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RISMEDIA, April 9, 2007-(MCT)-Rhode Island's housing prices declined in February, with condos falling farthest, but sales of single-family houses rose for the second month in a row, according to a report released yesterday by The Warren Group in Boston.

The statewide median price of a condo in February was down nearly 15 percent, to $219,500, compared with $258,000 a year earlier, the real-estate and information firm reported. Condo sales since January have fallen nearly 9 percent during the same period.

Single-family house prices held up better. In February, the statewide median price of a single-family house fell about 4 percent, to $249,250, compared with $260,000 during the same month last year. Meanwhile, single-family house sales were up about 4 percent in February — and nearly 8.5 percent so far this year.

Timothy Warren Jr., chief executive officer of The Warren Group, said that it "will take some time for prices to creep up again," but that the last two months of rising sales is a positive sign.

"As sales continue to grow," Warren said, "buyers will start to notice fewer homes on the market, and will be more likely to snap up their dream home once they see it and will be willing to pay closer to the asking price."
Providence's single-family house sales in February rose about 5.6 percent, but the median prices fell 5.2 percent, to $237,000, the report said. However, the median price in Providence so far this year is off by 4 percent.

Bristol, Newport and Washington Counties all reported single-family house sales rose by double-digits in February, but the median prices in all three counties declined. The most dramatic decline was in Bristol, where the median price of a single-family house in February fell 31 percent, to $255,500, compared with $370,250 a year earlier, according to the report.

The Warren Group bases its data on house sales by both real-estate agents and sales-by-owners.

Nationally, more Americans signed contracts to buy previously owned homes in February, easing concern that the real-estate market will get even worse.

The National Association of Realtors' index of signed purchase agreements rose 0.7 percent after dropping 4.2 percent in January. Economists had forecast a decline. The index was down 8.5 percent from a year earlier.

Lower borrowing costs and falling house prices are tempting some buyers back into the market, which is suffering its worst recession since 1991, economists said.

"The chance of another outsized drop in housing is dissipating," said Michael Englund, chief economist at Action Economics LLC in Boulder, Colo. "There has been remarkably little pass-through to the rest of the economy."

The index of pending resales is considered a leading indicator because it tracks contract signings. The Realtors' existing-houses sales report tracks mainly closings, which typically occur a month or two later.

"Housing is groping for a bottom here," said Eric Green, chief market economist at Countrywide Securities in Calabasas, California. "Consumers are feeling better about getting into the market."

With Bloomberg News reports.

Copyright © 2007, The Providence Journal, R.I.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.