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Agent: Market Indicators Show Some Improvement

In her final column of 2011, Joan Probala reflects on changes in the Sammamish and Issaquah housing market over the past year and interprets the most recent NWMLS report.

The end of the year is always a good time to reflect on what has happened during the year. The housing market is on the forefront of everyone’s list because of the impact on personal finances as well as on the general economy. So, let’s look at some of the changes in the market.

A good place to start is with the statistics from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service (NWMLS) to find out what is happening in Sammamish and Issaquah.

Inventory has dropped significantly from October to November. The number of homes for sale has dropped almost eight percent. It is not surprising then to see the solds have increased. The average active price has increased five percent but the overall sold price has decreased 15.5 percent between October and November. Although the sold price is disappointing, the one year price change from November 2010 to November 2011 is a mere 0.8 percent. Monthly sales are affected by many things and it is a good standard to look at sales from one year to another to judge if the market has improved or is holding steady.

Months of supply in inventory (active inventory divided by pending sales)  gauges the type of a market we are in. Zero to three months of inventory signifies a sellers’ advantage, a three- to six-month supply indicates a balanced market and six or more months supply slides to a buyers’ advantage.

Both Sammamish and Issaquah fall into the balanced column with a four-month supply of inventory. This means that neither buyers nor sellers have the negotiating advantage. Based on these statistics, home prices should be more predictable and more stable. Things could change quickly, however, if the last two months of statistics include a large seasonal adjustment—sellers either waiting until after the first of year to list or taking a home off the market during the holidays—that is reflected in the drop in inventory. On the Eastside, only parts of the Renton Highlands, Bellevue and Kirkland still have a seller’s advantage.

Market time has decreased from a high of 97 days in January to 69 days in November in Sammamish and Issaquah. Both of these cities have amenities that draw people to them and thus have maintained their desirability.

According to the latest Realtors® Confidence Index, the cost of renting a residence (apartment or house) is up compared to a year ago. A total of 51 percent of Realtors® reported higher rents, in contrast to 15 percent reporting lower rents compared to a year ago. This makes home buying more lucrative.

The work of the congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to fill a huge gap in the federal budget came to a close without any progress. Elimination of the mortgage interest deduction is now off the table for at least 2012. This will have a positive effect for many homeowners and certainty on April 15.

Congress extended flood insurance several times, each time for only a few months. Realtors are urging Congress to add certainty to the program by extending it for five years. Without flood insurance, homeowners in a 100 year flood plain would not be able to sell their homes. FEMA is in the process of extending the areas that is now included in the flood plain. This could eliminate any building in the Kent Valley.

The number of opportunities to acquire mortgage money increased dramatically and likely contributed to the decrease in inventory. The government initiated new programs that offer buyers a wide variety of options, decreased the time that lenders have to facilitate the sale of a distressed property, and even stopped any attempt of evicting any homeowners during the holidays.

The Federal Housing Administration has raised the loan limit for King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties back to $567,500. This enabled buyers to not only qualify for a higher loan but also to have the same interest rate afforded to other borrowers.

The year 2010 signaled the end of the $1,500 tax credit for energy efficient home additions. In 2011, the government added lower but still useful energy tax credits for heating and cooling systems.  The HouseLogic web site clearly lists specific requirements for a maximum $500 tax credit. HouseLogic is a free source of information and tools for homeowners from the National Association of Realtors® that helps homeowners make smart decisions and take responsible actions to maintain, protect and enhance the value of their home.

Investors have more access to loans. This is taking more of the distressed properties off the market and has the possibility of helping to keep prices of non-distressed properties from depreciating further.

Last year’s fear of increasing interest rates did not happen. Interest rates are holding steady and even dip into the 3’s for certain loans.

The one lesson that can be learned from the present market is that no one knows the future. But, indicators show improvement and this is a great time to find the perfect home at a great price with a great interest rate.

Joan Probala is the managing broker for Issaquah Windermere (Windermere Real Estate/East Inc.). She has 30 years of experience in real estate, construction and sales. She is president-elect (2012) of the Seattle King County Association of Realtors.

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