Housing sales slow as inventory shrinks

Local home buyers have hit the brakes in recent months, perhaps waiting for more appealing opportunities down the road.

There were 19.5 percent fewer existing home sales during the three-month period ending July 31 than the same time in 2015, according to figures compiled by Southern Oregon Multiple Listing Service. That meant for every five existing residential property deals in Jackson County a year ago there were four this year, even as the median sales price rose 4.5 percent to $246,675 from $236,000 in 2015.

In May through July, 664 residences changed hands compared to 825 during the same period in 2015. Real estate agents have begged for more inventory for at least three years, and the July 31 reading showed 1,048 houses on the market compared to 1,126 a year ago.

A shortage of housing stock in the right price range will inevitably take its toll, said Matthew Gardner, chief economist for Windermere Services in Seattle.

"What we're seeing is buyer's fatigue," said Gardner, and we're not alone.

"The trend lines I'm seeing from 11 different states is the same," he said. "Whether it's Denver, Fort Collins or Jackson, Wyo., we're seeing a lack of inventory. From a buyer's perspective, with price escalation, it leads to a fear of, 'How much am I going to spend?' They're tired of chasing every house that becomes available at a moment's notice, hoping it won't be sold before they get there."

Residences that were sold turned over in an average of 42 days, down from 45 a year ago.

House owners are skittish at the prospect of selling then looking for a new place, Gardner said.

"An awful lot of people want to sell, and it would be remarkably easy to sell," he said. "But they're not going to list their houses until they have somewhere to buy, so we get caught up in a chicken-and-egg scenario."

For decades, Californians migrating north have stoked Southern Oregon's housing market, often fueling sales prices higher than local wages could accommodate.

Sam Francisco Business Times reported this week that Bay Area housing prices are now higher than the 2007 median peak of $665,000. The latest surge is credited to the desirability of living in the region, little new housing stock and a booming business sector with high wages.

Jackson County has recovered from the Great Recession, but wages haven't kept pace.

That continues to put pressure on the relatively few houses available for less than $400,000.

"There's not a lot of activity in the really high price ranges," said Colin Mullane, of Full Circle Real Estate in Ashland and spokesman for Rogue Valley Association of Realtors.

"The stuff that's priced reasonably sells quickly," he said. "Other places that aren't priced right sit there while people go through a bunch of times. Buyers become experts after visiting 20 houses. I wouldn't say they're being picky, but they're not going to overpay for a property. We have much more sophisticated buyers now, just because they can afford $400,000 doesn't mean they will pay that much; they made that mistake 10 years ago."

Interest rates remain low, but there are just dozens of houses under construction, not hundreds.

"I don't see how the logjam can be cleared anytime soon," Gardner said. "It's going to remain a seller's market through next spring, if not longer."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

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