The voice on the other end of Terry Rasmussen's phone stirred memories of a time when Californians routinely called to inquire about how soon they could get into a house.

The voice on the other end of Terry Rasmussen's phone stirred memories of a time when Californians routinely called to inquire about how soon they could get into a house.

"California real estate is starting to wake up again, and people are getting out if they can," said Rasmussen, a John L. Scott real estate agent who talked twice Friday to a business owner in the Golden State's Central Valley who had Oregon on his mind.

Whether it's Californians or first-timers, buying is picking up, and for the first time since the housing bubble burst, Jackson Country residential real-estate prices have strung together a winning streak of sorts.

The median sales price for the three-month stretch between Feb. 1 and April 30 rose 4.9 percent over the corresponding 2011 period, to $149,000 from $142,000. The year-over-year April median jumped 13.2 percent, to $160,000 from $141,300, according to figures compiled by Southern Oregon Multiple Listing Service.

In fact, the median price rose in nine of 11 urban areas tracked, while the days on the market for units sold declined to 81 from 106.

The pace of existing house sales during that span picked up 11 percent, with 523 units sold compared to 471 during the same period in 2011. That reduced the SOMLS inventory of houses to 1,142 units — down 29.8 percent from a year earlier.

SOMLS spokesman Colin Mullane said consumer confidence is building.

"We're starting to see more consistent gains in median prices, and not just hit-and-miss results," Mullane said. "Buyers no longer fear future losses, or at least don't think they will be as significant."

While there is no guarantee the positive ripple will continue, Rasmussen senses there could be more movement from the south. "The caller wants to transfer his mom-and-pop business up here," Rasmussen said. "The tax-debt load for every Californian, based on state government debt, is too much, and they don't want to be part of that."

For whatever reason Californians chose to move north in increasing numbers from the 1960s into the early 2000s, it was a prime mover in local residential building and real estate sales. If, indeed, Californians once again find their way to the Rogue Valley with regularity, it could spark a modest, long-term recovery.

"I actually expect to maintain this direction a year or so," Rasmussen said. "I don't expect a V-shape bottom, but more like a U-shape where we drag along at the bottom and see a very gradual increase."

Rasmussen said roughly 30 percent of recent buyers are classified as first-timers — anyone who hasn't owned a home in the past three years. Some are renters seizing on low interest rates, deflated real estate values and a pent-up demand created by years of uncertainty.

"There are people who have been sitting on the sidelines for years, living in fear of declining prices," Rasmussen said. "You can't live in fear all of your life, and eventually you get used to the economy and the fear goes away. Then there is a period of caution, and you see people are surviving and see that I can afford a house to buy better than I can afford to rent."

Distressed properties still play the leading role in sales.

Bank-owned properties accounted for 40.5 percent of the transactions, with a median price of $129,950, while 19.9 percent were short sales, at a median price of $143,000. Normal exchanges made up 39.4 percent of sales, at a median of $176,700.

New construction showed some life, as well, with the median price rising a modest 3.2 percent to $193,000 from $187,000. That's still a far cry from the new-home median of $310,000 five years ago.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email