More of the same: December home sales up, prices down

  • Wed Jan 4th, 2012 5:18pm

By Kurt Batdorf SCBJ Editor

December home sales statistics in Snohomish County followed the trends of the last half of 2011: Fewer listings and increasing sales amid falling prices.

The Northwest Multiple Listing Service released its December sales statistics Jan. 7. Snohomish County saw new listings fall from 763 to 923 and total listings fall from 4,538 to 3,249 compared to December 2010 — a drop of 28.4 percent.

Over the same period, the median sales price for a single-family home fell from $245,700 to $222,750 — 9.3 percent — while the median price of a condominium fell 17.6 percent, from $175,925 to $144,950.

Brokers have attributed much of the slip in prices to the number of distressed properties in the mix. In some areas of the 21-county Northwest MLS service area, foreclosures and short sales, which tend to be sharply discounted, account for about one-third of all sales.

The good news is the continuing increase in the number of pending and closed sales relative to the number of new listings.

Year-over-year pending sales in December rose 28.7 percent, from 787 in 2010 to 1,013. Closed sales were up 23.7 percent, rising from 684 to 846.

For the second straight month, sales numbers have exceeded new listings, the service reported. The last time such an imbalance occurred was November 2006.

“All over we are seeing healthy marketplaces emerge as the inventory levels drop,” said J. Lennox Scott, CEO and chairman of John L. Scott Real Estate. “As you get closer to the job centers of Seattle and Bellevue, the marketplace is looking strong again,” he added while expressing optimism for the coming year. “The outlook for 2012 is the continuation of a strengthening marketplace, especially in the more affordable to mid-range-priced homes.”

The combination of shrinking inventory and favorable financing is causing some areas to tilt toward a seller’s market, as measured by the supply of homes. In Snohomish County, the months’ supply is pegged at 3.2 months, which means it would take approximately that much time to exhaust current inventory at the current pace of sales with no replenishment. Inventory of active listings in that county is down more than 28 percent from a year ago.

Area-wide, there is about a five month supply of homes, which is generally considered to be a balanced market favoring neither buyers nor sellers, the service reported.

OB Jacobi, president of Windermere Real Estate, believes the market has undergone a shift.

“Where we’ve been during the past year is a place of transition,” he said. “It has been a slow recovery, but the housing market has finally turned a corner, albeit a soft one with some bumps along the way.”

Despite rising sales, Jacobi, a member of the Northwest MLS board of directors, noted foreclosures and short sales continue to put downward pressure on prices.

“Many would-be sellers are still wary of the market, and as a result, there are fewer homes for sale,” he said. “At the same time, there are buyers who are eager to strike while the iron is hot, so in some areas, homes are selling before many buyers even have a chance to react.”