A comparison of Sauk County homes sold in June this year and last shows a substantial decline, according to a Wisconsin real estate brokers organization. However, there are also signs of a modest housing upswing in the first half of the year.

This week the Wisconsin Realtors Association released its monthly tally of home sales. Statewide, June sales were down 16 percent and the median price was down 7 percent to $140,000.

In Sauk County, only 51 homes were sold in June 2011, down 16 percent from 2010. The median home price was down 20 percent, falling from $149,000 in 2011 to $120,000 this June.

Marquette University economist David Clark, who works with the Realtors group, cautioned that comparisons of 2010 and 2011 are distorted by an $8,000 home-buying tax rebate which required sales be completed by June 2010.

"(The tax rebate) it essentially front-end loaded the home sales into the first half of the year," Clark said. "If you look at 2011, we essentially don’t have that in place."

Clark sees some signs of improvement in examining Sauk County’s first six months of 2011.

Home prices were still down between 2010 and 2011, but by only 13 percent, according to WRA. The number of homes sold actually rose in the first months of 2011 by 3.3 percent, from 273 to 282.

"Sauk County appears to be a bit stronger than the (south central) region," he said. "It bucked the trend in the region."

At 804 Mound St., Baraboo resident Sharon Swanson said she and her husband Bob Swanson have been trying to sell their home for nearly three months. They plan to stay in the city, but are ready to buy a larger house.

"I think it’s going to be very difficult," she said. "We haven’t had a lot of people come to look at it."

Ray Zimmerman of Stark Company Realtors is working on behalf of the Swansons. He said how quickly a house sells depends on many factors, such as the price the owner wants and how quickly they are willing to compromise.

"Some wait way, way longer and some sell right away," Zimmerman said. "It depends on the urgency of the sellers."

Right now, lower-priced homes, including those in foreclosure, are selling relatively well, he said. There is simply a larger pool of buyers for those homes.

"You’re starting to see some movement," Zimmerman said. "But it will be slow with the economy and unemployment."

He said this housing market offers buyers good opportunities, while home prices and mortgage rates are still low.

"It’s a great time to buy — historic low rates, and there’s tons of homes out there," Zimmerman said.

Business has been "pretty darn good" in recent months for the Baraboo real estate business run by Harry Machtan, his wife and one employee, Machtan said. Their success has been built largely on moving foreclosed homes.

"When you buy a foreclosure you’re normally able to negotiate a pretty decent price," he said.

Machtan added his office has seen a modest rise in sales of homes in the $200,000-$300,000 range during the past 30-45 days.

"In my office, we didn’t have that kind of activity before," he said.

Clark noted the Wisconsin Realtors Association found the state’s inventory of homes waiting to be sold rose about 31 percent between 2010 and 2011, from a 14-month supply to 18 months.

"It will take a while to liquidate that inventory," he said. "With that in mind, (there are) soft prices as a consequence and that tends to bring some buyers back in (to the market)."

Clark agreed with Zimmerman it will take improvement in employment numbers to really get home sales moving. He has seen some progress, with jobs up about 25,000 this year and 48,000 new jobs since Wisconsin’s unemployment "bottomed out" at the end of 2009.

"Once the job market starts picking up, it will turn into more sales on the (housing) demand side," he said. "You really need to start seeing some robust job growth for potential buyers to get off the fence and jump into this market."