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Pleasant weather, stable interest rates spurred summer home sales

Jackson County's existing single-family housing sales grew in frequency and price during the summer months.

Real estate agents reported a stellar summer, tight-roping their way through local climate challenges and global economic issues. The smoke inundating the Rogue Valley much of the summer was less pronounced than last year, and mortgage interest rates, for the most part, stayed put.

In August alone, John L. Scott closed more than 200 deals worth more than $50 million in Jackson County.

Between June 1 and Aug. 31, the median price for existing homes rose 11.9 percent across the county to $219,900, up from $196,450 a year ago, according to figures compiled by Southern Oregon Multiple Listing Service. The median is comparable to the end of 2008, when the market was in the third year of its lengthy decline. The county-wide median price in November that year was $213,000, and it rose to $228,000 in December before diving below $200,000.

"There is more confidence in the market," said Clason Whitney, broker/owner at Coldwell Banker Pro West Real Estate in Medford. "Prices have also gone up, and the people who bought between 2004 and 2007 now have equity to where they can move across town again. For those who want to go up or down in the size of their home, we're starting to see that, as well. We're holding steady with last year's sales numbers, but we're seeing pricing increases, too. What we're not seeing is an 18 percent increase like we did a few years ago."

During the summer months, the sales pace picked up 2.6 percent, with 601 deals struck compared to 586 last year. At the same time, inventory expanded 13.7 percent to 1,397 places from 1,229.

"Last year, the fires and heat slowed things down," said Doug Morse, an agent with John L. Scott.  "People don't like to look at properties when it's 100 degrees. I've closed on $28 million year to date — up a lot from last year."

Morse noted that couples in their 40s and 50s  with children headed off to college or off on their own were downsizing.

"Most of them were staying in the valley though," he said.

While the high-end market performed well during the summer, Morse said, the last week of August unexpectedly dissolved into a quiet period. 

Morse said a 2,600-square-foot house in the Lone Pine School area listed at $389,000 was snatched up in three days, but other houses in the mid-market have draw less attention.

"I had houses priced aggressively in the $200,000 price range, listed in the last 30 days, and haven't had many showings. I think at the end of the summer people were taking vacations."

While interest rates may not be a factor, other financial elements are coming into play.

The Federal Reserve Thursday released a report about the widening wealth gap in the U.S., noting most American families have not regained the economic resources lost between 2007 and 2010.

That seemingly shows up in the local housing market. Morse said he saw growing signs of the disparity even during the boom times, and now as income levels have failed to keep pace with costs, lower-middle class and lower-income families have a harder time competing in the marketplace.

"The gap keeps getting wider and wider," he said. "Everything is so expensive — insurance, gas, food prices. When you're making the same salary as you were 10 years ago, you're not getting ahead, and it reflects in what kind of house they can afford."

During the summer months, there were 106 existing homes sold at a median of $355,000, a 7.6 percent gain over 2013. However, the August median was $325,000. Conversely, Jacksonville, which shares highest-priced market honors with Ashland, saw its median drop 12.6 percent to $336,650 on 20 sales. But the August median was $384,000.

The strongest gain during the quarter was in northwest Medford, where the median price soared to $177,500 from $125,500. The August median was $193,250.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.