For the 10th consecutive month, existing home sales in Jackson County improved by double digits over the same period last year.

For the 10th consecutive month, existing home sales in Jackson County improved by double digits over the same period last year.

With first-time buyer tax credits, low mortgage rates and falling prices all contributing to the continued trend, Southern Oregon Multiple Listing Service data released Monday showed sales rose 44.5 percent during a 90-day period ending Nov. 30 over a similar period in 2008.

"We were expecting increases to continue," said Steve Blanton, chief executive for both SOMLS and Rogue Valley Association of Realtors. "The strength of it is what surprised even us. With all the basic incentives there, that has to be a big deal."

The increase translated into 516 sales during the three-month period, compared with 357 in 2008.

The median sales price for Jackson County dipped 17.2 percent to $178,000 from $185,000 for the similar period.

In Ashland, the number of sales rose 26 percent, with 63 houses sold between Sept. 1 and Nov. 30, compared to 50 houses during the same period last year. The median price in Ashland dropped 14.7 percent from $363,225 to $310,000.

Homes in the Upper Rogue region and Jacksonville reversed the pricing trend.

Although there were relatively few sales, the median price for sales in the Shady Cove and Trail region climbed 17.2 percent to $197,500, while Jacksonville saw the median sales point rise 10 percent to $297,000.

Sellers also found homes moving faster, with the average time on market falling to 82 days as opposed to 105 last year. In Ashland, the average time on market fell to 66 days from 146 last year.

"We're looking at seasonal issues to some extent," Blanton said.

"But I do think there are people out there still investigating who want to buy as we head into the new year. After 10 straight months of improved sales, at some point we're going to be comparing to good numbers if things keep going this way. The double digits have to stop at some point, but if we're not backtracking, then I will say the market is pretty strong."

The portion of distressed properties — homes in default, foreclosure or owned by lenders — is shrinking as well. Distressed properties accounted for about 40 percent of sales, down from nearly 50 percent a year ago.

Countywide, there were just over 1,900 homes on the market, a reduction of nearly 18 percent from a year ago. In Ashland, 279 homes are on the market, a 15.7 percent drop from last year.

If sales rates continue to pick up, there's a better chance prices might also show some bounce. But there are some clouds on the horizon — the end of federal tax credits in April, potentially higher interest rates and more foreclosure properties. That may tip the scales the other way.

"There are two sides to the coin," said Colin Mullane of Full Circle Real Estate in Ashland. "You have a limited number of buyers and some sellers take this time of the year off as well. You have Thanksgiving followed by Christmas and the market takes a back seat."

Conversely, other factors may well feed the inventory.

"Obviously banks don't take time off for the holidays when they want to sell a house," he said. "So we could see a rise in supply."

New construction sales remained very slow, but essentially equal to last year.

"I'm not aware of any factor that is going to change that one way or another," Mullane said.

"There are so many homes being sold often for less than what they were built for that it is challenging for a builder to compete with that."

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