The number of newly built homes sold by builders in California last year reached the highest level in at least two decades, according to DataQuick Information Systems, a real estate information service.

The company credited strong demand and lower-than-average mortgage interest rates for the sales.

The median price paid for a new home was $439,000 last year, up 13.7 percent from $386,000 the year before. Newly built homes were most expensive in San Mateo County where last year’s median was $900,000. Homes were least expensive in Madera County where the median was $288,500, DataQuick reported.

A total of 136,228 newly built homes were sold statewide in 2005, up 4.4 percent from 130,480 for the year before, DataQuick reported.

Sales in the current real estate cycle surpassed the sales levels of the late 1980s in 2003 when 116,803 newly built homes were sold, passing 1989’s total of 103,131. Sales fell to 38,454 in 1993 when the state’s real estate market was in steep decline, the company also reported. DataQuick’s statistics go back to 1988.

“Builders are a bit more careful these days. They used to build tracts and put up ‘For Sale’ signs. This time around they’re building a couple of homes to show potential buyers, getting sales contracts signed with a deposit, and then building the rest of the tract. They don’t want to get caught with unsold inventory like they did in the early 1990s,” said Marshall Prentice, DataQuick president.

Riverside County led the state with 26,294 new home sales, followed by San Diego County with 14,497 and Los Angeles County with 10,872.

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.

The numbers include newly built homes sold by builders, as well as condo conversions. Tear-downs and homes built by individuals are not included, nor are apartment complexes, according to DataQuick.

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