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RISMEDIA, Jan. 9, 2007-(MCT)-Home sales were so slow last month that veteran real-estate agent Donna Fraser did something she's never seen done before.

She persuaded agents from half a dozen competing firms to jointly sponsor an open house yesterday.

Some 20 houses and condos were open from noon to 4 p.m. in Lakeland Hills, a planned community in Auburn, WA.

After a month that saw sluggish buyer interest compared with the previous winter, "we were looking for something to get things started," said Fraser, a Windermere agent.
"We were very concerned," Fraser said.

In fact, buyers weren't racing to make offers anywhere in the central Puget Sound area last month, according to home-sales numbers released Friday by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.

Pierce and Kitsap counties reported the steepest drops in pending sales-deals signed last month but not closed-in the four-county area that also includes King and Snohomish counties.

Kitsap County sales were down 23% last month, compared with the previous December, while Pierce County sales slid 19%. King and Snohomish counties each saw pending sales decline roughly 6%. But nowhere could the drops be attributed to a lack of homes to choose from.

Indeed, last month the number of houses and condos available increased 48% in Kitsap County, 42%in Pierce, 34% in Snohomish and 24% in King, compared with the previous December.

That's meant sellers have to change their mind-set, said Dick Beeson, owner of Windermere's Tacoma office.

Well-kept, competitively priced homes continue to sell, he noted, but owners can no longer "try to squeeze an extra 5 or 10 percent" of profit.

"There's too much competition," Beeson said. "Sellers have got to be on their toes."

December's sold prices continued to rise year-over-year, climbing 12.6%in King County and 14.3% in Snohomish. Pierce County prices were up 8%, while Kitsap prices were flat.

A closer look at the numbers reveals that appreciation is slowing.

In the past six months, the median price of a single-family King County home rose $5,000 (to $440,000). In the first half of 2006, it rose almost $45,000.

That same scenario also played out in surrounding counties. In Lakeland Hills, Fraser said, the resale market has been particularly sluggish because of competition from new homes nearby.

She hopes the open house, with 20 pre-owned homes priced from $200,000 to $680,000, will change that.

Copyright © 2007, Seattle Times
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.