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Real estate sees roller-coaster year

Jackson County Realtors went through a roller-coaster year in 2020 as home sales plunged 45% in May as COVID-19 spread, then recovered strongly in the second half even with fewer houses on the market.

Sales for both existing and new homes in the county were just 21 residential units behind the number seen in 2019.

“The pendulum swung totally the other way. In April and May I didn’t think it would happen this way,” said Colin Mullane, spokesperson for the Rogue Valley Association of Realtors. “A lack of inventory never went away as an issue through the year.”

Inventory declines started in March with a 25% drop and accelerated to the point where inventory Dec. 31 was 39% of the total seen at the end of 2019, with 260 homes on the market versus 671.

Meanwhile sales volume in July rebounded to 10% more than the previous year and stayed strong.

A total of 3,746 homes sold in 2020 versus 3,767 the previous year. The median price in Jackson County was up from $312,900 in 2019 to $343,000 last year. Days on the market for existing homes saw a decline from 55 in 2019 to 36 in 2020.

“Competition (for homes) is an important thing. Buyers need to be ready. You can’t sleep on this overnight,” said Scott Lewis, broker with John L. Scott of Ashland.

Historically low interest rates were the other big story of 2020, said Mullane, who is principal broker and owner of Full Circle Real Estate in Ashland.

“It’s a mutually beneficial market because of the interest rates. Buyers have access to cheaper money than they ever have,” said Mullane. Well qualified buyers can get a 30-year loan at 2.75%, he said. Sellers benefit from higher prices.

“Interest rates allow buyers to buy a lot more value. That has mitigated some of the home price increases,” said Lewis.

Jacksonville saw the largest percentage increase in sales of homes, up 25% to 153 for 2020. Phoenix experienced the largest decline, with a 25% drop to 56 units.

Impact of the Almeda fire was not a major factor affecting sales, said Mullane. There were not a lot of “for sale” homes lost in the fire.

“The rest of the market is obviously helped a little bit by people moving out of those markets,” said Mullane. “You might have seen an uptick in nearby neighborhoods. We hear it anecdotally.”

Sales for 2020’s last quarter, October through December, saw jumps countywide in all three categories — existing homes, new homes and rural properties — despite the lack of inventory.

Fourth quarter activity saw 745 existing home sales, up 6% from 2019. New home sales increased to 98, versus 82 for 2019. Rural home sales jumped to 189, an 11% increase, while the median price of rural homes rose from $447,500 in December 2019 to $635,000 this December.

The area appears to be attractive to people who live in metropolitan locations but can work from home and choose where they want to live, said Mullane.

“Oregon generally is seeing lifestyle decisions, especially from larger cities like Seattle and San Francisco,” said Mullane. “A lot of people have made that decision, which started to appear in April and May. That may have benefited Ashland.”

A 38% increase in sales of existing residences was registered in Ashland for the fourth quarter with 124 units closing. East Medford saw a slight decline of nine units to 218 sales for the period.

“2021 has a chance to be a really strong market if interest rates stay at historical lows and inventory comes on the market,” said Mullane. “Buyer demand will remain strong if interest rates remain consistent.”

Mullane expects current inventory levels to be constant through April or May. At that point, how COVID is being contained and efforts to vaccinate may determine whether more homes will come on the market.

“Will sellers who held back feel safe in 2021? Will we have turned a corner? The impact wouldn’t be seen until the second half of the year if there’s confidence around the vaccine and people are getting back to normal,” said Mullane.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneA home is for sale on Broadview Avenue in Medford.