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Originally published Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Seattle home prices show dip on national index, fare better than elsewhere in the nation

When Steve Otto saw the latest national home-price numbers, which again showed a decline in Seattle, they told him two things: His sense...

Seattle Times business reporter

When Steve Otto saw the latest national home-price numbers, which again showed a decline in Seattle, they told him two things:

His sense that local prices are dropping is correct, and sellers better take seriously what that means to them.

"Sellers need to have their home priced right," said Otto, an agent in the Bellevue office of Keller Williams Realty. "They can't stick a number on it, hope a buyer comes through and then negotiate."

Seattle's month-to-month home prices have dipped seven months in a row, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller home-price index released Tuesday. It measures price changes in the same set of single-family homes over many years.

The latest statistics reflect February price changes in 20 metropolitan areas.

Seattle's home prices dropped 1 percent from January to February, compared with a 1.8 percent decline from December to January. The February drop is in keeping with declining prices in general but is well under the 20-city average of 2.6 percent.

All 20 cities posted month-to-month price declines, and 19 of them also reported annual decreases. Charlotte, N.C., showed a modest 1.5 percent annual increase.

Seattle prices fell 2.7 percent from the previous February, much better than the national average of 12.7 percent. Las Vegas, down 22.8 percent, led the 20 cities; Miami, at 21.7 percent, followed.

"There is no sign of a bottom in the numbers," said David Blitzer, chairman of Standard & Poor's index committee. "Prices of single-family homes continue to drop across the nation."

Local home-sales statistics from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service show King County's median single-family house price declined every month from July's high of $481,000 to $435,000, the past year's low, in November, December and January. In February, the median climbed slightly to $439,900.

Unlike the Case-Shiller statistics, which track sales of the same houses, the numbers from the multiple-listing service reflect all sales handled by real-estate agents in a given month.

The next set of MLS numbers, representing April sales, will be released Tuesday.

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Otto says homes that sold this month generally did so because buyers perceived value.

"The amount of inventory for sale continues to rise, and sellers have to be at the bottom of the range of pricing," he says. "Before, they could be midrange and attract a buyer."

"Buyers are a lot more selective," said David Milot, owner broker of Re/Max Metro Realty in Seattle. "Overpriced properties aren't selling."

Still, Milot says, April has been a decent month.

"Not as good as it was two years ago, but it's a different market now," he said.

Elizabeth Rhodes: erhodes@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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