LOS ANGELES - We're skidding along the bottom - OK, bumping.

That was the message Tuesday, after real-estate tracking firm MDA DataQuick's report showed that the housing market continues to show signs of life - with a 22.6 pick-up in L.A. County homes sales in July compared to the same period last year.

According to DataQuick, 24,104 homes were sold in the six-county Southern California region in July, an 18.6 percent jump from 20,329 in July 2008. It was the most for any month since December 2006.

And while L.A. County home prices fell by 19.8 percent, Realtors and economists said the market seems to have stabilized after a year-and-half-long recession.

We`re probably bumping along the bottom," said Jack Kyser, founding economist for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. "There's going to be good days and there's going to be bad days."

Tuesday was a good day, he said.

In L.A. County, a total of 8,082 homes sold in July, up from 6,592 for July 2008, according to DataQuick. The median price of a home in Los Angeles County last month was $321,000, down from $400,000 in the same month a year ago, the firm said.

In Orange County, the median home price was $420,000, down 8.9 percent from the July 2008 median of $461,000, according to DataQuick. A total of 3,128 homes were sold in the county last month, up 11.8 percent from the 2,799 home sales in July 2008.

With homes priced as low as they have been - below $200,000 in some areas - demand has increased as homebuyers take advantage of first-time buyer incentives.

But they are running into bidding wars, which are helping to push the prices back up. The county's median price, for instance, was up 1.1 percent from $265,000 in June.

It was down 23 percent from $348,000 in July 2008, which means it is still very much a buyer's market - where affordability is at its best in years, said John Husing, an economist who specializes in the Inland Empire.

Husing pointed to 2002, when 31 percent of L.A. County families could afford the middle price of a home with conventional financing, he said. By 2005, it was down to 11 percent, only to shoot back up to 41 percent last month, he said.

"Demand still has quite a ways to go," Husing said.

And so does the market in general, said Richard Green, chair of the Lusk Center for Real Estate at USC.

While things are "looking good" for the market for homes in the $400,000 range, the outlook is more uncertain for the higher end. And there's still concern about a glut of foreclosures coming on the market.

DataQuick officials said it remains to be seen how lenders will proceed, given the number of distressed loans still out there.

That said, even with more foreclosures and looming unemployment, economists said the market would likely absorb them without the kind of shock that caused its collapse.

"Things are clearly stabilizing," Green said.

ryan.carter@sgvn.com