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Originally published December 6, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 6, 2005 at 7:43 AM

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No cooling in November for King County housing prices

Much like the movie "Groundhog Day," the latest news on local home sales may sound like a rerun of the previous months — no slowdown...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Much like the movie "Groundhog Day," the latest news on local home sales may sound like a rerun of the previous months — no slowdown in the market despite fierce competition, rising prices and higher interest rates.

But the number of properties that buyers can choose from is down substantially from last year. These are not the conditions that foretell the bursting of a real-estate bubble.

The number of detached homes available in King County last month was down almost 8 percent compared with November 2004, according to data released Monday by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service. The Kirkland group tracks home sales in more than a dozen counties in Washington state.

Condominium buyers, who make up about a quarter of King County's housing market, felt the biggest pinch as pickings were around 70 percent of year-ago levels.

This particularly affects first-time buyers, for whom condos are the largest source of affordable housing. The median price of a King County condo was $219,990 last month (up 8.9 percent from last year), compared with $389,000 for a detached house (up 15.8 percent). That made the median house 77 percent more costly than the median-priced condo.

Median means half sell for more and half sell for less.

"The buyers are definitely still there — the inventory is not," said Kari Gran, a Windermere agent who specializes in Seattle condos. "A lot of my buyers are feeling very pinched right now. It's frustrating, for sure."

Gran said buyers who had hoped condo shopping would be quick seemed resigned to waiting longer to find what they want.

"Sometimes people will decide on a certain building, and they'll wait," she said. "Or they'll get tied into a specific layout or area."

In King County, the dearth of available houses and condos was felt most on the Eastside, where the number of properties available was down almost 20 percent compared with a year ago. In-city Seattle neighborhoods, by contrast, reported about the same number of "for sale" signs as last year.

Meanwhile, prices continue to rise in King County, most spectacularly on the Eastside, where the median price of a home — houses and condos combined — climbed more than 18 percent to about $50,000 shy of half a million dollars. Bellevue and Issaquah saw median prices very near the $500,000 mark.

"It's pretty extreme, to be honest," said Brandon Na, an agent in Keller Williams' Bellevue office.


Prices are being driven up because "building and other sources of inventory are just not keeping pace," Na said.

"People bid things up," he said.

Some of his clients aren't put off by the higher prices.

"We see a lot of relocation, so for some people, especially those from San Francisco, this is very affordable," Na said. "It's even affordable for people from Los Angeles."

To the extent there are any bargains in King County, they're most likely to be found in its southwest region, particularly in central Federal Way and Twin Lakes. The median price there for condos and houses combined was $262,000 last month, up 11 percent from a year earlier.

Pierce and Kitsap counties were more affordable. The median price in each was about $250,000 last month, and the number of houses and condos for sales was up at least 11 percent over last November.

The story was different in Snohomish County, where buyers have flocked to buy more affordable homes. Inventory was down 11 percent compared with a year earlier. The median price of a single-family home there was $300,000, up nearly 23 percent.

After being below 6 percent for most of 2005, mortgage rates are hovering around 6.3 percent.

Elizabeth Rhodes:

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