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Originally published June 4, 2012 at 4:19 PM | Page modified June 5, 2012 at 4:45 PM

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House prices stay on rise in King and Snohomish counties

The median price rose for a second straight month, and the year-over-year increase was the biggest since prices peaked in 2007.

Seattle Times business reporter

Median prices, year-over-year

King County up 4.9%

Snohomish County up 7.3%

Seattle up 10.5%

Eastside up 1.2%

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House prices rose in May in King County for the second consecutive month, prompting market-watchers to employ with greater certainty some words you may not have heard in a good long while:

Rebound. Stabilization. A seller's market.

The median price of single-family homes sold last month was $362,000, up 0.6 percent from April and a more impressive 4.9 percent from May 2011, according to statistics released Monday by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.

The year-over-year increase was the biggest since prices peaked in 2007 — and there have been few months since then with any increase at all.

The city of Seattle led the way in May, with the median sale price climbing more than 10 percent from the same month in 2011. West Seattle, Leschi/Mount Baker, Queen Anne/Magnolia and Northeast Seattle all had even bigger increases.

Prices rose on the Eastside as well, with Bellevue showing the biggest gains.

Sales volume also was up: The number of closed house sales in King County in May topped 2,000 for the first time since August 2007 and was up 24 percent from May 2011.

Glenn Crellin, associate director for research at the University of Washington's Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies, said the numbers didn't surprise him. He's been popping into open houses during walks around his neighborhood, Queen Anne.

Compared to three months ago, "the quality hasn't changed, but the prices have," he said. "They've gone up. And the houses are selling faster. ...

"I've been saying for several months that well-positioned neighborhoods are clearly on the rebound."

The bump in the median price can be explained in part by a shift in what's being sold, said real-estate blogger Tim Ellis of Seattlebubble.com.

Bank-repossessed houses, which usually sell for less than other homes, accounted for less than 14 percent of all sales in May, he said, compared with more than 19 percent a year earlier.

One possible explanation: Washington Property Solutions, a short-sale negotiating firm, said recently that some lenders appear to be seeking alternatives to foreclosure, in some cases offering underwater homeowners cash incentives to instead do short sales for less than they owe on their mortgages.

But the decline in sales of bank-owned homes isn't the only reason the median price is starting to rise, Ellis said: The local economy also seems to be helping.

"Companies are hiring here," he said. "The rest of the country seems to be hurting a lot more than we are."

Then there's the paucity of inventory. About 37 percent fewer houses were listed for sale in King County last month than in May 2011, according to the listing service.

"The six-month trend of low listing inventory continues to cause strong buyer competition for homes close to job centers," Joe Spencer, area director for Keller Williams' Northwest region, said in a statement.

That, coupled with low interest rates, is helping prices stabilize or appreciate, he said.

But the number of active listings in King County in May actually was up a little from April, the first month-over-month increase this year. The buzz about rising prices may have finally persuaded some previously reluctant homeowners to put their houses up for sale, Ellis said.

"Potential sellers are starting to see this spring is turning out to be a seller's market," he said.

More evidence of the apparent shift in attitudes: Online brokerage Redfin said Monday that 29 percent of its Seattle-area customers who responded to a survey in May said now is a good time to sell, compared with 15 percent in February.

The trends King County exhibited in May were even more evident in Snohomish County. The median house price in May — $259,933 — was up more than 7 percent from May 2011.

Closed sales were up nearly 25 percent, while inventory was down a whopping 61 percent.

Condo sales in King County also were up about 25 percent. The median sale price — $210,000 — was down more than 2 percent from the same month in 2011.

But May was the first month this year that the drop wasn't in double digits. Condo prices were up more than 7 percent in Seattle, nearly 12 percent downtown.

Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231

or epryne@seattletimes.com

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