While the past quarter was characterized by only slight gains in home sales and sales price, several trends developed to provide insight into how the local real estate market is trying to recover.
The number of homes sold in Whatcom County during the third quarter of 2012 was 3.9 percent higher than the same period last year, according to Northwest Multiple Listing Service data analyzed by Lylene Johnson of The Muljat Group.
The median sales price also rose modestly, up 4.6 percent to $254,300.
According to Johnson, the data indicates that changes took place this summer and early fall, typically the busiest time of year for the local real estate market. Low inventory is putting pressure on sales and prices.
Also, much of the sales increase took place in Bellingham: County sales outside of the city actually experienced a slight year-over-year decline in sales, but was offset by a 17.7 percent jump in Bellingham.
Overall, it's a mixed bag of good and bad indicators heading into the final months of 2012, Johnson said.
"That's something you see when moving toward a more normal market," she said.
The low number of homes available for sale was significant, particularly in Bellingham. In September, Bellingham housing inventory was down 25 percent compared to a year earlier, which will limit the number of sales inside the city.
"There are still many people who are underwater in their homes," Johnson said. "They owe more than the house will generate in a sale. They can't afford to sell, don't have to sell and aren't willing to take the financial hit. This is the sad, dark side of our market."
That's making well-priced homes in popular Bellingham neighborhoods attractive to buyers, leading to multiple offers.
"Buyers are still demanding good homes, however," Johnson said. "There is not an attitude that anything will sell, like during the bubble."
While low inventory is expected to remain in place for the short-term, some signs indicate that that could change. Johnson noted that Bellingham is experiencing a slight uptick in new home construction, particularly in the Cordata area in north Bellingham and along East Bakerview Road.
Also, if prices continue to rise, more homeowners are less likely to be underwater and more willing to sell.
With interest rates expected to remain low, demand for homes could remain steady through the typically slower fall and winter months, Johnson said.
The median sales price, average sales price, number of units sold and average days on the market before a sale for Whatcom County and individual communities for the third quarter of 2012, with percentage comparisons to the third quarter of 2011 (from Lylene Johnson, the Muljat Group):
|Community||Median price||Avg. price||Units sold||DOM|
|Whatcom County||$254,300, +4.6%||$289,711, +4.0%||582, +3.9%||104, -18.1%|
|Bellingham||$275,500, +2.0%||$330,889, -2.4%||272, +17.7%||86, -16.5%|
|Birch Bay/Blaine||$238,000, +15.8%||$305,072, +33.0%||65, -12.2%||192, +11.6%|
|Ferndale||$257,104, +7.8%||$266,864, +4.2%||80, +3.9%||86, -21.1%|
|Lynden||$259,000, +3.6%||$275,981, -2.6%||65, -12.2%||91, -46.2%|
|Mount Baker||$106,900, +132.4%||$129,597, +22.3%||29, -25.6%||143, +24.3%|
|Nooksack Valley||$197,400, +5.7%||$207,817, +2.7%||28, +12.0%||113, -18.7%|
|Sudden Valley||$202,000, +12.3%||$215,119, -0.4%||36, +24.1%||94, -36.5%|
Reach DAVE GALLAGHER at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2269. Visit his business blog online at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/business or get updates on Twitter at twitter.com/BhamHeraldBiz.