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The Seattle area continued to display more strength in home prices than most Western housing markets in February. But the relative lack of bargains in the three-county region kept sales at their slowest pace for the month in at least 15 years, a real estate information service reported.

A total of 1,899 new and resale houses and condos closed escrow in February in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metropolitan statistical area encompassing King, Snohomish and Pierce counties. Last month's sales rose 12.1% from January but fell 42.0% from a year earlier, according to MDA DataQuick. The San Diego firm tracks real estate trends nationally via public property records.

Last month's sales total was the lowest for any February since at least 1994, when DataQuick's complete Seattle-area statistics begin. Sales have fallen on a year-over-year basis for 33 consecutive months.

Unlike many markets in the West, Seattle hasn't been dominated by foreclosures. In February, about 21.9% of the Seattle-area homes that resold had been foreclosed on in the prior 12 months. In Las Vegas, Phoenix and much of California, such foreclosure resales make up half or more of all resale activity.

The median price paid for all homes combined in February was $300,000, down 1.6% from $305,000 in January and down a record 14.3% from $350,000 a year earlier. Last month's median was 17.9% lower than the Seattle area's peak $365,200 median in June 2007 and was the lowest median for any month since it was also $300,000 in October 2005.

The median has fallen on a year-over-year basis for 13 straight months.

The median paid for resale single-family detached houses held steady at $300,000 last month, down 16.7% from a year ago and down 24.0% from the $394,500 peak in June 2007.

Another price measure for resale single-family detached houses, the median price paid per square foot, also held steady last month at $166, the same as January but down 25.6% from a year ago. Last month's figure stood 31.0% below the peak $240 median paid per square foot in July 2007. The price per square foot has fallen on a year-over-year basis for 16 consecutive months and is at its lowest point since October 2004.

The Seattle area's median sale price declines are well below those seen in many other major U.S. markets, especially in the West. For example, Seattle's 16.7% year-over-year drop in its median price paid for all homes combined in February compares with a 39% drop in Southern California and a 38% decline in Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Across the West, year-over-year declines in the median sale price - the point where half of the homes sold for more and half for less - have generally overstated the extent to which the value of the typical home has fallen. It's because the median is also being tugged lower by shifts in the types of homes selling, and where they're selling best. For example, more of today's sales involve foreclosures, which tend to sell at a discount and be concentrated in more affordable areas. Also, the August 2007 credit crunch made larger "jumbo" mortgages more expensive and harder to obtain, which has led to sluggish sales - in some cases the lowest in many years - in higher-priced communities. (A dropoff in high-end sales can pull down the median.)