‘Exceptionally low’ inventory slows year-end home sales, spurs price hikes across region

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Source: Northwest Multiple Listing Service

For real estate brokers, the year 2017 was marked by historic lows for inventory and year-over-year price gains in most areas. That’s according to a report just released by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service, a not-for-profit, member-owned organization of over 28,000 real estate professionals in the Pacific Northwest.

For the MLS area overall, inventory shrunk 19 percent, from 10,569 active listings at the end of 2016 to last month’s figure of 8,553. That’s the smallest selection for any month in the past decade. For the fourth time this year, monthly inventory dipped below the 10,000 mark, a level not reached at any other time during the 10-year comparison.Despite the paltry supply, last month’s sales remained remarkably strong, with closings up slightly (0.88 percent) from a year ago. Northwest MLS members reported 7,642 closed sales, about the same volume as a year ago when completed transactions totaled 7,575, the report said.

Year-over-year pending sales of single family homes and condos (combined) fell about 3 percent, from 6,390 to 6,198, but far outgained the number of new listings added to inventory (4,053).

“December, which has historically been a slower month, picked up momentum and never let up,” reported George Moorhead, designated broker at Bentley Properties. Unlike October through November, which he described as slower than what had been seen the past three years, “December drew aggressive buyers, some motivated by expectations of a flattening market, with others trying to beat anticipated interest rate hikes.” Purchasers were from all buying demographics, noted Moorhead, a member of the Northwest MLS board of directors.

Northwest MLS statistics show prices rose 11.4 percent system-wide for the 7,642 completed sales of homes and condos. Thirteen of the 23 counties in the report had double-digit price hikes from a year ago. Two counties reported price drops: Chelan (-11.2 percent) and Douglas (-6.5 percent).

Within the Puget Sound region, King County registered the sharpest escalations at nearly 16 percent. Year-over-year prices jumped from $505,000 to $585,000. For single family homes in King County, the hike was similar (about 15.5 percent), rising from $550,000 to $635,000 at year end.

Condo prices surged 28 percent in King County over the past twelve months, from $315,000 to $402,000. During the same year-over-year period, active listings fell from 346 units to 206 (down more than 40 percent), leaving only about 10 days of supply (0.35 months of inventory).

System-wide, there is a little more than a month’s supply (1.12 months) of homes and condos, with the shortages most pronounced in the four-county Puget Sound region. Three of those counties — King, Kitsap and Snohomish — have less than a month’s supply; Pierce County is somewhat better off with 1.1 months.

“While all year we’ve been bemoaning lack of inventory and escalating prices, the statistics show 2017 was a banner year in many respects for real estate in the Puget Sound region and throughout the Northwest,” stated Mike Grady, president and COO of Coldwell Banker Bain. He cited year-over-year gains in both prices and values, commenting “As a result of this strong market, homeowners are experiencing bountiful gains in property values.”

Brokers expect momentum to continue despite uncertainty about interest rates and taxes.

“As we look forward to 2018 we continue to believe this is a great time to buy real estate,” Grady said. “We see only positive returns for homeowners and real estate investors this year and likely for several years to come.”

Moorhead anticipates aggressive buyer activity through May, but expects some short-term flattening thereafter with single-digit appreciation in the range of 5-to-7 percent. Builders still have memories of 2008, but with moderate activity and price increases likely to be sustained, “they are cautiously optimistic.”

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