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Sunday, July 5, 2015

Home sales sizzling around Western Washington, with volumes reaching 10-year high

Temperatures around Western Washington were not the only thing sizzling during June. Northwest Multiple Listing Service members reported 11,453 pending sales last month, the highest volume since August 2005 when members notched 11,546 mutually accepted offers. Last month also marked the fourth consecutive month of 11,000-plus pending transactions.

MLS members credit first-time buyers, an influx of relocating workers, and escalating rents for part of the surge.

“First time buyers are returning to the market, but cautiously and with more knowledge based on market values and trends,” said Gorge Moorhead, designated broker and owner at Bentley Properties in Bothell.

Spring House

“Educated buyers today are no longer just dipping their toes in the water. They are diving right in. It’s been challenging for everyone involved in a real estate transaction, whether buyer, seller or agent.”

Gain and many of his colleagues bemoan the lack of listings. “The only real problem we are experiencing today is the lack of inventory,” he said.
 Brokers added 11,581 new listings to inventory during June, about the same number as a year ago (11,541), but pending sales outgained the same month last year by nearly 16 percent, depleting the selection. At the end of June, the number of active listings across the 23 counties in the MLS report totaled 20,333. That compares to 25,342 for the same month a year ago for a drop of 19.8 percent.

The imbalance between listings and sales means shrinking “months of supply,” an indicator of sales velocity. Industry experts use a figure of four-to-six months of supply as one gauge of a balanced market. For the Northwest MLS market overall, only 2.2 months of inventory existed at the end of June.

Multiple offers are common throughout the Central Puget Sound region.

“We see many multiple offers on properties,” reported Dick Beeson, principal managing broker at RE/MAX Professionals in Tacoma, who described sales activity as “phenomenal.” 

For first-time buyers, the competitive bidding can be daunting, which he suggested underscores the importance of relying on experienced brokers. Anxious buyers have a sense of urgency as prices rise, he noted. “They need a great real estate broker to help guide them through multiple offer situations,” added Beeson, a member of the Northwest MLS board of directors.

Rising prices are prompting some house-hunters to broaden their search beyond primary job centers.

“More and more buyers are starting to chase the market northward as prices increase in King County, especially around Seattle,” said Diedre Haines, principal managing broker-South Snohomish County at Coldwell Banker Bain in Lynwood. “Open house activity, despite buyers’ fatigue and slight increases in interest rates, remains robust,” added Haines, a past chairman of the MLS board.

Median prices continue to trend upward, according to Northwest MLS figures.

Rising prices are prompting some worries about affordability. Broker Dick Beeson believes the growth rate in jobs and the “sheer numbers of people flowing into the state make this market appear to be sustainable for the long term,” despite some uncertainty around reaching the upper limit in pricing and the likelihood of rising interest rates.

Referring to a list compiled by Forbes magazine that rank the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett area as an “overpriced area,” MLS director Moorhead suggested it’s a matter of value. “An experienced real estate broker will be invaluable in navigating through the buying and selling process” and understanding value as inventory levels balance out and interest rates increase.

Appraisals are also concerning to some. Low appraisals are a big challenge, according to Beeson. Other MLS brokers agreed. “We are beginning to see a resurgence of low appraisals, most are small gaps between sale price and appraised value adding to frustration for both buyers and sellers,” reported Diedre Haines. “Kitsap is also beginning to see a higher incidence of low appraisals,” said MLS director Frank Wilson.