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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Home sales, prices still rising in Western Washington despite lean inventory and increasing mortgage rates

Rising interest rates, rising prices and rising consumer confidence are creating a "positive cyclone of home sales activity," according to members of the Northwest Multiple Listing Service. A robust job market around the Greater Seattle area is also spurring sales.

Member-brokers reported 9,565 pending sales during July for an increase of more than 13.6 percent from a year ago – the highest year-over-year gain since January. Last month’s mutually accepted offers across 21 counties also marked a slight improvement on June’s total of 9,484 pending sales.

Northwest MLS director John Deely said multiple offers are being reported in all price ranges "with properly priced new listings, and we’re still seeing a surprising number of all cash buyers." He also noted many transactions are conditioned on the closing of a pending sale as move-up sellers enter the market to buy a new property.

The number of closed sales and the prices on those transactions both rose by double digits compared to a year ago. Members recorded 7,772 completed transactions area-wide to outgain the year-ago volume by 27.5 percent. The median price of those closed sales, which included single family homes and condominiums, was $282,363. That’s up 10.8 percent from the year-ago figure of $254,900.

"We experienced a mini power surge of sales activity that was touched off by a sudden raise of interest rates during the month of May," observed J. Lennox Scott. Scott attributes part of the surging activity to buyers who rushed forward to purchase a home before rates climb higher. He also reported more sellers are listing their homes "due to the realization that the next home they purchase will be at a higher interest rate." As these sellers become buyers, they’re contributing to the "positive cyclone of sales activity," Scott stated.

MLS members added 10,860 new listings to inventory during July to boost the system-wide selection to 25,272 active listings. That is only about 5.5 percent fewer listings than a year ago when inventory stood at 26,747 active listings.

Despite improving inventory overall, supplies remained low, particularly around job centers. Area-wide there is about 2.6 months of supply, which indicates a seller’s market. (In a normal market, a healthy supply level favoring neither buyers nor sellers is around 6 months, according to industry analysts.)

Three counties have less than three months of supply. At the current pace of sales in King County, it would take just 1.5 months to sell the current supply. In Snohomish there is only 1.6 months of supply and in Thurston County the existing supply would be exhausted in about 2.9 months.

Deely said some sellers are testing the waters with aggressive pricing, but they are experiencing longer market times.

MLS director Frank Wilson, representing Kitsap County where there is 3.3 months of supply, expects the seller’s market will continue for at least the next few months. He noted 16 percent more homes in Kitsap County went under contract than the same month a year ago, crediting some of that uptick to the sense of urgency that buyers are feeling because of recent jumps in interest rates.

The average fixed rate on a 30-year mortgage was 4.37 percent last week, up from January’s rate of 3.41, according to Freddie Mac.

Buyers should be aware of interest rates now and lock in a rate. "There is nothing more disappointing than having your offer accepted on a home, then have an interest rate jump disqualify you from the purchase," he remarked, adding, "If you want to gamble go to Las Vegas; if you want to buy a home lock the rate."

Brokers believe robust private sector job growth should have a positive impact on sales momentum. "Builders will have to keep up with the influx of families moving to the area for employment in order to sustain our growing need for housing," remarked Mike Grady.

Although some economists expect weaker U.S. economic growth for the remaining months of 2013 and moderating home price increases, brokers say investors are active participants in the local housing market.

Northwest Multiple Listing Service, owned by its member real estate firms, is the largest full-service MLS in the Northwest. Its membership includes more than 21,000 real estate brokers.

County Stats
New listings: 486 # Total Active: 1,268 # Pending Sales: 441 # Closings: 340 Avg. Price: $240,469 Median Price: $228,500 Month's Supply: 2.88

Source: NWMLS KIRKLAND, Wash. (August 7, 2013)  Northwest Multiple Listing Service, owned by its member real estate firms, is the largest full-service MLS in the Northwest. Its membership includes more than 21,000 real estate brokers.

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