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Originally published January 8, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 12, 2008 at 4:28 PM

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Corrected version

King County home prices slide below December '06

It was the first time in recent history that prices declined year-over-year.

Seattle Times business reporter

The housing market in King County ended 2007 on a sour note as the median single-family house price last month fell 1.1 percent from December 2006. It was the first time in recent history that prices declined year-over-year.

And the number of homes for sale rose 61 percent in King County, continuing a trend that started in April, the Northwest Multiple Listing Service reported Monday. The MLS, which is independently owned and governed by its member brokers, compiles home-sales statistics for King, Snohomish, Pierce, Kitsap and 15 other counties.

In King County — which had nearly 11,000 houses and condos for sale in December, by far the most in the four-county region — it would have taken seven months to sell off that inventory at last month's sales rate.

That's a month longer than what's generally accepted as a normal balance between a buyers' and a sellers' market."One of the biggest things slowing down the local market is the memory of multiple offers and sellers being unrealistic in accepting the fact that the gold-rush mentality is gone," said Paul Simpson, an associate broker for Windermere Real Estate Northwest.

"What we now have is what I like to call a normal market," Simpson said. There's "ample supply, great interest rates for qualified buyers, time for those buyers to thoroughly evaluate the property and be protected by finance clauses."

After falling for four months in a row, the median sales price of King County's single-family houses stabilized in December at $435,000, the same as the previous month. Median year-over-year prices in Snohomish and Kitsap counties nudged down, while Pierce's stayed essentially the same.

Median price is the midpoint: Half the homes sold for more, half sold for less.

Even in-city Seattle's house prices, which common wisdom dictates will stay strong because of the city's attraction as a job center, slumped 1.5 percent last month compared with the previous December.

But that may not point to a drop in annual home prices for 2007, a Windermere analysis has found.

December, with its holidays and generally gloomy weather, is a slow sales month. But last month's sales were slower than usual for houses and condos combined.

Within the four-county area, pending sales — those signed in December but not yet completed — were 23 to 34 percent below December 2006, depending on the county.

The biggest dip, 34 percent, was in King County, which reported 1,488 houses and condos changed hands. A year earlier 2,251 did so.

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Numbers like that worry people like Kevin Rhoads. He wants to sell his Granite Falls home of four years. But he's feeling "very unsure, just like most" about whether the local residential real-estate market has hit bottom.

"Everybody has a different outlook on this," Rhoads said. "They think gloomsday is right around the corner."

After a year of national turbulence marked by price drops and slower sales — a situation exacerbated by the subprime-mortgage meltdown — economists are divided over whether a recession is imminent.

The Seattle area has largely weathered the storm, and local economists generally are predicting it will skip any recession.

Roni Strupat, an associate broker with RE/MAX Performance Plus in Federal Way, says news of the dampened market has actually brought out contrarian buyers, who think it's a good time to buy when the market is down. Strupat recently sold a house a week, a sign the December market wasn't totally dead.

"The people in great shape are people who want to buy and don't have something they have to sell," Strupat said. "There are a lot of choices out there. They're getting some of the better deals on that."

However dramatic it seems, this downturn may not have seriously undermined in-city Seattle's annual 2007 price appreciation, a preliminary analysis by Windermere Services Co. shows.

It calculated the median price of the city's single-family homes rose 5.4 percent.

(When town homes, which the multiple-listing service considers houses, are subtracted, the median price in-city jumped 9.9 percent over 2006.)

Seattle's condominiums, likewise, appreciated handsomely: up 7.5 percent last year, Windermere reported.

That mirrors December's 7.4 percent year-over-year appreciation for King County condos, which make up a third of King County's home sales.

More annual statistics will be available later this month when the multiple-listing service releases its regional 2007 report.

Elizabeth Rhodes: erhodes@seattletimes.com

The information in this article, originally published January 8, 2008, was corrected January 12, 2008. The Northwest Multiple Listing Service is independently owned and governed by its member brokers. A previous version of the story incorrectly referred to the service as an association of Realtors.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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