Compare this to most stories you’ve heard about buying a home in the Seattle area lately: She saw plenty of places to tour, found a home in just two weeks and paid exactly the list price.
That was Kayla Ondracek’s experience as she shopped for condos on Capitol Hill. The whole process “ended up less scary than I thought,” she said.
The single-family home market has hammered buyers over the last year, with low supply driving bidding wars and increasingly risky bets from buyers trying to win a seller’s attention.
In the market for condos, though, price growth has been slower and inventory has been higher relative to demand. As some buyers sought extra space for remote work rather than prime in-city locations, they left behind a more favorable market for center-city condo shoppers.
Now, vaccine rates are on the rise, white-collar workers are preparing to return to the office and condo sales are up.
March saw the highest number of pending condo sales in King County in at least three years and April was the second-highest, according to data released Wednesday by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.
Buyers went pending on twice as many sales of Seattle condos last month than at the start of the pandemic in April 2020. Pending sales last month were about 23% higher than the same time in 2019. The median Seattle condo last month cost $490,000, up about 4.5% from last year.
With condo prices rising more slowly than single-family homes and a possibility of price jumps on the horizon, “there are a lot of people trying to catch that,” said Windermere broker Javila Creer.
As condo buyers search for deals, weary single-family home buyers may finally see some signs of hope, too.
Two key measures of how much buyers have to choose from — the number of new single-family home listings and the number of listings still active by the end of the month — were both on the rise in April. More homes were newly listed for sale last month in King County and Pierce County than in any month since last July. In Snohomish County, new listings were at their highest level since 2019.
National numbers show a similar trend: Though housing inventory has been falling for months, the month-to-month drop in March was less dramatic than in previous months, according to Zillow.
Matthew Gardner, chief economist at Windermere, said in a statement the boost in inventory could cool off listing prices. The average list price in King County for single-family homes fell about 7% from March to April, according to Gardner. (Houses often sell over their list price, and it’s too early to know whether that is a trend.)
Even so, homes the Seattle area aren’t suddenly bargains.
Median single-family home prices across the Puget Sound region hit record highs in April. For the first time, Pierce County’s median sale price hit an even half-million dollars. Five years ago at this time, the median home price there was about $270,000.
The median single-family home in King County last month sold for $830,000. In Snohomish County, the median home sold for $675,000. In Kitsap, the median home sold for $490,500. In Thurston, the median was $430,050. (Single-family home numbers from the NWMLS include townhouses.)
Compared to this time last year, prices are up most dramatically in Snohomish County, where the median home price in April was nearly 29% higher than last year.
The local housing market was beginning to cool last April, when sales and listings were down as the pandemic took hold, but the price hikes are not a fluke. Compared to April 2019, before the pandemic, median prices in Pierce and Kitsap counties have spiked roughly 40%.
Given rising costs and high demand, Spanaway-based broker Robbi McCarver suspects some buyers could be taking a break from the process — despite new inventory.
“It feels like maybe buyers are just so defeated that a lot of them are dropping off,” said McCarver, with The Agents Real Estate Group. “They’re just tired. They have nothing more to give.”
While inventory is up month-over-month, homebuyers found 43% fewer active listings in King County at the end of April than the same time last year and 61% fewer than in April 2019.
Months of inventory — a measure of how long it would take to sell every house on the market at current demand — inched up in April, but still remains at roughly two weeks or less all over the Puget Sound region. (For condos, it would take about a month to sell through the inventory in King County.)
As the region’s housing market has taken off, the most competitive areas for homebuyers have been outside Seattle.
While single-family home prices are up about 7% in Seattle compared to last year, they’re up about 39% on the Eastside and 25% in Graham, Pierce County.
Demand is also high in Yelm, Lakewood and Steilacoom, which is near Joint Base Lewis-McChord, McCarver said.
“We can’t touch anything right now in Steilacoom,” she said.
That means buyers still have to compete. With many of her clients using zero-down loans from the Department of Veterans Affairs, McCarver is urging them to put down any money they can to compete.
“Something is better than seeing zero,” she said. “Whatever you can do to put some money up front to give that seller more security.”
For now, in contrast with some homebuyers spending months searching, “my clients looking at condos really are able to find a place in a couple weeks,” Creer said. “There’s plenty to look at.”
But announcements from tech companies about returning to the office or opening new workplaces could draw new interest for those who can afford a close-in condo.
Ondracek, who bought a two-bedroom condo with a private patio on Capitol Hill last month, figured she’d never be able to buy.
“Part of what freaked me out about homebuying is I kind of assumed I wanted to be in a single-family home and the market for that is super bonkers,” said Ondracek, a software engineer. “Once I adjusted my expectations and started looking at condos and townhomes, things got more reasonably priced.”
In the end, she paid the condo’s $565,000 list price and waived her inspection contingency to get an edge on another buyer, while holding on to the other contingencies. “I got all the things I want,” she said.
In the midst of the slowdown in the condo market, construction has continued on several high-end new condo buildings. The Spire, a 41-story luxury tower near Denny Triangle in the final stages of construction, recently offered price cuts of around 10% on some units.
Will Perry thought he wanted a single-family home. But after maintaining the lawn and pressure-washing the rooftop deck on his modern-style single-family house in Beacon Hill, he was over it.
“It was less fun than I thought,” he said. So Perry, a software engineering manager, went looking for something different: luxury amenities and a view in walking distance of downtown restaurants and SoulCycle.
He bought a condo with a panoramic view of Lake Union on the 20th-floor of the Spire for about $1.2 million.
Perry said he’s eager to get back to going out to restaurants and venues, once it’s safe to do so.
“My feeling is that it’s not just me,” he said. “A lot of us would really like to get back to things.”