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Whatcom County home sales rise, along with prices

Whatcom County home sales continue to rise, but there’s concern that first-time homebuyers are being priced out of the market, particularly in Bellingham.

For the second quarter of 2015, a total of 846 homes were sold in Whatcom County, up 28.4 percent compared to a year earlier, according to a real estate report from Lylene Johnson of The Muljat Group. The report is based on data from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service, something she’s been tracking since 2006.

The median price for those homes sold was $290,000 for the second quarter, up 7.4 percent compared to the first half of 2014.

The prices in Bellingham have reached even higher levels. For the second quarter the median price was $324,000, up 8 percent compared to a year ago. The average price hit $389,867, up 6.1 percent in the past year.

Bellingham accounted for only 37 percent of the county’s residential sales in the first six months of 2015, the lowest share that Johnson has seen since she first started tracking the data nine years ago.

“We have extremely low inventory in Bellingham — down 36 percent from the end of June 2014,” Johnson said. “It’s clear that more homebuyers are going to Ferndale, Lynden and the Birch Bay/Blaine markets.”

Less new home construction in Bellingham is a major factor, giving sellers a fair amount of leverage in recent months, said Darin Stenvers, branch manager at the Bellingham John L. Scott office. He believes this is a short-term problem, as buyers are becoming more cautious as sellers demand too much. Stenvers said he’s come across situations where sellers have refused to make repairs for problems found during house inspections, resulting in the buyer withdrawing the offer.

“In the last few weeks I’ve seen more buyers realize that they don’t have to move as quickly and are not making rash decisions,” Stenvers said. “I think a small market correction is taking place.”

Construction permits in Bellingham for single-family homes started off slow at the beginning of 2015 but picked up momentum in June, according to city data. Last month permits were issued for 21 new homes, the highest monthly total since April 2013.

The majority of homes — 54 — sold in Bellingham in June were in the $300,000 to $500,000 range. In the under $300,000 price range, which is a typical range for first-time homebuyers, 41 homes sold in Bellingham last month.

More homes are coming on the market in the $300,000 to $500,000 price range in Bellingham as well: At the beginning of July, 103 homes were listed for sale in that range, compared to 70 listed for sale for under $300,000.

“What we are seeing is something similar to 2006 and 2007, when people were getting priced out of the Bellingham market,” said Johnson, adding that some buyers are willing to accept a longer commute into Bellingham to get more house for their money.

While prices are getting back to the bubble period of 2007, Johnson doesn’t think a bubble is happening yet. One big difference is the lending practices, which are much tighter now than in 2007. Stenvers agreed, adding that construction of new homes is at a much slower pace than in 2007, so any bubble isn’t being fed with more supply.

Reach Dave Gallagher at 360-715-2269 or dave.gallagher@bellinghamherald.com.

HOME SALES BY COMMUNITY

A look at the home sales, median price, average price and average days on the market for the second quarter of 2015, with percentage change from a year earlier.

Community

Home sales

Median price

Average price

Average days on market

Whatcom County

846, +28.4 percent

$290,000, +7.4 percent

$327,411, + 6 percent

85, -21.3 percent

Bellingham

317, +8.9 percent

$324,000, +8 percent

$389,867, +6.1 percent

59, -24.4 percent

Birch Bay/Blaine

100, +26.6 percent

$243,750, +11.8 percent

$294,963, +24.8 percent

128, +11.3 percent

Ferndale

137, +30.5 percent

$287,400, +4.5 percent

$298,108, -0.6 percent

68, -38.2 percent

Lynden

86, +53.6 percent

$292,450, +5.4 percent

$317,757, +10.8 percent

66, -50 percent

Mount Baker

68, +74.4 percent

$165,750, +11.2 percent

$224,353, +45.8 percent

189, -11.3 percent

Nooksack Valley

29, +11.5 percent

$245,000, +14 percent

$246,925, +8.9 percent

62, -47.5 percent

Sudden Valley

54, +12.5 percent

$247,250, +0.9 percent

$254,982, +3.1 percent

90, -26.2 percent

Source: The Muljat Group

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