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Homeward bound

Low interest rates are fueling a hot local demand for homes, but prices are rising

While most Southern Oregon homeowners were sitting tight or refinancing their current homes, buyers encountered and sellers benefited from a relentless upward price trend in 2002.

And early indications for 2003 are that Rogue Valley housing costs will continue climbing at a pace only slightly beaten by increases at the gas pump.

The median price ' half selling for more and half for less ' for Jackson County single-family residences within city limits jumped 8.5 percent to &

36;159,000 in 2002 from &

36;146,500 in 2001.

The average price grew 8.9 percent to &

36;187,000 in 2002 from &

36;172,000 in 2001.

It tells you the whole group was pretty much moving together, says Medford appraiser Roy Wright, who tracks home sales.

Total value of homes sold jumped 20 percent in 2002 as &

36;467,817,489 worth of housing exchanged hands, compared to &

36;389,988,669 in 2001.

There is no sign of a drop-off.

While inventories of houses for sale remained tight, the number of sales in January was more than 37 percent higher than in the first month of 2002. A total of 199 homes exchanged hands in January, up from 145 a year earlier.

As the pace picked up, so did the median price, which soared 17.9 percent in January to &

36;169,700 from &

36;143,900 12 months earlier.

Even with sales of existing homes at record highs, the percentage of people putting their homes on the market has dwindled.

Builders can't keep up with demand from newcomers and first-time buyers encouraged by low interest rates.

Agents can't find anything on the market, says Rich Humphrey, who oversees residential sales at Coldwell Banker Pro West Real Estate in Medford. When listings go on the market, they disappear quickly.

All of that exerts upward pressure on prices.

The flip side is that interest rates ' even with prices up ' make affordability greater. So new buyers haven't been priced out of the market.

Coldwell Banker Pro West experienced a 16 percent decline in 2002 residential listings from 2001, while local John L. Scott Real Estate figures show there were 245 listings in January of this year compared to 405 the previous January.

The dearth of inventory isn't a short-term problem, says Steve Hawkins owner of John L. Scott Real Estate offices in Medford, Ashland and Grants Pass.

It's not going to go away for the foreseeable future, he says, and county planning predicts it's going to be this way for the next five years and then get worse.

Homes in east Medford's Hillcrest Road area on the flanks of Roxy Ann Peak are among the most prized in the county. With the current low interest rates, demand for new homes in the Rogue Valley is high. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli