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Originally published January 17, 2013 at 8:00 PM | Page modified January 18, 2013 at 1:06 PM

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County home prices rose in 2012 for first time in five years

The median price of all houses sold in King County last year was $365,000, up 7 percent from 2011.

Seattle Times business reporter

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Here’s more evidence that the residential real-estate market may finally have reversed course:

The median price of all houses sold in King County in 2012 was up 7 percent from 2011 — the first annual increase in five years, according to a year-end report from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.

The yearly median peaked at $455,000 in 2007 before beginning its long slide, bottoming out at $340,000 in 2011.

Last year, however, it rose to $365,000.

Condo prices continued to fall: 2012’s median sale price, $199,950, was down 2 percent from the year before.

But, with single-family residences accounting for 80 percent of all King County sales, the median price of all homes sold last year still was up nearly 5 percent.

Sales volume rose as well, with closings climbing 20 percent.

“For us, 2012 was a phenomenal year, “ said Dave Danforth, owner of Federal Way-based brokerage Coldwell Banker Danforth. “We broke our records in almost every category.”

What’s behind the increase in the median sale price? Lack of inventory played a part. The average number of active listings during the year was down 40 percent from 2011, creating an imbalance between demand and supply.

Another factor: record-low interest rates that helped many buyers afford more house, Danforth said.

The mix of homes that sold also changed. The number of “distressed”sales — sales of bank-repossessed homes or “short sales” for less than sellers owe lenders — was virtually unchanged from 2011, according to an analysis of listing-service data by Washington Property Solutions, a short-sale negotiating firm.

But “nondistressed” sales, which generally fetch higher prices, soared 30 percent.

Short sales also accounted for a larger share of distressed transactions: More than half in 2012 compared with about one-third in 2011, according to Washington Property Solutions.

And the median price of short sales last year was 25 to 30 percent higher than that of bank-owned homes.

Richard Eastern, Washington Property Solutions’ CEO, said lenders have changed their approach to borrowers in default. Some are offering cash incentives to short-sale sellers to help minimize bank losses, or making financing easier for short-sale buyers, he said.

Danforth said he’s observed the same shift: “They’re more inclined now to try to work with short sales than to foreclose,” he said.

Other statistical nuggets from the listing-service report:

• Buyers paid a total of $11.1 billion for houses and condos in King County last year, up from $8.9 billion in 2011.

• About 12 percent of houses sold in the county in 2012 were new, and the median price they fetched was about 7 percent higher than that of all single-family sales.

• New construction accounted for about 10 percent of all condo sales, and those units’ median price — $439,438 — was $50,000 higher than the median price of new houses.

• A total of 945 houses sold for more than $1 million in King County last year, up from 735 in 2011. Two-thirds of those sales were on the Eastside.

• The highest-priced single-family sale was a three-acre Mercer Island waterfront estate, Harmony at Proctor Lane. It went for $21.625 million.

• The highest-priced condo sale: A $4.25 million penthouse at Fifteen Twenty-one Second Avenue, a downtown Seattle high-rise.

• While sellers accepted more than 38,000 offers from prospective buyers, only about 27,000 sales closed. The listing service said many pending sales fall through because of failed home inspections, mortgage-loan rejections, low appraisals or contract contingencies.

• The number of real-estate agents in the county continued to decline, slipping from 10,715 to 10,612.

Eric Pryne: epryne@seattletimes.com or 206-464-2231

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