Strong December home sales encourage Realtors

OLYMPIA - The Thurston County real estate market finished on a high note in December after a year that was characterized by fewer home sales, falling prices and foreclosures.

Instead, home sales surged nearly 30 percent in the final month of 2009, according to Northwest Multiple Listing Service data released Tuesday.

Last month, 226 homes sold compared with 174 in the same month a year ago, an increase of 29.8 percent, the combined single-family residence and condominium data show. Although more homes sold in December 2009 than in December 2008, fewer homes sold last month than the 277 units that sold in November 2009.

Also in the year-over-year December period: Median prices fell 8.29 percent to $229,218 from $249,950, pending sales fell 5 percent to 209 units from 220 units, and the number of homes for sale fell 9.26 percent to 1,499 units from 1,652 units. However, year-to-date results through December of last year show that median prices fell only 4.47 percent and actually increased from November to December. The data show that median prices in the final two months of 2009 rose to $229,218 from $225,000.

The strong finish to 2009 has the real estate community feeling hopeful about the new year.

Thurston County Realtors Association President Mark Kitabayashi said recently extended federal tax-incentive programs should carry the market through spring, then soldiers returning to Fort Lewis from Iraq this summer should give the market another boost.

“Our market has always been stable,” he said. “As bad as people think it is, we aren’t doing that bad.”

Still, Kitabayashi acknowledged that this year’s housing outlook could change because of the slower economy and budget decisions that might affect state government, the county’s largest employer. He also thinks the rate of foreclosure will remain about the same. That’s bad for people losing their homes, but it also means lower prices for buyers, he said.

Burger Professionals owner Doug Burger said he too is feeling better about the new year after 2009 ended on a positive note. He said his real estate practice had its best November in three years, generating about $100,000 in agent commissions. Some of that increased business came as a result of the tax-incentive programs, while other buyers waited all year before they got into the market, Burger said. So far this year his office already has put together three deals, he said.

“We are cautiously optimistic that it is going to be a good year for us,” Burger said.

“We survived when many people didn’t.”

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403