Third-quarter Whatcom home sales highest in 10 years

It was a busy summer for real estate agents, with more homes sold in this year’s third quarter than during any third quarter in the past 10 years.
It was a busy summer for real estate agents, with more homes sold in this year’s third quarter than during any third quarter in the past 10 years. The Bellingham Herald

Summer home sales in Whatcom County were the strongest in a decade, according to a new report.

Local real estate agents sold 917 homes in the third quarter, the highest third-quarter total in the past 10 years, according to the latest report from Lylene Johnson of The Muljat Group.

That was nearly double the total from 2010, when 460 homes were sold in the third quarter. Johnson’s report is based on data from the Northwest Washington Multiple Listing Service.

Much of the sales growth took place outside of Bellingham, with Ferndale, Lynden, the Mount Baker area and Nooksack all hitting 10-year highs for homes sold in the third quarter.

Bellingham continues to have low inventory, which is affecting prices. The median price for a home sold in Bellingham in the third quarter was $325,500, up 4.1 percent compared to a year ago. The overall Whatcom County median price in the third quarter was $291,000, up 4.9 percent.

In a community that sold 362 homes in the third quarter, at the end of September Bellingham had only 322 homes listed for sale, down from 503 during the same week in 2013. The result has been multiple offers, escalation clauses, and sales above the list price in Bellingham, Johnson said.

While she is concerned about the inventory levels, she pointed out that this summer’s turnover rate was quicker than usual, so it could just be a case of an active market at work. As winter arrives, sales traditionally slow significantly, possibly allowing inventory to rebuild in the coming months.

Ferndale continues to see strong year-over-year sales growth. Last quarter, 143 homes sold in the community, 30 more than the third quarter of 2014. That’s quite a leap from 2010, when 55 homes sold.

Johnson said Ferndale has had more new homes come on the market in recent years selling at prices that are less expensive than in nearby Bellingham. That might not last long, however; the median price for homes sold in Ferndale last quarter was $294,000, up 14.2 percent from a year earlier.

The brisk sales this summer might have leave people wondering if the real estate bubble that burst around 2007 has returned. Johnson doesn’t think so, noting that the lending climate is much different this time around.

“You don’t see lenders trying to do what they did (in the last real estate bubble),” she said, noting that rules in place now are making it difficult for someone who isn’t qualified to obtain a loan.

Sales might slow down as new federal regulations kick in on Saturday, Oct. 3, said Darin Stenvers, branch manager at Bellingham’s John L. Scott office. The rules are meant to help consumers better understand terms of their mortgages, but he expects closing times will take longer.

“It’ll slow things down until people figure this out, pushing sales closures past 45 days,” he said.

Looking back, Stenvers said it was a phenomenal summer for both buyers and sellers. The one thing that surprised him was that the listing prices for many expensive homes held through closing. The upper price range is usually where prices are more negotiable, so selling those homes around the list price suggests the market was strong even at the upper end, he said.

Johnson expects the local real estate market to start winding down but remain more active than recent fall and winter seasons, making it possible that year-end totals will be comparable to the peak years of 2004 and 2005.

Reach Dave Gallagher at 360-715-2269 or dave.gallagher@bellinghamherald.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BhamHeraldBiz and on Facebook at BellinghamHeraldBusiness.