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Seattle region January home sales fell to their lowest level for that month in at least 15 years as foreclosures accounted for a greater share of all resale activity. The median price paid for all new and resale homes dropped nearly 16% off its peak to the lowest point in over three years, a real estate information service reported.

A total of 1,643 new and resale houses and condos closed escrow in January in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metropolitan statistical area encompassing King, Snohomish and Pierce counties. Sales fell 32.3% from December and fell 41.9% below a year earlier, according to MDA DataQuick. The San Diego firm tracks real estate trends nationally via public property records.

January's sales total was the lowest for any January since at least 1994, when DataQuick's complete Seattle-area statistics begin.

Sales have fallen on a year-over-year basis for 32 consecutive months.

The median price paid for all homes combined in January was $308,750, down 2.9% from $318,000 in December and down 10.6% from $345,216 a year earlier. The January 2009 median was 15.5% lower than the Seattle area's peak $365,200 median in June 2007 and was the lowest median for any month since it was $306,403 in December 2005.

The median has fallen on a year-over-year basis for 12 straight months.

The median paid for resale single-family detached houses in January fell to $300,000, down 15.0% from a year ago to its lowest point since May 2005. The resale house median stood 24.0% below its $394,500 peak in June 2007.

Another price measure, the median price paid per square foot for resale detached houses, showed a larger decline: January's $167 median per square foot fell 22% from a year ago and stood 30.6% below the peak $240 median of July 2007. The price per square foot has fallen on a year-over-year basis for 15 consecutive months and in January was at its lowest point since December 2004.

The Seattle area's median sale price declines, while steepening, remain among the lowest for large metro areas nationally.

Looking at all Seattle metro area homes in January, not just those that sold, an estimated 19.6% were "underwater" (18.1% in King County). That's where the estimated current value of a home is lower than the total of any open loans on that property. The Seattle region's 19.6% compares with 20 to 40% of homes being underwater in many other Western metro areas. The figures are based on DataQuick's automated valuation models that estimate each home's value, as well as a model designed to identify open mortgages on a property. (Calculation of% underwater based on loan amounts at the time of origination).

Across the West, the median sale price - the point where half of the homes sold for more and half for less - has fallen for reasons beyond the drop in home values. For example, more of today's sales involve foreclosures, which tend to sell at a discount and be concentrated in more affordable communities. Also, the August 2007 credit crunch made larger "jumbo" mortgages more expensive and harder to obtain, which has led to slower sales in higher-priced neighborhoods. (A dropoff in high-end sales can tug down the median.)

About 23.9% of the Seattle-area homes that resold in January had been foreclosed on at some point in the prior 12 months. That's still well below the levels in many other major Western markets, where such "foreclosure resales" account for half or more of all resale activity.