Market Update

Home buyers still competing for sparse inventory in Western Washington, driving up prices – especially for sought-after condominiums

KIRKLAND, Washington (February 5, 2018) – “The Seattle area real estate market hasn’t skipped a beat with pent-up demand from buyers is stronger than ever,” remarked broker John Deely in reacting to the latest statistics from Northwest Multiple Listing Service. The report on January activity shows a slight year-over-year gain in pending sales, a double-digit increase in prices, and continued shortages of inventory.

Deely, the principal managing broker at Coldwell Banker Bain in Seattle and a board member at Northwest MLS, noted a shift in the ratio of pending sales to new listings in King County.

Member brokers added 6,805 new listings of single family homes and condominiums to the system-wide database last month for a gain of about 4.6 percent from a year ago. During the same period, they reported 7,820 pending sales. In King County, the number of new listings outgained pending sales for the first time since September:

King County (SFH+Condos) Jan-18 Dec-17 Nov-17 Oct-17 Sep-17
New Listings 2326 1165 2102 3088 3856
Pending Sales 2282 1850 2831 3533 3514
Difference 45 -685 -729 -445 342

“Sellers that have put their properties on the market early this year have less competition and are seeing multiple offers. Open houses are experiencing heavy traffic with hundreds of potential buyers attending,” reported Deely.

For the MLS overall, last month’s 7,820 pending sales marked a slight increase compared to January 2017 when members reported 7,724 mutually accepted offers, a gain in of 1.24 percent. Not all areas reported increases. Of 23 counties served by Northwest MLS, eight counties, including three in the Puget Sound region (King, Kitsap and Snohomish), reported fewer pending sales than a year ago. In King County, where acute inventory shortages exist in many neighborhoods, pending sales dropped 7.5 percent and closings dropped 18.5 percent.

“The decline in sales last month can’t be blamed on the holidays, weather or football. It’s simply due to the ongoing shortage of housing that continues to plague markets throughout Western Washington,” said OB Jacobi, the president of Windermere Real Estate.

With January’s additions, the number of total active listings at month end stood at 8,037 homes and condos, down nearly 17.6 percent from a year ago when the selection totaled 9,750 listings. Measured by months of supply, there was only about 1.5 months overall, well below the 4-to-6 month level many industry experts use as a gauge of a balanced market.

Condo inventory is especially tight in Snohomish County (0.8 months of supply) and King County (0.92 months). System-wide there is under a month’s supply (0.93 months). For the four-county Puget Sound region, there were only 427 active condo listings at month end, down almost 31 percent from a year ago.

Despite the sparse selection, brokers expect inventory to improve.

“I actually believe 2018 will bring us moderately more listings, which should help offset the growing demand that continues to result from the area’s strong economy,” remarked Jacobi.

“The month of March can’t come soon enough for home buyers,” said J. Lennox Scott, chairman and CEO of John L. Scott Real Estate. “In March, the number of new listings will bump up substantially from the low number of new listings typical for winter months. Better selection will start in March as we enter the spring housing season,” Scott predicts.

In the meantime, Scott reported “a multiple-offer everything, virtually sold out market” in all price ranges close to job centers and in the more affordable and mid-price ranges in surrounding counties. “Sellers are receiving premium pricing and home buyers are pouncing on each new listing,” he added.

George Moorhead, designated broker at Bentley Properties, agreed. “January still saw aggressive buyers as they jockeyed for homes in some of the hottest areas in Seattle and the Eastside,” he commented.

Prices continue to rise in all but a few counties, even as the volume of closed sales fell about 9.3 percent. For January’s 5,325 closed sales, the median price was $363,500, a jump of about 11 percent from the year-ago figure of $327,500. Twelve counties reported double-digit spikes.

Within the four-county Puget Sound region, King County had the largest year-over-year gain. Prices for homes and condos combined shot up 20.3 percent in that county, rising from $475,000 to $571,250. Pierce County reported a jump of 15 percent, followed by Snohomish County at about 12.2 percent and Kitsap County at nearly 3.5 percent.

The depleted supply of condos meant premium prices. Area-wide the median price for last month’s completed transactions rose nearly 18.6 percent, from $269,900 to $320,000. Snohomish County’s condo prices surged nearly 25.5 percent, followed by King County at nearly 22.6 percent.

Some brokers expect the hefty price gains to ease.

“As interest rates rise, the rate of price increases will slow down,” predicts Northwest MLS director Dick Beeson, principal managing broker at RE/MAX Professionals in Gig Harbor. Despite this expectation, he believes sparse supply and the area’s appeal both nationally and internationally will mean ongoing competition and multiple offer situations.

