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Ashland median housing prices nose into $400,000 territory

In July 2005, during the good 'ol days of real estate exuberance, the median sales price for Ashland single-family residences plowed through the $400,000 barrier without a hint of hesitation.

The median surged to $466,000 a year later, before market forces brought on by deeper, darker and broader financial woes collapsed the national market as the Great Recession set in. Ashland prices plummeted to $404,000 by December 2007, then tumbled well below $300,000 before investors sank their ice picks deep enough to arrest the fall.

Now, the median price is knocking at the $400,000 level once more. But there is no meteoric surge, little fanfare and no great angst that values are out of control.

During the past three months ending Oct. 31, Southern Oregon Multiple Listing Service data showed the median price on 112 existing residential sales in Ashland crept up to $379,250, or 6.5 percent above the $356,000 figure a year earlier. It's also 31.2 percent higher than the $289,000 median price for the corresponding period in 2010, not far from the bottom. For October, the median price was $401,000. While new construction remains a rare thing in Ashland, the median price for homes being built is nearly $450,000.

"The problem with the last market wasn't that prices were too high," said Colin Mullane of Full Circle Reality and spokesman for the Rogue Valley Association of Realtors. "The reason was artificial demand based on cheap money. People were buying multiple homes for what they thought was investment purposes. Then the financial markets crashed, and whether you were an investor or regular home owner, you saw the value eroded.

"This market is backed by much stronger, better qualified buyers," Mullane said. "Anyone trying to get a loan knows it's not easy. The amount of questions asked is boggling, but it's done for all the right reasons. They're asking for tax returns, credit history, job history, letters from family and sometimes bosses. At the end of the day, the buyer is not getting a loan they're not going to be able to repay."

The overall Jackson County market is nowhere near as flush as Ashland's. The latest SOMLS figures show both the one-month and three-month median for existing houses was $220,000, a modest 2.3 percent gain over last year, but a third higher than five years ago. The pace of transactions picked up 22.5 percent, with 718 houses exchanging hands compared to 586 in August through October a year ago.

In Ashland, there are a few condos and fixer-uppers below the $300,000 mark.

"We're pretty much back to where we were before the decline," Mullane said. "For now, $300,000 to $400,000 is sort of the bottom of the market. A house that would go for maybe $180,000 in Medford would be $300,000. It impacts people's decisions about where they want to live."

That means Talent is once again gaining popularity among those priced out of Ashland.

"It take nine minutes to drive from Talent to downtown Ashland," said Mullane, who lives in the bedroom community. "Talent prices are more than in Phoenix, which is the next town over. It's reflected particularly in new construction. You can buy new construction for $250,000 to $260,000 in Phoenix, and for the same house in Talent it's $300,000 to $325,000."

The inventory of available houses on the market declined nearly 18 percent from a year ago last month. Sales times declined from 52 to 43 days.

"These numbers tell us that the market is still recovering, with prices trending upwards, and that looks likely to continue until one or more of these factors changes," he said. "With mortgage rates around 4.5 percent, that's still cheap, and rents are skyrocketing. So the demand as we're coming back is from a much healthier background."

 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/EconomicEdge.