February home sales heat up

Thurston County home sales got back on track in February, rising 24 percent year over year, according to Northwest Multiple Listing Service data released Thursday. However, median prices continued to fall, down 10 percent in the same period, the data show.

Sales rose to 183 units last month from 147 units in February 2009, the combined single-family residence and condominium data show. That was an improvement over January’s 143 home sales.

The total number of homes for sale in the county increased 5 percent last month, the first time that has occurred in recent memory, and new listings for February soared 37.5 percent to 528 units from 384 units in the same period a year ago.

The increase in the number of monthly and overall new listings was attributed to home sellers finally realizing that the South Sound housing market is unlikely to change in the next year to 18 months, said Dennis Adams, broker and owner of Virgil Adams Real Estate in Olympia. For home sellers, it might mean selling their houses at a reduced price, but it also means the chance of buying a house at a reduced price, he said.

“They have resolved themselves to the fact that the market is slow, but they are still going about their normal lives,” Adams said.

Meanwhile, median prices fell 10.04 percent to $232,995 last month from $259,000 in February 2009, the combined single-family residence and condo data show. Although median prices fell on a year-over-year basis, median prices rose 3.5 percent to $232,995 in February from $225,000 in January of this year.

Adams said median prices continue to fall because of the slower economy, but he also acknowledged the effect foreclosures and short sales can have on median prices. A short sale occurs when the lender has agreed to accept less than the value of the mortgage in order to sell the property.

Lacey-based Abbey Realty broker Jeff Crandell placed greater weight on how foreclosures and short sales have affected median prices. Until those properties are cleared out, “they are going to have a depressing effect on the market,” he said. Crandell estimated that of the 528 homes newly listed last month, about 20 percent likely are “underwater,” or worth less than what the owners paid for them.

Still, Crandell and Adams said, the recently extended federal tax credit for first-time and existing homebuyers has helped stimulate sales activity. Several clients have used the program at his business, Adams said. And Crandell expects the activity to increase as the April deadline for the program approaches.