SANTA CRUZ >> For those looking to buy a home in Santa Cruz County, the selection is skimpier than ever.

But there's a new investor afoot, buying homes to rehab them for sale and donating part of the proceeds to charities.

The September median price, the midpoint of what sold, was $665,000 versus $725,000 in July, according to Gary Gangnes of Real Options Realty, who tracks the numbers.

September saw 191 sales compared to 182 in August. Both months, 16 percent of homes sold for more than $1 million.

That's down from July when the high end of the market took off, fueled by Silicon Valley buyers, and 21 percent of the 197 sales were for more than $1 million.

September sales of bank-owned properties and short sales, where the lender accepts less than what is owed, shrunk to 4 percent for single-family homes and 6 percent for condos. That means less downward pressure on prices.

For buyers, there is not much to look at with 608 single-family listings. That figure represents the fewest for this time of year in 18 years, according to Gangnes, who noted this downward trend has been evident for 43 of the past 44 months.

Of the active listings, 160 are priced more than $1 million, out of reach for most buyers, and 293 are listed for less than $1 million.

The most expensive home, with an asking price of $19.59 million, is Villa Viscaya, a 13,000-square-foot home on Holiday Drive in La Selva Beach. With seven bedrooms and seven bathrooms, the villa rents for $1,800 to $2,000 a night.

Condo listings are the fewest in 10 years, with 123 for sale but only 88 active, according to Gangnes. The median price was $425,800, up from $385,000 a year ago.

Seb Frey of Realty World Virtuoso said there is good news for buyers: Interest rates on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage are less than 4 percent. He also pointed out Fannie Mae, which guarantees mortgages, amended its guidelines as of Oct. 1 to reduce the waiting period to buy again for borrowers who experienced foreclosure, a short sale or bankruptcy if they can show extenuating circumstances.

The new investor in Santa Cruz County is Charity Rehabbers LLC, headed by John Paiva, who lives in Gilroy.

"We purchase homes in need of being renovated and we resell them," he said.

He started in the San Francisco Bay Area four years ago, juggling this new venture with his job as a finance executive at Cisco and family time with his wife and young son.

Last year, he quit his day job so he could focus on real estate rehabs.

"This is something I love to do," he said, explaining how part of the proceeds go to charities supporting U.S. troops, children and animals.

He's identified worthy charities in each category — for example Wounded Warrior Project, Fallen Patriot Fund and Operation Freedom Paws all support the troops — and the buyer and the agent can help select the recipient.

"It's our way of giving back," Paiva said.

He expanded his rehab work into Santa Cruz County a year ago, working with Michael Crain of Thunderbird Real Estate, completing four projects, with two pending sales.

In September, he bought 119 Pryce St., Santa Cruz, a small Victorian with a big back yard near Highway 1 in September for $400,000.

He expects renovations to take 45 days once he gets city permits and to put the house on the market around Jan 1.

"We look at what's desirable for the buyer," he said.

He estimates the asking price will be less than $600,000.