Key indicators for Western Washington housing still rising, but brokers detect slowdown and uncertainty

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Early seasonal snow and questions swirling around the tax plan unveiled last week by House Republicans could make the usual seasonal slowdown more pronounced, say industry leaders from Northwest Multiple Listing Service. For October, however, key indicators trended upwards.

Pending sales rose nearly 8 percent from a year ago, closed sales were up 5.2 percent, and prices jumped about 8.2 percent, with 14 counties reporting double-digit gains. Even the number of new listings improved on the year-ago total.

Northwest MLS figures for the 23 counties it serves show members added 8,466 new listings to inventory during October, outgaining the year-ago total of 7,575 by 11.8 percent. Buyers outnumbered new listings, with 10,586 of them having their offers accepted. That number of pending sales was up nearly 8 percent from the same month a year ago.

“The challenge for buyers actually isn’t lack of choice, it is the rapid pace of sales,” suggested Ken Anderson, president/owner of Coldwell Banker Evergreen Olympic Realty.

“The market in Thurston County has never been better for sellers, and they’re getting the message,” Anderson remarked. His analysis revealed a 10-year high for sellers coming to market during October. “These savvy sellers are not waiting until spring to sell. They are taking advantage of today’s great market and making their move now,” he reported.

Buyers may find themselves in a quandary as the year winds down as they contemplate limited supply, possible upticks in interest rates and tax reform. Last week’s announcement of a provision in a GOP tax proposal to cap the mortgage interest deduction is concerning to buyers, brokers and builders.

“Imagine if the proposed plan to cap the mortgage interest deduction at $500,000 is approved in a market that is starved for homes and where the median price [for a single family home in King County] is now $630,000,” said O B Jacobi, president of Windermere Real Estate. “Homeowners may be less likely to sell because they would be giving up their grandfathered tax credit on their current home. That’s fewer homes for sale in a market where we really need them,” he stated, adding, “There could also be a flood of new buyers trying to purchase before the plan is passed, adding to the already hyper-competitive market conditions.”

Northwest MLS data show 66 percent of single family homes sold so far this year (Jan. – Oct.) in King County had selling prices of $500,000 or higher.

Within King County prices are considerably higher. In Seattle, year-over-year prices jumped 17.6 percent, from $625,000 to $735,000. On the Eastside, the median price for a single family home rose 10 percent from a year ago, increasing from $768,000 to $845,000. Nevertheless, high prices did not seem to deter many house-hunters.

J. Lennox Scott, chairman and CEO of John L. Scott Real Estate, noted October was the “best ever for sales activity in the Puget Sound region.¬†With a large buyer pool for each new listing, we saw a higher percentage of new listings sell within the first 30 days of coming on the market,” Scott reported, while also noting the seasonal change in housing market dynamics. “As we enter the winter market, the number of new listings being added will be in short supply from now through February,” he explained.

Inventory remains low in many counties in the Northwest MLS system. Overall, there is only 1.5 months of supply of single family homes and condos combined. In King County, it’s less than one month. Industry analysts say four to six months typically indicates a balanced (or “normal”) market.

Most brokers agree inventory will not grow over the next few months. “Sellers who bring their homes on the market over the next three months will have a lot of interest because of the pent-up demand of buyers who are going to have fewer houses to consider,” suggested Wilson.

“Homebuyers in our area are at a real disadvantage right now,” commented Wilson, a member of the Northwest MLS board of directors. “They have to be pre-underwritten with their lenders, put forward a conventional or better offer, put down substantial earnest money, and hope that multiple offers do not escalate the price out of their affordability zone.” He fears “more and more buyers will be sidelined.”

 

~Northwest Multiple Listing Service

 

 

 

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