The pandemic real estate market is subjecting homebuyers to crowded tours, runaway bidding wars and heartbreak.

For sellers, it’s offering a chance to cash out.

Profits soared last year for home sellers all over the country, including in Washington, according to new data released this week. Nationally, the median profit margin of 45% was the highest since 2008, according to Attom Data Solutions, a firm that tracks real estate data.

“2021 will go down as one of the greatest years for sellers and one of the toughest for buyers,” said Todd Teta, the firm’s chief product officer, in a statement.

In Washington, that was especially true in suburbs and small cities, where buyers went in search of cheaper prices and more space — in some cases, far from Seattle.

The median profit in Spokane and Spokane Valley hit $162,350 last year, or an 86.5% margin between the price a homeowner paid and the price they resold their house for, according to Attom. 

“The competition is much more fierce” in the Spokane housing market than five years ago, when Windermere agent Samara Behler started in the business, she said. 

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“I think of clients back then who bought a house for $215,000. That house is now worth probably close to $400,000.”

In Bremerton, home sellers’ median profit reached $215,000, or about 83%, according to Attom. In the Olympia-Tumwater area: $175,000, or about 65%. In the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metro area, the median was $264,606, a margin of about 73%. (Attom analyzed property records to compare the price a home sold for and the price its sellers paid when they bought it. The figure doesn’t represent homeowner expenses, such as property taxes or remodeling.)

The Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metro area saw some of the highest profits in the country, both in the dollar amount and the profit margin, according to Attom. That’s no surprise, because home prices are so high here. But the change in those metrics from 2020 to 2021 was less dramatic in Seattle than in Spokane or Bremerton.

“Prices on resale weren’t increasing much faster than they had been going up when 2021 sellers originally bought their homes. That was around six or seven years ago, on average,” Teta said.

Homeowners are staying in their homes longer than they were in 2000, but that measure is on the decline, according to Attom’s data. In the Seattle area, for example, the average homeowner at the end of 2021 had been in the home about 6 1/2 years, compared to about 10 years at the same time in 2020 and six years in 2000.

The jump in profits for home-sellers in cities such as Spokane and Bremerton underscores the explosion of suburbs and smaller cities, where many buyers are seeking more affordable homes. 

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That squeezes residents who already live in those areas or who have less to spend. The median home sold in Spokane County for $370,000 last year, up about 23% from a year earlier, according to the Spokane Association of Realtors.

The majority of Behler’s clients are locals, and about a quarter are from out of town, drawn by the potential to get more for their money, she said. 

“Although for locals the affordability is a struggle,” Behler said, “a lot of people coming in from out of the area find Spokane to be very affordable.”

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Despite the potential for big financial gains, some homeowners all over the state have hesitated to list their home for sale, worried about trying to find a new house in the same market.

“There are so many different variables that go into that one decision to sell your home, which seems like a great idea at first, but everything thereafter has a lot of risk and pressure involved,” Behler said.