Originally published September 6, 2011 at 2:46 PM | Page modified September 7, 2011 at 7:29 PM

Local home sales on pace to top last year's total

More houses are likely to sell in King County this year than in 2010, when federal tax incentives fueled the market, but prices remain flat:

Seattle Times business reporter

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More houses are likely to sell in King County this year than in 2010, when federal tax incentives fueled the market, observers agree.

But sales volumes are far off the frenzied, pre-bust pace of 2006 and 2007. And prices remain flat: The median price of a single-family home sold in King County has barely changed in six months, the Northwest Multiple Listing Service says.

Buyers closed on 35 percent more houses in August than in the same month last year, according to statistics released Tuesday by the listing service.

The big year-over-year increase wasn't a surprise: After federal tax credits that were part of the Obama administration's economic-stimulus package expired around mid-2010, home sales fell into a lull that persisted well into fall.

But, for the first time since February, sales in August pushed the total number of houses sold this year past the total sold year-to-date in 2010.

And sales are likely to continue running ahead of last year's pace for the rest of 2011, if only because last fall's sales were so low, said Glenn Crellin, director of the Washington Center for Real Estate Research at Washington State University.

Tim Ellis, editor of the Seattle Bubble real-estate blog, agreed that more houses probably will change hands in 2011 than 2010.

"When prices get lower, more houses get sold," he said.

"I think a lot of people who've been sitting on the sidelines are starting to get into the market. They're thinking that maybe prices haven't hit bottom yet — but they're good enough."

The median price of a house that sold in King County last month was $350,000, down nearly 8 percent from August 2010.

It was unchanged from July, however. And the median single-family price has remained in a narrow range, between $345,000 and $350,000, every month since March, according to the listing service.

Sales of bank-repossessed homes — and "short sales" for less than the owner owes lenders — have helped keep the median price low, real-estate professionals agree.

Such sales accounted for nearly 29 percent of all August single-family closings in King County, according to an analysis of listing-service data prepared for Washington Property Solutions, a short-sale negotiating firm. That's down slightly from distressed sales this spring.

Ron Sparks, managing vice president at brokerage Coldwell Banker Bain's Bellevue office, said the increase in total sales year-to-date — without any government help — is good news for the market.

Signs of stability

"What we hope we are seeing is stability," he said. "We have to get there before we start to grow again in terms of prices."

Demand in some Eastside neighborhoods, driven in part by job growth, is "white hot," Sparks said. The median house price there slipped less than 3 percent in August compared with August 2010, the smallest decline in King County.

But WSU's Crellin said that, while sales activity has bounced back, prices probably won't for a while. "There are still an awful lot of properties out there in some level of distress," he said.

All parts of King County experienced at least a 30 percent year-over-year increase in closed house sales last month, according to the listing service.

Also, more houses sold in August than July — the first time that's happened since 2006. Lower interest rates may be a reason, Ellis said.

Southwest King County, the lowest-priced area, had the largest year-over-year jump in closings: 65 percent. But the median price there was down 15 percent from August 2010, the county's biggest drop.

The median price of condos sold in King County last month was $193,000, down 23 percent from $250,000 in the same month last year. Condo prices in Southwest and Southeast King County were down more than 50 percent.

But closed sales in those areas were up 188 and 97 percent, respectively. Countywide, 41 percent more condos sold last month than in August 2010.

Snohomish County had a 40 percent year-over-year jump in single-family home sales. The median price, $247,950, was down 7.5 percent from the same month last year.

Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231


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