Northwest MLS brokers report 51% jump in pending sales

Home sales around Washington state surged last month, with brokers reporting activity at levels “like we haven‟t seen in a while,” according to the owner of a Seattle brokerage. Northwest Multiple Listing Service members reported 8,605 pending sales during March for a 51 percent increase over the same month a year ago.

Notably, while entry-level home sales have been driving the market, brokers also reported strong activity at the upper end of the price spectrum. Last month, 91 residences (76 of them in King County) sold for $1 million or more; twelve months ago only 40 homes and condos fetched $1 million or more.

Pending sales (offers made and accepted, but not yet closed) in the four-county Puget Sound region rose 60 percent from twelve months ago, led by Snohomish County where the number of transactions jumped more than 77 percent.

NWMLS director Diedre Haines, regional managing broker for Coldwell Banker Bain in Snohomish County, said her network of three offices broke a nine-year old record for the most transactions in a single month. She attributes the gains to several factors, including tax incentives and the return of jumbo loan financing, but also noted an uptick in activity for parcels of land.

“We are once again representing buyers in the purchase of both raw undeveloped land and platted lots,” Haines remarked, adding, “This is the first time we have seen land purchases in over two years.” Of the buyers, she said some intend to start building now and others are buying for investment.

 MLS brokers also reported year-over-year increases in the number of new listings added to inventory and in the volume of closed sales. Members added 12,994 new listings to the system last month, up 26.7 percent from the year-ago total of 10,252 new listings.

Last month‟s new listings included 11,041 single family homes and 1,953 condominiums. Those additions brought the total inventory to 38,716. That compares to 39,825 total active listings at the same time a year ago, a decrease of about 2.8 percent.

Closed sales outpaced year-ago totals by a wide margin. Members reported 4,972 completed transactions during March, a gain of 1,590 sales for a 47 percent increase.

Prices for last month‟s closed sales of single family homes and condominiums (combined) were down about 2 percent system wide. Since January, however, prices have inched up almost 1.8 percent.

Within King County, price changes from a year ago ranged from double-digit increases for homes on Mercer Island (up 26.9 percent), Central Seattle (up 14.9 percent), and Vashon (up 10 percent), to double- digit declines in some parts of South King County.

“Homes that are positioned well – at every price range – are selling quickly,” commented NWMLS director Pat Grimm, the owner/designated broker at Windermere Real Estate/Capitol Hill, Inc. in Seattle. Among examples he cited was a Medina home that sold for its $2.35 million asking price in seven days. It drew three quick offers with escalation clauses. At the lower end of the price spectrum was a 2-bedroom Capitol Hill condo listed at $230,000. It also received multiple offers and sold for full price in three days.

Some buyers have to make offers on multiple properties before they win, but they‟re still reticent about paying more than the list price, according to Grimm. He noted buyers are not waiving inspections, but said some bidders are doing pre-offer inspections.

“Sales activity is at a high level like we haven‟t seen in a while, but still not the frenzy we saw a few years ago,” Grimm remarked, adding, “And that‟s a good thing.”

Condo sales across the 21 counties in the MLS system showed significant improvement from a year ago. MLS members reported 1,199 pending sales last month, which compares to 645 sales for the same month a year ago for an increase of almost 86 percent.

Condo prices still lag year-ago figures. The median price for last month‟s completed sales was $225,000, down about 7 percent from the year ago figure of $242,000. Within Seattle, however, prices are up. The median price for last month‟s completed sales of condos in Seattle was $291,000, an increase of 5.8 percent from a year ago when the median sales price was $275,000.

“The Seattle surge has returned thanks to the opportunities that have been afforded to homeowners through the federal tax credit, historically low interest rates, and increased affordability,” observed J. Lennox Scott, chairman and CEO of John L. Scott Real Estate. “As predicted, there is a surge of sales activity in the „more affordable‟ price ranges which is causing a chain reaction of sales up the price points,” he reported. Scott said he expects the momentum to continue in the coming weeks as the April 30 expiration of the tax credit approaches.

Source: NWMLS (04/05/2010)

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