Walla Walla County home sales news mixed bag

Sales fell sharply year-over-year, but prices were on the steady side compared to the state as a whole.

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SPOKANE -- Sales of existing homes in the second quarter compared to the previous year fell at a sharper rate in Walla Walla County than Washington state as a whole, but prices here were steadier, the Washington Center for Real Estate Research reported Wednesday.

The number of existing homes sold locally in April to June was reported at 870. That's 20.2 percent fewer than the same period of 2008. The statewide average decline, 15.6 percent, was less pronounced.

Also, the median sale price of a home in Walla Walla County dipped 5.4 percent to $175,000 from the same period last year, according to the center based at Washington State University in Pullman. But that was less dramatic than the 9.2-percent drop statewide to $265,100, the lowest second-quarter price since 2005.

One spot of good news was that home sales rose most places in the state in the second quarter compared with the first.

Walla Walla County saw a 13 percent improvement compared to the overall state rate of 11.6 percent. Statewide, it was the first quarter-to-quarter improvement in home sales in more than two years.

Glenn Crellin, director of the center, attributed the higher second-quarter sales in part to the federal government's $8,000 tax credit for first-time buyers, which is scheduled to expire in November.

"While sales improved compared to the first months of the year, it is necessary to look to price levels from a year ago to assess whether stabilization is under way," Crellin said.

Median prices fell in every county compared to last year except for Yakima (up 3.6 percent), Grant (1.1 percent), Benton (0.2 percent) and Franklin (0.2 percent), all in central Washington and with home prices much cheaper than the median. The median means half the houses sold for more and half for less.

The median price in Columbia County dropped 20.3 percent to $110,000. The price in Garfield County was reported at $155,200, a 1.1 percent decline.

The sharpest decline from a year earlier was in San Juan County, where prices fell 38 percent to $350,000. That allowed King County, the state's largest, to reclaim the distinction of most expensive housing for the first time since 2004. The median price there was $387,000, down 13.9 percent from the year before.

Just over 50,000 homes were listed for sale with multiple listing services at the end of June, 6.5 percent fewer than a year ago. That represents enough inventory for 10.6 months, suggesting the housing market is still oversupplied, especially for higher-cost properties, and further price adjustments should be expected, the center said.

Lower prices and interest rates would ordinarily have produced improving affordability, but the recession has resulted in lower incomes, keeping affordability virtually unchanged, the center said.

"For families secure in their job prospects with good credit, there are bargains available," Crellin said.

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