Buyers in Pierce County’s tight housing market are tripping all over themselves to snap up anything available, a trend that migrated south from King County, where bidding wars have been the norm for years.
That trend soon could trickle into Pierce County’s $600,000-plus home market. Those high-end homes are spending less time on the market than they ever have before.
“It used to be like a needle in the haystack when listing those types of homes,” said Regina Madiera-Gorden, a real estate broker at Windermere Professional Partners. “Now, if you market well and price right, there is a buyer pool.”
In late 2007, high-end homes spent an average of 221 days on the market before they sold. Even within the last three years, more often than not such homes spent more than 90 days on the market.
That time since has taken a precipitous drop. Earlier this year, these homes spent an average of 50 days on the market before selling.
“It’s kind of like a feeding frenzy,” said Madiera-Gorden who’s sold more $600,000-plus homes this year than in her prior 12 years in the real estate industry.
The number of high-end homes sold in Pierce County — 661 this year through the end of September — already has eclipsed last year’s total with three months left in 2017.
High-end homes can be attractive to buyers because they have features that less expensive homes lack, Madiera-Gorden said.
For instance, a media or theater room, an upgraded kitchen, an in-home gym, a home office or an outdoor dog run are considered standard in high-end homes, she said.
Many have spacious yards, outdoor kitchens or expansive decks. And don’t forget the fine finishes, such as quartz or granite counter tops, larger and more bedrooms and high-tech upgrades.
In the past, high-end buyers wanting a particular property or feature could afford to wait for the price to drop or for the perfect property to come on the market.
“People shopping in that price range are pretty specific about what they want,” Madiera-Gorden said. One of her buyers, from the Chicago area, wants a home with the clean lines and steel of contemporary design, and is willing to wait.
That time could be coming to an end, she said.
To determine the health of a housing market, real estate agents and economists look at housing inventory, measured in months. It’s considered a balanced market — where buyers and sellers are on equal footing — with four to six months of inventory.
In Pierce County, there have been two or fewer months worth of inventory for more than a year for all homes for sale, which indicates a market skewed decidedly toward sellers.
Until recently, the scales have been tipped toward buyers for homes costing more than $600,000. In 2007, there were more than 45 months of such homes for sale.
Last year, inventory for homes priced $600,000 or more dropped below seven months for the first time, and since has plummeted to just over four months in May this year.
Homes costing $1 million or more, traditionally immune from broader market trends, are selling faster as well. Still, there haven’t been bidding wars for these more expensive homes just yet.
But that could change as people trade a longer commute to points north for a better value. Many buyers are coming from King County or California, where home prices are much higher.
“When they were looking at what $500,000 to $700,000 could buy them here verses there, it was night and day, so it’s worth the time to commute,” Madiera-Gorden said. “If you look at this area, Pierce County is still a gem with value, compared to King County.”
Still, not all of these expensive homes are selling, just the ones priced well, said Janet Lee, a broker with Windermere Professional Partners.
“The market just keeps improving,” Lee said. “It seems like our inventory is so low on great houses in great locations. Single-story homes are really popular because we have a lot of retirees that are moving to the area as well.”
She sells homes mainly in Gig Harbor, and specifically waterfront properties. The median-priced home of any price range in one area of Gig Harbor sold for $513,500 in August — $63,500 more than the previous August’s median sale price.
Lee said people moving into the $600,000-plus market are families with one or more children looking for a close-knit community they say they cannot find in King County.
People can sell their homes on the Eastside and move to Gig Harbor, she said, “because the taxes are less, the housing prices are less and they are really tired of the traffic and congestion up there.”
Instead, those living in Gig Harbor can choose a ferry or land commute to Seattle.
Lee said some homes that are priced well are seeing multiple bids, a situation nearly unheard of just a couple of years ago.
“It’s usually a win for the sellers,” she said.