California sales of existing homes soared 39.6% above the year-earlier level in April, for the largest year-to-year percentage increase since December 1986, the California Association of Realtors reported.

The figures "show us that we are witnessing a solid, ongoing recovery in California's housing market," said Rick Snyder, president of the Los Angeles-based trade group.

"In addition to the strong sales performance during the last several months, we also continue to experience improving home prices in many regions of the state," said Mr. Snyder, a San Diego real estate broker.

"The statewide median home price increased during April from a year ago for the second consecutive month, ... the first time in more than four years that we've seen back-to-back annual appreciation in this key indicator," he added.

The California economy has shown signs of recovery recently after a long slump, and the jump in home sales bolsters the trend.

Among highlights of the trade group's April housing figures:

*Statewide, 515,410 existing single-family detached (noncondo) homes closed escrow during April on a seasonally adjusted, annualized basis, up 0.7% from a revised annualized rate of 511,970 sold in March.

*The statewide median price of an existing, single-family detached home sold during April was $178,710, up 1.6% from $175,980 in March.

*The California Unsold Inventory Index was 7.6 months in April, down from 8.4 months in March and down sharply from 12.1 months in April 1995. The index states how many months it would take to use up the supply of homes on the market at the current rate of sales.

"April's 7.6-month supply of homes in the California housing market represents the lowest inventory level registered in six-and-a-half years," said Leslie Appleton-Young, vice president of economics and public policy at the California realty group.

"This low level of inventory suggests continued home price stabilization or increases throughout much of California in coming months, as the more limited supply of available homes is met by ongoing strong demand," Mr. Appleton-Young said.

*Fixed mortgage interest rates in the state averaged 7.93% during April, up from an average of 7.68% in March but down from 8.32% in April 1995, according to the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. Adjustable rates averaged 5.73% in April, up from 5.54% in March, but down from 6.35% in April 1995.

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