Experts optimistic on Thurston County housing market

rboone@theolympian.comMarch 13, 2013 

The Thurston County housing market continues to show improvement, but more could be done to stimulate home sales if banks would put up more bank-owned properties for sale.

The catch? Banks are waiting to see median prices rise even higher before they do.

Those comments were shared at the Olympia Master Builders 2013 Housing Summit, a half-day event that brought together about 90 people and real estate experts to discuss the state of the Thurston County housing market.

Things are on the upswing locally.

On a year-over-year basis in January, home sales here rose 21 percent, then rose nearly 30 percent in February.

Median prices, too, rose 4 percent from January 2012 to January 2013, and rose 3.7 percent in February.

In addition to sales and median price increases, the recent market has been characterized by a sharp drop in the number of homes for sale.

Inventory fell 20 percent last month to 1,034 units.

There are several reasons why inventory levels have fallen, said Jerry Wilkins, area services manager for the Northwest Multiple Listing Service. Wilkins participated in one of two roundtable discussions about real estate during the summit.

Some sellers are underwater on their home, he said, meaning they have no equity in their home and can’t sell it to move up to another property.

Other homeowners, too, have seen their credit ratings fall, which means they can’t qualify for another mortgage.

In both cases, they can’t sell their home, which would free it up for another prospective buyer, Wilkins said.

But a third factor is that banks are holding on to the homes they have acquired through the foreclosure process. Bank-owned properties are sometimes referred to as “shadow” inventory.

After a check of county records, Wilkins said there are about 200 bank-owned properties in the county, an additional 200 homes that could be brought to market and sold.

Steady buyer demand, combined with low inventory levels, has resulted in higher prices, but Wilkins said banks are waiting to see prices rise even further.

He said that the market, overall, is stable.

“As inventory increases, we will see more sales,” Wilkins said, adding that there are plenty of buyers.

Keynote speaker Elliot Eisenberg, a Washington, D.C.- based economist, capped the summit with a discussion about the importance of homebuilding on a local economy, citing the income, taxes and jobs it creates. “There’s not a shred of evidence that housing doesn’t pay for itself,” he told the audience.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403

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