Remember the Great Recession and the slower housing market? Well, close the book on that sad chapter, because by all accounts, the South Sound housing market was strong in 2015, as total sales and median prices for the year rose significantly from the totals for 2014.
A housing market recap released by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service on Thursday offers impressive numbers: Total single-family residence sales in Pierce and Thurston counties rose by more than 15 percent last year compared to 2014, while median prices showed healthy gains, increasing nearly 9 percent in Pierce County and 7 percent in Thurston County.
Last year’s housing market was driven by lower levels of inventory, which put sellers in the driver’s seat as “buyers scrambled in competition with other buyers to find a home,” said Dick Beeson, principal managing broker of Re/Max Professionals in Tacoma.
Beeson said 2015 was the best year since 2006 for Re/Max Professionals and its five offices, not all of which are in South Sound. The business paid about $15 million in commissions to agents last year, he said.
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In 2009, 2010 and 2011, Re/Max Professionals paid one-third of that amount in commissions, he said.
Olympia Windermere owner Steve Garrett said it was his office’s best year since 2008.
“It was an outstanding year,” he said, adding there were plenty of motivated buyers, despite low levels of inventory.
Months of inventory — an estimate of how long it would take for the entire inventory of active listings to sell at the current pace of sales — was 2.47 months in Pierce County and 3.02 months in Thurston County for 2015, according to the Northwest MLS data.
A healthy market that doesn’t favor sellers or buyers is in the range of four to six months.
Garrett said buyers remained motivated because they got off the fence as mortgage interest rates inched higher and median prices did, too.
The economy has improved and a different kind of buyer has emerged, Beeson said, saying many paid in cash, many put more money down, and the questionable mortgage products of a few years ago are gone.
As for the 2016 outlook for South Sound’s housing market, low inventory levels are a concern, Beeson and Garrett said.
New home construction is not meeting demand, which means prospective buyers will not only have to be pre-approved, but what Beeson called “pre-underwritten,” meaning buyers will have to be even deeper into the home-buying process to get the house they want.
In Thurston County, Garrett said he is concerned about the Mazama pocket gopher and how its status as a threatened species may inhibit growth and new home construction.
A closer look at the year-over-year data:
▪ Pierce County: Single-family residence sales rose 17.4 percent to 13,273 units in 2015 from 11,307 units in 2014. Single-family median price rose 8.67 percent to $249,950 from $230,000.
▪ Thurston County: Single-family residence sales rose 17.5 percent to 4,115 units in 2015 from 3,501 units in 2014. Single-family median price rose 6.52 percent to $245,000 from $229,995.
▪ Number of single-family residences that sold for $1 million or more in Pierce County last year: 82. Thurston County: 2. King County: 2,319.
▪ Number of condos that sold for $500,000 or more in Pierce County last year: 51. Thurston County: 3. King County: 1,291.