'Do no harm,' Realtors urge

The housing recovery statewide is too fragile right now to be burdened with more taxes, representatives of the Washington Realtors told The Olympian's editorial board on Wednesday.

That was the primary concern shared with the board by Steve Francks, chief executive of Washington Realtors, and Phil Harlan, president-elect for the group in 2011. The Realtors group is an association that represents the interests of the real estate community statewide.

The group’s legislative priorities include a message of no increase in real estate excise taxes, no increase in business and occupation taxes, and no imposition of a sales tax on real estate-related services.

“Anything that piles on and makes the (home sales) transaction more expensive runs the risk of pulling back on the housing market’s recovery,” Francks told the board.

Although Francks and Harlan didn’t cite any specific legislation that would fall hard on the real estate community, they are urging a “do no harm” message because “everything is on the table” to try to find new sources of revenue for a state trying to bridge the gap of a large budget shortfall.

The other reason the state Legislature should steer clear of the slowly improving housing market is that it creates jobs, Francks said. For every thousand homes sold, it creates 700 jobs, said Francks, citing his own statistics. “There are real economic benefits that flow from a healthy housing market,” he said.

The South Sound housing market slowly is returning to normal, said Harlan, also an associate broker and co-owner of the Keller Williams Realty office on Cooper Point Road.

The number of homes for sale has fallen below 1,500 units, year-over-year median price declines were not as sharp in Thurston County compared with other Western Washington counties, and federal tax-incentive plans for first-time buyers and existing homeowners are available through April, he said.

Also encouraging for the South Sound housing market was a strong finish to 2009, according to Northwest Multiple Listing Service data. Homes sold in December rose 30 percent to 226 units from 174 units in December 2008, the data show.

Outside of the housing market driving the state’s economic recovery, Francks and Harlan acknowledged that job growth is key. That means lending standards will have to ease up so community banks can start lending again to small businesses.

“We see good signs, and we just want to keep that going,” Francks said about the housing market.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403