The small number of homes for sale is continuing to frustrate buyers in Whatcom County.
Home sales in Bellingham during the second quarter were down 10 percent compared to last year, while the decrease across Whatcom County was 8.4 percent, according to a report released last week by Troy Muljat of Muljat Commercial Group. The report was based on data from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.
With plenty of interested buyers and low inventory, prices continue to rise. The median price for homes sold in Bellingham last quarter rose 6.2 percent to $394,805. In Whatcom County, the increase was 9.5 percent to $344,903.
For the first time since Muljat’s firm has kept statistics, the percent of the original list price in Bellingham topped 100, meaning homes on average are selling above what sellers are asking for.
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Lynden was one of the few exceptions locally – sales were up 22.5 percent year-over-year in the second quarter, and the median price also jumped 8.9 percent to $353,541.
Another milestone potential buyers won’t be pleased to see: The average square-foot price for a Whatcom County home topped $200 for the first time, Muljat said. He expects the median price on homes sold in Bellingham to top $400,000 in the second half of the year, something that also has never happened before.
There are many factors this is happening, but it basically comes down to not enough homes being built to keep up with current demand, Muljat said. In Bellingham, building permits were issued for 113 homes in the first half of 2017, just barely higher than the 108 permits issued in the first half of 2016. In the first half of 2007, the city issued permits to build 144 homes.
One difference between 2007 and today is the land-to-lot developer has largely disappeared, Muljat said. Ten years ago more people could get loans from banks, buy undeveloped land, create home lots and sell them. That kind of land speculation got out of hand and played a factor in the 2008 financial crisis, he said, hurting small community financial institutions like Horizon Bank and Frontier Bank. With fewer individuals owning undeveloped land, the current lack of speculation has meant not enough houses are being built, Muljat said.
Low housing inventory in Whatcom County has been in place for more than two years, according to a recent report from Coldwell Banker Bain. A balanced market typically has six months of inventory, which last happened locally in early 2015. Since early 2016, inventory supply has been hovering between two and three months.