Whatcom County home values up 5 percent in first quarter of 2015

Whatcom County home values rose significantly in the first quarter, an indication that homes remain in high demand.

Home values in Whatcom County appreciated 5 percent in the first quarter of 2015 compared to a year earlier, according to a new report from the Federal Housing Finance Agency. It’s the highest first quarter year-over-year increase since 2007.

Whatcom County posted similar year-over-year appreciation in the third and fourth quarters of 2014.

The value of a Whatcom County home is also up 5.2 percent compared to the first quarter of 2010.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency uses home purchases and refinance data from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to come up with its all-transactions home price index for metro areas. Across the U.S., the home price rose 1.3 percent compared to a year ago.

The federal report is consistent with what’s been seen in local data, said Julia Hansen, an economics professor at Western Washington University. She noted that April home sales were up nearly 50 percent compared to a year earlier and that inventory was down to 3.6 months.

She said one factor contributing to increased demand for housing in Whatcom County is that over the last couple of years, prices here have become more competitive relative to the Seattle area.

Basic supply and demand also is playing a role, particularly in Bellingham, said Gragg Miller, managing broker at the Coldwell Banker Bain Bellingham office. He added that May is usually the month with the most new listings, so that total could provide some insight as to what kind of summer inventory will be available.

Home values appreciated 7.6 percent across Washington state, according to the report, which used purchase-only data for the state index. That increased ranked fourth highest in the U.S., behind Colorado, Nevada and Florida.

Florida dominated the list of top 20 metro areas with the highest home price appreciation, with Naples, Fla., topping the list at 20.1 percent. Tuscaloosa, Ala., was the only major metro area that posted a decrease in home values, dropping 0.1 percent.

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A look at how much home values have changed in the first quarter of 2015 compared to a year earlier in Washington's major metro areas:

Community  1-year difference  5-year difference
Bellingham  +5 percent  +5.2 percent
Bremerton  +7.1 percent  -1.8 percent
Mount Vernon  +10.4 percent  -0.4 percent
Olympia  +5 percent  -6.4 percent
Seattle  +8.1 percent  +13.6 percent
Spokane  +5.4 percent  -3.1 percent
Tacoma  +8 percent  -2 percent
Yakima  +3.7 percent  +1.8 percent