South Sound housing market shows strength in July

The summer home-buying season finally kicked into gear in South Sound as sales and median prices rose in July, according to Northwest Multiple Listing Service data released Wednesday.

Pierce County home sales barely inched higher last month, but the county still recorded 1,205 homes sold, the most units sold in one month this year, the combined single-family residence and condo data show. Median prices rose more than 4 percent to $230,000 in July from $220,000 in July 2013.

Thurston County, meanwhile, had one of its best months all year as sales and median prices both rose last month. Sales climbed to 362 units last month from 342 units in the same period a year ago, while median prices inched up nearly 3 percent to $234,950 from $228,500 in the same year-over-year period, the combined data show.

One factor that might be influencing the market is that there are not a whole lot of homes to choose from. Although inventory levels are higher than they were a year ago – up 19 percent in Pierce County and nearly 15 percent in Thurston County – it still equates to less than four months’ supply of homes in Pierce County, while Thurston County is right at four months, the combined data show.

Dick Beeson, principal managing broker of Re/Max Professionals in Tacoma, said the market is healthy. It’s not as strong a seller’s market for upper-end priced homes in Pierce and Thurston because the two counties don’t generate the incomes that King County does, but it is a much stronger seller’s market around $200,000 in both counties.

And more inventory would come online and help further balance the market if lenders would bring their bank-owned and distressed properties to market faster, Beeson said.

Lenders are well aware that home values are improving, so they are waiting to “maximize every property,” he said.

The Pierce County housing market has taken on a steady-as-she goes quality, but the Thurston market has struggled to find its form until July as prices would fall one month, then rise the next; sales showed the same volatility.

The fits and starts in Thurston likely can be attributed to consumer confidence, Beeson said, particularly with regard to talk of troop reductions at Joint Base Lewis-McChord because Lacey is such a popular destination for military home buyers.

Windermere Olympia owner Steve Garrett said that the July numbers show the Thurston housing market finally is “getting out of the tarpit of negative equity.”

“I hope the trend continues,” he said, adding, “We have paid our dues.”