Real estate brokers expect no holiday breather as sales stay strong and supplies remain low

  • Wednesday, December 7, 2016 10:57am
  • Business

Pending sales of homes hit an all-time high for the month of November according to the latest statistics from Northwest Multiple Listing Service, which is based in Kirkland. The report covering 23 counties around Washington state also shows the number of new listings added during the month plunged to the lowest level in 11 months, prompting MLS leaders to predict a busy winter for residential real estate as buyers compete for the smallest inventory since March.

“Last year’s holiday season ended up being the best time to sell a home around King County as sellers took the winter months off, but buyers remained persistent. The supply of homes for sale hit a post-recession low, and so far, this year is mirroring last winter’s trends,” remarked Northwest MLS director Robert Wasser, owner/broker at Prospera Real Estate in Seattle.

Figures for November show a 13.2 percent drop in inventory of single family homes and condominiums, a 9.4 percent gain in pending sales, a 31.3 percent spike in closed sales, and an 11 percent increase in prices compared to the same month a year ago.

At month-end, there was only 1.69 months of supply system-wide, believed to be a new low. For the four-county Puget Sound region there is only 1.22 months of supply, with King County having the lowest level at under a month (0.96).

Pending sales (mutually accepted offers) totaled 8,217, and eclipsed the number of new listings (5,779) by 2,438 units. That imbalance depleted total inventory, dropping the number of active listings to 13,303, down 13.2 percent from a year ago.

“November’s pending sales for the four-county area of King, Snohomish, Pierce and Kitsap were the highest since 2005. There were 44 percent more pendings than new listings,” said J. Lennox Scott, chairman and CEO of John L. Scott Real Estate, who described market activity as a mini power surge.

“Every time interest rates increase 0.5 percent we see these surges because buyers become anxious about increasing rates – but on a historical basis rates are still amazing,” he remarked.

John Deely, vice chairman of the Northwest MLS board, said the Seattle residential real estate market is not taking time off for an end-of- year breather. “The seemingly inexhaustible supply of ready, willing and able buyers continues to purchase available inventory. This imbalance in supply and demand continues to fuel multiple offers and drive prices upward,” said Deely, the principal managing broker at Coldwell Banker Bain in Seattle. Well-paying jobs in the tech sector are fueling demand, with “the increase in equity and uptick in interest rates enticing more sellers to the market.”

George Moorhead, another member of the MLS board, echoed those sentiments. “We have seen the market pick up significant speed since the mild slowing during the summer months.” He cited NAR reports that the Puget Sound area is 73,180 units short of demand, calling it a staggering number.

“Like the last two years we expect strong sales to continue through December, then taper off in January, only to pick back up mid-February with another flurry of aggressive buyers,” Moorhead continued. He also believes an uptick in interest rates will driver buyers into the market even harder, with inventory likely to plunge even lower.

The median price on last month’s closed sales of single family homes and condominiums area-wide was $342,000, up 11 percent from the year-ago figure of $308,000. August was the only other month this year with year-over- year double-digit appreciation for prices area-wide.

Thirteen counties in the Northwest MLS service area reported double-digit price increases last month compared to 12 months ago. Prices in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties jumped between 14.4 and 15.3 percent, but the largest spikes were in Okanogan (up 41.4 percent) and Jefferson (up 39.5 percent) counties. Last month’s overall median price for single family homes and condos that sold was down about 2 percent from this year’s high of $350,000 for sales that closed in June, July and August.

Prices for single family homes (excluding condos) rose 10.9 percent from a year ago to $350,500. King County reported the highest median price for single family homes at $550,000 (up 10 percent year-over-year).

Condo prices reflected more modest price hikes, perhaps a reflection of depleted inventory (down 18 percent) that is dragging down sales. Pending sales fell nearly 1.9 percent from a year ago. Last month’s median selling price area-wide was $280,000, about 5.7 percent higher than a year ago. In King County, which accounted for more than six of every 10 condo sales, year-over- year prices jumped more than $30,000 — from $298,500 to $328,844 (up about 10.2 percent).

“Seattle continues to defy all forecasts and now has the distinction of being the hottest market with the fastest-rising prices in the nation,” said Mike Grady, commenting the latest home price index from S&P Case-Shiller. “We believe the market will continue to be extremely active through the winter and beyond, although the Fed’s expected interest rate hike may affect this somewhat and provide some relief to buyers.”

Even with the much-anticipated increase in interest rates, Grady said he does not expect much leveling off of home prices or activity. Expectations of an easing of mortgage underwriting stringencies by the new Administration will result in additional buyers entering the market, which Grady believes “will add fuel to the fire. We anticipate being very busy through 2017.”

Northwest Multiple Listing Service, owned by its member real estate firms, is the largest full-service MLS in the Northwest. Its membership of nearly 2,100 member offices includes more than 25,000 real estate professionals. The organization, based in Kirkland, Wash., currently serves 23 counties in Washington state.

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