San Francisco Bay Area home sales surged to near-record levels in April as buyers scrambled to lock in mortgage financing before interest rates soared any more, reported DataQuick Information Systems, a real estate information service. Prices increased at the fastest pace in three years.

About 12,400 new and resale houses and condos were sold in the nine-county Bay Area region in April, up 12.8 percent from March and up 24.2 percent over April 2003, DataQuick reported.

The April sales count was the highest for any April in DataQuick’s records, which date back to 1988, and was the second-highest number for any calendar month, slightly behind the record of 12,488 for August of last year.

Marshall Prentice, DataQuick president, said, “Potential buyers figure that today’s mortgage interest rates are lower than they will be a few months from now. Current purchase activity is probably pulling in sales activity that would have happened a few months down the line if interest rates had been flat. Demand is strong, pushing prices up.”

The median price paid for a Bay Area home was $492,000 last month, a new peak. It was up 3.8 percent from $474,000 in March, and up 15.5 percent from $426,000 for April 2003. That year-over-year increase was the highest since March 2001, when the $386,000 median was 17.3 percent higher than $329,000 a year before.

The typical monthly mortgage payment that Bay Area buyers committed themselves to paying was $2,237 in April, a new high. A year ago it was $1,899.

Indicators of market distress are still largely absent, DataQuick reported, as foreclosure rates are low, flipping rates are low, down-payment sizes are stable and there have been no significant shifts in market mix.

Median home prices jumped a whopping 16.5 percent in Alameda County from April 2003 to April 2004, rising from $401,000 to $467,000. The number of homes sold in Alameda County soared 22.9 percent in that time, from 2,072 homes sold in April 2003 to 2,546 homes sold in April 2004. Sonoma County actually saw a drop in the volume of homes sold in that time, from 836 homes sold in April 2003 to 828 homes sold in April 2004.

DataQuick, a subsidiary of Vancouver-based MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates, monitors real estate activity nationwide and provides information to consumers, educational institutions, public agencies, lending institutions, title companies and industry analysts.

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Send tips or a letter to the editor to glenn@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 137.

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