Real estate broker Max Rombakh expected the spacious four-bedroom house in a sought-after Bellevue neighborhood to sell at least a bit above its $2.65 million list price. But even he wasn’t prepared for the final outcome: nearly $1 million more.

Would-be buyers lined up outside and 14 made offers. “All above asking, and it closed to a cash buyer,” said Rombakh, a Windermere broker based in Yarrow Bay. 

The house was especially attractive, Rombakh said, because of its single level and location close to hundreds of trails and Bellevue’s Spring District, where Amazon and Meta are expanding. It sold for $3.63 million.

“One anomaly like this … doesn’t determine the market,” he said. 

But the sale is one extreme example of a factor that has become routine for local homebuyers — and not just on the expensive Eastside.

On average last month, single-family homes in King County sold for 7.3% more than the list price, according to data released Monday by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service. On the median home price of $775,000, that amounts to nearly $56,600. 

Advertising

In Snohomish, buyers paid 6.1% more than the list price. And counties from Pierce and Thurston to Kitsap and Jefferson averaged 2 to 3 percentage points over the list price.

Those figures illustrate the challenge facing homebuyers even during typically slower winter months.

“The biggest factor is there’s just no inventory,” said Zach Entwistle, a Keller Williams broker based in University Place who last week worked with a client who won a bidding war for a Lacey rambler listed at $485,000, agreeing to pay $519,000. 

January did bring some welcome news for homebuyers struggling to get into the market.

More

Home prices, mostly reflecting sales that took place in December, were roughly flat across the region.

Advertising

In Snohomish County, the $715,000 median was up about 2%; in Pierce County, the $525,000 median was up 1%, according to new data released Monday by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service. In Kitsap, the $508,750 median was up about 2%.

King County saw a more significant dip. The median price of $775,000 was down 4% from December. In Seattle, the median home price of $790,000 dropped about 6% from December to January and is flat compared to last year at this time.

January also brought new listings of homes for sale, after two months of falling inventory. 

But in most areas across Western Washington, prices are up from January 2021, and there are still fewer homes for sale than at this time in the past few years. The NWMLS estimates it would take less than two weeks to sell all the homes on the market given current buyer demand in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.

Late last year, “the market cooled off. It leveled off. You saw buyers getting into homes at reasonable prices,” said Nick Casanova, an agent at a Tacoma Windermere office. “Unfortunately, it would seem as though that window of opportunity is closing — if not, it has closed.”

In that tight market, buyers have become accustomed to bidding up, even in the winter months.

Advertising

In the Seattle metro area, homes sold for around 4% above the list price in November and December, about the same as during the peak spring market in 2018, according to Redfin.

Some sellers’ agents may deliberately price low to generate a bidding war, but that approach has its downsides. 

Wading through dozens of offers can be a time suck, and a low price can draw a flood of buyers who fill up all the available viewing times for a house, locking others out from even seeing it. 

“Somebody might be willing to pay a lot more, but if they can’t actually get in, what’s the point?” Entwistle said.

There are downsides for buyers, too.

Those relying on a mortgage need an appraiser to agree the home is worth what they’ve agreed to pay. As part of that process, appraisers will look at other recent sales, along with other information, to determine the value of the house. 

If the appraisal doesn’t meet what the buyer has agreed to pay, the deal can fall through. To be more attractive to a seller, some buyers sweeten their offer by agreeing to cover at least some of the difference between an appraisal and their offer, exposing themselves to additional cost.

Sponsored

“Buyers have to be aware of it and be cautious,” Rombakh said.

As Melanie Pierce and her husband prepared an early offer on a four-bedroom home in Tacoma late last year, they knew what to expect. “We would have to submit something competitive over list price for them to be willing to take the first offer,” Pierce said.

“We wanted to put in an offer above the list price and still fair for the house and what we were getting.”

Their strategy worked. With an offer for 7% more than the list price, the couple secured the house and closed in December.

Other notable numbers from Monday’s home sales report:

  • The number of new single-family home listings in King County jumped month-over-month for the first time since September, up 39%. However, the number of new listings was nearly 21% fewer than in January 2021 and down 16% from January 2019, before the pandemic.
  • King County saw a big jump in condo listings from December to January, but those listings sold quickly. By the end of the month, the number of condos still listed for sale was fewer than in December or at this time last year.
  • The number of pending sales climbed in January, compared with recent months. In King County, 11% more homes went pending in January than in December. In Snohomish County: 15%. In other nearby counties, the jump ranged from 2% to 8%. Even so, fewer pending sales took place than in January 2021 or January 2019, before the pandemic.