Local real estate market on the climb again


Ben and Jennifer didn’t think they’d be getting into a home during this market, but they are happy they did. With prices low and financing more available, they got out of their tiny rented apartment and into a little home they can call their own. A year ago, they couldn’t have done it.

Despite an almost daily “in your face” barrage of negativity, courtesy of our “ever-poised-to-spread-bad-news-quickly” national media, things are improving on the home front. In the past 15 months, pending sales activity of Bellingham single family residences has climbed some 20.6 percent. Bellingham enjoyed a seasonal uptick in listing inventory, climbing from 511 homes in January to 566 homes in February. First time home buyer activity in the “sub-$300,000” price range was most active, with 61 percent of February’s sales fitting this bracket. Inventory levels under $300,000 in Bellingham have dropped 22 percent over last year, and pending sales have increased.

Is this the start of a “perfect storm” for home buyers? Prices in this range continue to hold firm. Historically this increase of entry-level purchases will jog activity in higher price points, with sellers becoming buyers of new homes (as was shown by the Washington Realtors task force on economic stimulus).

“We’re running out of new home inventory with few on the horizon,” comments Mike Kent of Windermere Real Estate. ”This will be the catalyst to start upward pricing pressure on resales.” With permitting activity on new home construction at virtually nil in the last six months, Bellingham’s 42 new homes on the market may very well be gone in a few months.

At this time, President Obama’s stimulus package is finally reaching those of us at a grass-roots level. In a March 4th statement, National Association of Realtors President Charles McMillan stated, “… We are pleased that the President released the guidelines today for refinancing and mortgage loan modifications …. Allowing eligible homeowners to refinance or modify their loans will help millions of families avoid foreclosure.” As foreclosure activity winds down, home prices, too, will begin to improve. A recently enacted $8,000 tax credit for eligible first time home buyers could add as many as 300,000 new purchases in 2009.

Closer to home, the Whatcom County Association of Realtors is sponsoring a county-wide Open House on April 18th and 19th. According to organizer Stephanie Johnson, of Fairhaven Realty, the open house will feature 300-400 Whatcom County homes for sale. “I am excited about the Real Estate community pulling together to create a positive and educational Open House event,” Johnson said. “It’s a perfect time for buyers to compare what’s available.” Information on the event will be available in the Real Estate News Insert in the Bellingham Herald on April 18th. Last year the Snohomish County event produced a 17 percent increase in pending sales the following two months.

All real estate is local. The Northwest has been spared the wild fluctuations of huge inventory for sale priced at half of what they were only a couple years ago. “It’s a great time to finance the purchase of a home. Interest rates are below 5 percent, the lowest they have been since WWII, and property prices are down slightly from a couple years ago,” says Penny Whitish-Talbot of Bellingham’s Horizon Bank.

With more pending sales, price points pushing activity into higher market levels, the lack of new building in Whatcom County’s primary market of Bellingham – now is the time with incentives, tax credits, and low interest rates to get the ball rolling if you want to purchase a home. “Anyone buying a home today, with current prices and historically low interest rates, will look back and realize how lucky or brilliant their timing was” Kent said.

It’s a good time to call your local Realtor for advice in this dynamically changing market.


Mark Brown is immediate past president of the Whatcom County Association of Realtors and is a seventh-generation Whatcom County native specializing in local residential real estate. Contact Mark Brown, Windermere Real Estate, at (360) 296-7339 or markbrown@windermere.com.


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