Hot housing market leads to 10.3 percent price increase in 2016

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With mortgage interest rates expected to rise in 2017, it could be a challenge for Whatcom County real estate agents to top last year’s home sale totals.

Agents had a banner year in 2016, selling 3,145 homes in Whatcom County, a 5.1 percent increase compared to the previous year, according to Lylene Johnson of The Muljat Group. Her report is based on data from the Northwest Washington Multiple Listing Service, which focuses on transactions done by agents.

The median price for those homes sold was $315,000, a 10.3 percent increase compared to 2015. The previous median price high for homes sold, according to Johnson’s data, was $290,000 in 2007.

The year-end numbers continue to show how challenging it is for first-time homebuyers looking for property in Bellingham, Johnson said. The median home price in Bellingham was $364,250 last year, up 12.1 percent compared to 2015. The number of homes sold in the city was down 1.3 percent compared to the previous year.

That led to a declining market share for Bellingham. In 2016, Bellingham’s share of all home sales was at 36 percent, down from 45 percent four years earlier.

Lynden’s share also declined from 11 percent in 2012 to 8 percent in 2016. Nearly all of the other Whatcom communities either increased their market share or remained steady, according to the report.

Home sales varied widely in other Whatcom communities. Sales rose 19.4 percent in Blaine/Birch Bay and 12 percent in Sudden Valley. Home sales in Lynden were down 9.8 percent while Ferndale was up 5.9 percent. While Ferndale and Lynden are similar in terms of population, Ferndale had 517 home sales compared to Lynden’s 259.

“The changes in the Whatcom County market haven’t been equal in all areas, which may give us a glimpse of how the county will change over time,” Johnson said.

With 30-year fixed loans at around 4 percent, another rise could start impacting sales, said Darin Stenvers, manager of the Bellingham John L. Scott office. Even with low inventory, it could be a better market for buyers now than in six months if interest rates rise, he said.

If sales do slow down a bit in 2017, it could ease the pressure on inventory. In the final months of 2016, the inventory was around two months, meaning all available homes would be gone at around 60 days if no new homes came on the market.

Unless that inventory starts to increase, expect prices to continue rising in 2017, Stenvers said.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz