Median prices for single family homes and condominiums continued to decline in December compared to a year ago, according to figures released by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.

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December’s typically a slow month for home sales. Throw a snowstorm and flagging consumer confidence into the mix and you get the 11th consecutive month that home prices sagged in the Puget Sound region compared to the same month a year earlier.

“It was an unusual year. We’re glad it’s done,” said Mike Skahen of Lake & Co. Real Estate.

The silver lining? Median sales prices for single family homes in King County crept back above $400,000 for the first time since September, though they’re still down from a peak of $481,000 in July 2007, according to figures released Tuesday by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service (MLS). And sales prices for condominiums held steady and even climbed in some parts of the region.

The median sales price of a single family home in King County fell 7.24 percent compared to the previous December, to $403,500. The median sales price of a condo in King County came in at $288,895, down 0.38 percent compared to the previous December.

The median sales price for single family homes and condos in the nearby Snohomish, Pierce and Kitsap counties also declined year over year. In Snohomish median prices fell 9.62 percent to $307,000; Pierce dropped 12.95 percent to $235,000; and Kitsap fell 16.57 percent to $221,500. Median means half the homes sold for more, half sold for less. It is considered more reliable than the average price, which can be skewed by unusually large or small sales. Many factors were in play last month beyond the weather. At least one couple who closed on a home in December described a struggle to secure a mortgage following the credit crisis that erupted in September with the demise of Washington Mutual and Lehman Brothers, despite having high credit scores, steady incomes and no debt.

Marcus Gillette and partner Jorge Peraza closed on their top-floor, corner unit in Madison Lofts near Seattle’s Washington Park Arboretum on Dec. 16, after nearly three months of chaos. Their title insurer filed for bankruptcy, they had to prove their employment (at Microsoft) repeatedly, resubmit loan paperwork many times and nearly spent a frantic Thanksgiving homeless when their old home sold before they could close on the new. Gillette’s aunt wired money in the eleventh hour to pad their down payment, an issue they hadn’t anticipated.

“It was a piece of cake about three years ago; it couldn’t have been easier. Zero down, we had a brilliant mortgage broker, we used the same relator and that was so easy. And this was just the complete other end of the spectrum,” Gillette said.

But the stress was worth it, he said, to be able to capitalize on equity in their first home to upgrade into the second.

“If we had to make the decision today I don’t think we would make it. The concern is, are you able to get enough for your current home to sell now? We had barely enough equity to squeak out of that deal.”

Jill Jacobi-Wood, president of Windermere Real Estate, wants would-be sellers to remember that selling when prices have fallen also means they’ll be buying at lower prices. She hopes interest rates hovering just below 5 percent translate into a turnaround.

“If you have a down payment, you can get a loan and a really good loan,” Wood said.

As another indication the market has slowed, the National Association of Realtors announced today that pending home sales — offers accepted but not yet closed — have dropped nationwide.

Pending sales are down locally as well, falling to 2,432 single-family homes and condos from 2,975 the previous December, according to MLS figures.

Skahen, who’s been in real estate since 1976, is optimistic about 2009. “People buy and sell houses as a general rule because of life changes. Some of these buyers have been waiting for a year and a half. Meanwhile, they’ve got their children getting older, or children born, or they’ve lost or gained a job or gotten married or gotten divorced. Eventually, they will go out and they will buy.”

Karen Gaudette: 206-515-5618 or