It took five months, five Realtors working simultaneously and a flash of luck for Kerry Wills and his family to find their dream house or at least their dream lot.

Wills had already been outbid on two homes before he landed an unlisted home in the hills section of Manhattan Beach. Wills paid $1 million for the house, which he now intends to tear down and replace with a $1.85 million home.

"We felt really lucky," said Wills, who works as a stockbroker at Smith Barney. "As soon as a home is listed, it's gone." He said several of his friends who also are shopping for homes have begun writing unsolicited bid letters to owners of homes that aren't for sale.

Realtors and home buyers from Pacific Palisades to Encino have similar tales of a feeding frenzy for homes in local upscale neighborhoods. Spurred by growing confidence in California's economy as well as stock market profits, many affluent Angelenos who had put off purchasing a larger home during the recent housing slump are now pounding the pavement before the housing market skyrockets.

In many communities, the rise in home prices already has been dramatic. The median home sale price in Malibu during the second quarter, for example, was $552,750, up 28.2 percent from just the first quarter, according to the California Association of Realtors.

Double-digit increases in median home prices for the second quarter also occurred in Hermosa Beach, La Canada Flintridge, Studio City and Venice.

The volume of home sales in those communities is also up markedly, with Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Marina del Rey, Pacific Palisades and Rancho Palos Verdes posting increases above 50 percent for the second quarter, compared with first-quarter volume.

As is evident from the communities in which the hottest action is taking place, it's the prestige homes that are leading the county's residential real estate recovery.

But that action is buoying the overall market.

The number of Los Angeles County homes sold in July rose 15.2 percent to 8,859 from the like month last year. The July median price was $172,000, up 4.2 percent from last July, according to Acxiom/DataQuick Informations Systems, a real estate research firm.

G.U. Krueger, deputy chief economist for the California Association of Realtors, said more people are jumping into the home buying market as prices keep appreciating.

"People can finally expect some return on their investment," he said, adding that the activity in the upper-end market creates a ripple effect that lifts all the housing markets. "It's like the art market: if you can't get a Picasso, you go for a Matisse and bid up the price of a Matisse. So you end up with something from that (painter) in Carmel."

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