The mounting evidence that home sales are slumping in the Washington area has been attracting attention. Inventories of homes for sale are up across the region, houses are sitting on the market longer, and buyers are more sparse at open houses.

But according to newly released data from the National Association of Realtors, the prices paid for houses in the area kept rising in the third quarter. Among existing single-family homes that changed hands in the three months ended in September, the median sale price was $441,400, a record. That's up from $349,400 a year earlier, a 26 percent increase, and up from $429,200 in the second quarter of the year.

Washington had the 13th-highest pace of appreciation among all metropolitan areas. So how can the rapid appreciation in housing be reconciled with what looks like a slowing market?

Home sales are recorded when the transaction closes, meaning that many of the sales recorded during the third quarter were negotiated back in the spring and early summer, when the market was still booming.

Real estate prices also are "sticky," meaning that many sellers would rather leave a home on the market for a good while than take what they consider a too-low price. So if the housing market continues to weaken, there may be fewer transactions taking place but prices may remain elevated, as appeared to be the case in late summer.

-- Neil Irwin