SAN FRANCISCO ( DQNews) -- Bay Area home sales ended 2010 with little sense of direction as prices appeared flat to down a bit and sales were slow. Overall trends continue to be dominated by distress sales and bargain hunting, with lots of discretionary and move-up buying on hold, a real estate information service reported.

A total of 7,178 new and resale houses and condos were sold in the nine-county Bay Area last month. That was up 17.5% from 6,111 in November and down 8.3% from 7,828 in December 2009, according to MDA DataQuick. The San Diego firm tracks real estate trends nationally via public property records.

It's normal for sales to rise between November and December. On average, sales between those two months have risen 9.5% since 1988, when DataQuick's statistics begin. Last month's sales were 17.4% below December's historical average of 8,693 sales. Sales during June through November were weaker in terms of how far they were below average.

"Every period of market activity has its own set of characteristics, especially in the Bay Area. Sometimes it's move-up activity, sometimes new-home development in the suburbs, sometimes frenzied prestige or entry-level sales. Right now, most of what we're seeing are distress sales and bargain hunting, with a smattering of discretionary buying," said John Walsh, DataQuick president.

"While the dicey economy and employment concerns are major factors, tight mortgage credit is also a big issue right now, especially for the upper half of the market. There's a lot of pent-up supply and demand out there, which will start to meet when the lenders re-open their spigots a turn or two," he said.

The median price paid for all new and resale houses and condos in the Bay Area was $375,000 in December, down 1.3% from $380,000 for both November and December one year ago. The peak of the current cycle, $665,000, was reached in June/July 2007, while the median hit a low of $290,000 in March 2009. Around half the peak-to-trough drop was the result of a decline in home values, while the other half was a shift in sales mix to lower-cost homes.