Median home prices declined in 2008 over the previous year, according to a report released today by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service. The average price of a single family home in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties also fell for the first time since 1991. Despite the dip, median home prices in King, Pierce, Snohomish and...

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For the first time since 1991, the average price of single family homes in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties has declined from the previous year, ending nearly two decades of continuous appreciation.

Annual housing sales numbers released today by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service also show the median price of single family homes, a figure tracked only since 2002, likewise dipped in 2008.

The good news? Despite the drop, median single family home prices remain more than 50 percent higher than 2002 in King, Snohomish, Pierce and Kitsap counties.

Last year’s median price for a single family home in King County — $429,950 — sank 5.51 percent from 2007’s median of $455,000, the association said. Median single-family home prices in Snohomish, Pierce and Kitsap counties fell as well, and fewer homes sold in each county respectively over the previous year.

Condominiums mostly fared better. The median price for a condo in King County was $280,000 for 2008, down 2.25 percent from $286,438 in 2007. Snohomish County’s median rose from $239,999 to $247,000. Kitsap County’s median condo price plummeted from $337,400 in 2007 to $209,250 last year. (Median is the midpoint: half the homes sell for more, half for less.)

A national credit crisis, job losses, cracked nest eggs, plunging consumer confidence and tightened lending standards combined for one-two punch to the real estate industry last year.

Foreclosures are on the rise around the country, with Pierce County the hardest hit locally. One in 457 homes was in the foreclosure process in December, nearly triple the number from 2006, according to a report released earlier this month by RealtyTrac, a national foreclosure-information firm based in Southern California.

Washington state, however, still fared better than many of its brethren. The same report showed that one in 14 homes in Nevada and one in 22 homes in Florida and Arizona was in the foreclosure pipeline last month.

Efforts by the federal government to shore up the housing market have proved a mixed bag. Results have been disappointing for a first-time homebuyer tax credit of $7,500, mainly because it must be paid back. A surge of homeowners have hustled to refinance under record-low rates for 30-year fixed rate mortgages, though analysts say the Federal Reserve’s help there hasn’t trickled down to those who either lack enough equity to refinance or can’t muster credentials to qualify.

Homebuilders, whose industry has slowed to a near standstill, are lobbying the Obama administration for a tax credit of up to $22,000 throughout 2009 available at closing to help pad down payments, a tactic to ease first-time homebuyers into the market and free up current homeowners to buy new homes of their own.

Karen Gaudette: 206-515-5618 or kgaudette@seattletimes.com