October was an eventful month for both Whatcom County home buyers and sellers, with sales and prices rising significantly.
Local real estate agents sold 242 single family homes and condominiums last month, a 36.7 percent jump compared to a year earlier and up 12 percent from September, according to data from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.
The median price for Whatcom homes and condos sold in October was $257,625, up 9.6 percent compared to a year earlier and the highest monthly median price locally since August 2009.
A factor in the jump in sales may have been from the uncertainty of interest rates after the November national elections, said Darin Stenvers, branch manager at Bellingham's John L Scott. He said the prevailing theory among many buyers was that the low interest rates will begin to climb after the election.
"There was more urgency for people that were on the fence (on buying a home)," Stenvers said.
As for rising prices, low inventory was likely a big factor, according to Stenvers. Not only is regular inventory very low, but very little distressed property is going on the market. The drop in distressed property impacts inventory and means discount prices are less involved in the median price.
"If banks are still foreclosing on homes, we're not seeing them," Stenvers said. "My feeling is that banks are working harder with the consumer to renegotiate loans."
Higher sales and prices were trends across much of the 21 Washington counties the NWMLS serves. In October sales were up 25.9 percent compared to a year ago, while the median sales prices was $251,625, up 10.4 percent compared to October 2011.
In Skagit County, home and condo sales jumped 64.4 percent, while the median price rose 13.2 percent to $212,450.
Stenvers expects the coming months to be busier than other recent winters; along with more buyers, more new homes are expected to be on the market by January as several residential construction projects are completed.
"I think Whatcom's real estate market will continue to rebound," Stenvers said. "Inventory will still be an issue, so a seller is not going to be hurt putting a house on the market before spring."
AFFORDABILITY INDEX UP IN WHATCOM COUNTY
Even as home prices are rising in Whatcom County, the affordability index is still in good shape, according to a new study.
Whatcom County's affordability index was 149.8 in the third quarter of 2012, according to the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies at the University of Washington. That's up from 142.7 in the second quarter.
The affordability index measures the ability of a typical family to make payments on a median-priced home. With Whatcom's latest index number, a family earning the median income has 49.8 percent more income than the bare minimum required to qualify to purchase a median-priced home with a 20 percent down payment and a 30-year mortgage.
Across the state, the affordability index was 168.7 last quarter, according to the study.
Reach DAVE GALLAGHER at email@example.com or call 715-2269. Visit his business blog online at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/business or get updates on Twitter at twitter.com/BhamHeraldBiz.