Another big jump for Whatcom County home prices, but it may not last much longer

The Bellingham Herald file

Whatcom County home sale prices kept rising at a double-digit pace this summer, but there are signs that it won’t be a strong seller’s market much longer.

The median price for a Whatcom County home sold during the third quarter was $391,475, an 11.9 percent increase compared to a year ago. That’s according to a report put together by Troy Muljat, which is based on data from the Northwest Washington Multiple Listing Service.

The median price for homes sold in Bellingham hit $467,000, up 15. 5 percent compared to a year ago.

At the same time, the number of homes sold has slowed down. Sales in Whatcom County this summer were down 2.4 percent compared to a year ago, according to the report. With interest rates steadily rising, inventory is creeping up and multiple offers are becoming less frequent, said Darin Stenvers, branch manager at the Bellingham John L. Scott office.

“This is not the seller’s market that we saw this spring,” said Stenvers in a phone interview with The Bellingham Herald. He noted that spring saw very strong sales and multiple offers.

What’s happening with interest rates could be a key factor in returning Whatcom to a more balanced market, Muljat said in an interview Friday with The Herald. Currently in the 4.7 percent range, the 30-year fixed interest rate could be at 5 percent by the end of the year, he said. That would slow down rising prices as buyers have less buying power.

Stenvers expects to see a period where “price reduced” is more commonly seen on home-for-sale signs. When putting a home on the market, sellers typically look at six months of sales on similar homes to determine a price. He said that’s not where the market is now and expects aggressive sellers will be forced to drop prices.

Inventory is also starting to change, particularly for homes under $400,000. At one point this summer in Bellingham there were actually more homes on the market priced at over $1 million in Bellingham than under $400,000, according to Muljat. A Friday check showed Bellingham had 44 homes on the market for under $400,000 and 27 that topped $1 million.

According to listing service data, Whatcom County had 2.3 months of inventory at the end of September. Stenvers believes that inventory will rise to 3 or 4 months by this spring, but it won’t rise much higher because rental rates are still high, keeping home-buying demand strong.

Economist Will Doerner with the Federal Housing Finance Agency discusses highlights from the house price index report for the second quarter 2018.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz
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