Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Median price of King County home tops $300,000

by Kristina Shevory

Times Eastside business Reporter, Seattle Times

The median price of a home sold in King County topped $300,000 in November for the first time since the Northwest Multiple Listing Service starting tracking sales in 1984.

The median means half the homes sold were priced higher, and half sold for less. The MLS keeps records of home sales by member agents in 15 counties.

The higher prices meant prospective home buyers are searching farther out from Seattle and Bellevue to find cheaper homes.

For example, Don and Marylee Allan gave up trying to find a four-bedroom, two-bath home priced below $360,000 in Bellevue after three months. They made an offer last week for a house on the Sammamish Plateau.

"There's not a lot, and you have to compromise on what you want," said Don Allan, who had a split-level house inspected in Sammamish yesterday.

The couple, who lives in a rental home in Bellevue, will have a 25-minute commute to work from their new home.

Compared with November 2003, closed sales and median prices last month rose while the number of listings and days on the market fell throughout the region.

Inventory shrunk most dramatically in Seattle, where it dropped 26 percent to 1,906 homes.

The number of homes for sale in the least-expensive part of King County, which is southwest with a median price of $239,975, fell 12 percent compared with a year ago.

In King County, homes sold in 49 days last month on average, 12 days faster than they did a year ago.

The range varied between the Eastside, with the average 52 days on the market, and Seattle at 39 days.

"You look at the computer, and there's nothing to look at," said Linda Dorgan, managing broker of John L. Scott's Shoreline office. "That's why we were so excited when three or four new listings went on the market the other day."

Dorgan's 29 agents had around 20 listings in November, a quarter less than they did last year.

New listings rose more than 8 percent last month compared with November 2003, an unusual trend because sellers usually wait until after the holidays to put their homes on the market.

Some of the new listings may have come from rental-home owners who decided to sell to cash in on the housing boom, or sellers who wanted to cash out before interest rates rise next year and buyer demand possibly cools.

Mortgage rates for a 30-year loan rose from 5.7 percent to 5.72 percent last month, but there are widespread expectations the Federal Reserve will continue to increase short-term interest rates.

In popular neighborhoods, such as Seattle's View Ridge and Queen Anne, landlords are selling to make money on their rentals.

"They figured the appreciation was there and that they either had to jump now and sell or hang on for another four to five years," said Laura Sagen-Hughes, owner and broker of the Sagen Group Property Management in Seattle, which has 17 rentals listed on its Web site.

Buyers have to move fast, said Leslie Hancock, an associate broker in Windermere's South Bellevue office.

Hancock, who is working with the Allans, said multiple offers have become more common on properties priced under $500,000 instead of on homes under $350,000.

She listed one home in Brettonwood in Bellevue for $360,000 on a Friday afternoon last month and received five offers by Monday.

The four-bedroom, two-bath rambler later sold for $376,000. Another home she listed in the Bellevue neighborhood of Tam O'Shanter for $500,000, received five offers over one weekend and sold for $10,000 over list price.

"Buyers are scrambling for any property," said Hancock. "And that's making it very difficult to find anything to show them."


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