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Tuesday, August 8, 2006 - Page updated at 10:41 AM

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Homes taking a bit longer to sell, but prices still up

Seattle Times staff reporters

Home sellers spoiled by three years of record or near-record sales may have to lower their expectations.

If the Puget Sound area's July home-sales numbers, released yesterday by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service (MLS), are any indication, homes might sit on the market longer.

But the slowdown was just a move toward normal levels, not a sign that any bubble might soon burst, said Glenn Crellin, director of the Washington Center for Real Estate Research at Washington State University.

"Some consumers have become accustomed to homes selling in 60 hours rather than 60 days," Crellin said. "We have to remember that the year-ago market was operating at record levels."

With more homes on the market last month, buyers had more choices — but median prices rose, up 16 percent in King County and 21 percent in Snohomish County compared with July 2005. Median means half the homes sold for more, half for less.

Sellers in Seattle still see multiple offers, but the farther away the homes are from freeways and job centers, the harder they may be to sell. Many buyers want to be close to work, so Seattle, downtown Bellevue, Redmond and Kirkland have an edge.

Wedgwood, Sand Point and Ballard are especially popular, said Sonja Riveland, spokeswoman for Windermere Real Estate.

"Anything in-city is still selling like crazy," she said.

Still, sellers need to take care to keep their homes reasonably priced because buyers know the market is changing, said Michael Tenore, area director for ZIPRealty in Kirkland.

"You definitely don't want to be overpriced, not even in Seattle," Tenore said. Buyers will simply move on.

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The high-end market is still strong, especially in Mercer Island and west Bellevue, where median prices topped $1 million, Riveland said.

Overall, the number of available homes is increasing while the number of pending sales is falling, Tenore said. In pending sales, offers have been accepted but deals have not closed.

In Pierce and Kitsap counties, the number of homes on the market last month rose more than 50 percent from the same month last year, the MLS numbers showed.

July traditionally is a slower sales month, and last month's heat wave likely hurt sales, the MLS said. Vacations — of buyers, sellers and agents — and uncertainty about interest rates also affected the numbers.

But the region continues to enjoy a relatively strong market when compared with the rest of the country.

"You can see the national trend is happening here to a lesser degree," Tenore said.

Washington state has always been a little late to the party, Crellin said. While housing markets took off in other parts of the country, the state waited to recover from a recession. Now, as other markets have cooled, ours remains strong. And we're not likely to see a huge downward trend.

"We're just going to return to more normal sales expectations," Crellin said.

Buyers will be unlikely to find a great home for less than market value, Tenore said. But a slower market does have some benefit.

"You may find that it's less competitive," he said. "Maybe you don't have to do a pre-inspection or waive certain contingencies. In general, there's a little bit less pressure."

Bibeka Shrestha: bshrestha @seattletimes.com

Elizabeth Rhodes: erhodes@seattletimes.com

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