Looking for a place to live in the Puget Sound region? You've got plenty of choices, many of them on sale. Looking to sell your place? Um, better be patient...

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Looking for a place to live in the Puget Sound region? You’ve got plenty of choices, many of them on sale.

Looking to sell your place? Um, better be patient.

Those were the messages embedded in the January housing sales figures released Wednesday by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service. The data showed home sales in the four-county region continued to sag last month.

Median sales prices — with the sole exception of single-family homes in King County — slipped further, more proof that the region has joined the nationwide housing slump.

There were 2,712 closed sales in King, Snohomish, Pierce and Kitsap counties last month, a 35.4 percent drop from the 4,197 recorded in January 2007. Nearly 3,300 sales were pending across the region, 32.4 percent fewer than a year ago.

The median selling price for King County single-family homes remained at $435,000 for the third straight month, enough for a 1.3 percent gain over the same month a year ago. (Median means half sold for more, half for less.)

But prices for King County condominiums, which had held up better than single-family homes, sank in January to $270,500 — down 6.7 percent from December, and 1.6 percent below January 2007.

Median sales prices of homes and condos combined in King County rose 4.0 percent. But elsewhere in the region, combined prices edged lower.

They were down 1 percent in Snohomish County, 2.5 percent in Pierce County and 5.4 percent in Kitsap County.

Laurie Harlan of Lake Stevens found out the hard way just how much the region’s housing market has slowed.

In August, after Harlan and her husband decided to divorce, they put their four-bedroom, 2,100-square-foot rambler on the market.

Having bought the house 8-½ years ago for $179,000, they figured it would sell within a month or two for the $395,000 asking price.

It didn’t. And didn’t. In fact, the sale didn’t close until Friday, when the house fetched $333,000.

“We were obligated to sell it,” said Harlan, who’s staying temporarily in her husband’s new house in Marysville while she looks for a new home for herself and her three children. “Were we happy with the price we got? No.”

Part of the sales decline is cyclical: Even in strong years, January tends to be at or near the bottom in sales activity.

But new listings have continued to pour onto the market, adding to already swollen inventories of homes and condos.

In the four-county area, 10,043 homes and condos were listed for the first time last month, 16.5 percent more than in January 2007. Overall, there were 28,215 active listings in the region, 46.3 percent above the level a year earlier.

Bob Christian, general manager of Century 21 North Homes Realty in Lynnwood, estimated that, at current sales rates, there is about 7.6 months’ worth of inventory in King County.

A year ago, inventory in the state’s most populous county was closer to four months.

(One rule of thumb is that six months of inventory indicates a balanced market; more than that favors buyers, less sellers.)

Still, the King County figure is better than our neighbors to the south.

Christian, who also has real-estate brokerages in Oregon, said there’s from 12 to 14 months of inventory in the Portland area.

Though sales prices have slipped, Bob Melvey, associate broker at Windermere’s Ballard office, said he didn’t sense would-be buyers are holding off to see if they can get a better deal.

Rather, Melvey said, buyers have more choices to examine and don’t have to worry about their favorite house being snapped up if they delay making an offer.

“They do have the luxury of spending a couple of months comparing this house to that one,” he said. “The way the market was before, you could spend less time picking a house than picking out a sweater.”

Lower interest rates might draw more buyers into the market.

According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s weekly survey, the average rate for a 30-year mortgage last week was 5.61 percent; that’s down from an average of 6.18 percent in mid-December.

“In all the markets we’re in, from Tacoma up to Mount Vernon, we have seen more buyer confidence because of the actions the Federal Reserve has taken,” Christian said even though, as he pointed out, mortgage rates generally follow the yield on 10-year Treasury securities, not the Fed’s rate cuts or boosts.

“People see the Fed cut rates, and they feel better about buying things” he said. “It’s all a question of buyer confidence.”

Drew DeSilver: 206-464-3145 or ddesilver@seattletimes.com