Jackson County real estate activity maintained its heightened pace into winter, with properties selling faster and for more money than they did a year ago, according to the most recent figures compiled by the Southern Oregon Multiple Listing Service.
During a three-month period ending Jan. 31, 455 existing single-family houses changed hands, up 2.7 percent from the 443 sold during a corresponding period a year ago.
The average number of days those houses were on the market declined from 72 to 65, and the median price — half sold for more and half sold for less — was $183,000, a 25 percent increase from the $144,000 median price posted during the three months ending Jan. 31, 2012.
"My buyers have so few properties to choose from they are offering top dollar to get the house they want," said Alice Lema of John L. Scott Real Estate in Medford. "Or they are buying lots and building, as well as touring in a higher price range than originally planned."
In some cases, she said, people are changing neighborhoods so they can afford to buy or are bidding on smaller, more affordable houses.
At the same time, sellers are taking risks seldom seen in the past five years.
"My sellers are experimenting with list prices a little higher than neighborhood comps and still getting a high volume of showings, Internet hits and offers," Lema said. "They are selling with multiple offers on properties that are not (foreclosures) or short sales and in price ranges of about $250,000."
The median price was the highest, according to SOMLS data, since the three-month period ending in October 2009, when the median price hit $185,000. The next month it dropped to $178,000.
Of the 11 urban areas tracked by SOMLS, only Jacksonville and White City failed to see median gains. However, outlying areas are not as popular because of the specter of higher gas prices.
"Areas like Shady Cove and the Upper Rogue are still not coming back due to lack of tourism and jobs," said veteran agent Ron Galbreath of Coldwell Banker Pro West Real Estate of Medford.
"The cost of fuel is a large concern in determining how far one wants to or can commute into the city for work or services such as medical issues."
The number of houses available through SOMLS — far and away the majority of those on the market — declined 36.3 percent to 822 from the 1,290 that were for sale a year ago. There were 838 houses available a month ago.
Mortgage interest rates, which could climb without a lot of warning, are a motivating factor behind the brisk sales environment, said Galbreath.
"I don't think buyers are frightened by lack of inventory, but are motivated by low interest rates that historically cannot stay this low for long with inflation worries being the cause of fear," Galbreath said.
The role of distressed properties continued to shrink in the past quarter, with typical transactions accounting for nearly 2 out of 3 property transfers, at a median price of $210,000.
Bank-owned foreclosures represented 15.2 percent of the deals, at a median price of $130,000, while short sales made up 19.8 percent, at a median price of $151,000.
Flipping, buying and quickly reselling a house, which was commonplace a decade ago, has re-emerged after a six-year hiatus, Lema said.
"I've seen flipping in less than 90 days with as much as 4 percent appreciation," she said. "Sellers are having appraisals coming in higher than contract price — even on full-price offers."
Sellers have found themselves in a stronger position even when it comes to closing costs, Lema said.
"Contribution toward a buyer's closing costs is no longer as necessary to seal the deal," she said.