Orange County home sales hit their highest level in nearly seven years last month, with 3,648 deeds changing hands in May.

That’s the highest number of homes sold here since June 2006, market tracker DataQuick Information Systems reported Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the median home price – or price at the midpoint of all sales – was $540,000, up 24 percent from the year before, to the highest level since the home-price bubble burst in late 2007, DataQuick reported.

Last month’s median also was up $5,000 from April.

Local agents say the same factors that have propelled the market since the start of the year were at work in May: low mortgage interest rates, strong demand, stiff competition from cash-paying investors and relatively few homes for sale.

Although the number of listings on the market increased by 950 homes since mid-March, agents continue to report stiff competition among buyers, with multiple offers and homes selling within weeks, if not days, of coming on the market – especially at the lower end of the price spectrum.

DataQuick’s latest report also shows:

  • The last month with more homes sold than in May was June 2006, when 3,862 deeds traded hands.
  • Orange County has averaged 3,557 transactions a month over the past 26 years, with spring and summer months typically the busiest times for closing deals. The most sales occurred in August 1988, when 6,450 homes were sold. The fewest was 1,286 in January 2008.
  • Last month’s tally, however, was below average for a May. Orange County has averaged 3,913 home sales in May since 1988. The most sales for a May was 5,318 in 2002; the fewest was 2,266 in 2008.
  • May’s median price – while up $105,000 from a year ago – remains $105,000 below the market peak reached in June 2007. And it’s $183,000 below the peak in inflation-adjusted dollars.
  • Recently foreclosed homes made up 6.3 percent of May’s transactions, the smallest percentage since August 2007. Steve Thomas of reported Monday that cheaper “distressed” homes made up 13 percent of the homes going into escrow in the past month, compared with 42 percent a year ago.
  • Absentee buyers – most likely investors or vacation-home buyers – accounted for 22.6 percent of May’s deals, compared with an average of 13.5 percent since 2000.
  • People paying cash accounted for 30.9 percent of May’s homebuyers, compared with an average of 12.2 percent since 1988.

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