Home prices inch up on Eastside, in Seattle year-over-year

After a two-year slide, home prices may be starting to inch up in big chunks of King County, February home-sale statistics suggest.

The median price of a house that sold on the Eastside last month was $490,000, up 1 percent from February 2009, the Northwest Multiple Listing Service reported Thursday. While minuscule, it was that area’s first year-over-year increase since December 2007.

Seattle’s median price also rose slightly for the second month in a row after nearly two years of declines.

Countywide, however, the median single-family home price, $373,010, was down 0.5 percent from a year ago. The chief reasons: Southwest and Southeast King County, the county’s most affordable areas, where median prices fell by double digits.

Sales volumes were up strongly throughout the county, 51 percent overall from February 2009. It was the ninth straight month of year-over-year gains, fueled by low interest rates, federal tax credits and mild winter weather.

But brokers say prices in South King County are continuing to fall because houses repossessed by banks and short sales — those for less than the seller owes on the home — make up a bigger share of that market.

Those sellers are more likely to settle for less. “It’s putting a lot of downward [price] pressure on sellers who are not in trouble,” said Tony Hettler, broker-owner of the John L. Scott office in Des Moines.

In Seattle and on the Eastside, in contrast, brokers say move-up buyers are returning to the market.

In Seattle’s Capitol Hill and Madison Park areas, 39 houses sold in February with a median price of $596,000, according to the listing service. That’s up from just 17 houses that sold in February 2009, with a median price of $409,000.

“We are starting to see high-end sales in bigger numbers,” said Dave Hale, broker at Windermere Real Estate’s Madison Park office.

Prices have dropped, he said. Jumbo loans — more than $567,500 — are easier to get. And the stock market has come back from the depths of a year ago.

“For a lot of these folks, their portfolios have probably come up 30 or 40 percent,” Hale said. “They’re feeling more confident.”

He said he sees few short sales or sales of bank-owned homes in the central-city neighborhoods he serves.

In Southwest King County, in comparison, foreclosed homes and short sales make up 26 percent of active listings, Hettler said.

He said he recently completed an analysis for an owner who wondered why condos in his building weren’t selling. The answer: Prospective buyers were gravitating toward single-family homes in the same relatively low price range.

“Two or three years ago [condos and houses] wouldn’t have been competing for the same buyer,” Hettler said.

Overall, King County condo sales rose 26 percent last month from February 2009, the listing service said. The median condo price was down 3 percent but, again, it varied significantly by area.

The median price rose 6 percent in Seattle and 19 percent in Southeast King County, but fell 13 percent in Southwest King County and 12 percent on the Eastside.

The median price of single-family homes sold in Snohomish County in February was $280,000, down 10 percent from the same month last year. Sales were up 53 percent.

Source: Seattle Times, Eric Pryne, (03/06/2010)

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