Balance “finally returning” to housing market as buyers welcome more choices, moderating prices
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KIRKLAND, Washington (October 4, 2018) – Housing inventory continued to improve during September while the pace of sales slowed in many counties served by Northwest Multiple Listing Service. “Balance is finally returning to the market, and with it, slowing home price growth,” stated OB Jacobi, president of Windermere Real Estate.
A new report from Northwest MLS shows double-digit increases in inventory in several of the 23 counties it serves, led by a 78 percent year-over-year gain in King County. Despite improving selection in the central Puget Sound region, a dozen counties reported drops in the number of active listings compared to last year.
System-wide, the month ended with 2.56 months of supply of single family homes and condos, well below the 4-to-6 months analysts use as an indicator of a balanced market between sellers and buyers. The current level is the highest since February 2015 when member-brokers reported 3.56 months of inventory. In King County, supply exceeded two months for the first time since January 2015.
Condo inventory remains sparse, with only 0.34 months of supply area wide, despite improving inventory (up nearly 70 percent from a year ago). The shortage is expected to ease as construction progresses on several recently-announced high-rise projects.
Brokers added 10,458 new listings of single family homes and condos to the MLS database during September, slightly more than the year-ago figure of 10,120. At month end, buyers could choose from 19,526 listings, a 22.9 percent improvement from twelve months ago when selection totaled 15,888 listings.
Commenting on the wider selection, Mike Grady said buyers “are at long last now seeing properties that stay on the market longer.” Listings that are priced appropriately, “and not based on the feverish market we saw just a few months ago are still selling quickly, and home prices are still showing 8 percent appreciation year-over-year – more than double the rate of inflation,” added Grady, the president and COO of Coldwell Banker Bain.
With improving inventory, some brokers suggest the market may be showing signs of pausing, if not softening. A market shift may be under way, but they believe activity will stay strong.
J. Lennox Scott, chairman and CEO of John L. Scott Real Estate, encouraged would-be buyers to “put extra focus on October,” which he described as the last great month for new listings until March 2019. “Over the winter, new monthly resale listings will lower by approximately 50 percent compared to summer months.” He also noted interest rates, currently in the upper 4 percent, are projected to rise in the coming months.
“This is a more traditional yearly market cycle taking the place of the unusually overheated real estate market of the past several years,” said John Deely, principal managing broker at Coldwell Banker Bain.
“Given there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight related to the region’s job growth, with employees moving here and not enough units being built to accommodate them, we believe this market normalization will continue,” stated Grady. (For every six new jobs created in the Seattle/Tacoma/Bellevue region, there was only one single-family permit issued, according to data from the National Association of REALTORS®.)
Northwest MLS director Robert Wasser reported the recent re-balancing of the market “has led to fewer listings with offer review dates and pre-inspections,” which he said is a positive for buyers hoping to retain their contingencies. His analysis of MLS statistics indicated the median marketing time in King County has risen to 14 days. Also, prices for closed sales are at 100 percent of their list price for a third straight month.
“In the South Sound the market has shifted into neutral and is idling at the moment,” commented Dick Beeson, principal managing broker at RE/MAX Professionals in Gig Harbor. Noting inventory has improved in both Pierce and Thurston counties “but nowhere near what King County has experienced,” Beeson said buyers can see more homes available for sale for the first time in three years. “Buyers are taking deep breaths as they survey this new territory.”
Beeson thinks the “new normal” at two-plus months of inventory is “healthy and long anticipated.” He also believes the steep curve of ever-increasing prices and scarcity of properties has crested.