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Housing trend continues: Sales up, prices down

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By Kurt Batdorf
SCBJ Editor
Published: Monday, February 6, 2012, 4:25 p.m.
Snohomish County’s housing market continued the trend it’s been following for the past few months: pending sales and closed sales are up, prices are down.
Pending sales rose 22.6 percent compared to January 2011, going from 938 units to 1,150 units this year. In the same period, closed sales rose 11.3 percent, rising from 533 units to 593 units, the Northwest Multiple Listing Service reported Feb. 6.
“Given that we lost a week with some of the worst weather in 16 years, the numbers are astoundingly good,” Ken Anderson, a director for Northwest MLS and president and designated broker at Coldwell Banker Evergreen Olympic Realty in Olympia, said in a statement.
“This is the first January in four that we can make a reasonable year-over-year comparison,” he said, noting numbers are no longer skewed by the artificial stimulus of various tax credits and incentives that date to 2009. “The improvement in the numbers shows that the market is healing itself and standing on its own.”
Declining inventory, extremely low interest rates and positive job growth are contributing to rising optimism among industry professionals, but Northwest MLS directors say distressed properties continue to be a drag on the market’s recovery.
Overall, median sale prices fell again for single-family homes and condominiums in Snohomish County. The median price, meaning half sold for more and half sold for less, dropped 12.1 percent, from $239,000 in January 2011 to $210,000 this year, the MLS reported. Median prices in northwest and east Snohomish County both fell by 19 percent or more. Only northeast Snohomish County showed improvement in prices over the year. There the median sales price rose 0.72 percent, from $212,950 to $214,475.
On average, year-over-year median prices for single-family homes fell 9.5 percent, from $254,000 to $230,000, the MLS reported. Prices for condos were off 33.4 percent, falling from $186,000 to $123,950. Condo prices in southeast Snohomish County plummeted from a median of $209,500 last January to $72,000 this year.
“Price increases are muted by short sales and foreclosures that are causing low appraisal values,” said J. Lennox Scott, CEO and chairman of John L. Scott Real Estate.
Among the 21 Washington counties the MLS surveys, Snohomish County reported the sharpest drop in available housing inventory, with the selection down by 32.6 percent from year-ago levels. Active listings fell from 4,691 in January 2011 to 3,162 this year. New listings dropped from 1,475 in January 2011 to 1,103.
“The low number of new listings, combined with the increase in sales activity, is creating the shortage of homes for sale in specific areas and price ranges,” Scott said in the press release.
Washington’s housing market in the final quarter of 2011 saw the highest seasonally-adjusted sales since the second quarter of 2010, according to a report released Feb. 9 by the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies at the University of Washington.
Sales strength reflected bargain hunting as well as the persistently large number of distressed properties being sold in lower-priced neighborhoods, said Glenn Crellin, associate director of the Runstad Center.
Despite the stronger market, median home prices continued to reflect the weak economy, Crellin said. The statewide median home price was $219,700, the lowest fourth-quarter price since 2003 when the median was $205,700.
Ordinarily, Crellin said, very low mortgage rates would have generated a more robust market. The 4.28 percent average rate that prevailed during the quarter was the lowest ever recorded by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which has been monitoring mortgage rates for decades. Home price and interest rate declines, combined with general income stability, caused affordability indexes for all buyers, including first-timers, to reach record highs for the eighth consecutive quarter.
“Affordability should encourage households facing steep rent increases to look favorably on purchasing a home this year,” said Faye Nelson, president of Washington Realtors.
In Washington’s urban counties, the greatest quarterly gain in sales was 17 percent in Snohomish County.
“The housing market is uneven, with some areas or neighborhoods seeing price stabilization, while others have many distressed and foreclosure properties,” Crellin said. “The 2012 market will continue to challenge sellers trying to preserve their equity.”
The Runstad Center produces quarterly reports in partnership with Washington Realtors to coincide with information from the National Association of Realtors regarding median home prices by metropolitan area.
Kurt Batdorf: 425-339-3102, kbatdorf@scbj.com.
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