Preparation is key for buyers as Whatcom's housing market improves

Whatcom County’s housing market is showing some of its best signs of improvement in five years, but a stronger outlook will bring new challenges for sellers and buyers in 2013, according to one local real-estate expert.

The county’s median home sales price in 2012 was $250,000, an increase of 3.2 percent from 2011, according to an analysis by Lylene Johnson, an agent with The Muljat Group in Bellingham. The total number of homes sold last year also increased by 12.8 percent to 2,077, which is the county’s highest level since 2007.

Johnson, who has tracked local real-estate data for years, used figures from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service along with her own historical records to analyze the housing market in communities of Whatcom County.

Bellingham’s median sale price in 2012 rose by 3.8 percent to $275,000, while its total number of sales rose by 17 percent to 942.

Outside of the county’s largest city, the towns of Lynden, Sudden Valley and Nooksack Valley saw home sales increase by 17 percent or more.

With improvement in the market, Johnson said potential buyers need to be prepared. Getting their finances in line is an important first step, she said. Buyers must know exactly how much money they are able to borrow from lenders, and obtaining pre-qualification on loans is vital.

They will also benefit from good market research, so they can be certain if a particular house is a good fit, she said.

“Buyers need to get themselves ready financially,” Johnson said. “ [And] if it’s a really great house they need to know that, so they can make an appropriate offer.”

For sellers, Johnson said it is important to know that while housing prices are stronger, buyers will still be looking for reasonably priced homes.

“Prices are not spiking,” she said. “Sellers must make sure their properties are fixed up, that they are attractive to buyers, and they need to price them responsibility and realistically.”

In what was a constant factor in housing markets across western Washington last year, the inventory of homes for sale in Whatcom County remains tight, Johnson said. A lack of available homes has driven up prices and has also made the process of buying more aggressive, since sellers usually receive multiple offers for their homes.

Johnson said she wasn’t sure if Whatcom County’s housing inventory would drastically improve in 2013. It might, she said, as prices strengthen and potential sellers take signs of a better market as impetus to list their homes.

But many homeowners remain underwater with debt, and smaller-scale home contractors still struggle to get financing for new building projects, she said.

Johnson added that the housing boom prior to 2007 was led by building activity from small contractors.

“Basically right now, the only ones who can afford to build houses are the ones who are well established or have been around for a long time,” Johnson said.

Local inventories could grow in 2013 if more smaller-scale builders enter the market, or if home prices continue to rise, she said.

By the numbers

Whatcom County
Median sales price: $250,000 (up 3.2 percent from 2011)
Average sales price: $282,671 (up 3.7 percent)
Total homes sold: 2,077 (up 12.8 percent)
Average days on the market: 125 (down 13.2 percent)

Bellingham
Median sales price: $275,000 (up 3.8 percent)
Average sales price: $322,096 (up 1.3 percent)
Total homes sold: 942 (up 17 percent)
Average days on the market: 105 (down 13.9 percent)

Blaine/Birch Bay
Median sales price: $230,000 (up 11.9 percent)
Average sales price: $289,549 (up 18.6 percent)
Total homes sold: 219 (down 9.5 percent)
Average days on the market: 182 (up 1.1 percent)

Ferndale
Median sales price: $254,000 (up 3.7 percent)
Average sales price: $267,788 (up 2 percent)
Total homes sold: 295 (up 8.9 percent)
Average days on the market: 126 (down 20.3 percent)

Lynden
Median sales price: $255,000 (down 1.5 percent)
Average sales price: $274,574 (down 2.5 percent)
Total homes sold: 228 (up 24.6 percent)
Average days on the market: 116 (down 22.7 percent)

Mount Baker
Median sales price: $96,500 (up 62.9 percent)
Average sales price: $141,717 (up 20.2 percent)
Total homes sold: 134 (up 6.3 percent)
Average days on the market: 169 (up 11.9 percent)

Nooksack Valley
Median sales price: $208,000 (up 6.9 percent)
Average sales price: $216,347 (up 2.7 percent)
Total homes sold: 88 (up 1.73 percent)
Average days on the market: 138 (down 19.3 percent)

Sudden Valley
Median sales price: $201,251(up 5.9 percent)
Average sales price: $215,533 (down 0.3 percent)
Total homes sold: 120 (up 20 percent)
Average days on the market: 117 (down 14 percent)

Source: Lylene Johnson, The Muljat Group

Contact Evan Marczynski at evan@bbjtoday.com or call 360-647-8805. 

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