“What it costs to rent small spaces astounds me,” he remarked citing recent reports that put Tacoma and Olympia on lists of top cities for increased rents during 2017. “Investors, because rents are high, compete daily with home buyers, and they often win the deal in the lower priced homes. Because they are buying all cash, they consistently beat out buyers who have to get loans.”

Builders are trying to respond to the pent-up demand, according to Moorhead. Seattle and the Eastside are seeing a growing number of infill homes in the core areas, some on lots as small as 3,000 square feet, he said. Builders are doing smaller releases and setting offer review dates, and then determine price ranges for the next phase.

“What used to be an affordable way to build homes has now become more mainstream for both smaller and larger builders,” Moorhead stated, adding, “Historically, infill homes did not get the same return as homes built in large community plats, but now they’re realizing similar price points.”

The luxury market is also off to a quick start in 2018. “Close to job centers, the luxury market is gaining positive momentum due to the wealth effect of the stock market, the strength of the U.S. economy, and homebuyers from the Pacific Rim, especially China,” noted Lennox Scott.

Northwest MLS figures show sales of homes selling for $2 million or more are far outpacing year-ago activity. Last month, member-brokers reported selling 55 residences at this price threshold. That’s up 66 percent from the same month a year ago when brokers sold 33 such homes.

Luxury Sales, Jan.-Sept., King Co.
($1M+, SFH+condo)
Sales Price 2017 2016 2015 2014
$1 million 2,478 1,703 1266 896
$1.5 million + 699 500 392 295
$2 million + 241 209 157 117
$2.5 million + 300 215 181 135
TOTALS 3,718 2,627 1,996 1,443
% change vs 2017 41.53% 86.27% 157.66%

Excluding condos, the system-wide median price for September’s single family sales was $390,000. A look at the 23 counties in the report shows a wide range of median prices, from the lowest of $124,000 in Ferry County to the highest, at $625,000, in King County.

September’s median price for single family homes and condos in King County, at $565,000, reflects a jump of more than 14 percent from a year ago, but it is a $20,000 decline from August (down about 3.5 percent).

“While prices for single family homes and condos were up more than 14 percent annually in King County, it’s hard to ignore the $20,000 price drop between August and September,” said OB Jacobi, president of Windermere Real Estate. “But if you look at the historic data more closely, it shows that prices have also dropped between August and September in five of the past six years, which points to a seasonal pattern rather than a long-term trend that we need to be concerned about.”

Statistics are helpful for some uses, but may not always tell a complete story, cautioned one broker.

“In Snohomish County, we saw increases in the luxury (higher end) segment during the summer months, which of course raised both the median and average sales prices,” said Diedre Haines, principal managing broker-South Snohomish County at Coldwell Banker Bain in Lynnwood. “Now we’re seeing a decrease in those types of sales with more affordable homes becoming more dominant.”

Haines also noted some reports encompass large geographic areas, such as Seattle, Everett, Tacoma and Bellevue. “When you drill down and localize the data, the picture may look quite different,” she explained.

In Snohomish County, for example, Northwest MLS tracks statistics for six sub-areas within that county. Last month’s median price for countywide sales of single family homes and condos was $430,000, but it ranged from $352,000 in the northwest segment of the county to $606,250 in the southeast portion. Year-over-year price changes ranged from an increase of just over 6 percent to more than 19 percent.

Noting King, Pierce and Snohomish counties all reported year-over-year price hikes of more than 14 percent, Grady said “This leap to new heights is based on high demand and low supply.” He noted neighboring counties are feeling the pinch, with several of them reporting double-digit drops in supply.

“All indications are that sales price increases in these neighboring counties are likely to accelerate at an even faster rate,” suggested Grady. In some of these counties, the median selling price is about half the price in King County. Faced with limited inventory and skyrocketing prices, some buyers are forced to broaden their search to these neighboring counties, Grady commented, adding he expects market forces will continue to fuel appreciation in housing into 2018 and beyond.

Moorhead, the designated broker and owner at Bentley Properties, said some renters who have been holding off are now becoming more active in hopes of taking advantage of longer market times and homes new to the market not receiving expected offers within the offer review date.

Despite some signs of a slowing market Moorhead said many renters remain frustrated, pointing to the $125,000 hike in King County’s median price in just two years. “Some renters say it’s like chasing a snowball down a hill that just keeps out of reach and continues to get larger and larger,” he remarked.

Builders are also frustrated, according to Moorhead. “We are hearing complaints and requests from builders to expand Growth Management Area guidelines. The massive shortage of developable land makes it more difficult to create affordable housing,” he explained, adding, “It’s becoming commonplace for new construction prices in Seattle and the Eastside to top a million dollars.”

Statistical summary follows.

 

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