LOS ANGELES (AP) — Southern California home prices reached a 70-month high in December as sales fell and buyers competed for scant inventories, a research firm said Tuesday.

The median price for new and existing houses and condominiums reached $395,000 in the six-county region, up 22.3 percent from $323,000 a year earlier. It was the highest median since it stood at $408,000 February 2008 and the 21st straight month of annual gains.

Sales dropped 9.2 percent from a year earlier to 18,415 homes, the lowest December sales tally in six years.

DataQuick said investors are showing less interest, contributing to the sales decline. Absentee buyers — mostly investors and some second-home purchasers — bought 26.2 percent of homes last month, down from 30.4 percent a year earlier and the lowest level since November 2011. Absentee buying has fallen nearly every month since peaking at 32.4 percent in January 2013.

Buyers paying cash followed a similar trend, accounting for 27.7 percent of sales last month, down from 35.8 percent a year earlier and a peak of 36.9 percent in February.

“Sales have fallen short of the same period a year earlier for three consecutive months now, and the pitifully low inventory is the main culprit,” said John Walsh, president of San Diego-based DataQuick.

The jump in prices over the last year suggests that more homeowners will eventually put their properties up for sale, Walsh said. Home building has remained low, limiting inventories, he said.

The Los Angeles metropolitan area had a 3.9-month supply of unsold homes in November, an improvement from a 3.2-month supply a year earlier but still much lower than a normal market of five to seven months, according to the latest figures from the California Association of Realtors. San Diego had a 4.1-month supply of homes in November.

Sales plummeted 17.5 percent in San Diego County from a year earlier, followed by Los Angeles County with a 13.3 percent drop. Declines were more modest in Ventura and Riverside counties, and Orange and San Bernardino counties eked out small gains.

San Bernardino, the least expensive of the counties surveyed and an area hard-hit by foreclosures several years ago, posted the sharpest price gains, a 28.9 increase to $232,000. All counties posted annual price gains above 20 percent except San Diego, which rose 14.8 percent to $420,000.

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