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Seattle home prices still driving many buyers southward. We’re looking at you, Graham.

Rising housing costs in Seattle have homebuyers looking in south Pierce County

Homes in areas such as Graham, Greenwater, Clear Lake and Eatonville sold for a median of $360,900, almost 25 percent higher than last year. In July 2017, the median sale price was about $290,000.
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Homes in areas such as Graham, Greenwater, Clear Lake and Eatonville sold for a median of $360,900, almost 25 percent higher than last year. In July 2017, the median sale price was about $290,000.

Demand for affordable homes in Pierce County has boosted median sale prices in rural areas by nearly $71,000 in the last year, according to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.

It was the highest year-over-year increase of any area in the county.

Homes in areas such as Graham, Greenwater, Clear Lake and Eatonville sold for a median of $360,900, almost 25 percent higher than last year. In July 2017, the median sale price was about $290,000 — a bargain compared to many places up north.

That price comes at a cost. It already takes up to an hour to get to Tacoma from many outlying cities. Workers who need to travel far into King County face a two-hour, one-way commute.

As people flee King County’s high prices — last month the median sale price was $699,000 — they increasingly turn to Pierce County’s more affordable prices. And while King County has about 40 percent more homes for sale than last year, Pierce County’s market remains tight. Sellers still are seeing multiple offers on each home sale.

Pierce County’s inventory dropped about 3.4 percent for the combined condo and home market, and brokers reported more pending sales (2,012) than new listings (1,990), the NWMLS report said.

Beyond Pierce County’s market, “the number of active listings system-wide totaled 16,773 at the end of July, the largest volume since September 2016,” NWMLS reported. “System-wide there is 1.8 months of supply, the highest level since October 2016.”

Four to six months’ worth of inventory is considered a healthy market.

King County’s median closed home sale price in July was $699,000, up 6.23 percent from July 2017 and down from $715,000 in June.

Pierce County’s median closed home sale price for July was $353,500, up more than 13 percent from same time last year and up from $351,000 in June.

The number of single-family homes for sale dropped in the last year, by about 4.5 percent, with pending sales dropping by nearly 9 percent.

It’s a sign for a continuing tight market for Pierce County home buyers, even as the King County market becomes less competitive than months’ past. Buyers to the north have 48 percent more active listings to choose from than a year ago, with 5,116 active listings.

For Pierce County condos, the median closed sale price was $246,475, up a little more than 12 percent from last year. In June, it was $238,500.

Here’s a sampling of median closed home sale prices in Pierce County, with June’s prices in parentheses:

Gig Harbor/Key Peninsula: $491,000 ($496,945).

University Place, Fircrest: $435,000 ($420,784).

Puyallup: $360,000 ($351,950).

North Tacoma: $462,450 ($415,000).

South Tacoma: $258,000 ($269,000).

Central Tacoma: $303,500 ($325,000).

Lakewood: $327,475 ($304,805).

The statewide median price increase of 8.64 percent is “still much greater than inflation,” said Mike Grady, chief operational officer of Coldwell Banker Bain in Bellevue.

Home price increases like we have now “is only sustainable in a growing employment market like we have in this region,” he said, noting that, year over year through May, nearly 30,000 jobs were created.

Home buyers in Pierce County have had few to choose from but now inventory is higher than it’s been in awhile — at 1.5 month’s of supply for single-family homes. With still so few homes for sale, sellers still are fielding multiple offers even as the Seattle market cools.

“Pierce County has, for a handful of years, been the affordability solution for buyers who would otherwise buy in King County,” Mike Larson, president/designated broker, Allen Realtors, Lakewood, said in the NWMLS news release. “I think the craziness of the King County market has magnified that fact even more. Buyers are willing to spend two or three hours in their cars each day if it means buying twice as much house.”

Area agents and brokers are doing their parts to calm the clamor spilling from King County.

“The expectation of multiple offers and the ability of sellers to simply dismiss inspection repair requests is behind us,” Larson said. “The days of doing a market analysis and then pushing the envelope on the list price an extra 5 percent are gone. Ultimately, I think that’s healthy for the market.”

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Multiple offers are still happening in Pierce County for homes “well priced at or below our median price level,” said Dick Beeson, principal managing broker at RE/MAX Professionals in Gig Harbor.

“If a property stays on the market more than 14 days, you know you’ve got a price problem,” he said. “It’s that simple.”

For the first time since 2015, the fall-winter period has unsold inventory of Pierce County homes from summer. If you're in the market to buy, here's a simple step-by-step checklist to help you through the process.

Debbie Cockrell: 253-597-8364, @Debbie_Cockrell
Kate Martin: kmartin@thenewstribune.com, @KateReports
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