessed the strongest sales increase, up 6.7 percent from last year. San Diego and Ventura counties also saw sales grow, while Los Angeles sales were flat.
The two least-expensive counties _ inland areas that were hammered by foreclosures in recent years _ were the only ones to see declining sales, according to DataQuick. San Bernardino, with a median price of $170,000, saw sales tumble 10.9 percent from last year. Riverside, with a median price of $212,500, had an 11.6 percent sales decline.
"Flipping" homes to turn a quick profit has become more common. DataQuick said the number of homes that sold twice within the last six months accounted for 5.5 percent of all sales, up from 3.3 percent a year earlier.
Absentee buyers _ mostly investors _ bought 27.3 percent of all homes last month, up from 24.6 percent the same period last year.