Seattle’s frenzied home sales market cooled off in December as prices stagnated and potential sellers held off on putting their homes on the market.
The median sale price for a single-family home ticked up about 1% from November in King and Snohomish counties and down about 1% in Pierce County, according to data released by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.
That amounted to relative calm when compared to sharper ups and downs this spring and summer, like when prices in King County fell 6% between April and May then jumped 8% between May and June.
Across King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, sellers put fewer new homes on the market in December than in November, continuing a downward trend that started in August. In King County, new listings fell about 18% from November, though there were about 300 more newly listed homes than in December 2019.
Despite the pandemic’s economic toll, home values are still up from 2019. The median home in King County sold for $740,000 in December, up 10% from a year earlier. The median sale price reached $573,495 in Snohomish County and $439,000 in Pierce County, up 12% and 17%, respectively.
All over the region, buyers continue to clamor for homes in a “supply-starved” market, said Matthew Gardner, chief economist for Windermere Real Estate.
In all three counties, fewer homes were for sale in December than a year earlier, but Seattle stands as an outlier: In the city, the number of active listings was up 17%.
Buyers continue to seek out more room inside and outside as they spend more time at home, real estate agents said.
“They want space for their home office. They’re looking for a place to put their Peloton, a home gym … a yard for the dog they’ve always wanted to adopt,” said Redfin agent Jessica Tolbert, who focuses on areas north of Seattle like Shoreline and Edmonds.
Homebuyers aren’t necessarily moving very far. Among Seattle-area buyers with loans from the Department of Veterans Affairs, 52% moved to a less expensive ZIP code, but the vast majority of those remained in the Seattle metro area, according to data from Veterans United Home Loans.
The market did see a hush typical of the winter season. New sales were down 19% in King County and 18% in Snohomish County compared to November.
Pierce County, where the market has been feverish this year as buyers seek out more affordable homes, finally saw some hints of a slowdown.
New sales there dropped about 24% compared to November, the sharpest month-to-month drop this year. The median sale price in Pierce County dipped by about 1% compared to November, from $445,000 to $439,000.
Olympia and Tacoma are the two most competitive metro areas to buy a home, according to Redfin.
Not everyone took a break for the holidays, though.
In some areas on the Eastside, “there wasn’t that typical holiday slowdown,” said Compass broker Melissa Tindall. For Tindall, December brought plenty of stagings and showings, including during the week of Christmas, she said.
Because of slim supply, Tindall said, she is increasingly looking for canceled listings, trying to find houses through word of mouth and sending letters to homeowners asking if they’re interested in selling.
When it comes to price growth, the Eastside outperformed the rest of King County with an increase in median home price of 17% compared to 2019. Median sale price rose from $949,000 to $1.1 million.
Shoppers north of Seattle are facing tough competition, too.
In December, shoppers found 65% fewer active listings in Snohomish County than a year earlier, a steeper drop than in Pierce or King counties.
Among the three counties, Snohomish saw the lowest months of inventory, a measure of how long it would take to sell homes on the market at current demand. While November and December typically bring a dip in this measure, it would take less time to sell all current homes for sale in all three counties than at any point in the last four years.
In Snohomish County, it would take about one week, compared to between one and two weeks in King and Pierce. Snohomish County has averaged about one month’s worth of inventory each December since 2016.
When Chris Schultz sold his town house near Bothell in September, the offers came “like clockwork.” Within a few days, two prospective buyers were willing to pay 10% to 20% over the listing price.
Then came finding a new house.
As of early January, Schultz is still scouring the market for a home with more space for him and his 12-year-old daughter, who has shifted to online learning.
Looking near Bothell, Mill Creek and Woodinville, Schultz has toured about 30 houses and put in offers on two.
He has seen intense open houses, like the one where 23 home shoppers passed through in two hours, and some buyers were willing to pay cash.
“Cash offers are just near-impossible to compete with,” Schultz said. “But you roll with that. It’s just part of the game.”
As the months stretch on, Schultz is now wondering whether he should look farther afield to Lake Stevens.
“The hardest thing is to not talk yourself out of a place before you either go view it or put an offer in,” Schultz said.
Despite some lingering uncertainty, Snohomish County’s housing market hasn’t seen significant effects from Boeing’s announcement that it would consolidate its 787 assembly in South Carolina, said Gardner, the Windermere economist.
“If someone lost their job at Boeing and can’t find another one here,” Gardner said, “selling their home is not a problem.”
Looking at 2021, all eyes are on work-from-home policies and how often office workers may continue to commute, Gardner said.
“I’m not expecting everyone to move out to Yakima, but I think the suburbs and counties surrounding King County will benefit from more demand.”
In King County, the condo market illustrates the flip side of the pandemic-driven desire for more space.
The number of active condo listings in December was up 44% on the Eastside and 72% in Seattle compared to a year earlier.
The median condo price was up 20% on the Eastside, but down 4% in Seattle. (Condo shoppers aren’t exactly finding a bargain, though: The median Seattle condo sold for $466,500.)
Given current demand, it would take about three weeks to sell through single-family homes for sale in Seattle. For condos in the city, it would take almost three months.