Home sales stage best month of '09

The Thurston County housing market had its best month of the year in June as home sales rose above 300 units for the first time in 2009 and nearly matched total sales in June 2008, according to Northwest Multiple Listing Service data released Monday.

Single-family residence sales, excluding condominiums, performed even better last month – rising 1 percent to 303 units from 299 units in June 2008, the data show.

South Sound real estate agents attributed the June increase in home sales to wider acceptance of tax incentive programs for first-time home buyers and a slight increase in mortgage interest rates that spurred some buyers to action.

As 30-year mortgage interest rates rose higher, some prospective buyers jumped in to buy now rather than wait for interest rates to rise again, said Mark Kitabayashi, president-elect of the Thurston County Realtors Association. Last week, Freddie Mac reported that mortgage rates averaged 5.32 percent nationally. Earlier this year, rates dipped below 5 percent but have climbed in recent weeks.

“People on the fence got off the fence,” he said.

Last month, 312 homes sold, down 3 percent from the 322 units that sold in June 2008, the combined single-family residence and condo data show. In May, 214 homes sold.

The median price in June fell 2.84 percent year-over-year to $239,975 from $247,000, while the year-to-date median price remained fairly stable, the data show. Thurston County’s median price in January was $239,950, according to the Northwest MLS data.

The number of homes for sale also continues to fall, the data show. Inventory levels dropped 19.3 percent in the year-over-year June period to 1,752 units from 2,171 units.

As inventory levels drop, the South Sound housing market gradually will begin to favor both buyers and sellers, rather than just buyers as it has the past couple of years, Keller Williams Realty agent Phil Harlan said Monday.

“I’m encouraged,” he said about the June data. “We’re getting closer to a balanced market and that is a nice place to be.”

Rainier resident Matt Earsley has experienced the South Sound housing market as both a seller and buyer in recent months.

Earsley just closed on a 2,300-square-foot house on 7 acres in Yelm that cost him and his wife $305,000, down from an initial list price of $386,000 a year ago, he said. To buy that house, though, the Earsleys needed to sell their Rainier house first and that took six months, Earsley said. Yet he acknowledges they got “pretty lucky” in the end because they were able to sell the house for slightly more than the asking price.

In February, they listed their 1,400-square-foot house for $248,900 and sold it for $251,900, he said. As soon as the weather turned nice, three people looked at the house and the second person bought it, Earsley said.

“It happened really fast when it finally happened,” he said.

Earsley advises sellers to carefully price their homes and buyers to negotiate and buy low, he said.

Although the June housing data are encouraging, Kitabayashi and Harlan still wonder what effect proposed cuts in state government might have on the Thurston County housing market. Harlan also said that another wave of adjustable-rate mortgages is expected to reset at a higher interest rate next year, and the county still has its share of short sales and foreclosures, Kitabayashi said. A short sale is when a house is sold for less than the value of the mortgage.

“When the short sales disappear, that’s the bottom of the market,” Kitabayashi said.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403