Housing market a jumble

If you're waiting for a turnaround in the Puget Sound housing market, you'll have to wait a while longer - if last month's sales statistics are any indicator.

Those figures from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service paint a mixed picture of the housing market, up slightly in King County and down in the South Sound last month.

Median home sales prices, for instance, fell in both Pierce and Thurston counties last month but rose slightly in King County according to new numbers from the MLS. The number of closed sales in November dropped significantly in all three counties, but the number of pending sales was up in Pierce and King counties and down slightly in Thurston.

Those sale price drops, 6.08 percent in Pierce County and 4.44 percent in Thurston County, mirror the decline in closed sales versus November 2009.

Median home prices in Pierce County last month were $208,500 compared with $222,000 in November last year. In Thurston County, median home sales prices dropped $10,000 to $215,000 in the same period.

While South Sound sales prices dropped, King County managed a small increase from a median sales price of $337,000 in November last year to $340,000 last month.

Closed sales in Pierce County fell to 625 in November from 802 a year earlier. In Thurston County, the story was much the same, 220 closed sales in November this year and 277 a year earlier. King County closed sales were 1,331 versus 2,025 in November 2009.

But real estate professionals, ever the optimists, saw good news in the pending sales numbers. In the four-county Puget Sound region (King, Pierce, Snohomish and Thurston counties) pending sales rose by more than 2.8 percent from 3,829 a year ago to November’s total of 3,939. That’s the highest total since November 2006, the listing service noted.

“We’re seeing an upswing in relocation sales after a long lull, which indicates a positive sign in terms of local hiring,” said Northwest MLS director O.B. Jacobi.

“Employers traditionally want new hires in place by the first of the year, so sales are happening now,” he said.

One positive sign for better prices is the shrinkage in new listings. That slower marketing pace cuts the inventory and potentially strengthens prices, said real estate officials.

The supply of homes on the market in the 21-county Northwest MLS region is 7.3 months at the present sales pace. In King County, the supply is somewhat tighter at 5.7 months. That compares with a 10.5-month supply nationwide according to the National Association of Realtors.