More Whatcom County homes sold in the third quarter of 2015 than in any other third quarter in more than 10 years, according to a new report by Lylene Johnson of the Muljat Group. Johnson compiles and analyzes data from the Northwest Multiple Listings Service quarterly.
Countywide, 917 homes sold from July to September—12 percent more than the pre-recession third quarter peak of 818 in 2007, according to Johnson’s report. Among the county’s major market areas, percentage increases in home sales were biggest in Birch Bay and Blaine where 114 homes sold between July and September, a 34.1 percent increase from last year. Sales in Sudden Valley increased 52.8 percent, but growth there hasn’t been steady and Johnson said it’s harder to draw conclusions from smaller markets.
In terms of total number of homes sold, Ferndale had the biggest year-over-year gains with 149 homes selling in the third quarter of this year. During the same period in 2014, 113 homes Ferndale homes sold.
Home prices are also increasing throughout the county, according to the third quarter data. Prices are growing fastest in Ferndale, where the median price went from $257,500 last year to $294,000 this year—a 14.2 percent increase. The current median price in Ferndale hasn’t yet surpassed the pre-recession peak of $321,000, according to Northwest Multiple Listings Service data.
Bellingham didn’t see the same gains in sales as the rest of the county over the last year. The number of third quarter sales increased 2.5 percent to 362. That’s the smallest increase in closed sales among the seven market areas in the county, according to Johnson’s report. She said more homes aren’t selling in Bellingham due to a lack of supply.
Despite that lack of supply, the median price for closed sales in Bellingham isn’t rising as fast as it is in Ferndale and most other market areas. The median price for Bellingham homes sold during the summer months was $325,000, a 4.1 percent increase from summer 2014, according to the report. In Ferndale, the median selling price was up 14.2 percent over the previous year to $294,000.
Longer term, however, median prices for Bellingham homes have increased more than in the rest of the county. Median prices in Bellingham are up 2.2 percent from the pre-recession peak of $318,500 in 2007. By comparison, homes in Ferndale this summer sold for a median price that was 8.4 percent lower than Ferndale’s peak median price in summer 2006. In Lynden, summer closed sale prices were 7.1 percent lower than in summer 2006.
Countywide, supply remained flat throughout the third quarter of this year. Monthly inventory, a measure of the amount of time it would take to sell all the homes currently on the market, fell steadily for more than a year until this summer. In September 2015, monthly inventory rose from 3.39 percent to 3.49 percent. Many real estate professionals consider four to six months of inventory a balanced market, an amount Bellingham hasn’t had since February.
Canadian dollar affecting market for second homes
The Canadian dollar’s drop in value against the U.S. dollar has changed the market for second homes in Whatcom County in the last year, according to several real estate agents.
Traditionally, Canadians have been a substantial part of the market for second homes near Mount Baker and Birch Bay. But in the last 30 months the loonie went from being nearly even with the U.S. dollar to being worth 77 cents, changing the value of Whatcom County property for Canadian buyers.
Maryann Angus, a Keller Williams broker working in the eastern part of the county, said the lack of Canadian buyers has been “almost devastating.”
“I have pending buyers who said until the exchange rate improves they’re not going to do anything,” she said.
Marty Kutschbach, a John L. Scott broker who has worked in Glacier and Maple Falls for 12 years, said Canadians have historically been a substantial chunk of his buyers and he’s currently seeing very few who are interested in buying.
On the other hand, wealthy Canadians are now willing to sell their Whatcom County properties for less, he said. A Canadian who bought a second home for $300,000 when the Canadian and U.S. dollar were equal could sell today for $300,000 today and walk away with $387,540 Canadian dollars.
“That has helped the market a little bit,” Kutschbach said. “Because some of them are willing to sell for less, that means someone with U.S. dollars can buy for less.”
Birch Bay/Blaine and the Nooksack Valley—two of the most popular areas for second homes—were the only areas where median prices for closed sales got cheaper in the last year, according to Johnson’s third quarter report.
Some brokers have taken advantage of the dollar disparity to generate listings for themselves.
Joe Sulham, an agent with Fairhaven Realty, is talking Canadians into selling their Whatcom County vacation properties so that he can be their listing agent. Sulham works with title companies or browses county records to find properties owned by Canadians, he said. He then mails them to explain the extra money they’ll reap from the dollar disparity.
Sulham has had success with this, he said. Some of his clients who are selling now bought their properties when the scales were tipped the other way and the Canadian dollar was worth more than the U.S. dollar.
“The market isn’t as strong as it was in 2006, but Canadians can make more money,” Sulham said. “You could be selling it for less than you paid dollar-wise but still making money in the end.”
By the numbers
Includes number of units sold, median and average sales prices and average days on market in Q3 2015. Percentage changes compare Q3 2015 to Q3 2014.
County total: Units sold: 917 (up 18.9 percent); Median price: $291,000 (up 4.9 percent); Average price: $323,036 (up 2.4 percent); Days on market: 68 (down 23.6 percent).
Bellingham: Units sold: 362 (up 2.5 percent); Median price: $325,500 (up 4.1. percent); Average price: $378,336 (up 3.5 percent); Days on market: 45 (down 29.7 percent).
Birch Bay/Blaine: Units sold: 114 (up 34.1 percent); Median price: $253,500 (down 2.5 percent); Average price: $300,527 (down 1.2 percent); Days on market: 100 (down 27.0 percent).
Ferndale: Units sold: 143 (up 26.5 percent); Median price: $294,000 (up 14.2 percent); Average price: $312,237 (up 10.7 percent); Days on market: 77 (down 33.0 percent).
Lynden: Units sold: 76 (up 2.7 percent); Median price: $295,000 (up 4.4 percent); Average price: $303,638 ( up 1.2 percent); Days on market: 60 (down 33 percent).
Mount Baker: Units sold: 72 (up 24.1 percent); Median price: $193,950 (up 65.1 percent); Average price: $222,538 (up 36.7 percent); Days on market: 130 (down 1.6 percent).
Nooksack Valley: Units sold: 38 (up 2.7 percent); Median price: $228,500 (down 6.7 percent); Average price: $234,580 (down 21.6 percent); Days on market: 80 (up 12.7 percent).
Sudden Valley: Units sold: 55 (up 52.8 percent); Median price: $240,000 (up 4.9 percent); Average price: $249,936 (up 0.6 percent); Days on market: 59 (down 37.2 percent).
Source: Lylene Johnson of The Muljat Group