Jackson County home sales jump 33%

Mandy Icenhower and her fiance, James Shannon, began looking for a house in early 2008.

Last summer, they found an appealing four-bedroom place in Central Point. They made an offer, but had second thoughts and, thinking the price was too much, walked away.

They kept shopping and months later took a second look at the Pitt View Avenue house.

The house, which had sold for $388,000 in December 2004, had gone through foreclosure. When Icenhower and Shannon finally closed on the property in mid-June they got it for $176,000.

Buyers such as Icenhower and Shannon have taken advantage of falling prices, the government's $8,000 first-time home buyer tax credit and low mortgage rates to push Jackson County residential sales to their highest level in two years.

For the sixth straight month, existing home sales posted a double-digit increase over the same period a year ago, according to the Southern Oregon Multiple Listing Service. For the May through July period, sales jumped 33.8 percent as nine of the 11 tracking areas saw gains.

Despite prices driven down by foreclosures and short sales, SOMLS reported the median sales price for existing Jackson County houses climbed slightly to $190,000 during the quarter ending July 31. That topped the previous rolling-quarter figure of $187,000 for the period ending June 30.

A total of 495 single-family residences sold during the three-month period compared with 370 for a similar period in 2008.

Icenhower said the couple was anxious to make a housing move.

"We were ready to get the house and merge the families," she said. "We looked at another house in Central Point and two in Medford that were all the same size as this one, but they fell through. Then we learned this one came back on the market and the price was a bit lower."

Even after Icenhower and Shannon settled on the Pitt View home, a variety of issues, including the appraisal — cropped up to slow the transaction.

"We were pretty patient for a quite a while and then more anxious," she admitted. "We were ready to wrap it up and then at times we wanted to pull the plug, and then decided to stick it out and we're glad he did. All I know is it seemed like forever."

Not every transaction is fraught with obstacles. While Icenhower and Shannon pursued home ownership for about a year and a half, It took Amy Warner a fraction of that time to identify and buy investment property in Talent.

Warner is eligible for the $8,000 tax credit because she last owned a home five years ago.

"I had some money to invest and with prices going down and interest rates on mortgages so low," Warner said. "I thought it was a great time to get a house — even though I'm not going to live in it."

In May, she spotted a house to her liking on Summer Place in Talent and within two months the deal was recorded.

"I had looked around quite a lot in Ashland and Talent," Warner said. "The day they lowered their price I made an offer, because I hadn't seen anything close to as nice for the price."

The bid was on a short sale, where the lender agrees to accept a discounted payoff from the seller. Such transactions often break down before completion, but Warner had something going in her favor.

"The bank had already accepted a previous offer on the property, but the people backed out," Warner said. "I knew that it would probably go through because of that."

Even so, she kept house-hunting until the deal closed.

"I was surprised it happened so quickly," she said. "I figured it would be September before it closed and it closed at the beginning of July," Warner said. "I have it rented out to a person I work with already. Everything went smoothly and that was a little surprising."

While the median price crept up over recent months, year-over-year, the county's median price slipped 15.1 percent to $190,000 from $223,750, according to SOMLS figures. The median is the middle figure — there were an equal number of sales below $190,000 and above $190,000.

Regions along the Rogue River — Shady Cove/Trail and Gold Hill/Rogue River — were most resistant to falling prices. The Upper Rogue area saw a 1.4 percent decline to a median of $188,250 for the three-month period, while downstream in Gold Hill and Rogue River, the median fell 3.9 percent to $169,000. East Medford, where the median price was $215,000, was the only other zone with a single digit fall-off.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.

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