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RISMEDIA, Jan. 22, 2008-(MCT)-Good friends of mine tried to sell their ranch-style house in Hazel Dell, Washington all last summer with no luck, even through they put in a new sidewalk and driveway and kept it looking tidy.

By November, they’d pulled the three-bedroom two-bath with a nice backyard off the market. Now they’re going to try again.

“Why does all the news about housing, about real estate and the economy have to be so bad,” my friend recently asked over a cup of coffee. “We’d like to sell this house, we don’t see home values coming down, and we don’t think we should have to lower our price. Things are better here than the media (as she looked pointedly at me) are saying.”

Pausing to gather my thoughts, I told her that things are better in the Portland-Vancouver area than in many places around the U.S. Our underlying economy is slowing, but still generating jobs at twice the national rate. While home values have dropped more than 10% in places such as Las Vegas and California, they so far appear to be steady in most price categories here.

Values may slip

In general, home values in Clark County are down about 3% from a year ago as measured by the median price of houses sold in December. But, I said, that’s a little misleading since only 406 houses sold last month. That’s about half the number that were selling a couple of years. Buyers, I said, are scarce, sitting on their hands waiting for lower mortgage rates. Meanwhile, the number of new listings coming to the market has not changed (In Clark County, more than 14,000 homes in 2007).

That means the Hazel Dell house with an attractive price in the lower $200,000s is competing with a huge amount of for-sale inventory (nearly 4,000 houses).

The situation will likely continue as we work through the oversupply, which could be exacerbated this year by a large number of variable-rate loans coming due. That could push more homes onto the market as borrowers try to get out of higher monthly payments.

Good time to buy?

Is this a good time to buy a house in Clark County?

Absolutely. Here’s why:

– Mortgage loan rates are their lowest in two years with the average rate on a 30-year-fixed loan dropping to 5.69 last week. That makes a $200,000 loan cost $1,159 a month as compared to $1,224 a month on a 6.2% loan just five weeks ago. Mortgage rates will continue lower.
– There’s a vast selection of homes for sale from which buyers can choose.
– Sellers with home equity may be more willing to give up some of that equity to unload their homes.

A local Realtor told clients in a newsletter last week that he expects sellers to endure another year of “acute pain” followed by a slow recovery from the oversupply of single-family housing.

So should sellers such as my Hazel Dell friends come down in their price?

Probably … if they want to get their money out sooner rather than later. I’m going to let their Realtor, working to sell their house, explain that to them.

Copyright © 2008, The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.