Thursday, September 10, 2009

Pricey areas see big growth in home sales

August home-sales figures show two higher-priced King County neighborhoods saw the biggest increases in sales.
By Eric Pryne, Seattle Times business reporter

King County home sales continued their summer surge in August. And the latest numbers suggest the buyers aren't all cash-starved first-timers.

Buyers closed on 5 percent more houses last month than in August 2008, the Northwest Multiple Listing Service reported Friday. It was the third consecutive monthly year-over-year increase, a bump many attribute to the new $8,000 federal tax credit for first-time buyers.
But the neighborhood that saw the biggest jump in sales in August was West Bellevue/Medina, far beyond the means of most folks making their first forays into homeownership.

The runner-up for the month, Queen Anne/Magnolia, also is no mecca for real-estate rookies.
Brokers who work in those two neighborhoods say people with money, who held back when the economy was on the brink, are starting to buy houses again.

"Americans forget very quickly," said Sam Konswa, owner of Queen Anne Real Estate. "The confidence level has just gone crazy on the up side."

Single-family home closings in Queen Anne and Magnolia were up 74 percent in August from the same month in 2008, from 31 to 54, the listing service said. In West Bellevue/Medina — the priciest of the 30 areas into which the service divides the county — the increase was a whopping 169 percent, from 13 to 35.

Together, the two high-end areas accounted for more than half the countywide increase.

Pending sales — offers sellers have accepted that haven't yet closed — also were up both in those neighborhoods and countywide for the fifth consecutive month.

But the median price of a King County house that closed in August was $375,000, down 11.6 percent year over year.

Median fluctuated

The median has fluctuated between $364,000 and $395,000 since January. Some real-estate professionals say it could drop further as banks put more foreclosed homes on the market.

In Queen Anne and Magnolia, the median price of a house that sold in August was $573,000 — the highest in Seattle — but down from $599,000 a year earlier. In West Bellevue and Medina the drop was more dramatic, from $1.6 million to $915,000, the listing service said.

Lower prices are one reason buyers are returning to the luxury-home market, said Ron Sparks, managing vice president of Coldwell Banker Bain, whose firm lists many high-priced homes.

"The million-and-up market has really dramatically improved in the last 60 to 90 days," he said.

Fewer sellers

Prospective buyers in that price range aren't as concerned about job security as they were earlier this year, Sparks said. Their stock portfolios have bounced back from the depths of March. And it's easier for them to get financing at a low interest rate now.

Inventory in West Bellevue/Medina has dropped from a five-year supply early this year to a 10-month supply now, Sparks said.

On Queen Anne, Konswa said the market has an overabundance of buyers and not enough sellers. His small firm had 26 listings in January, he said; now it has just three.

"I am now soliciting sellers for the first time," Konswa said. "Every time I get a call, it's 'I want to buy a house.' "

Some buyers are finally taking the plunge after looking for more than a year, he said. Others are investing some of their recent stock-market gains in real estate.

Countywide, single-family home inventory — the number of active listings — was down more than 20 percent in August from the same month last year.

King County condos didn't fare as well as single-family homes in August. Buyers closed on 11.4 percent fewer units last month than in August 2008, the broker-owned listing service said. The median price, $252,250, was down 5.9 percent.

In Snohomish County, the median price of a house that sold in August was $299,950, down 11.8 percent year over year.

Closed sales were up 8.1 percent countywide — but in Southeast Snohomish County, the priciest area, the increase topped 30 percent.

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