Bellingham home prices jump in the first quarter, but unusual factors were in play

The Bellingham Herald file

The February freeze threw a monkey wrench into the latest real estate numbers, but the story remains the same: Low inventory continues to push up home prices in Whatcom County.

Whatcom County home sales dropped 9.9% in the first quarter compared to a year ago while the median price of homes sold rose 5% to $383,400, according to a new report from Troy Muljat of Muljat Group Realtors.

Much of the median price increase came from the Bellingham market, which jumped 14.1% to $485,000. Fewer homes sold and an increase in purchases at higher price points were big factors in such a dramatic shift, Muljat said in an interview.

The snow and ice throughout most of February kept buyers away, resulting in a huge drop in sales that month, he said. Of the homes that did sell, they tended to not be in the first-time homebuyer market.

“The higher-end market continues to do well here,” Muljat said.

When the snow and ice disappeared in western Whatcom County in March, a more typical local real estate market emerged, according to Muljat. Prices were up, but not significantly, while inventory remained stubbornly low. Bellingham’s inventory remained particularly low at the end of March, somewhere in the 1-2 month supply level. It’s even lower for homes in the under-$400,000 price range, he said.

April tends to be the busiest month in terms of new listings, so while there could be an uptick in buyer choices, Muljat believes it will still be a seller’s market in Bellingham. It’s possible prices will start to plateau in the county, he said.

The recent drop in mortgage rates has added a bit of juice to the real estate market, Muljat said, both for buyers and those looking to refinance.

Median prices for homes sold were more erratic outside of Bellingham. Prices were up 6.8% in Ferndale and 5.5% in Lynden, but down 9.4% in Blaine/Birch Bay. Prices were basically flat in Sudden Valley, according to the report.

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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.