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New England home sales prices cool off

Eastern Mass. sees gains only in single digits

While home sales prices skyrocketed in dozens of metropolitan areas in the South and West last year, most New England cities limped along.

Median prices for condominiums in Worcester and Hartford, and for condos and single-family homes in Eastern Connecticut increased more than 10 percent in the fourth quarter of 2005 when compared with the same period a year earlier.

The rest of New England, meanwhile, was in single digits, far behind the huge percentage gains in places like Florida and Arizona, according to the National Association of Realtors.

''Sellers have to be a little bit more patient," Boston broker John A. Keith said. ''It definitely feels like it's a buyers' market."

The median sales price for a single-family home in the Eastern Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire region was $397,500, up 1.8 percent compared with the end of 2004. The condo median sales price of $291,700, up 3.3 percent, according to the NAR.

The region comprising Norwich and New London, Conn., had the largest percentage increases compared with other New England areas in the NAR report. The median condo price was $181,500, up 23 percent, while the median single-family was $262,100, up 11.2 percent.

''It has everything anyone would want," said John Bolduc, executive vice president of the Eastern Connecticut Association of Realtors. ''Most of the towns are small and relatively quiet."

The region also has jobs. Employers include drug maker Pfizer, Electric Boat, casinos, and a Navy submarine base. There's also a strong market for second-home buyers from New York and Massachusetts, Bolduc said.

''We've had double-digit inflation in house prices in each of the last four years. That can't be sustained over a long period of time," he said.

The Hartford area's median condo price was $163,900 -- up 10.8 percent.

Worcester's condo sales also were strong. The median condo price increased 11.7 percent, to $213,500. A new commuter rail stop with 10 daily roundtrips to Boston has helped.

''I'm very confident about the future of Worcester," said Scott Cheney, who paid $227,000 for a two-bedroom, two-bath condo at Fremont Lofts. ''It's become a much more cultural city."

The southern Maine area of Portland and Biddeford was among the few regions of the nation where the median condo sales price fell. It dropped 3.2 percent to $207,900. The median single family home, however, saw an increase of 8.1 percent, to $245,700.

Portland agent Joseph Piccone said 800 new condos are being built in the area in the next two years, and most are high-end.

''I'm not convinced it's peaked," he said of the condo prices. ''It keeps climbing and people keep paying the money. People come here for the low crime, the Maine way of life."

Vermont was not included because of a lack of data. The realtors group categorized its data in census statistical areas -- so Rockingham and Strafford counties in New Hampshire are grouped with Eastern Massachusetts.

The Providence region includes the Southeastern Massachusetts cities of Fall River and New Bedford. That area's median single-family sales price was $294,400, up 3.3 percent; and condos $226,200, up 5.6 percent.

Nationally, the biggest jump in prices was in the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale area of Arizona, where prices for existing single-family homes soared 48.9 percent, to $268,400. Its condo market also had the largest increase, nearly 51 percent, to $175,600.

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