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It’s getting tough for first-time homebuyers in Bellingham

A home for sale in October 2013 in Bellingham’s York district. The median price for a home sold in Bellingham in the third quarter was $369,900. That’s the highest median price for the third quarter in Bellingham since Lylene Johnson began compiling the quarterly report in 2006.
A home for sale in October 2013 in Bellingham’s York district. The median price for a home sold in Bellingham in the third quarter was $369,900. That’s the highest median price for the third quarter in Bellingham since Lylene Johnson began compiling the quarterly report in 2006. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

More and more, Bellingham is becoming less affordable to first-time homebuyers.

The median price for a home sold in Bellingham during the third quarter hit $369,900, while the average price hit $431,517, according to a report put together by Lylene Johnson of The Muljat Group.

The median price for Bellingham is up 13.6 percent compared to a year ago and is the highest third-quarter number since she began doing the quarterly report in 2006.

The big jump in the median price isn’t all from a rise in home values; it appears there is a shift in the market where people are buying fewer starter homes for under $300,000 and more homes at higher price points.

68 Number of homes in Bellingham that sold in the $600,000 to $999,999 price range in the past six months. For the same period in Bellingham, 53 homes sold in the $150,000 to $250,000 price range.

“What’s happening is there are less starter homes available in Bellingham so more people are buying (those homes) outside of Bellingham,” Johnson said. “I think there are people that want to live in Bellingham, but can’t afford it.”

In the last six months, 68 homes in Bellingham sold in the $600,000 to $999,999 range, said Darin Stenvers, manager of the John L. Scott real estate office in Bellingham. In the $150,000 to $250,000 range for the same period, there were 53 homes sold in Bellingham.

Ferndale, which has a much smaller population base, sold 15 more homes in the $150,000 to $250,000 range than Bellingham during those six months. Sudden Valley wasn’t far behind Bellingham, selling 40 homes in that $150,000 to $250,000 price range for the past six months, Stenvers said.

For people who want to buy a home for under $300,000, there’s also a difference in the quality of the home in Bellingham and outside. A Bellingham home that sells for under $300,000 typically needs some work, such as a new roof. Outside the city in Whatcom County a home for under $300,000 is generally in better condition, Stenvers said.

One impact from this is the change in where people buy homes. Johnson noted in her report that between 2006 through 2014, around 47 percent of homes sold in Whatcom County were in Bellingham. Through the first three quarters of 2016, that percentage is down to 37 percent.

Stenvers said he expects this trend to continue for the next year, creating urban sprawl many have sought to prevent. He believes there are builders that want to build more starter homes in Bellingham, but have little incentive to do so because of development costs.

“Overall this is a healthy market in Bellingham, but there are a few pieces that are missing,” Stenvers said, referring to affordable housing as one of the missing pieces.

Across Whatcom County, the median price for homes sold was $316,400 in the third quarter, up 8.7 percent from a year ago. The number of homes sold totaled 923, up 0.7 percent.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz

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