January 2011 MLS Sales Data, Optimism Rising.
KIRKLAND, Wash. (Feb. 3, 2011) – Dramatic increases in open house activity and shrinking inventory are fueling optimism among members of the Northwest Multiple Listing Service. Commenting on the just-released MLS report on January’s housing activity, one director stated, “There is a strong belief in the industry that the worst is behind us and we can look forward with confidence.”
Darin Stenvers, managing broker at John L. Scott in Bellingham, who made that comment, also noted consumers are gaining confidence and buyers may be seeing what they believe is the bottoming of the market. “I’m very optimistic about the housing market for 2011 and the buyers and sellers should be as well,” he exclaimed.
Year-over-year pending sales were down somewhat, the volume of new listings declined more than 23 percent, sales prices continued to slip, but the number of closed sales increased slightly across the 21 counties in the Northwest MLS service area.
Last month’s pending sales lagged totals for the same month a year ago, but only by 186 units system- wide, a decline of about 3.3 percent. Northwest MLS director Matt Deasy, the broker at Windermere Real Estate/East in Bellevue, said he considered anything within 5 percent of a year ago when tax incentives were boosting sales a “home run.”
Members reported 5,393 pending sales (mutually accepted offers) of single family homes and condominiums during January. That compares to 5,579 pending sales for the same period a year ago, and marked a big gain from both January 2009 (4,353 pending sales) and January 2008 (4,499 pending sales).
“I expect sales to be soft through April when compared to last year since first quarter sales volume was artificially inflated by the rush to take advantage of the tax credit that expired on April 30,” said OB Jacobi, president of Windermere Real Estate Company. “A more apples-to-apples assessment of sales will be to compare first quarter this year with first quarter 2009,” he suggested.
Closed sales rose a modest 2.1 percent from a year ago, increasing from 3,142 transactions to 3,207 sales. Prices on those completed sales were down about 6.3 percent. The overall median price for last month’s closed sales of single family homes and condominiums was $243,500, which compares to the year-ago selling price of $259,903. For single family homes (excluding condominiums) the median selling price was $250,000, down about 5 percent from a year ago; for condos, last month’s sales had a median price of $200,000, down 16.7 percent from twelve months ago.
Only four counties (Clallam, Cowlitz, Kitsap, and Okanogan) reported year-over-year price gains.
In King County, the median sales price on last month’s sales was $333,500, a drop of 4.7 percent from twelve months ago when it was $350,000.
Brokers attribute part of the price drop to sales of distressed homes (in general, meaning homes under foreclosure or impending foreclosure).
“Distressed properties are making up an increasingly greater share of sales than a year ago, and that trend is expected to continue,” observed Jacobi. Noting the sales price for distressed properties could be 20-to- 30 percent less than for normal sales, he said “it’s no surprise that a greater percentage of low-priced distressed properties is pulling down the median price.”
Whether considering a property classified as distressed or a conventional listing, house-hunters can choose from 32,647 active listings in the Northwest MLS system at the end of January. That selection is 4.7 percent smaller than a year ago when there were 34,256 properties listed with member-brokers.
Not nearly as many newly listed homes were offered for sale last month compared to twelve months ago. MLS members recorded 8,556 new listings, which included 7,167 single family homes and 1,389 condominiums. The combined total is down nearly 24 percent from the same month a year ago when members added 11,206 new listings to inventory.
MLS director Bobbie Petrone Chipman said overall, January was a positive month around Pierce County, where her office is located. Noting that area experienced a 27 percent reduction of new listings, a 2.4 percent increase in pending sales and a 10.8 percent jump in closed sales, Petrone Chipman, co-managing principal broker at Coldwell Banker Bain Tacoma/Puyallup, said the month reflected “a bit more balance as we dip our toe into the new year.”
Deasy also expects more balance, with sales more evenly distributed during the year, unlike 2010 when sixty percent of their sales occurred in the first half of the year. He also predicts closed sales will increase year over year, while at the same time pending sales might decrease year over year. This is the result of a higher percentage of pending sales actually closing, he explained, citing various factors. “Banks are better at short sales, brokers are better at short sales, appraisal issues are less frequent, and lending standards are becoming more stable.”
Based on anecdotal reports of open house traffic, brokers are hopeful of upticks in sales.
“The buyer activity at open houses in the close in Seattle neighborhoods has increased dramatically in the past month, said Northwest MLS director Mike Skahen. “If there were more good new listings coming on the market there would be more sales,” he suggested.
Skahen, the owner/broker at Lake & Co. Real Estate in Seattle, believes the shortage of new listings is causinganincreaseinmultipleoffers. Asanexample,hesaidasmallGreenLaketownhouseprojectthat had been on the market for more than four months with no offers finally had one unit sell a few weeks ago. Last weekend four offers came in on another unit. “I have not seen buyers this motivated in three years,” he remarked, adding, “Sellers should not wait for spring flowers to bloom to put their homes on the market as they usually do because there is much less competition now than there will be soon.”
Industry leaders have recommendations to benefit both sellers and buyers.
Accurate pricing is paramount. “Sellers are learning there is a small window of opportunity to have consumers sees their home before ruling it out and moving on,” suggested Stenvers.
“My advice to buyers in today’s market is to get pre-approved prior to starting their home search in order to avoid any delays that might result from the new lending standards process,” said J. Lennox Scott, chairman and CEO of John L. Scott Real Estate.” This way,” he explained, “buyers are ready to act quickly when they do find a home on which to make an offer.”
As for sellers, Scott said pricing and presentation have never been more important. “Pricing must be comparable with the other properties that have recently sold in their local area and the home must be in pristine show condition from day one.”
MLS director Pat Grimm, owner/broker at Windermere Real Estate/Capitol Hill, detected some hesitancy to list properties now. Distressed properties sell for less, but buyers face uncertainty and a long timeframe, he explained, noting the large percentage of distressed properties on the market has resulted in an interesting side effect: sellers of non-distressed properties are having an advantage.
“On one hand, I’m seeing sellers that are hesitant to bring their listings onto the market and compete with the price of short sale properties,” Grimm commented. On the other hand, he said buyers are looking at all the inventory and, because of the complications of purchasing distressed properties, are favoring properties that are not short sales or bank owned.
In Seattle, Grimm said the sweet spot is homes priced $400,000-500,000, in good shape that are not distressed. “They appeal to both first-time buyers and downsizers,” he reported, citing two examples: A Capitol Hill home went on the market at $450,000, received seven offers and sold in a week for significantly more than asking price. In the second example, a View Ridge listing priced at $499,000 had 25 groups through an open house in a two-hour span. It has a view and a great location above the Burke- Gilman trail. “Both homes were in the $400-$500,000 price range, well maintained, and not distressed.”