KIRKLAND, Washington (April 6, 2017) - Northwest Multiple Listing Service brokers expected an uptick in the number of new listings during March, and that expectation was met with a significant gain - up more than 50 percent from February. Members added 10,321 new listings last month, but they also reported an even greater number of pending sales (10,447), leaving inventory near historic lows.
"Although we're seeing better news for buyers related to increases in new listings during the past three months, we're continuing to sell inventory at a faster rate," stated Mike Grady, president and COO of Coldwell Banker Bain. "This lack of supply continues to put an upward pressure on home prices. We're in for yet another frenzied spring," he believes.
Total active inventory across the 23 counties in the Northwest MLS service area remained below 10,000 for a second straight month. The selection of active listings rose to 9,774 for a 7.5 percent improvement on February's volume, but compared to a year ago inventory plummeted nearly 23 percent.
"It's a straight up crazy, frenzy market in King and Snohomish counties," said J. Lennox Scott, chairman and CEO of John L. Scott. About 75 percent of homes are selling within the first 30 days, according to his analysis.
The lack of supply continues to put upward pressure on home prices. The median price on last month's sales of single family homes and condos was $355,000, up 10.9 percent from the year-ago figure of $320,000.
For single family homes only (excluding condos), year-over-year prices jumped 11.5 percent, from $327,300 to $365,000. The median price for a single family home that sold in King County was $599,950, up 12.9 percent from a year ago. Adjacent counties also saw double-digit increases in selling prices for single family homes.
Pierce County prices increased 11.3 percent, from $265,000 to $295,000, while the year-over-year gain in Snohomish County was nearly 10.4 percent, rising from $385,000 to $425,000.
"There is much good news for Snohomish County," said Diedre Haines, principal managing broker-South Snohomish County at Coldwell Banker Bain. Low unemployment, plenty of available jobs, and forecasts that are optimistic for our economy are among the positives she noted, while adding words of caution. "This doesn't mean sellers can just slap a price they like on their listing and expect it to fly off the shelf. We certainly don't need or want [overpriced] inventory that just sits there, gets stale and becomes stigmatized. Agents need to be diligent with pricing and sellers need to be realistic," she emphasized, noting today's buyers are well informed and more sophisticated than in past markets.
"As the first quarter ends, the South Sound market continues to bubble along," reported Dick Beeson, principal managing broker at RE/MAX Professionals in Gig Harbor. Steep drops in inventory coupled with rising volumes of closed sales are resulting in double digit increases in prices in both Pierce County, where prices rose more than 11 percent, and Thurston County, where prices surged nearly 15.4 percent.
"It's hard to imagine what the market would be like if two things were different - more inventory giving more buyers opportunities to purchase, and if the miserable weather we've been having had been slightly better making house hunting and home selling a bit more fun," remarked Beeson.
The scenario is similar in Kitsap County, although at more moderate rates: total inventory is down about 3.4 percent from 12 months ago, and prices rose by a similar rate (up 3 percent).
"The full blooming of the spring market in Kitsap is being tempered by the tight inventory of available homes," said Frank Wilson, the branch managing broker at John L. Scott in Poulsbo. He also noted brokers in Kitsap County continue to see "strong traffic at open houses, multiple offers on new listings, and buyers becoming accustomed to (though not happy about) the use of escalation clauses, with marginal buyers being pushed closer to their affordability margins."
Area-wide, there is 1.3 months of inventory, with both King and Snohomish counties reporting less than a month's supply.
Brokers say the shortages are constricting sales. Pending sales (mutually accepted offers) are down 4.2 percent from a year ago. Brokers report 10,447 pending sales during March, down from the year-ago total of 10,900, but up from February's volume of 8,247.
"March sales activity is lower than a year ago due to the fact we are virtually sold out," explained Scott. He also said the lack of inventory is feeding the buyer frenzy for each new listing in the more affordable and mid-price ranges.
The luxury market remains strong. For the first three months of 2017, the number of homes that sold and closed at prices of $1 million or more is up 60.5 percent compared to the same period a year ago (926 such sales this year versus 577 for first quarter of 2016).
Northwest MLS chairman John Deely, principal managing broker at Coldwell Banker Bain, said bids over the listing price are commonplace. "We are seeing more multiple offers than ever on new listings, and all cash offers are dominating the winning bids." He also noted some brokers are reporting a contrast from a year ago with regard to escalation closes. "Last year they were advising a buyer to bid 10 percent above the list price, this year they're advising 20 percent over in certain Seattle neighborhoods."
Low appraisals are still occurring, according to Northwest MLS officials.
"We are seeing more low appraisals on financed offers as buyers push the sales price up to new heights for the respective neighborhoods," Deely stated, adding, "Many financed offers contain provisions where buyers will pay the difference between the appraised value and the sales price in the event of a low appraisal," he explained. He also said some buyers are waiving other protective conditions such as inspections and title and neighborhood reviews to gain an advantage over competing buyers.
Despite the hurdles, more people are getting into homes, Deely noted. Northwest MLS figures show year-to-date closed sales are up nearly 10 percent compared to first quarter 2016.
"Some, including me, are seeing signs of a developing bubble," said Haines. She said most new construction in Snohomish County is being sold before foundations are even poured. "Builders are trying to keep up with the demand, but it isn't or doesn't seem to be possible in the near future. Buyers are starting to move into panic mode and doing unadvisable things just to get their offers accepted."
Haines said problems with low appraisals have "dissipated for now," adding, "We're seeing a definite resurgence of 1031 exchange offers. Sellers are accepting contingent offers with confidence and no fear the contingent home won't sell." She also reported "Folks from the city and south of our county line are once again migrating north creating yet another logjam."
Scott expects "seller gridlock" to abate this summer for sellers who are waiting to put their home on the market. "As more inventory comes on the market it will be just as easy for them to purchase their next home as it is to sell their current one."
Wilson said the Kitsap County market is "struggling to find its new trend. We are being buffeted by the winds or rising interest rates, shortages of inventory, increasing prices and the effects of new or improved ferry service in various parts of our county. We are seeing increased interest in Port Orchard, Bremerton and Kingston by both investors and Seattle commuters."
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.