Home sales increase, prices shrink in January

By Kurt Batdorf Snohomish County Business Journal

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 with 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 Monday.

“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.

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.

Nearly half of all single-family-home sales last year in Snohomish County was either a short sale or foreclosure, according to Washington Property Solutions, a short-sale negotiating company based in Bellevue.

The lower number of new listings coming on the market is due to a combination of factors, said Scott. Among them, he cited sellers who owe more on their homes than the current value, sellers with equity holding out for higher prices and the lack of new construction and condominiums.

“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.

Kurt Batdorf: 425-339-3102, kbatdorf@scbj.com.