"Exceptionally low" inventory slows year-end home sales, contributes to steep price hikes around Greater Seattle region
KIRKLAND, Washington (January 5, 2018) - The year 2017 may be in the books and for many members of Northwest Multiple Listing Service it was a memorable one with December's activity being no exception. Brokers reported historic lows for inventory and year-over-year price gains in most areas.
"I've never seen inventory this low in Kitsap County in 27 years," remarked Northwest MLS director Frank Wilson, branch managing broker at John L. Scott Real Estate in Poulsbo. That county's number of active listings last month plunged nearly 40 percent from year-ago levels.
At month end, there were only 397 active listings in Kitsap County (down from the year-ago total of 659), a level Wilson described as "exceptionally low," even accounting for seasonal factors. "A normal inventory in Kitsap County used to be 1,500 to 1,700, but we have not seen this number of active listings in several years," he lamented (Northwest MLS data show the last time inventory topped 1,500 in that county was in July 2014 when there were 1,503 listings at month end).
For the MLS area overall, inventory shrunk 19 percent, from 10,569 active listings at the end of 2016 to last month's figure of 8,553. That's the smallest selection for any month in the past decade. For the fourth time this year, monthly inventory dipped below the 10,000 mark, a level not reached at any other time during the 10-year comparison.
Despite the paltry supply, last month's sales remained remarkably strong, with closings up slightly (0.88 percent) from a year ago. Northwest MLS members reported 7,642 closed sales, about the same volume as a year ago when completed transactions totaled 7,575.
Year-over-year pending sales of single family homes and condos (combined) fell about 3 percent, from 6,390 to 6,198, but far outgained the number of new listings added to inventory (4,053).
"December, which has historically been a slower month, picked up momentum and never let up," reported George Moorhead, designated broker at Bentley Properties. Unlike October through November, which he described as slower than what had been seen the past three years, "December drew aggressive buyers, some motivated by expectations of a flattening market, with others trying to beat anticipated interest rate hikes." Purchasers were from all buying demographics, noted Moorhead, a member of the Northwest MLS board of directors.
Several MLS leaders commented on the consequences of depleted inventory, including OB Jacobi, president of Windermere Real Estate.
"While pending sales are down double digits in King County, it's not because there are fewer people buying, it's because there is far less to buy," according to Jacobi. "That's why home prices tell the true story of this market and the huge discrepancy between supply and demand. As long as this imbalance remains, prices will continue to see steep increases, just as they did in December and throughout 2017."
Northwest MLS statistics show prices rose 11.4 percent system-wide for the 7,642 completed sales of homes and condos. Thirteen of the 23 counties in the report had double-digit price hikes from a year ago. Two counties reported price drops: Chelan (-11.2 percent) and Douglas (-6.5 percent).
Within the Puget Sound region, King County registered the sharpest escalations at nearly 16 percent. Year-over-year prices jumped from $505,000 to $585,000. For single family homes in King County, the hike was similar (about 15.5 percent), rising from $550,000 to $635,000 at year end.
Condo prices surged 28 percent in King County over the past twelve months, from $315,000 to $402,000. During the same year-over-year period, active listings fell from 346 units to 206 (down more than 40 percent), leaving only about 10 days of supply (0.35 months of inventory).
System-wide, there is a little more than a month's supply (1.12 months) of homes and condos, with the shortages most pronounced in the four-county Puget Sound region. Three of those counties - King, Kitsap and Snohomish - have less than a months supply; Pierce County is somewhat better off with 1.1 months.
"While all year we've been bemoaning lack of inventory and escalating prices, the statistics show 2017 was a banner year in many respects for real estate in the Puget Sound region and throughout the Northwest," stated Mike Grady, president and COO of Coldwell Banker Bain. He cited year-over-year gains in both prices and values, commenting "As a result of this strong market, homeowners are experiencing bountiful gains in property values."
Brokers expect momentum to continue despite uncertainty about interest rates and taxes.
J. Lennox Scott, chairman and CEO of John L. Scott Real Estate believes the Central Puget Sound housing market will remain one of the strongest in the nation. "It will be another happy new year for real estate activity." As the new year unfolds, he expects buyers "will emerge from winter holiday hibernation in big numbers" in part thanks to the Seahawks. "Without the Seahawks in the football playoffs, the 2018 housing market will be more intense earlier in January rather than heating up after the Super Bowl," Scott remarked.
Scott also anticipates a "frenzied, multiple-offer market" in the more affordable and mid-price ranges, as well as "good-to-strong" sales activity in the luxury market close to the job centers. Positive job growth and attractive interest rates will propel activity, he suggests, adding "In the more affordable and mid-price ranges, the impact of the new federal tax policy is minimal."
Wilson also believes the new tax code will not have an immediate impact on home sales in Kitsap County. "The majority of our purchasers are buying for lifestyle reasons such as a new job, transfer of job or duty station, or household size expanding or contracting." He suggests 2018 "will look a lot like 2017" but everything will be amplified due to the extreme shortage of active listings.
Grady concurred. "As we look forward to 2018 we continue to believe this is a great time to buy real estate. We see only positive returns for homeowners and real estate investors this year and likely for several years to come."
Moorhead anticipates aggressive buyer activity through May, but expects some short-term flattening thereafter with single-digit appreciation in the range of 5-to-7 percent. Builders still have memories of 2008, but with moderate activity and price increases likely to be sustained, "they are cautiously optimistic."
Luxury buyers seem to be undeterred by the change in the mortgage interest deduction, Moorhead noted (the bill lowered the cap from $1 million to $750,000 for primary residences). He said they polled their top 30 luxury home buyers regarding the change. The most common responses were "disappointment at losing a great tax planning deduction," Moorhead reported, but added, "Those surveyed said it would not change the style of home or price point for the homes they are looking to purchase."
Northwest Multiple Listing Service, owned by its member real estate firms, is the largest full-service MLS in the Northwest. Its membership of more than 2,200 member offices includes more than 26,000 real estate professionals. The organization, based in Kirkland, Wash., currently serves 23 counties in the state.