County housing market shows improvement for sellers

By Kurt Batdorf Herald Business Journal

Closed sales and median sales prices for homes and condominiums increased in August in Snohomish County compared to a year ago, while pending sales were flat and new listings sank by nearly half, according to the latest figures from Northwest Multiple Listing Service.

Those indicators, coupled with the persistent shortage of inventory, prompted one industry leader to declare the return of a seller’s market after years of home prices eroded by the 2008 recession.

“The biggest story this year is that the market has flipped,” J. Lennox Scott, chairman and CEO of John L. Scott Real Estate, said in a news release.

He attributes the seller’s market to historically low interest rates, lower adjusted prices, tight inventory, investors and the return of local home buyers.

Northwest MLS directors OB Jacobi and Joe Spencer are similarly encouraged by the latest numbers, mentioning steady momentum, rising consumer confidence, low inventory, more new construction and improving prospects for homeowners who are underwater.

Snohomish County brokers reported 1,324 pending sales of single-family homes and condominiums in August, a drop of one unit from August 2011. Lewis County and Clark County also reported year-over-year declines in pending sales while 14 of the 21 counties in the Northwest MLS service area reported double-digit gains in the number of mutually accepted offers.

Closed sales, reflecting several months of strong pending sales, reached the highest volume so far in 2012. Northwest MLS said its brokers tallied 6,612 closings last month, continuing a streak of four months of 6,000 or more completed transactions.

In Snohomish County, MLS brokers had 1,057 closed sales of single-family homes and condos in August, up 15.4 percent. The median sales price rose 6 percent, from $232,000 to $246,000.

For single-family homes, closed sales rose 17 percent year over year, from 767 to 897 units. The median sales price was up 8.8 percent, from $247,950 to $269,850, the MLS reported. Condo sales were up 7.4 percent, from 149 units to 160, but sales prices dropped 3.7 percent, from $150,000 to $144,500.

“Inventory levels are incredibly low, but our hope is that many homeowners who were underwater can now afford to sell because of the continued appreciation of home prices,” said Jacobi, president of Windermere Real Estate Co.

“In housing markets, slow and steady recoveries are good,” said MLS director Frank Wilson, the branch managing broker at John L. Scott’s Poulsbo office. “A market that runs too high or too fast leads to a quick decline in short order.”

He said he expects good momentum to continue into the fall.

Spencer, the area director for Keller Williams, said the low inventory and heightened buyer activity are resulting in an imbalance of supply and demand, but he believes that “bodes well as we move into the fall season, which typically ushers in an increase in buyer activity.”

Buyers and sellers are “clearly more confident,” Spencer said in the news release. These consumers “are looking to take advantage of the market rebound in what appears to be a continued slow and sustainable recovery.”