Despite an unpredictable year, one degree of normalcy has returned to Seattle-area home sales: In a dip typical of the winter season, fewer homes were on the market in November and fewer new sellers were listing.
Yet buyers were still eager to purchase homes, and prices all over the region were still up. The median sale price last month in King County was up 10% over November 2019.
The imbalance in supply and demand is deepening the crunch home shoppers have faced all summer and fall.
“It feels as if everyone is looking for the same things,” said Redfin buyers agent Shoshana Godwin.
New listings of homes for sale fell 43% last month in King County compared to October, according to data released Monday by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service. The number of new listings was down 44% in Snohomish County and 35% in Pierce County.
Fewer sales took place, too. The number of pending sales in King County fell about 27% in November compared to October, an even steeper monthly drop than in March and April when the pandemic first hit locally.
Similar trends are playing out nationally, with sales falling during the week of Thanksgiving and active listings nationwide at the lowest point since at least 2012, according to Redfin.
Not everywhere is showing signs of a cooldown. Home prices edged down in King and Snohomish counties in November, but Pierce County prices ticked up.
The median sale price in King County was $730,500 last month, down about 2% from October. In Snohomish County, the median price was $566,000, also down about 2% from October. In Pierce County, prices went in the opposite direction, rising to $445,000, a 3.5% increase from October.
All throughout the region, sellers are still faring better than last year, with King County prices up 10% from November 2019, Snohomish up 14% and Pierce up 17%.
The median sale price in Seattle was $820,000 in November, up 12% from a year ago. On the Eastside, the median price cracked $1 million to slightly below $1.1 million, an 18% jump from last year. In North King County, including Bothell, the median price rose 19% to $737,000.
Demand is high across affordable South King County, where it would take less than two weeks to sell the inventory of homes currently on the market at the current level of demand. Median prices were $524,000 near SeaTac and $486,000 in Federal Way in November.
A winter slowdown is usually expected. In recent years, new listings in the region have dropped from June through December and picked back up again in the spring, peaking in May. But the pandemic scrambled the market this year. New listings climbed in June and July, though they were below 2018 and 2019 levels.
The lack of inventory could be having ripple effects. Some homeowners looking to sell may hesitate, knowing their search for a new home could be tough.
“It’s kind of historic how much money they can get right now. The trepidation for them is, ‘Where do I go? Where am I going to buy?’” said Kimberly Johnston, a John L. Scott broker who focuses on the Eastside.
Even as potential sellers hunker down, competition remains tough among those still looking to buy as work-from-home policies drag on and low interest rates continue to entice buyers.
The pandemic is driving some people from urban condos toward houses in suburbs and rural areas as they seek more space to make their homes serve as offices, schools and gyms.
In King County, the amount of time it would take to sell every home on the market at current demand dipped below three weeks in November, down from a month or longer in May and June.
Inventory would go even faster in Snohomish and Pierce counties, where every home currently on the market could be sold in less than two weeks.
Demand continues from some familiar sources, like tech workers and young, first-time buyers, agents said.
Godwin recently worked with a young couple looking for a fixer-upper. They found a home near Golden Gardens that “needed a ton of work,” but the house drew 10 offers in the first couple of days, Godwin said. With appointments required because of the pandemic, some homes are so popular that buyers can’t even get in to see the place, she said.
In Pierce County, where the median sale price is up, buyers continue to flock to cities like Tacoma, drawn south by lower costs, new amenities and, for those now working from home, less worry about commuting in I-5 traffic.
With a median home value of $445,000 in Pierce County, buyers can spend far less than in Seattle.
“If your boss tells you you can telecommute three, four days of the five, that’s a pretty big gap,” said Dave Jones, owner of Tacoma brokerage Windermere Abode.
The hot market continues to squeeze buyers with less cash, Jones said.
Even buyers who have saved up for a down payment and gotten preapproved for a loan can find themselves “dealing with a Seattle buyer or an investor who comes in with cash,” Jones said. “People who did not come from wealth, those are the people losing out right now.”
Throughout the region, the high demand and scarce inventory continues the streak of buyer desperation that played out all summer.
First-time buyers Melissa and Connor Caler spent weeks this summer religiously checking Redfin, only to find few options. Over two and a half months, “we only saw seven or eight homes in person,” Melissa Caler said. Before the pandemic, “I know people who would look at seven or eight homes in a weekend.”
As fall approached, the couple was close to giving up on their search and moving in with her parents temporarily. At the last minute, they found a four-bedroom, 2,500-square-foot “dream home” in Renton.
Competition was fierce: Dozens of people toured the home, nine other buyers made offers and the seller cut the process short, moving up the offer review date. The Calers offered higher than the listing price and sent a letter emphasizing their personal story: an oncology nurse at Seattle Children’s Hospital and a mechanical engineer in the aerospace industry who have been together since high school. They told the seller, “Your home is perfect for us to start our family,” and for good measure included a photo with their mini goldendoodle Macklin.
They paid $629,000 for the house, which had an initial listing price of $589,000, and moved in early September.
For buyers in the Seattle area, the condo market can offer a less cutthroat environment than shopping for a single-family home.
The city is flush with condo listings, compared to last year. The median Seattle condo sold for about $500,000 in November. Active listings are up 61% from last year and it would take four months to sell through the inventory at current demand.
November brought fewer new condo listings in King County than October, but at current demand it would take nearly two months to sell every King County condo on the market.
Godwin, the Redfin agent who works with buyers in Seattle, nudges buyers who may be open to the idea to consider condos with an eye toward the common demands of 2020.
“If [buying a condo] is even within someone’s realm of possibility, I encourage them to explore it,” Godwin said. But, she tells them, “Let’s try for a two-bedroom so you have space for an office.”