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Whatcom County home sales stay hot despite high prices

Framer Vladimir Chernomorets works on a home under construction at The Meadows, a development off Thornton Road in Ferndale on Friday, Sept. 9, 2016.
Framer Vladimir Chernomorets works on a home under construction at The Meadows, a development off Thornton Road in Ferndale on Friday, Sept. 9, 2016. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

Despite really low inventory and rising home prices, it was a busy summer for Whatcom County real estate agents.

During the peak home-selling season of May through August, local agents sold 1,519 houses and condominium units, according to data from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service. That’s a 5.3 percent increase compared to the same period in 2015, which was one of the more active years in the past decade for residential sales.

The increase took place even though the local housing inventory was below three months, according to the NWMLS – meaning if no others came on the market, all of the homes for sale would be gone in fewer than 90 days.

“While it was a frustrating time for buyers, many were eventually able to get their home,” said Darin Stenvers, who manages the Bellingham office of John L. Scott Real Estate.

Those who did find a home were in a market where prices were on the rise. In August, the median price for the 398 homes and condos sold was $309,950, a 10.7 percent increase compared to August 2015, according to NWMLS.

$309,950 The median price for homes and condos sold in Whatcom County in August, 2016

While rising prices are a factor, the median price also is influenced by a shift in what types of homes were bought this summer, Stenvers said. There were fewer homes available for the first-time homebuyer and increased demand for homes in the mid-level and upper-level pricing.

The change is different from the state average, according to a study from the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies at the University of Washington. At the end of June, 19.4 percent of all homes on the market were priced under $250,000 in Whatcom County; the state average was 32.4 percent. The percentage of all Whatcom homes for sale for less than $500,000 was 63.6 percent; the state average was 72.6 percent.

Real estate activity traditionally slows down in Whatcom County with the start of school, but Stenvers suspects it could be busy when compared to previous fall seasons. With this being a presidential election year, he expects interest rates to remain in a holding pattern until after a new administration is in place; he then predicts a rise in rates.

If potential buyers are wondering what will happen to interest rates, they may be more motivated to buy now rather than wait until next spring or summer.

Presidential elections are a factor in the market, but buyers and sellers shouldn’t expect big changes, said Peter Orser, acting director at the Runstad Center.

“There is nothing on the horizon that would suggest a radical diminishing of what we’ve seen over the last two years in this region,” Orser said.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz

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