As home prices across Western Washington continue to climb, some would-be buyers can feel the pressure mounting.
“For a lot of people in their mid-20s to mid-40s, you feel like if you don’t do it now you’re never going to be able to,” said first-time homebuyer Julie Farris, “because all we see is the numbers rising year after year.”
Home prices have jumped by double-digit percentages across Western Washington over the last year, with some of the steepest increases outside of Seattle. The price hikes reflect a combination of affluent buyers seeking out luxury homes, first-time buyers scrambling to get into the market and a limited supply of houses.
As spring got underway this year, more new listings hit the market than in the winter months, offering some respite for buyers. But homes are still selling quickly and prices remain high, according to new home-sales data released Monday by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.
The median single-family home in King County last month sold for $869,975, a 29.5% increase from the same time last year.
The median was $697,000 in Snohomish County (up 35%), $510,000 in Pierce County (up 29%) and $500,000 in Kitsap County (up 25%).
At current demand in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, selling all the available single-family homes would take less than two weeks.
As home shoppers went looking for more space during the pandemic, the median home sale price in Seattle stayed roughly flat for much of the last year and the condo market cooled. Now, there are some signs of a rebound.
Nearly twice as many single-family home sales closed in Seattle last month as the same time a year ago. And 62% more condo sales were pending in King County compared to last year. Compared to 2019, pending condo sales were up about 17%.
The median Seattle single-family home price hit $919,000 in May, compared to about $791,500 at the start of the year.
South of Seattle in areas like Federal Way, Auburn and Kent, single-family home prices are up 26% to 29% over last year. In the Burien/Normandy Park area, the median single-family home sold last month for $600,000, up 18%.
With money saved during the pandemic and help from her parents, Farris was able to put 20% down on a $440,000 three-bedroom home in Burien, something she wasn’t sure would ever be possible.
Making offers on homes in the area near where she grew up, “I just never expected anything to be accepted,” she said.
Shoppers hungry for more homes to choose from had good news this spring with more fresh listings than this time last year. But homes sold so quickly that by the end of May the number of listings still active was down from a year earlier.
Sellers are taking note of the competition, too.
When Marnie Clark and her husband listed their home near Kingston for sale earlier this year, 10 offers poured in within a few days.
“In any market any day other than now, they would have all been amazing offers, unbelievable offers,” Clark said. “It was dumbfounding, really.”
All of the offers on Clark’s home, with its views of Hood Canal and the Olympic Mountains, were for more than the $1.1 million asking price and about half were all-cash, she said. The house ultimately sold for $1.4 million.
“We are on the radar in a way we did not used to be,” said Bridget Young, co-owner of a Windermere office in Poulsbo. Before, she said, people moving to the area “would think they discovered something. Well, we are definitely on the map.”
The median price of a single-family home in Poulsbo spiked 54.5% in May, though the sample size is small. Twenty-five sales closed last month, compared to seven in May of 2020.
To compete, buyers are cashing out retirement funds or stocks “so they can be a cash buyer and win in a multiple-offer situation,” said Joni Kimmel, who owns the Poulsbo office with Young.
All over the region, the competition has downsides.
South King County and Tacoma are grappling with gentrification and displacement as Seattle money flows south. At Naval Base Kitsap, some veterans are losing out because their zero-down VA loans are less competitive against wealthy or all-cash buyers, Young said.
On King County’s Eastside, median single-family home prices are up about 37% compared to last year.
Competition on the Eastside felt cooler over the last month, but buyers continued to waive protections, cash out stock and include “very aggressive escalation clauses,” said Redfin agent Pauline Corbett, who works with buyers in the Bellevue area. (An escalation clause is inserted into a purchase offer intended to make sure a buyer is the highest bidder.) Corbett and other agents said buyers are increasingly agreeing to allow sellers to stay in their homes for a month or two rent-free to sweeten their offer.
Even as local companies announce plans to return to office work, home shoppers are still searching for extra room for home offices, she said.
“In our area, if a couple is not in high-tech, they are not able to afford a home anymore,” Corbett said.
In South King County, competition is especially fierce for buyers looking to spend less than $600,000, said Leslie Newman, a RE/MAX broker whose office is in Burien.
Buyers are drawn to amenities in the area like parks, views and homes with more space, plus more affordable prices, she said.
As the economy continues to reopen and kids return to school, some would-be buyers may be more focused on family needs and traveling, Newman said. If they decide to hold off on house shopping for now, that could ease competition.
“The change in focus could create different opportunities for buyers,” she said.
Deb Boston and her husband opted to move from Woodinville to Poulsbo this spring, in part because they are both able to work more from home as they prepare to retire.
Drawn by waterfront views and proximity to nature, the couple waived their inspection contingency, included an escalation clause and put forward a large down payment on the house they bought in May.
“At first I thought, ‘We need to take the ferry farther out. Perhaps it won’t be as competitive as here in the greater Seattle area,’” she said. “I learned that is not the case.”