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Sales stay sluggish



The Missoula Organization of Realtors has crunched its 2011 market data to find that, while median sales prices in the city’s urban core increased over 2010, the number of properties purchased continued to fall.

“We saw last year the number of sales in the area go down 7 percent,” says Ruth Link of the Missoula Organization of Realtors.

MOR data shows that 773 homes in Missoula sold last year. That’s down from 830 in 2010, 913 in 2009 and a peak of 1,443 in 2006.

While the high-end market has been particularly hard hit by waning demand, Link says homes priced under $260,000 remain a valued commodity. That’s especially true if they’re in good shape and close to amenities. “There’s a market out there,” she says.

Prices in the urban area are inching up. According to MOR, the median sales price of a Missoula home rose to $205,500 from $201,240 in 2010.

Statewide, median prices and sales volume continued sliding in 2011 to varying degrees. In Billings, 1,506 homes sold between Jan. 2010 and Oct. 31, according to the Montana Association of Realtors. That number dropped to 1,475 in 2011. The median sales price in Billings for the same period dropped from $185,000 to $177,500. Northwest Montana, which has been particularly hard hit by the bursting of the real estate bubble, saw its median home price decrease by $22,000, settling at $178,000 in 2011.

Foreclosed property sales are dragging down property values in western Montana, says Darwin Ernst from Darwin Ernst Appraisal Services in Hamilton. “They’re sold at liquidation prices, which is discounted.”

That trend is playing out in Ravalli County, where 30 percent of all residential sales last year were foreclosed properties, says Ernst, who chairs the Government Relations Committee for the Montana Chapter of the Appraisal Institute, a global membership association of professional real estate appraisers.

According to Ernst’s data, 347 homes were sold in Ravalli County last year. That’s an increase from 296 sold in 2010. But 2011’s median price was $175,000, down from $205,000 in 2010.

Largely because of continued foreclosure sales across western Montana, Ernst expects a rocky real estate market in the coming year. “The clarity of the crystal ball is always in question,” he says. “But the data indicates more of the same trends.”

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