The inventory of existing homes for sale in Jackson County is dwindling like stream flow in late summer.
Southern Oregon Multiple Listing Service reported 1,397 homes were available on Aug. 31, 2014. Last year, the number slipped to 1,144, with the latest measure falling to 1,055.
Mortgage rates are inviting, employment is thriving and the local economy is growing. Yet, the pace of home sales slowed by 15.7 percent during the summer months traditionally given to buying and selling. For a three-month period ending Aug. 31, SOMLS reported 709 transactions, compared with 841 a year ago.
The median price for houses sold in Ashland, Jacksonville and Talent during the period topped $300,000. That helped push the county's median price — half selling for more and half for less — to $248,000, a 5.5 percent gain over the $235,000 figure for a similar period in 2015. In the past five years, the county's median price has jumped 60 percent.
While fewer deals were made, the market time for homes sold declined to 42 days from 46 last year.
The county's population has grown by roughly 20,000 in the past dozen years, but neither single-family nor multi-family housing has managed to keep pace.
What may have been adequate to meet past demand, isn't today, said Terry Rasmussen, an agent with John L. Scott Real Estate in Medford.
"The need to buy right now is greater than the need to move," Rasmussen said. "People are putting their house on the market for all the normal reasons, but there is still a greater demand for housing than there are houses."
The difference between today and the months running up to the real estate bubble in 2005 and 2006, he said, was that too many houses weren't owner-occupied.
"There was too much supply, because people were buying and flipping so they could make $10,000 or $20,000 in a few weeks," Rasmussen said. "We had more homes than we needed at that point."
The downturn followed, flooding the market with foreclosures and short sales.
"For about five years, no homes were built," Rasmussen said. "Families were still formed and people were getting on with their lives, but homes weren't being built, and we've fallen behind."
New homes don't necessarily pass through the SOMLS system, but the latest figures show a 13.7 percent activity bump from last year with 83 new sales.
"We're seeing the building trades keep pretty busy," Rasmussen said. "Houses are going up, and there would be a lot more if more lots were available for more builders. Even in the outlying areas such as Eagle Point, where they are building entry- and mid-level homes, they're selling before they're framed."
In the past three months, the biggest jump in median values have been in Talent, which soared 31.8 percent to $325,000, and Jacksonville, where the median bolted 21.7 percent to $346,950. In east Medford, where three in 10 sales took place during the summer months, the median rose 11.3 percent to $272,750.
Only the Upper Rogue and Phoenix, where there are relatively fewer sales, saw a decline in median prices.
"Unemployment is down, interest rates are down, so everything we need to have a healthy market is there," said real estate appraiser Roy Wright, who has tracked the local residential market since the 1970s.
Wright theorizes that fewer people are moving to larger homes or more desirable locations than in the past.
"People are a little more conscious about debt than they used to be," he said. "But if they don't move up, then you don't have starter homes available."
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.