Despite reports that home sales in major cities around the country are cooling, the Seattle-area real-estate market remained unusually robust...

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Despite reports that home sales in major cities around the country are cooling, the Seattle-area real-estate market remained unusually robust heading into autumn.

For the third straight month, there were more sales but fewer homes to choose from in King and Snohomish counties, compared with the same period a year ago, according to September sales numbers released yesterday by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.

That’s a sure sign of a continued strong market, said Alan Pope, a Redmond real-estate appraiser.

Double-digit price increases — a prime sign of market strength — also reinforced that finding, as did the average number of days it took to sell a property.

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Homes sold last month in King County were on the market an average 37 days, compared with 52 days for homes sold the previous September. Properties in neighboring counties also were snapped up faster than a year ago.

If home sales in prime suburbs around Boston and Washington, D.C., are beginning to falter, as they are in numerous California cities, why is the Seattle area’s market continuing to stay strong?

One reason, Pope said, may simply be the way the numbers are analyzed.

September sales activity was down 14 percent compared with August’s in King and Snohomish counties, Pope said. But it’s important to know home sales are highly seasonal and always drop once school starts and the holidays follow.

“You can document it,” he said.

Pope considers the true gauge of market strength to be the “absorption rate.” That’s the number of sales that occur in any given month divided by the number of properties for sale at the end of that month.

A 15 to 25 percent absorption rate denotes an average market; anything less, a poor market

Last month’s absorption rate was 48 percent in King and Snohomish counties — higher than any month in 2004 but lower than some months earlier this year, Pope said.

Fueling this high rate is a significant shortage of properties for sale — and no shortage of people hoping to buy before the expected mortgage interest-rate increase.

Rates have begun inching up but remain just below 6 percent for a 30-year fixed-rate loan, according to the Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market Survey released yesterday.

“We’re not seeing the frenzy of a few months ago, but the buyers who are serious are still out there buying,” said John L. Scott Real Estate broker D’Ann Jackson. “We’re still seeing multiple offers.”

The 15,174 single-family homes and condominiums for sale last month in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties represent a 12 percent decline from a year earlier.

In King County, the number of homes for sale fell 19 percent from September 2004. At the same time, buyers made 3,767 successful offers, 5 percent more than the previous September.

Particularly in short supply were King County condominiums, the Multiple Listing Service reported.

Last month, there were 1,347, compared with 2,121 a year earlier. The county’s median condo price last month was $229,950, up from $205,000 a year earlier. Median means half sell above that price, half below.

Elizabeth Rhodes: erhodes@seattletimes.com