Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

Home prices are continuing to rise in the Mother Lode, following a statewide price recovery driven by demand and a dwindling housing supply.

Tuolumne County Association of Realtors statistics show 1,030 homes sold in 2012 at the median price of $166,510. All those numbers are up from 2011, when 883 homes sold for the median price of $160,000.

The average time on the market was slightly lower in 2012 than 2011, dropping from 165 to 156 days. And so far this year, that number is 141 days, according to the county association.

In January, the latest month statistics are available,58 homes sold in the county, up slightly from 56 in 2012. But the year-to-year shift was that 36 of those homes in 2012 were short sales or foreclosures. This January, 22 of the homes sold were distressed properties as more of the traditional sales take homes off the market.

There are currently 345 active residential listings in the county.

A message with the Calaveras County Association of Realtors was not returned in time for this story. However, previously released real estate numbers show that the county's housing market also improved in 2012 with a 6.5 percent increase in sales from 906 to 967. The median home price did take a very slight dip over the same year, from $169,950 to $169,000.

Greg Humphrey, president of the Tuolumne County Association of Realtors, said the trend we're seeing is part of a predictable pattern of the housing market. When a market becomes overbuilt, demand falls and so do the prices. New construction stagnates and foreclosures increase sharply, creating a buyer's market. That market switches into a second stage, where the supply is bought up and prices slowly begin to rise.

Humphrey said the cycle will eventually switch the market to one that favors sellers as the existing homes are bought and demand drives increases in construction. The question is just how long.

"It always flows the same way, always," he said on Friday.

"It's hard to predict" how long it will take, he later said. "It's not going to be this year."

In Tuolumne County, the Community Resources Agency issued a five-year low 34 building permits for new single-family residential structures. That's down from 44 in 2011 and 122 in 2008.

Calaveras County issued 1,154 total building permits over the 2011-2012 fiscal-year, according to building records. The county issued only slightly less - 1172 - in the 2010-2011 fiscal-year.

Jeff White, the county's chief building official, said on Thursday that permits for new buildings remain steady, with permits issued so far this year "pretty close to what it was last year."

White said there's reason to be "guardedly optimistic" that building will pick back up, as there hasn't been a continued drop in activity. But he also said there is a lot of tentativeness among builders as the local economy still emerges from the years-long Great Recession.

"At least we're not going in a downward trend," he said.

Mark Banks, president of the Tuolumne County Building Industry, said building recoveries usually track west to east in California - starting in the bustling Bay Area and working their way to the Mother Lode. Banks said it usually takes a good year of low inventory before the demand is high enough for new home construction.

"Once we get that demand up again, you're going to see those developers saying maybe the timing is right to go ahead," he said.

And the overall economy will play a big role as well, since Banks said many of the homes built in the area are either second homes or retirement homes.

"It's got to pick up down there (in the Bay Area and Central Valley) before it can pick up up here," Banks said.