The Golden State's high-end real estate market reclaimed some of its luster last year.
Sales of homes costing $1 million or more hit their highest level in five years and a record number of buyers paid cash, market tracker DataQuick said Wednesday.
It's reflective of an economy healing from the Great Recession and rising home prices, the company said.
Last year sales of California homes costing $1 million or more jumped 26.9 percent to 26,993 properties from 21,267 in 2011.
Last year's total was the highest since 42,502 luxury homes sold in 2007. This market segment peaked in 2005 when 54,773 big-bucks homes sold.
During 2012, a record 7,791 of the buyers paid cash, up from 5,802 in 2011. And the more expensive a home, the more cash came into play, DataQuick said.
Manhattan Beach in the South Bay logged 372 sales of million dollar properties, up from 328 in 2011, the second highest total in the state. The most expensive home there went for $10.5 million, DataQuick said.
Veteran Realtor Adolph James of Shorewood Realtors in Manhattan Beach was not surprised to see the beach city near the top of the list.
A lot of 6,000 to 7,500 square feet is worth between $700,000 to $800,000 alone, he said.
"I think a lot of people just aspire to get into this environment. You've got great weather and the best schools around," he said. "So a million dollar home in Manhattan Beach is not uncommon.
And there is actually a correlation between the housing market for the rich and the rest of us, noted DataQuick analyst Andrew LePage.
"I think what the two markets have in common is that buyers feel more confident about home values beginning to steadily rise and are less concerned about buying now and watching prices fall later," LePage said. "And there is just more optimism about the economy."
The high-end market is certainly coming back in the Los Angeles area, which is home to seven communities that ranked in the top 25 for selling million dollar homes. Southern California accounted for 12 of the top 25 markets.
"The high-end market is much more active now. We had an increase in prices as well as a shortage of inventory," said Roger Ewing, owner of Ewing & Associates Sotheby's International Realty in Calabasas.
"I think there are a lot of people who have done well in the stock market recently and are putting it into real estate. I don't think you'll see depreciation anymore. I think you'll see appreciation."
His company specializes in high-end markets like Calabasas, Hidden Hills, Lake Sherwood and North Ranch. Last year he had the listing for a 9,000-square- foot-mansion in Calabasas that singer Justin Bieber bought for $6.5 million.
Ewing said he's got another celebrity deal that should soon close.
So there is a definite upside to this upper class spending spree.
"It's tremendous news to see that kind of activity going on at that end of the market. It is an indication to me that people's faith is returning to the housing market and they are willing to make that investment. And buyers are stepping off the sidelines as well," said Kimberly Ritter-Martinez, an economist at the Kyser Center for Economic research in Los Angeles.
DataQuick's report showed that:
• The highest price paid last year was $117.5 million for an 8,930-square-foot, four-bedroom, 4 1/2-bathroom home in Woodside on 9 acres in Northern California. Web reports speculate that SoftBank's billionaire founder, Masayoshi Son, might be the buyer.
• For buyers who financed, the median down payment was 25.9 percent of the purchase price. The most willing lenders to finance seven figure and up purchases were Wells Fargo, Union Bank and First Republic Bank.
• The median-size $1 million-plus got the buyer a 2,641-square-foot house with four bedrooms and three bathrooms.