Marguerite Giguere was not surprised by the numbers.
“Spring is going to (stink),” Giguere, a local real estate agent and the woman behind MoveToTacoma.com, said bluntly.
“My niece is in her second year in the business,” she continued. “She’s probably not going to have a day off for the next four or five months.”
“Stink” was not the exact word Giguere used, but you get the point. And it’s relative, of course, as there are certainly worse fates than a real estate agent being insanely busy — a fact Giguere is well aware of.
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Still, her forecast brings us to the larger takeaway, which was just as obvious: Giguere, who represents people attempting to buy a home in Tacoma, knows the reality on the ground. She knows how difficult that proposition has become over the past year, and — at least anecdotaly — she already knew what census data, noted by Gene Balk of The Seattle Times, made clear this week.
A whole bunch of people moved to Pierce County last year. Like, a whole bunch. As Balk reported, “Of the more than 3,100 counties in the nation, none saw a bigger jump in the number of movers from other counties last year than Pierce.”
What earned us this remarkable distinction? The increase in net migration. In 2015, nearly 5,000 more people from the United States moved to Pierce County than left. Last year, that number climbed to almost 12,000.
We’re No. 1!
So where’s the excitement?
Well, for those in the housing market — one of the places this influx of new residents is most acutely felt — it depends on what side you’re on.
Selling a house in Tacoma has rarely been easier.
But buying a house?
It’s tough sledding. ... It’s definitely a battleground for buyers and buyers’ agents.
Michael Robinson, an owner, managing broker and Realtor with Windermere
“It’s tough sledding,” said Michael Robinson, an owner and managing broker with Windermere.
“It’s definitely a battle ground for buyers and buyers’ agents.”
Last summer, I checked in with Robinson and Giguere as my family was in the process of selling our first home in Tacoma, and buying our second. It was an intense process, highlighted by the lightning-quick sale of the house we’d lived in on Hilltop for the past five years, and the white-knuckle ride to find a new one.
In the end, it worked out for us. But the stressful experience left me wondering if what we’d encountered was normal.
As it turns out, for the time, it was. What Robinson described as an “inverted sales ratio” — in layman’s terms, more homes pending for sale than available to be bought — had created an ultracompetitive market, where multiple offers had become common place, and new homes were often selling in a matter of days.
Now, armed with the 2016 census data, which validated the feeling that the market was being flooded by new potential buyers, I wondered if anything had changed. It’s now 2017, after all.
According to the real estate experts I spoke with, things have changed in Pierce County for those trying to buy a new house.
It’s gotten worse.
“To me, it seems like the difference in just a year’s time is dramatic,” said Windermere real estate agent Anne Jones. “It’s a marked increase in terms of year-over-year.”
“The influx of both out-of-state and then out-of-area-code buyers is measurable,” she continued. “For a while, it was kind of anecdotal. And then you have a weekend like I did this weekend, when you put a house on the market and your phone’s ringing constantly. And you’re just looking at the area codes, and it’s all of these 206 numbers. They’re just being forced to come down into our market.
“It’s very real.”
The influx of both out-of-state and then out-of-area-code buyers is measurable. For a while, it was kind of anecdotal. And then you have a weekend like I did this weekend, when you put a house on the market and your phone’s ringing constantly. And you’re just looking at the area codes, and it’s all of these 206 numbers. They’re just being forced to come down into our market.
Windermere real estate agent Anne Jones
While it’s easy — and fun! — to blame Seattle for all of this, the experts I spoke to said there’s slightly more to do with it.
Yes, people being priced out of King County’s ridiculous housing market — where, as of last month, according to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service, the median sale price for homes and condos was $502,000, compared with $274,950 in Pierce — are certainly a major factor. The same goes for those who’ve profited off King County’s housing market who are now looking to cash in on a Pierce County market that looks ridiculously cheap by comparison.
But people aren’t just coming from Seattle and King County — they’re coming from all over the country.
Giguere, who says she tracks all the people she helps buy a home in Tacoma, estimated that recently, a third of her business is coming from King County, a third is coming from out-of-state locations such as California or those relocating to the area via the military and a third is comprised of locals.
Complicating matters is what these buyers are finding when they look here — a stifling lack of available inventory. For a number of reasons, including potential sellers fearful that, once they unload their old home, they won’t be able to find a new one, there simply aren’t enough homes currently on the market to buy. This jacks up prices and jacks up the competition.
Again, Robinson pointed to the “inverted sales ratio” — which he described as a “super-barometer” of the market, and a “snapshot of supply and demand” — to back up the assertion.
At the end of last month, he says there were 1,349 units for sale in Pierce County, compared with 1,781 a year ago.
Meanwhile, pending sales — 1,302 at the end of February — were up 11 percent.
That makes for a sales ratio of 96.5 percent in Pierce County.
For comparison, he says, a ratio of 55 percent would be considered “balanced.”
It’s a stat Robinson describes as “amazing,” and, ultimately, “unsustainable.”
“You can’t have the demand continuing to outreach the supply indefinitely,” Robinson said. “It has to come back into some sort of balance, and I don’t know what that looks like.”
For now, what it looks like, at least for potential buyers and their agents, is a whole lot of pressure, anxiety and competing offers.
“When we’re talking around the office, the expectation is spring is going to be super, super-hot,” Giguere said.
“The big challenge is: Where is the inventory going to come from?”