Market Update

Western Washington housing market stability continues with modest gains in sales, prices

“Stability” seemed to characterize the direction of Western Washington’s housing market during August, according to new figures from Northwest Multiple Listing Service.

Both the volume of sales and prices rose slightly from a year ago, although both indicators slipped somewhat from July. MLS members also reported a modest year-over-year increase in inventory, but the number of new listings added to the selection during August was the smallest since April.

“What we are seeing now with the market is a moderated growth in appreciation, a normalizing of sales volume, and continued health overall,” declared MLS director George Moorhead, the owner and designated broker at Bentley Properties in Bothell. “It is not a call for alarm,” Moorhead emphasized, describing it as “just a balancing and adjusting of a healthy market.”

MLS members reported 9,342 pending sales across the 21 counties served by the Kirkland-based organization. That marks a 3.1 percent gain over the year-ago total of 9,065 mutually accepted offers. Eleven counties reported increases in pending sales during August compared to the same month a year ago.

Commenting on inventory, MLS board member Dick Beeson said the pace of activity in the South Sound has slowed, “and that means buyers have to keep a keen eye out for good bargains in areas they have been scouting.” Beeson, a principal managing broker at RE/MAX Professionals in Tacoma who oversees offices in four counties, said sellers are more in the driver’s seat than they were earlier in the year. “It’s not a mad-rush sellers’ market,” he reported, but added, “buyers are realizing they must act in a timely manner to compete.”

At month-end buyers could choose from 27,060 active listings – about 2.4 percent more than the inventory of a year ago when there were 26,433 properties in the MLS system. The total at the end of August included 10,054 new listings that were added during the month, down slightly from the year-ago figure of 10,172. Last month’s total number of new listings was the smallest total since April.

System-wide, there is just under 3.5 months of supply, but that average varies widely among the counties served by Northwest MLS. King County, with only about two months of supply, has the tightest inventory. Four-to-six months of supply is considered a balanced market between buyers and sellers.

“We continue to have a shortage of homes for sale in King County – one of the best housing markets in the nation,” noted J. Lennox Scott, chairman and CEO of John L. Scott Real Estate. He credited “fantastic job growth, foreign buyers and very favorable interest rates” as factors in creating a backlog of buyers.

Through eight months, MLS figures show the number of closed sales is outpacing the same period a year ago by a slim margin (115 units). MLS members reported 7,775 closed sales during August, slightly below the year-ago total of 7,841 (down 0.84 percent) and the previous month’s total of 7,878 completed transactions.

Year-over-year prices for single family homes and condominiums that sold last month rose about 1.6 percent compared to a year ago, increasing from $283,000 to $287,500. Despite the system-wide increase, five counties reported declines in median prices for sales that closed in August compared to 12 months ago (Grant, Jefferson, Kitsap, Okanogan, and Pacific). Seven counties had double-digit increases.

In King County, the median selling price was $398,000 for a 1.4 percent gain from the year-ago figure of $392,500. According to MLS statistics, the sales price in August matched the figure for May, but slipped from the figures for June ($410,000) and July ($425,000).

Single family homes (excluding condos) had a median selling price of $299,950 area-wide, up 2 percent from a year ago when it was $294,000.

In King County, the median sales price for single family homes that sold during August was $437,000; a year ago it was $430,000.

“The current trend for strong pending activities and solid closed transaction numbers should keep the confidence level steady,” remarked Darin Stenvers, chairman of the board of directors at Northwest MLS. “Buoyed by low mortgage rates, buyers should remain optimistic about their new home purchases late into 2014,” he added.

Stenvers, the branch manager at John L. Scott in Bellingham, expects the balance of 2014 will remain at a slow and steady pace of appreciation, which should help distressed sellers. “Sellers should reevaluate the market as they may be surprised at the current values,” he suggests.

The recovering market is also boosting activity for home improvement contractors and subcontractors, Stenvers noted. “Sellers are able to afford to improve their homes prior to marketing them, or buyers are undertaking reasonable remodels shortly after closing,” he reported.

Statistical summary follows.

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