A 'seller's market'

Properties in Ashland are finally selling steadily, prices are going up and it's being called a "seller's market."

The median price of existing single-family Ashland homes is now $363,000, says broker Colin Mullane of Full Circle Real Estate in Ashland. This means half of homes are above and half below that figure, says Mullane, who compiles monthly real estate statistics for the whole county.

This compares to the median of three years ago, $265,000.

The median was greatly skewed after the market crash of 2008, he notes, because almost half were in some form of distress, such as foreclosure or short sale. These were being sold at a discount and are virtually gone now.

The cheapest home in Ashland now is $224,900, and it's in very bad shape, says Mullane. There are only eight homes under $300,000 listed, he adds, "and it would have been double that three or four years ago."

These kind of homes tend to be smaller, with two bedrooms and one bath or, he says, they need work. If buyers are looking for three bedrooms and two baths with a minimum 1,500 square feet, they are going to be doing a lot of looking and waiting, he says.

"It's a seller's market now," he says. "People are struggling to get into the Ashland market. The foreclosures are hardly there and if they are, they're going up in value. All the markets in the valley are enjoying appreciation."

Houses in lower brackets are selling best, as expected, says broker Sara Walker, of Patricia Sprague Real Estate in Ashland. Higher-end homes are still not seeing buyers return to the market, she said. This is evidenced by a scad of "for sale" signs on pricey upper Morton Street.

Interest rates at a little over 4 percent are helping spur the market, she says, and they're available if buyers have good credit, are qualified and have the down in hand.

"We are getting lots of California buyers, some from Washington," says Walker. "Sometimes we get multiple offers, but it's on the lower priced homes. You could call it a seller's market if it's not priced too high."

Looking at the Medford area, Don McCoy of John L. Scott Real Estate notes it's a broad-based recovery.

"Under $350,000 is always healthy, and now we're seeing recovery in the $450,000, $550,000, up to $600,000 homes," says McCoy. "It's happening because of the markets that feed ours."

After the economy crashed eight years ago, there was lots of inventory, but now there's only a three-to-four-month supply, which he calls "historically low."

When the market picks up, there's always a lag-time, he says, as buyers initially are reluctant to commit to the higher prices.

Compared to three years ago, Ashland is experiencing a lack of inventory, says Craig Blazinski of Full Circle Real Estate. There are 180 homes listed now; three years ago, there were 360.

"There are lots of buyers. The market under $325,000 is really hot," he says. "Homes competitively priced under $325,000 are selling quickly. Half of the pending sales under $325,000 went pending (got an offer) in less than a week. Half of the 89 homes under $325,000 that sold in the last year went pending in less than a month."

The seller's market is being driven by a "red hot" market in the Bay Area, where sellers couldn't unload their homes for anywhere near value over the last seven years, he notes. It's also being driven by local people buying for investment, as rentals.

Young people are also realizing that a mortgage payment is not that much different than rent and are shopping the market, says Blazinski.

"The conventional wisdom is that only Bay Area retirees are moving here," he says, "but I have sold five homes to young couples in the last two years, some with toddlers. Before that, the last home I sold to a family in Ashland was myself, about 10 years ago."

Being speedy is important for buyers and, says Mullane, "You have to be pre-approved and able to move quickly, because you're competing with a lot of people in the same shoes."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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