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Seattle real estate buyers finding Bigger Selection, less competition in Seattle area

Homebuyers may see some relief in the frenzied housing market if the latest figures from Northwest Multiple Listing Service are sustained. But brokers say there is little chance of a bursting housing bubble in Western Washington.

Inventory at the end of October was at the highest level of 2005 and the 6.85 percent increase in pending sales marked the first single-digit gain all year. Prices for last month’s closed sales still rose 20 percent or more in most NWMLS areas compared to a year ago.

With more properties for sale, buyers have more choices and sellers have more competition – and “sellers are realizing there is a limit to what buyers will pay,” according to NWMLS director Dick Beeson, the manager at Windermere Real Estate/Paragon Co. in Tacoma. He describes the market as “still percolating along” and anticipates continued strength through the holidays. Beeson also reports instances of immediate sales or multiple offers for some “premo” properties.

Brokers added 10,853 listings to inventory during October across a 15-county market area to outpace the year-ago total of 9,375 new listings. With the addition of Okanogan and Whatcom counties (which were added to NWMLS reports in August), last month’s volume of new listings rose to 11,405.

At month end, buyers had a choice of 22,925 properties in 15 counties, about three percent less than a year ago. Around the four-county Puget Sound region, inventory still lagged year-ago volumes in King County (down 16.3 percent) and Snohomish County (down 7.4 percent), while Pierce and Kitsap counties registered gains. Compared to this time last year, the total number of active listings was 7.9 percent larger in Pierce County and 10.2 percent larger in Kitsap County.

Pending sales showed similarly mixed results. Area-wide there were 8,975 pending sales across 15 counties, which compares to 8,400 for the same period a year ago for a 6.85 percent increase. Eight of the 15 counties reported gains. (Comparisons for Okanogan and Whatcom counties are not available.)

Northwest MLS members reported 8,714 closed sales for October, a 10.5 percent increase from year-ago totals. Area-wide, the median sales price on those properties, which includes single family homes and condominiums, was $289,950, a jump of 20.3 percent from twelve months ago when the median price was $241,000.

On a percentage basis, King County experienced one of the lowest price hikes among the 15 counties in the MLS service area. The median price for last month’s completed sales of single family homes and condominiums was $355,000, an increase of $60,000 (20.3 percent) from a year ago. For single family homes only (excluding condominiums), the median selling price was $390,000. That compares to a year-ago median price of $325,000. Condominiums, which accounted for about one-fourth of King County’s residential sales last month, had a median sales price of $215,000; a year ago it was $195,000.

With mortgage rates edging up and holidays approaching, brokers expect activity to taper somewhat, while reminding both buyers and sellers that now can be a very good time to be selling a home or shopping for one.

Freddie Mac’s most recent survey (for the week ending Nov. 3) pegs the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage at 6.31 percent, which compares to a year-ago average of 5.7 percent.

For sellers, there are likely to be fewer new listings added to inventory during November and December. Therefore, each home has an excellent chance of getting much more exposure that it might during the spring and summer months when the market is much busier, explained J. Lennox Scott, chairman and CEO of John L. Scott Real Estate. He also noted holidays can be a great time to showcase a home with festive lighting and other seasonal d├ęcor.

A more relaxed pace may mean agents and affiliated service providers such as lenders, home inspectors and appraisers are able to spend more time with clients. For buyers, year-end transactions can also yield tax savings and incentives from builders or motivated sellers. “It’s a myth that the holiday months are an unproductive time to sell a home,” Scott remarked, adding buyers can also benefit from year-end and seasonal factors.

Northwest Multiple Listing Service, based in Kirkland and owned by its member brokers, serves 17 counties, mostly in Western Washington, plus Grant, Kittitas and Okanogan counties in the central part of the state. It encompasses more than 2,000 companies with approximately 25,000 sales associates.

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