Sales of single-family homes and condominiums declined in Massachusetts for a sixth consecutive month in September compared to their year-ago levels, even as lower home prices and a drop in mortgage rates boosted affordability, according to data released by the Massachusetts Association of Realtors.

The slower sales pace reflects consumer cautiousness and softening demand following two years of record home sales across the state, and has led to a steady rise in the inventory of unsold homes and listing time for homes and condos in the past year, MAR reported.

In the detached single-family home market, sales fell 23.9 percent, from 4,516 homes sold in September 2005 to 3,435 this September. Last month’s sales total is the lowest September home sales volume in a decade, dating back to September 1996 when 3,388 homes were sold.

Additionally, condo sales decreased 27.8 percent in the past year, declining from a September record of 2,140 units sold last year to 1,546 this September. The September 2006 sales volume is the third highest on record for any September in state history, topped only by the 2,140 sold last year and the 1,750 sold in September 2004.

“Today’s market reflects the more relaxed, even guarded, approach adopted by many buyers who are waiting to see if prices have bottomed out,” said MAR President David Wluka, of Wluka Real Estate in Sharon. “Sellers also have become more cautious, with many opting to delay their home search until they’ve reached agreement on the sale of their own home.”

Indicative of the more moderate sales pace, residential listings are at their fifth-highest level on record, having increased 14 percent over the past year from 56,016 homes and condos for sale in September 2005 to 63,956 homes and condos on the market last month.

Furthermore, the listing time for single-family homes has increased from an average of 85 days on the market last September to 124 days for homes sold in September 2006. Among condos, the average market time rose a full month and a half, from 74 days on the market in September 2005 to 119 days for units put under agreement this September.

“The larger selection of homes to choose from this year, combined with the extra time its now takes to sell a home, should keep downward pressure on home prices for the next several months,” Wluka said.

Indeed, the statewide median selling price for single-family homes has declined 5.3 percent in the past 12 months, from $359,900 in September 2005 to $341,000 last month, and is now 9 percent below its peak of $375,000 set from July-August 2005. The median home price has been flat or declined for eight consecutive months. Meanwhile, the state’s median selling price for condos has been stable over the last year at $270,000, but is 6.2 percent below the record-high median of $287,900 set in July 2005.

Even though sales have eased, housing demand is expected to remain healthy over the next several quarters as buyers take advantage of the increased purchasing power brought on by today’s lower mortgage rates, which fell to their lowest level in six months in September (6.53 percent for a 30-year fixed-rate loan in Massachusetts), steady income and job growth, and a more plentiful supply of homes for sale, which has allowed home values to moderate after several years of strong price appreciation, according to MAR.

“Over the past few months, we’ve seen steady improvement in housing affordability, as many sellers have made significant price reductions and mortgage rates have fallen back to around 6 1/2 percent,” Wluka said. “There are some great opportunities for buyers right now, especially those previously priced out of the market,” he added.

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