Key indicators for Western Washington housing still rising, but brokers detect slowdown and uncertainty
KIRKLAND, Washington (November 6, 2017) - 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."
The president of the National Association of REALTORS® also weighed in, saying details are currently under review, but stated, "Eliminating or nullifying the tax incentives for homeownership puts home values and middle class homeowners at risk, and from a cursory examination this legislation appears to do just that."
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.
The median sales price system-wide for October was $373,000, up more than 8.1 percent from twelve months ago when it was $344,900. All counties in the four-county Puget Sound region notched double-digit gains.
For single family homes (excluding condos), the median sales price for last month's completed transactions was $381,000. 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."
Northwest MLS brokers reported 7,740 pending sales in the four-county region (King, Snohomish, Pierce and Kitsap), bettering the year ago mark of 7,487 mutually accepted offers. System-wide, pending sales increased from the year-ago total of 9,805 to last month's total of 10,586 (up 7.97 percent).
"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.
Compared to spring months, Scott expects volumes in the next few months will be at 30-to-50 percent of spring totals. "The stage is set once again for a frenzy housing market after the first of the year in the price ranges where there is a shortage of active listings for sale."
Frank Wilson, branch managing broker at John L. Scott's Poulsbo office, also commented on supply, noting in Kitsap County, the number of active listings is down nearly 24 percent from a year ago. "What this means to Kitsap County buyers is that everything is compressed: with lower inventory and higher prices the pressure continues to build for those buyers who need to find a home."
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."
Brokers in Snohomish County are detecting some tapering of activity.
"Buyers are no longer being as aggressive with concessions on homes when making offers and they are unwilling to compete for a home where sellers are being too aggressive with a list price," commented George Moorhead, designated broker and owner at Bentley Properties. He also noted buyers who have been on the sidelines are now more active as they see a slowdown "and an opportunity to finally own a home without the multiple offer competition."
Diedre Haines, principal managing broker-South Snohomish County at Coldwell Banker Bain in Lynnwood, believes the usual seasonal slowdown is apparent "a bit earlier than usual." She reported multiple offers are continuing but listings in Snohomish County are experiencing longer market times, fewer above-list price offers, and a noticeable increase in price reductions. "All of this puts an emphasis on how important correct, accurate pricing has become."
Mike Grady, president and COO of Coldwell Banker Bain, suggested statistics for October "at first blush suggest the lack of listings of single family homes and condos in the region is self-correcting." As an example, he notes new listings in the tri-county region (King, Snohomish and Pierce) increased 11 percent from a year ago, while year-over-year sales rose only 6 percent. "That implies the shrinking inventory of homes for sale experienced over the past couple of year may be evening out."
Looking at year-to-date figures tells a different story, according to Grady. His analysis of the three counties shows a 20 percent reduction in active listings. Factoring in strong sales yields a statistic known as months of inventory, which is under two months in the four counties comprising the Puget Sound region.
"The story continues to be in the 'commuter' counties, which are experiencing the biggest shrinkage from a year ago," said Grady. "This reduction of supply will continue to put pressure on rising prices. Bottom line: investment in a home continues to be bullish with no change in sight."
Northwest MLS board member Robert Wasser said while it may be a difficult time to be a buyer and a positive time to be a seller, the best strategy "regardless of market conditions is to calculate the pros and cons involved and make informed choices." Wasser, the owner/broker at Prospera Real Estate in Seattle, recommends working with a real estate professional who, among other topics "is equipped to discuss market conditions, financing considerations, historic trends, and buying and selling strategies."
Northwest Multiple Listing Service, owned by its member real estate firms, is the largest full-service MLS in the Northwest. Its membership of more than 2,200 member offices includes more than 26,000 real estate professionals. The organization, based in Kirkland, Wash., currently serves 23 counties in the state.