The chase is on for bargain real estate in Western Washington, even as the normally slower fall real estate season sets in.
For many, the dream of a home that they can afford might be pushed farther south on Interstate 5, or across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge into Key and Kitsap peninsulas and beyond.
In August, we reported that finding a home for less than $300,000 was pushing some buyers to look at Thurston and Mason counties.
It still is.
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“We’re seeing a definite increase and shift for King County buyers coming to Pierce County and Pierce County folks dropping to Thurston County, as it is highly competitive to get a home in Pierce right now,” Kim Piper, broker/owner of Re/Max Professionals, said in response to questions from The News Tribune.
Pierce County’s median home price in August was $313,000, up nearly 10 percent compared with a year ago. The county had a little more than a month’s inventory, with the number of active residential listings down nearly 14 percent from 2016.
In August, Thurston County saw closed home sales up more than 25 percent over last year, with a median price of $287,450.
Pending home sales were just about even with August 2016 with a little over a month’s inventory on hand. Active listings for homes were down more than 22 percent from a year ago.
At the same time, Mason County is seeing eye-popping sales this season. Closed sales in August were up nearly 26 percent from same time last year with a little more than two months’ inventory. Active home listings were down nearly 15 percent from August 2016.
For some areas, such as Belfair, in “the $250,000-$350,000 price points, we are down to less than two weeks’ worth of inventory at any given time,” John L. Scott Belfair agent Robert Drexler told The News Tribune in September.
He noted a recent local market slowdown, probably because of school starting, but added “we can’t keep anything on the market at that price point.”
Belfair is seeing the outgrowth from Kitsap County, benefiting from the new fast ferry service that quickens Seattle commutes.
“About a month before (the fast ferry) started running I noticed a bunch more contact through Zillow,” including investors looking for a place near the ferry terminal, noted Andrea Ernst of Re/Max Town and Country in Port Orchard.
Her work focuses primarily on the Bremerton and Port Orchard areas.
“Right around the state fair and back-to-school time the market sort of drops out, but it’s starting to pick up again,” she said.
Kitsap County’s median home price in August was $329,000, an increase of nearly 10 percent compared with last year. The county had little more than a month’s inventory, with the number of active residential listings down more than 19 percent from 2016.
While the military is the main employer connected to Ernst’s clients, “a few work for Amazon,” she said.
“I’ve noticed more pressure on local buyers for homes under $300,000,” she said. “There’s generally a lot more competition and invariably there’s a cash offer if there are multiple offers.”
She’s not yet seeing local buyers priced out, and said builders were keeping pace with demand.
That level of competition among buyers could change, she said.
She’s seeing the market being driven predominantly by Seattleites or locals who have decided to buy for rental opportunities.
“What I am seeing is a continued flight toward more affordable areas (as in Pierce and Snohomish counties) given the extremely high prices being achieved in King County,” wrote Matthew Gardner, chief economist at Windermere Real Estate, in response to questions from The News Tribune.
“With increased interest by companies looking at Tacoma as a place to expand or open businesses, I expect Pierce County to continue to see solid demand for housing going forward.”
King County is still at the top of the heap, with median home prices at $650,000, which is $100,000 more than it was in August 2016.
The ripple effect from that continues.
“We are absolutely seeing more cash buyers in Tacoma and Pierce as a whole this year,” Piper said via email. “We’re seeing that more and more buyers can’t purchase in Seattle because of inventory restrictions and higher prices.
“At RE/MAX we are seeing an 8 to 12 percent increase in cash offers from last year to this year in Pierce County.”
Drexler in Belfair attributes his own low inventory to the tight markets in Kitsap and south Pierce.
“They’re moving our way.”
Of buyers from Pierce County, he’s seeing customers from Gig Harbor, Vaughn and the Key Peninsula area.
Belfair’s waterfront properties tend to sell as second homes, vacation getaways or places to land for retirement, attracting buyers “equally from Seattle and California,” he said.
Kristy Buck, managing broker with John L. Scott’s Shelton office, is seeing similar trends in her market.
“Our waterfront is drawing people from Seattle, Tacoma and California,” she said.
Median home price in July for Shelton was $158,000. In August, it reached $193,000.
“It’s been crazy,” she said. “... I’m shocked at how little there is for sale. It’s just been 2006 all over again.”
She’s also starting to see more full-cash offers.
So the market is tight for buyers and sellers. What about for builders?
Buck has this message: “We have a lot of land.”