Western Washington home sales started slow in 2019 and ended with far too few homes on the market to sate stepped-up demand, with South Puget Sound seeing particularly fast-paced activity.

The median price for a home last year across the 23 Western Washington counties that submit home-sales data to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service (NWMLS) was $435,000, up 6.1% from 2018.

The only major county where prices fell was King County, which saw an infinitesimal 0.7% decrease from the previous year’s all-time high, to $675,000.

Price increases were steeper among less-expensive homes, according to the NWMLS’ year-in-review data. Median 2019 home prices in Grays Harbor, Lewis, Cowlitz and Grant counties, where sales clustered in the mid-$200,000s, all rose by double digits. Homes in Pierce, Kitsap and Thurston counties also saw price increases of 7.3-9.4% over the previous year, to hover around $365,000.

PYLV Revocable Trust purchased car racer Pamela Lyford’s Medina property for $30 million.
The five priciest Seattle-area homes last year sold for a combined $113M. Four went to mystery buyers.

Similarly, sale prices for homes in Southwest and Southeast King County rose by 5% over the previous year, to $439,000 and $480,000 respectively. Meanwhile, prices in the more expensive parts of the county — Seattle, the Eastside, Shoreline and Vashon, where median sale prices were between $650,000 and $930,000 — fell slightly year-over-year.

After softening prices in mid-2018, the year started out with thousands more homes on the market than shoppers have been used to seeing and a return to a more lethargic pace of sales.

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But as the year drew to a close, brokers said they were once again fielding multiple offers on homes in most price ranges, drawing comparisons to the white-hot markets of 2016 and 2017.

It felt like a year of transition. A little bit of a shakeout year,” said Kim Colaprete, a broker at Coldwell Banker Bain. “There were crazy multiple offers in some scenarios. We also had clients who got amazing deals on properties that were on the market for a long time. And we had listings that sold for way over market.”

In recent weeks, Colaprete said, she’s noticed such a shortage of inventory and so much pent-up demand that multiple offers and quick-selling listings are once again the norm, particularly for King County homes listed for less than $600,000.

“It was chaos” at a showing last month of a Burien home listed for $550,000, Colaprete said. “It wasn’t even an open house, but at one point there were 15 people there, someone doing a pre-inspection, someone finishing up a pre-inspection, someone else arriving for a pre-inspection.”

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Fewer new homes were listed in Western Washington last year than any time since 2015.

Pierce County, where Tacoma was crowned the nation’s hottest housing market last spring, saw an 8.3% dip in new listings over 2018, the sharpest in Western Washington.

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But Thurston County buyers had to move faster than anywhere else if they wanted to snap up a property: Months of inventory, a measure of how quickly all the homes on the market would sell, averaged 1.14 in Thurston County last year.

Sales were slow across the board in the condo market. In King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, where 86% of Western Washington’s condos are located, closed sales were down 4.6% over last year.

The market was split when it came to price, however. Sale prices for condos in King County dropped by 4.2% year-over-year to $405,000, while elsewhere sale prices rose — by 5.4% in Snohomish County, to $354,000; and by 10.8% in Pierce County, to $266,000.

Three school districts had median home prices of $1 million or more, led by Mercer Island at $1.7 million and followed by Bellevue at $1.2 million and Shaw Island at $1.15 million.

Brokers and lenders expect low interest rates, strong job growth and pent-up demand to continue driving up home prices around Seattle through the spring of 2020.

In its annual housing forecast, Puget Sound brokerage John L. Scott predicted “a frenzy market” in Seattle and on the Eastside, and “extreme frenzy sales activity” for homes priced under $500,000, largely in South King and Snohomish counties.

That could have ripple effects around the region, as even more home shoppers look north and south in search of homes in their price range.

But the unpredictability around November’s presidential election is likely to put a damper on homebuying activity by the summer, brokers say.