Whatcom million-dollar home sales are booming, but who’s buying and how do they pay?

The Bellingham Herald file

Last year was a busy one for Whatcom County’s million-dollar home market.

Real estate agents sold 58 Whatcom County homes for more than $1 million in 2018, according to a year-end report by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service. That’s an 18 percent increase from 2017.

It’s also a big difference compared to 2010, when Whatcom County had 16 million-dollar home sales. During the housing-bubble days of 2007, Whatcom County had 30 homes that sold for more than $1 million.

For the rest of us, the median price of houses and condominiums sold in Whatcom County has risen 47 percent in the last five years, from $259,900 to $382,000 in 2018.

The rise in high-end home sales appears to confirm a trend Darin Stenvers noticed last year: This area received an influx of buyers who sold their homes in ultra-hot markets like Seattle and decided to commute or telecommute. Stenvers, a branch manager at the Bellingham John L. Scott office, said in an interview with The Bellingham Herald that more people realized they could pay cash for a bigger house with better views in Whatcom County.

Paying cash is usually an indication that a buyer cashed out in another market. According to data Stenvers found, 24 of the 58 high-end Whatcom home sales were paid in cash, without mortgage loans.

Along with the Seattle area, Stenvers said he noticed buyers of Whatcom’s high-end homes came from other parts of the West Coast, including Portland and San Francisco.

He expects this trend to continue in 2019, and Whatcom County has a decent supply of high-priced homes. As of Jan. 28, Stenvers said there were 47 homes in Whatcom County that were priced in the $1 million-and-above range.

The year-end report showed the highest price for a Whatcom home sale in 2018 was $3.5 million. According to the Whatcom County government website, that sale was a small house on a large amount of property near Lynden. The highest priced home sale in Skagit County was $3.15 million, while the highest in King County was $26.75 million.

Also, Whatcom County had 60 condominiums that sold for more than $500,000 last year; up from 15 in 2010. Last year King County had 2,634 condo sales that topped $500,000.

Pine Tree 3D of Bellingham, Wash., makes 3D videos of real estate, so buyers can take a virtual reality tour of homes for sale.

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Dave Gallagher has covered the Whatcom County business community since 1998. Retail, real estate, jobs and port redevelopment are among the topics he covers.