Southern California home sales climbed in July as buyers took advantage of low prices, a real estate research firm reported today.

Home sales were up 19% in July from the same month a year ago in the area including Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties. But the median sale price of $268,000 was down 23% from July 2008, according to San Diego-based MDA DataQuick.

The median price, while still at 2002 levels, was 1% higher in July than it was in June, the third consecutive month the median price has increased. The increase in the median, however, actually reflects falling prices of more expensive homes, which has increased sales in that segment and raised the median. The median is the point at which half the homes sold for more and half for less.

The percentage of homes sold that had been previously foreclosed fell to 43%, down from a peak of 57% in February.

DataQuick President John Walsh cautioned that a housing market bottom remains elusive.

"Have prices hit bottom? While some data continue to hint at that, it remains an especially risky call to make given the uncertainty over the magnitude of future job losses and foreclosures," he said. "The recent drop in foreclosure resales, coupled with the rise in high-end sales, has helped stabilize some of the regional home price measures. But there's still quite a bit of distress out there and plenty of unknowns with regard to how lenders and borrowers will choose to proceed."

"Even if we are at or near bottom," he added, "history suggests we could bounce along that bottom for quite a while."