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Home sales slow in Jackson County

The indicators look great -- unemployment and mortgage rates down, consumerconfidence up -- but Jackson County home sales are in the tank, down 26percent to date from 1996.

Last year, 1,287 new and used homes were sold in Jackson County by theend of August, but this year only 955 sales have closed.

And nobody seems to know why.

It's basically a mystery. People are scrambling out there rightnow. I'm hearing that, said Bruce Roberts of Gateway Real Estate inAshland.

Many local real estate agents question the raw numbers, compiled by RoyWright Appraisal Service, because rural properties are not included. Butall concede that sales are down throughout the Rogue Valley this year.

Wright's compilation of home sales figures for the first eight monthsof 1996 and first eight months of 1997 show steep declines:

Phoenix and Talent sales, down from 101 to 47.

Central Point sales, down from 178 to 109.

Ashland sales, down from 191 to 142.

West Medford sales, down from 245 to 188.

East Medford sales, down from 437 to 367.

In view of the levels of sales that we've had for the last threeyears, that's still a lot of houses being sold, said Bob Bills ofRealestaters in Medford.

And real estate agents are hoping for an uptick in sales this fall.

The factors are all there, and we've even got a new factor withthe capital gains thing, Roberts said.

Recent changes in tax law allow sellers of any age to shelter from taxesup to $500,000 in capital gains on the sale of their home; that could inspirehomeowners in high-priced markets like the San Francisco Bay Area to buycheaper homes in Southern Oregon and bank a bundle.

The local real estate slump is not a statewide, regional or nationalphenomenon. In July, when Jackson County registered a 34.6 percent declinefrom sales in July 1996, Eugene-Springfield's Multiple Listing sales surged14.1 percent while sales in the Willamette Valley and Central Oregon inchedup 3.1 percent and 2.8 percent.

The National Association of Realtors reported earlier this month thatsales in the West were up 8 percent in July, and the Commerce Departmentreported new home sales in the West up 11 percent for the same month. Saleshave been so strong nationally that the average price for new and used homesbroke the $175,000 barrier in August.

So what's wrong in Southern Oregon?

Real estate agents have some ideas:

High inventory -- The 1,900 houses for sale today in Jackson County representa year's supply.

We've experienced the highest level of inventory that we've everhad, Bills said.

The surplus has more than doubled the length of time it takes to sella home, from 60 days on the market in August 1996 to 151 days on the marketlast month.

New home availability -- The ready availability of affordable new homesmay depress sales of used homes.

And things could get worse for used homes before sales get better. TheCentral Point building department reports approvals for five new residentialdevelopments with more than 500 new homes, and tentative approvals on fourother developments with a total of more than 450 new homes.

Building moratorium -- Some blame the Phoenix-Talent sales declines ona Talent building moratorium imposed last winter because of water problems,but City Administrator Leahnette York disputes that.

We have a lot of construction going on right at this moment becausepeople rushed in to beat the moratorium, she said, noting that thosehomes aren't finished.

Prices too high -- With such a large inventory of new and used homes,it's a buyer's market and some homeowners may not have figured that out.

Pricing is critical. A lot of homes that are on the market rightnow are not going to sell this year because they're not competitively priced,Roberts said.

That's especially a problem at the high end of the market -- homes pricedhigher than $200,000 -- but Jackson County's biggest declines in sales arein Central Point, Phoenix and Talent, cities known for affordable housing.

Slowing growth -- Although Jackson County's population climbed 14.8 percentbetween 1990 and 1996 to an estimated 168,000 people, some think growthmay be slowing. The 1997 numbers, compiled by Portland State University'sPopulation Research and Census Center, aren't yet available.

But the news isn't grim for everybody. Roberts expects his firm to haveits best year ever, with sales up as much as 20 percent. And Bills saidhis company saw an 8 percent sales surge in August.

Still, the slump of Jackson County real estate has been a surprise tomany Realtors.

I have to admit that at the start of this year, the general feelingamong all real estate companies was that this was going to be a banner year,Roberts said.

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