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Home sales up a fifth month

But data for state still far from rosy Median price slips 8% from year earlier

November marked the fifth consecutive month of improved housing sales in Massachusetts, but 2011 is still likely to wind up being the slowest year for the state’s real estate market in two decades, data released yesterday show.

Sales of single-family homes rose to 3,253 in November - up about 13 percent compared with the same period in 2010, according to Warren Group, a Boston company that tracks real estate.

Year-to-date, however, sales are down 6.7 percent, compared with the first 11 months of 2010.

From January through November, the median home price fell to $290,000, a 2.5 percent drop compared with the same period in 2010, Warren Group said. In November, the median price dropped to $271,000, 8 percent lower than for that month last year.


The latest figures add credence to housing specialists’ belief that local and national markets won’t show any dramatic sales increases in the short term.

Barry Bluestone, dean of the School of Public Policy & Urban Affairs at Northeastern University in Boston, said he remains worried that the flailing economy is going to keep housing numbers sluggish.

“It is nice to see [sales] pick up a little bit, but of course we are comparing it with a very weak period,’’ Bluestone said. “I’m still concerned about all the headwinds that the economy as a whole faces.’’

Nicolas Retsinas, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, said many wary prospective buyers remain on the sidelines, while others are shut out of the market because of mortgage lenders’ tighter requirements.

“I think we’ve started to stabilize,’’ Retsinas said. “There is a modest upward tick.’’

Still, it is taking more than three months for properties to sell, according to data released yesterday by the Massachusetts Association of Realtors. Both single-family homes and condominiums took an average of 118 days to sell in November, up from 114 days in November 2010.


Laurie Cadigan, the association’s president and owner of Barrett & Co. in Concord, said qualified buyers are “slowly returning’’ to the market and taking advantage of low interest rates and housing that is more affordable.

Meanwhile, more sellers are being realistic about what they can get for their properties, said Sheryl Simon, a principal with Benoit, Mizner, Simon & Co., with offices in Wellesley and Weston.

“The sellers have now realized that they are not going to get the prices their neighbors got in 2005, 2006, 2007,’’ Simon said.

Last month’s sales increase in Massachusetts reflected what happened around the country. Nationwide, sales of existing homes rose 12.2 percent, compared with sales for the same time last year, according to the National Association of Realtors, which also released data yesterday.

The data also show that more Massachusetts homes are being bought with cash, an indication that investors are playing a larger role in the market.

Statewide, nearly 28 percent of a single-family home sales were all-cash in November, up about 30 percent compared with that time last year, Warren Group said.

Melvin Vieira Jr., a real estate agent with Re/Max Landmark Realtors in Milton, said he has seen a surge of cash buyers over the past few months as contractors attempt to purchase, rehabilitate, and resell houses to young buyers who have modest down payments.

“I have a couple cash investors right now that are all over me looking for investment properties,’’ he said.


Jenifer B. McKim can be reached at jmckim@globe.com.