Housing market ‘crazy’ in county

EVERETT – A significant shortage of homes for sale in Snohomish County has turned the housing market on its ear.

Limited choices, multiple offers and sales as soon as homes are put on the market – common features in Seattle – have hit many areas of the county, sales agents said Wednesday.

“It’s crazy out there,” said Bob Maple, owner-broker of the Everett office of John L. Scott.

Maple said that in his 20 years of selling homes in Snohomish County, he hasn’t seen such heavy competition.

“You have to be on your toes every minute of the day,” he said. “Buyers have to be ready to go at any moment.”

Bothell real estate agent George Nickle agreed that it’s clearly a seller’s market. “There isn’t much inventory out there,” he said.

While Snohomish County home sales continue to be strong – sales, pending sales and prices are soaring – the number of homes available continues to sink dramatically.

There were 3,123 homes on the market in Snohomish County in March, a 22.6 percent drop from year-ago figures, according to statistics released Wednesday by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.

Agents say listings have plummeted because fewer people are selling their homes and the construction of new homes is not keeping up with demand.

What that means is prospective home buyers aren’t getting many choices.

“It’s very frustrating,” Nickle said. “People have a list of their own wants or needs, and they may find only two or three houses that have what they’re looking for. A perfect market would have eight to 10 houses very much in line with what they want to buy.”

That has fueled the competition for the more popular homes. For example, the average time spent on the market in March was 51 days, compared with 68 in March 2004.

“There’s not much dickering going on,” Nickle said. “There’s competition in every case, and usually the first one in there nails it.”

Brenda Rumball, president of the Snohomish County-Camano Island Board of Realtors, agreed.

“It’s a difficult market,” said Rumball, of Century 21 North Homes Realty in Snohomish. “What we’re seeing is buyers have to jump on things right away. If they turn around to look a little bit, often what they wanted is sold. And there’s not a large selection out there.”

Maple called home sales these days “a quick-action market.”

“I estimate that 25 to 30 percent of the transactions through this office have multiple offers,” he said.

The competition has pushed home prices to a new record in the county. The median price for both condominiums and single-family homes in March was $257,575, a 13 percent increase from 12 months ago. For single-family homes alone, the median price is $270,000, also a record. Median means half the homes sold for less and half sold for more.

High prices and low selections have been around for months, but they haven’t stifled sales, which rose 19.4 percent last month.

Nickle, of ReMax Northwest, said the sharp drop in inventory can’t go on forever. He said the state’s Growth Management Act has to change to add more undeveloped land to areas earmarked for urban growth. “We’ve got to get more buildable land,” he said.

Rumball agreed.

“We need more (developable) land, and we need to plan for growth,” she said. “It’s no good to just stick your head in the sand and think that growth won’t come. Growth will come, whether we plan for it or not.”

Maple said increases in land are definitely a long-term solution to the problem. But he also expects sales to ease and inventories to rise as interest rates continue to climb.

“As interest rates creep up, buyers will drop out of the market,” Maple said.

Herald writer Mike Benbow: 425-339-3459 or benbow@heraldnet.com.

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