Befitting October and Halloween, last month‟s housing activity had both tricks and treats. Northwest Multiple Listing Service members reported solid gains in pending sales (up almost 21 percent from a year ago), consistent demand in many price ranges, a shortage of homes in a few categories, and some resurgence of move-up buyers.
Despite those encouraging indicators, prices were down almost 11 percent area-wide compared to a year ago and brokers say there is persistent “hesitancy” in the market.
“All the pieces (for a recovery) exist — low interest rates, lots of choices, increasing loan availability as well as purchasing programs, yet as a whole the housing market has stalled in many places,” said Northwest MLS director Frank Wilson.
“What is holding back the housing market has little to do with houses,” Wilson stated, pointing to uncertainty in the stock market and volatile global economies, along with a more complicated, prolonged transaction process and lack of job creation.

In King County, nearly one-third of the available inventory is priced above the new, more restrictive dollar limit.
Northwest MLS brokers added 7,235 new listings to inventory during October, almost 1,000 fewer residential properties than the same month a year ago. Sixteen of the 21 counties served by the MLS reported shrinkage in inventory. At month end, MLS members reported 33,094 active listings of single family homes and condominiums.
Any discussion about real estate has to be hyper-local, that is, specific to a geographic area and in some cases as specific as a neighborhood, Wilson suggested. “Just viewing the latest report reveals wide variation of inventory from county to county; Snohomish has 3.2 months of inventory while Okanogan has an 18 month supply of homes,” he noted.

Demand is remaining consistent in many price ranges and move-up buyers are returning to the market because of a shortage of homes that are not distressed, Stenvers noted. This move-up segment can list and sell their homes, then buy a better home with essentially the same payments, he explained. “Buyers know interest rates will not be at these historically low levels forever so they may pass up a short sale/fixer bank owned home for a more conventional transaction,” he remarked.
Buyers still have bargaining power, according to Stenvers. He cited a recent transaction involving a home where the appraisal was $40,000 under the asking price because of disparities with the comps used. The buyers negotiated a price that split the difference, deciding that was preferable to “losing a beautiful home altogether.”

Prices for last month‟s closed sales of single family homes and condominiums (combined) fell 10.9 percent from a year ago, dropping from $255,932 to $228,000. While all but two counties in the Northwest MLS market area experienced declines, the drops were by single digits in 10 counties.
King County reported one of the sharpest year-over-year declines. The median price on last month‟s completed transactions in the county was $287,500, which compares to a year-ago figure of $350,000 (down about 17.9 percent). For single family homes (excluding condominiums), median prices slipped 14.7 percent, dropping from $375,000 a year ago to last month‟s figure of $320,000.

Northwest Multiple Listing Service, owned by its member real estate firms, is the largest full-service MLS in the Northwest. Its membership includes more than 22,000 real estate brokers. The organization, based in Kirkland, Wash., currently serves 21 counties in Washington state.

For more information or to discuss your local market, call Joe Kennedy of AAA Properties at (425) 213-4176

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