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Thursday, March 8, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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February home sales climb

Seattle Times business reporter

It's too early to say if this spring's home sales will be a repeat of last spring's frenetic activity, but February's home sales point to it, according to statistics released Wednesday by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.

The number of pending sales in King County climbed 31 percent to 3,272 last month, compared with 2,492 in January.

However, King County's median single-family home price has not edged upward in several months, according to the MLS.

February's median sold price was $429,925, about what it has been for roughly the past six months, but up almost 9 percent compared with February a year ago.

Median means half of the homes sold for more and half sold for less. It is considered a more accurate figure than the average sales price, which can be easily skewed by the sales of a small number of very high or very low priced houses. (Single-family home sales numbers include town houses. See story on A1 about how that affects the median price numbers.)

The picture is more complex for King County condos. Median sales prices have bobbled up and down — from $269,950 in December to $229,900 in January to $285,250 last month. That's happened for a number of reasons.

One big one: Numerous new condo projects are now being sold, which can affect the mix of sales, and thus the median prices, in any given month.

But the buyers are definitely there, said Lennox Scott, chief executive of John L. Scott Real Estate.

He said February sales showed growth compared to the previous months, and sales were on a par with a year ago.

Scott also credited mortgage rates, which remain at near-historic lows, and employers continuing to create jobs, as favorable factors for the real-estate market.

Windermere broker Karen Lavallee said sales activity in her office's West Seattle neighborhood showed a marked increase recently.

"Our office picked up about the third week of January, and it's been good ever since," she said.

Lavallee thinks that reflects pent-up demand from November and December, when bad weather kept home shoppers away.

"But the sun comes up and everything perks up," Lavallee said.

Scott said the strongest sales are in the more-affordable price ranges, which vary by neighborhood. For example, in Bellevue, west of I-405, the median sold price of a single-family home last month was $595,900. Anything below that would be considered affordable for that neighborhood.

However, in Kent, affordability begins below its median single-family price of $327,950. Additionally, "King County continues to see a slight shortage of inventory in the more-affordable price ranges in neighborhoods close to the job centers in Seattle and Bellevue," Scott said.

The MLS calculates that King County has just under a three-month supply of single-family houses for sale. There's about a two-month supply of condos. A supply of six months or more is seen as favoring buyers.

February's median single-family sold prices for the four central Puget Sound counties — King, Snohomish, Pierce and Kitsap — were up between 9.4 percent and 12.5 percent compared with a year earlier. Pierce had the highest appreciation; King the lowest.

That likely reflects median prices. At $286,980, Pierce County is the most affordable, so it potentially can attract more buyers. Competition drives prices up.

At $429,925, King was the least affordable county in the area last month.

Seattle was even less affordable. Its median single-family home sale was $440,250, and annual appreciation reflected that. In the past year, homes within Seattle have appreciated 7.1 percent.

Although the local housing market has softened in the past year, it still remains robust compared to other parts of the country where housing prices are stalled or dropping. Among the worst hit are Michigan and parts of Indiana, where jobs have evaporated.

In other areas, particularly parts of Florida and Arizona, prices have stalled because of overbuilding.

Neither job loss nor overbuilding have been factors here.

Elizabeth Rhodes: erhodes@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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