Jackson County real estate sales activity continued trending up, while prices remained on a downward slope during the final quarter of 2009.

Jackson County real estate sales activity continued trending up, while prices remained on a downward slope during the final quarter of 2009.

Sales of existing homes between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 rose 53.5 percent, with 525 transactions completed, while the median price fell 15.4 percent to $178,000 from a comparable period at the end of 2008. However, the median price for December closings saw a smaller decline of 8.2 percent, to $179,900.

The Phoenix-Talent and Upper Rogue areas saw the biggest pick-up in activity.

"The lower end is still moving because of the first-time home-buyer incentive," said Kathy Tinsley, an agent with Keller Williams Realty Southern Oregon in Medford. "Those properties are still going to be going quickly."

Even with the incentive, some shoppers are reluctant to take the plunge because of the uncertain job market.

"Most people prequalifying feel pretty secure in their jobs," Tinsley said. "One guy I was working with is pretty worried and decided to hold off. He's got a good credit score and didn't want to mess it up. He can wait six months — and prices will still be good in six months."

Although the market has shown an increased pace for the past 11 months, it may be a while longer before a brisk sales season comes along.

"I have not heard of a great deal of movement from my clients, not just in California but other states," said Rick Chezik of Oregon-Land.com in Jacksonville. "Looking at the overall economy, it's slow. If you can't sell, you can't buy. The incentives are good, but there are still a lot of issues out there and it's going to be a couple of years before some of those issues start working out."

The days are numbered for incentives such as tax credits and interest rates that have stoked the market.

Mortgage rates below 5 percent likely will climb before long, while the first-time home-buyer credit will expire in April. As a result, the late spring and early summer could determine whether 2010 is a good or bad sales year.

"I wish we were under better circumstances," said Colin Mullane of Full Circle Real Estate in Ashland. "We won't know if the $8,000 tax credit is a stimulus or has given us a false sense of recovery until it expires. If interest rates go up and the tax credits go away, there could be a lull in the market and we will have an increased supply. Sellers will be forced to lower prices. May, June and July will shed some light on this and we'll see what has happened after that."

With much of the activity during the past three years centered on houses below the $300,000 mark, little has happened above the $500,000 range. But a combination of elements have lowered the price tag for some spendy homes.

"There are lots of examples of someone who has overspent or purchased houses that are now going into the foreclosure market," Mullane said. "There's a short sale on Siskiyou Boulevard in Ashland where someone is paying $290,000 for an $800,000 house that wasn't in foreclosure yet."

In a short sale, proceeds fall short of the balance owed on the property's loan.

"We saw (the impact) first in the $200,000 to $300,000 homes and at $150,000 to $200,000; now it's hitting some of the over-$500,000 homes," Tinsley said. "There's been a dominoing up the scale of pricing. People thought they could hang on, but the economy has been hitting their businesses too hard. It's sad for those people, but they're not alone."

The flip side is that there are deals — undreamed of four or five years ago — to be had, Tinsley said. "The buys out there are just incredible."

A recently built 4,000-square-foot home in the Saddle Ridge subdivision in the hills of east Medford originally was offered at $1.8 million and later for $1.5 million. It's now listed at $598,000.

A foreclosure off Vilas Road in northeast Medford, including a 5,000-square-foot home, an indoor arena, stalls and irrigation system, once was listed at $2.5 million, then $1.5 million, and is now offered at $750,000.

While few new homes sold during the quarter, there was a 50-plus percent gain in that sector of the market as well. The median price for a new home during the period was $193,450.

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