Eastside business owners expect the economy and their companies to grow this year, and they plan to spend more and hire more employees. About 79 percent of business...

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Eastside business owners expect the economy and their companies to grow this year, and they plan to spend more and hire more employees.

About 79 percent of business leaders think the local economy will pick up about 7 percentage points from last year.

At First Mutual Bank’s 11th annual economic-forecast forum last week, more than 240 Eastside business owners and employees were surveyed about the economy and their business expectations for 2005.

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More than half of Eastside business owners in the survey said they will increase their staff size 1 to 3 percent.

The majority of executives expect to raise prices 6 percent, with 12 percent saying they plan to raise prices more than 6 percent.

Many say they expect inflation to become a larger issue this year but don’t expect it to get out of control. Their biggest concerns about the country included the budget deficit, the devalued dollar and the war in Iraq.

Sizzling sales

Real-estate agents are combing Eastside neighborhoods, sending out fliers and contacting former customers to find new listings in a strong sellers’ market in which demand for homes continues to outstrip supply.

“This is not a good marketplace for buyers and real-estate agents,” said Ken Bacon, managing broker of Windermere’s Redmond office. “It’s a struggle, and you have to move very quickly or you’ll lose a home.”

When buyers do find a house, they often offer more than the list price. Many sellers can expect multiple offers.

“Multiple offers have become the norm,” said Mindy Smart, managing broker of John L. Scott’s Issaquah office. “Everything from a condo under $100,000 to a $700,000 house are receiving multiple offers.”

But some buyers are pulling out of deals if there is fierce competition for a home because they assume interest rates will remain low, Bacon said. For the past two years, interest rates on 30-year fixed mortgages have bobbed around 6 percent, according to the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp.

Homes last month sold almost two weeks faster than they did in January 2004, with the average time it took to sell dropping 13 days to 62.

Street of Dreams

Sammamish, the only Eastside city with a building moratorium, will host the 2006 Seattle Street of Dreams luxury-home tour. A few multimillion-dollar homes will be built on 30 acres at Allen Lake, just outside the city’s boundaries.

This year’s show features a tour of seven homes priced from $1.5 million to $2.7 million in Woodinville, cooking demonstrations, wine tastings and a classic-car show. The tour starts July 9 and runs until Aug. 14.

Giving back

Starting this month, Talking Rain will donate 25 cents to United Way for every case of ICE Botanicals and Sparkling ICE Spring Water that is sold at Costco stores.

The Preston bottled-water company expects the promotion, which ends in April, to raise $100,000. In the past six years, the promotion has brought more than $250,000 to United Way offices across the U.S. and Canada.

Eastside Business Notes appears Wednesdays in the Eastside edition

of The Seattle Times.

Kristina Shevory: 206-464-2039 or kshevory@seattletimes.com