Even with fewer new home listings than at any point in the last five years, home shoppers in Western Washington closed on more houses in 2020 than in the previous year. Meanwhile, a relative glut of condos was listed for sale.

Across about two dozen counties in Central and Western Washington, the median price for single-family homes was $490,000, up 12.6% from 2019, according to newly released data from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service (NWMLS). 

In Puget Sound, some of the most affordable areas saw the steepest price hikes. 

In Pierce County last year, the median single-family home sold for $420,000, up 13.5% over 2019. Kitsap homes went for a median of $418,717, an 11% jump from 2019. In Snohomish County, the median home sold for $550,000, 10.5% more than a year earlier. 

King County saw smaller growth, with a 7.4% increase to a median of $724,950.

Of all the 23 counties, Kittitas saw the biggest year-over-year jump: 21% to $424,925.

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The number of sales rose in most NWMLS counties. The listing service described San Juan and Chelan counties as “Zoom towns” drawing buyers who can telecommute.

Near Seattle, work-from-home policies are likely driving demand outside the city, brokers say. But the trends also underscore affordability challenges that predated the pandemic

Home sales followed a similar pattern in 2019, with prices down slightly in King County while they were up elsewhere. A flood of buyers into areas like Tacoma and Spanaway has fueled concerns there about gentrification and affordability.

The same pattern played out within King County. Median single-family home prices increased last year in Southwest King County and Southeast King County by 11.6% and 10.4% to $489,900 and $530,000, respectively. 

In Seattle, the $799,950 median was 6% higher than in 2019. On the Eastside, the most expensive area in King County, the median home price reached $1 million. That’s a 7.5% increase from 2019.

The pandemic did upend the region’s real estate market, however briefly.

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The typical spring spikes showed up in summer and fall instead, with new sales of single-family homes dropping in April before peaking in August, compared to the May peak in 2019.

Rachelle Willhite, owner of Tukwila-based Best Choice Realty, said she furloughed most of her staff in March. Later in the year, she rehired some employees and filled other positions with new hires. “Our top producers … had their best year ever,” she said. 

The pandemic continues to affect day-to-day practices as sellers are hesitant to have dozens of home shoppers traipsing through their homes. Instead, 3D tours and videos are more common. “I can’t employ enough videographers,” Willhite said.

Buyers competed for fewer homes and had to take more shortcuts in 2020, brokers say.

The total number of new listings across the 23 NWMLS counties was at the lowest point in five years.

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More single-family homes sold last year than in 2018 or 2019, but still fewer than the 2017 peak. While the number of closed sales was up about 5% in King and Snohomish counties, the number fell in Pierce County by 0.6%, compared to 2019.

King County saw 26,428 closed sales. Buyers closed on 14,644 sales in Pierce County and 12,367 in Snohomish County.

By some measures, speculation about buyers fleeing Seattle failed to materialize. The number of closed single-family home sales in the city in 2020 was up 11% from 2019.

High demand and low inventory heated the market to levels reminiscent of the frenzy in 2017 and early 2018, said Christy Kinnaird, founder of the brokerage Seattle Living Spaces.

Buyers are “scared, and rightfully so,” Kinnaird said.

Willhite said about half of the buyers she works with are waiving their inspection, something she and many other agents advise against. Buyers feel they have to because “they’re competing against people with cash,” Willhite said.

Sellers could count on moving their home quickly last year. 

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One measure of how long it would take to sell every home at current demand, known as months of inventory, was lower in all 23 counties last year than a year earlier. In Snohomish County, it would have taken about three weeks in 2020 compared to a six weeks in 2019.

The condo market was a little less hostile to buyers, as some selling points like nightlife temporarily vanished. 

New condo listings in King County increased by 13.2%, compared to 1% for single-family homes.

Throughout 2020, selling all of the condos on the market at current demand would have taken almost two months in King County, a slightly quicker timeframe than in 2019 but almost twice as long as for single-family homes.

“The city life those condos provide is not what people were looking for in 2020,” Kinnaird said.

Still, Seattle condo prices went up nearly as much as single-family home prices in the city, 5% compared to 6%. The median condo in Seattle sold for $494,950. On the Eastside, the median condo sold for $525,000, an 11.9% increase from 2019.

This story has been updated to correct information about employees furloughed and rehired at Best Choice Realty.