King County’s median single-family home is now $560,000, the most ever and up 55 percent compared to four years prior.

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The row of campers first started settling in Friday night in Belltown. By early Saturday morning, a line of about 130 people stretched around the block.

They weren’t waiting for the latest iPhone or the opening of some hot new restaurant; they came with $5,000 checks to reserve new condos that start at more than $300,000 and aren’t opening until 2019.

The frenzy over a high-rise residential building that hasn’t even broken ground yet is the latest sign of a Seattle housing market that continues to get even more brutal for homebuyers.

Going up

Median single-family home-price increases over the past year:


Sodo/Beacon Hill


King County


Seattle area

New home-sale numbers released Monday show that for the fourth straight month, King County has set a record for prices, with the median single-family house hitting $560,000 in May. That’s up 16.4 percent in the past year, and is now up 55 percent in the last four years, according to Northwest Multiple Listing Service (MLS) data.

More on Seattle’s housing market

The Seattle area trails only Portland on the list of markets with the fastest-rising home prices, and home costs here are now soaring twice as fast as the national average. In just the city of Seattle, the typical house now costs $641,250, up 14.5 percent since a year ago, but actually down a few thousand dollars from the high-point three months prior.

The lack of available houses for sale, long one of the biggest drivers of rising home costs, continues to worsen despite the fact people typically put more homes on the market this time of year. It’s a tough cycle the region hasn’t been able to break out of: Families don’t want to sell their old house because they don’t have a good shot at finding a new home.

“We don’t see much of a change coming, looking at a crystal ball,” Jon Hunter, a vice president for John L. Scott Real Estate, said in an interview.

King County inventory is down 20 percent for all home types since this time last year, when things were already historically bad. There are so few homes for sale in Seattle that the MLS projects the existing inventory should sell out entirely in just three weeks. A healthy inventory level would take four to six months to sell.

That may help explain why people are now camping out overnight for new condos, as they did over the weekend at a sales event for the new Nexus building.

Buyers snatched up reservations for nearly two-thirds of the 374-unit Nexus high-rise set to start sprouting up later this year on Howell Street in Seattle’s Denny Triangle, said Dean Jones, whose Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty handled the sales. About 500 people toured the sales center for condos that run from studios costing a little over $300,000 to lofts over $3 million.

Jones said buyers reported they wanted to avoid dealing with things like bidding wars and further price escalation, even if it means waiting three years to move in (and, of course, some are likely just hedging their bets and will request their deposit back if they find another place before the deal locks in this fall).

Chad Zinda, founder of the Seattle-based Metropolist brokerage, waited in line for four hours to reserve his spot in the building as he prepares for an empty nest next year. He was frustrated at the lack of condos available in the city and felt “a sense of urgency” despite the long wait until the tower’s opening.

“I know if I buy in a year or two or three years, the prices are going to be higher,” Zinda said. “No one got a deal, but part of the bargain is you’re locked in.”

The rest of the region is seeing booming prices, as well. Snohomish County’s median single-family house in May was $389,950, up 11.4 percent from a year ago. It’s now $275,000 in Pierce County, up 7.9 percent in the past year, and $289,250 in Kitsap County, up 8.4 percent.

All three counties are right around their pre-recession peak from 2007: Snohomish is slightly above the old record; Pierce and Kitsap are slightly below it.

In a discouraging sign for buyers, all three counties saw overall inventory drop significantly. However, they each saw a decent rise in home sales, unlike King County, where sales were down 6.5 percent compared with a year ago.

The fastest-climbing prices among King County submarkets were truly astounding: Single-family house prices rose 41 percent in a year in the Sodo/Beacon Hill area, while the condo-only market of downtown/Belltown region soared 42 percent. No neighborhood saw a rise of less than 7 percent.

The priciest region is Bellevue west of Interstate 405, which saw the median home sale surpass $2 million in May. Overall prices on the Eastside are up by six figures in the last year, from $655,000 to $760,000.

Interestingly, condo prices in King County are growing at a slower rate than single-family homes, even though inventory for condos is plummeting faster.