In good times or bad, the upper Rogue region seems to attract real estate buyers in the early months of the year.
In his 32 years of selling real estate, Mike Malepsy of Windermere Trails End Real Estate says January is usually one of the better months
"It's as good as July or August, and in February there was a little bit of spurt also," he says.
"People go into a hole starting in November, they talk about what they're going to do and make promises to the family. They make their moves in January after sitting around eating and drinking for all that time."
The upper Rogue — Eagle Point, Shady Cove and Trail — represents an area where the median price for existing homes rose in Jackson County during recent months. While those who keep their fingers on the real estate pulse will tell you even such a short-term trend is subject to reversal, the most recent Southern Oregon Multiple Listing Service figures for existing homes show that Eagle Point's median sales price of $270,000 was 20.4 percent above where it was March 1, 2007 and the Shady Cove/Trail market was 22.9 percent ahead at $244,500. Even as the broader real estate market retreated last month, by April 1 Eagle Point's median sales price for existing homes was 11. 5 percent ahead of a year earlier at $300,000, while the Shady Cove/Trail area stayed on the plus side as well.
Countywide, the median sales price of $235,000 for existing homes has declined 9.6 percent.
"Fall is not a good time to put property on the market, but January and February seem to be when some of that pent-up demand comes out and sellers and buyers show up," Malepsy says.
"You can depreciate it and make write-offs for the whole year, so January is a good time to start an investment."
While foreclosures have played a major role in depressing the real estate market, there are other factors that have reshaped the local market. From Malepy's perspective, rural property, away from subdivisions where lots are increasingly smaller, remain attractive to newcomers to the area looking to get away from crowded population centers.
"Larger homes on large lots on rural acreages don't seem to be affected as much," Malepsy says. "Even on the river, there hasn't been a lot of lost value."
A case in point is the Obstinate J. Ranch with 2,000 feet of frontage along the Rogue River just downstream from Lost Creek Reservoir.
The Kimmel Family Foundation bought the 118-acre ranch for $1.95 million in March 2005 and sold it to John and Bridget Collins for $2.1 million in December. Malepsy notes the property was first marketed at $3.5 million. While the asking price was more indicative of where a lot of people thought prices were heading before the subprime bubble burst, he considers the sale a bargain.
"I think $3.5 million was a little aggressive, but it should have gone for between $2.3 million and $2.7 million," Malepsy says. "That was a heck of a buy."
Foreclosures, partly the result of subprime loans and partly because of job losses, have provided plenty of good buys for investors looking for bargains as values have tumbled. Eagle Point, which saw property values rise as rapidly as any in Southern Oregon during the boom times has felt the other side of the roller-coaster as well.
The arrival of the Eagle Point Golf Course turned the surrounding community into a tale of two cities in the early part of the decade. Once primarily a bedroom city for Medford with lower-end entry level housing, the golf course spawned half-million dollar homes by the dozens; the city became the fastest-growing in the county. But rapid building — both of high-end and more moderate abodes in other parts of the town — has declined to the point where just five newly constructed homes were sold in the three-month period ending March 31.
Just as the area seemed to epitomize the high times from 2003 through 2005, it now reflects the broader state of the market.
"The whole market is depressed because of overbuilding of homes in subdivisions on small lots," Malepsy says. "That's where foreclosures are in mass numbers. There have been quite a few foreclosures and short sales (homes sold for less than what is owed to the lender), and when that happens, buyers are attracted to them."
Yet activity levels remain in line with the pre-boom years, he says.
With the number of homes being placed on the market across the county slowing down, the market has a chance to hit bottom soon. The SOMLS April 1 indicator showed 2,171 listings compared to 2,342 a year earlier.
"That's a healthy thing and an indicator of getting well when the inventory goes down," Malepsy says. "We need absorption and that helps stabilize the market.
During the height of the market, houses were snapped up almost as soon as they were listed. The latest numbers indicate it will take an average of four months for a house to move. SOMLS figures show that for new construction it takes more than five months.
With prices declining, Claudette Moore, an agent with Coldwell Banker Pro West Real Estate in Medford, says the market is attracting first-time buyers able to find three-bedroom homes in the $150,000 to $160,000 price range in west Medford.
Moore cited a pair of single-income family clients — one employed by U.S. Bank and the other by Les Schwab Tires — who were able to get 100 percent financing through FHA or Oregon Bond first-time buyer programs.
"The places are older," she says. "You find them on 11th Street, Howard Avenue, Mace Road and Mount Pitt Street, and they need a little cleaning; but they're real cute places."
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail email@example.com.