Washington's home sales are down, and the dip is more pronounced in the Central Puget Sound region, which has the lion's share of the state's...

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Washington’s home sales are down, and the dip is more pronounced in the Central Puget Sound region, which has the lion’s share of the state’s housing transactions.

Compared with the same period a year ago, sales of existing homes were off more than a third in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties, the Washington Center for Real Estate Research reported Tuesday. The research does not include new homes.

The trend was generally repeated in prices, with the median price of resale homes dropping more in Central Puget Sound — except for King County — than in the state as a whole, the research center at Washington State University, found.

In the first three months of this year, existing home sales dropped 31.8 percent in King County, 35.6 percent in Pierce, and 34.8 percent in Snohomish County, compared with a year earlier. The statewide average was 29.7 percent.

Those three counties accounted for 44 percent of the state’s 97,630 first-quarter home sales.

Across Puget Sound, Kitsap County fared slightly better, with sales off 26.2 percent.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, first-quarter sales were down in three of the four counties compared with the last quarter of 2007, showing that the slide has not stopped.

King County sales slipped 1.9 percent from the fourth quarter; Snohomish County slid 5.1 percent; and Pierce fell 2.8 percent. Kitsap sales increased 2.5 percent quarter to quarter.

Despite national reports suggesting few homes are being sold, about 98,000 units were sold statewide, similar to the number of sales a decade ago, the center noted in a news release.

“Washington’s annual sales decline was marginally greater than nationally, but the state’s markets remained more robust than many areas in the West,” the report said.

Still, first-quarter sales declined from the year-earlier quarter in 36 of the state’s 39 counties.

Those showing gains were Columbia, Skamania and Wahkiakum. Each had fewer than 250 sales from January through March.

King County’s median existing-home price dipped 1.1 percent in the first quarter compared with a year earlier. But the drop was less than the state average, a decline of 2.4 percent, and markedly less than in surrounding counties. The median price for King was $435,000. (Median means half the homes sold for more, half for less.)

Snohomish County’s median price was $352,700, reflecting a 4.7 percent decline. Pierce County’s median fell 6 percent to $265,000, while Kitsap County showed the biggest price decrease in the Central Puget Sound region — down 7 percent to $266,000.

Twenty counties posted median price increases, led by Chelan and its Wenatchee area, where prices rose 11.8 percent.

“During softer markets, those households purchasing homes are finding bargains in the marketplace, which allows them to buy more home for the money,” said Glenn Crellin, research-center director.

“The total amount spent may be increasing, but the quality is also increasing, and the median masks some potential price weakness.”

Affordability is still a problem. The average King County buyer had just 76.6 percent of the income necessary to buy the average house, the center found. First-time buyers had just 42.7 percent.

While the center doesn’t chart the price of new homes in its quarterly snapshot, it does track building permits, which fell 46.7 percent statewide in the first quarter compared with the year-earlier quarter.

Permits were down 44.2 percent in King County, 46.7 percent in Snohomish County, 51.6 percent in Pierce and 32.6 percent in Kitsap.

Elizabeth Rhodes: erhodes@seattletimes.com