Future may be good news for buyers frazzled by the summer's superheated market.

Share story

Puget Sound-area home sales and prices remain strong, according to the latest statistics, but anecdotally, real-estate agents say the usual fall slowdown is well under way.

That may spell good news for buyers frazzled by the summer’s superheated market.

“What we’re seeing and feeling is that the market is still strong, but there’s more balance than we’ve seen in prior months,” said Chris Pauling, president of Prudential Northwest Realty Associates. “Buyers aren’t selling their first-borns to get a house.”

David Milot, co-owner of Re/Max Metro Realty, concurred. “The market is a little bit softer than it has been, but it’s still buoyant,” Milot said.

Last month in central Puget Sound — King, Snohomish, Pierce and Kitsap counties — buyers made 5,856 offers for houses or condominiums, down from 7,561 offers the month before, according to statistics released Tuesday by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.

Some of these offers — called pending sales — may not close for various reasons. Still, they are the best available indication of last month’s sales activity.

Declining sales is one potential sign of a softening market. Perhaps more important is an increase in properties for sale because it indicates that homes are languishing.

However, last month the four central Puget Sound counties had 14 percent fewer homes available than they had in September. King County’s listings were down the most — 20 percent compared with the month before — and less availability generally keeps a market stable even when sales are down.

Indeed, Milot noted, affordable homes remain in demand.

“A decent house under $350,000 that’s either in Seattle or close-in Bellevue sells instantly,” Milot said. “We have customers waiting for them.”

But higher-priced homes, particularly those over $1 million in subdivisions, are selling more slowly now than they were a few months ago, Milot said.

Agents tell Pauling that sellers are being more realistic about pricing their homes.

“We’re also seeing more open houses and more price reductions,” he said.

Besides the customary slowdown in advance of the holidays, two other factors may be affecting sales.

One is the uptick in mortgage rates. Last month the national average for a 30-year fixed-rate loan was 6.21 percent, according to HSH Associates, a mortgage-information provider. That’s half a percentage point higher than the year’s lowest rate, which was posted in February. That rate increase pushes a monthly house payment up $79 on a $250,000 mortgage. Seattle’s current 30-year rate is 6.35 percent.

The other factor is the continuing high price of gas. Coupled with traffic congestion, it’s causing buyers to think carefully about how far they’re willing to drive. That keeps prices solid in close-in locations.

The median sold price last month for King County houses and condos combined was $355,000, a 20 percent increase over the previous October. Snohomish and Pierce counties posted similar appreciation, while Kitsap trailed with a still-significant 16 percent.

Pauling expects the region’s strengthening job market to offset higher interest rates and keep the housing market healthy.

“So far I don’t see anything saying a downturn is here,” he said. “Even with these appreciation numbers, I don’t think we’re anywhere near a bubble market.”

Elizabeth Rhodes: erhodes@seattletimes.com