Median home prices continued to fall last month in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties, but a rise in home sales may be a signal the real-estate market is stabilizing.

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Median home prices continued to fall last month in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties, but a rise in home sales may be a signal the real-estate market is stabilizing.

In King County, buyers closed on 1,678 houses in July, up nearly 14 percent year-over-year, according to statistics released Thursday by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.

Snohomish County saw a similar rise of about 12.5 percent, with buyers closing on 706 homes. Pierce County jumped the most: a 25.5 percent increase to 792 closed sales last month.

But some observers said the uptick may misrepresent the overall health of the real-estate market, noting that last year’s July sales were so low because they came soon after expiration of the federal homebuyer tax credit.

Tim Ellis, author of real-estate blog Seattlebubble.com, said the July numbers aren’t particularly impressive.

“We’re a far cry from the pre-boom years,” Ellis said. “But we’ve been pretty on par this year compared with a normal year.”

Similar pace

Despite the increase over last July, the total sales so far this year aren’t much different from in 2010.

Single-family closings in King County totaled 10,310 from January through July 2010, compared with 10,204 this year, MLS data showed.

Median home prices, however, were down significantly in July.

Snohomish County saw the steepest decline, with a 15.8 percent year-over-year drop to $239,945. In King County, median home prices were down 12.3 percent, from $399,000 in July 2010 to $350,000 last month.

Pierce County saw the smallest drop in home prices with an 11.6 percent decline to $198,950.

For King County, the July median price remained within the range of $340,000 to $350,000, where it has been since March.

Bargain hunters out

Glenn Crellin, director for the Washington Center for Real Estate Research at Washington State University, said there is “a substantial amount of bargain hunting in the market.”

His observations were reflected in the King County statistics, where activity was up 34.7 percent in Southwest King County and 29.4 percent in North King County — the cheapest areas.

The more expensive parts of King County saw smaller increases in closing sales.

“Without the top end to play a role in the activity, we’re seeing concentration at lower price points,” Crellin said.

Still, some real-estate agents in higher-priced markets said they saw more people out looking for homes.

Eastside bidding wars

Roberta Pletz, a broker with Windermere Real Estate, said there are bidding wars taking place on the Eastside, where median home prices fell less than 5 percent to $510,000 last month.

She said she was also seeing increased activity by families looking to buy homes near schools.

Several brokers said they are seeing an increase in traffic from potential buyers. That could be a result of mortgage-loan rates, which this week fell to the lowest levels since November 2010, according to a weekly LendingTree report.

Average loan rates in the state now hang just over 4 percent for 30-year fixed mortgages.

Crellin said a shrinking inventory is another reason potential buyers may be ready to purchase.

The inventory listed for sale was down areawide by some 16 percent from a year ago, according to the MLS data.

“It’s certainly evidence that we are coming into balance,” Crellin said. “That is the best news in achieving price stability.”

Christine Harvey: 206-464-3263 or charvey@seattletimes.com