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Tight, expensive housing market shutting out some buyers

The Mirror

The housing market is making it tough for some prospective homebuyers –– especially first-timers –– in south King County and elsewhere, according to real estate experts.

Northwest Multiple Listing Service (NMLS), an industry group that includes brokers in King County, reported pending sales in April increased 11.4 percent from the same period a year ago, with 10 of the 15 counties in the NMLS service area reporting double-digit gains.

King County experienced only a 1.4 percent increase, which brokers attributed partly to having 30 percent fewer listings than 12 months ago.

“These statistics contain some bad news for families trying to find a home, especially first-time homebuyers,” observed Sam Pace, a housing specialist for Seattle-King County Association of Realtors. With fewer houses available, buyers have fewer choices and must act quickly to get a home they like, he explained.

Pace, who is affiliated with Executive Real Estate Inc., focuses much of his work in the south King County area, where inventory is down about 30 percent. Prices there have jumped about 13 percent from year-ago levels.

Traditionally, the south-end housing market has been the “affordable-housing safety valve,” Pace said. “But the kinds of price hikes we are seeing are quickly outstripping the purchasing power of first-time buyers.”

For single-family homes (excluding condominiums), King County had the highest NMLS-area average sales price –– $355,000.

“When I ask my clients if their incomes have gone up 10 to 13 percent in the last year –– which is what we’re seeing with housing prices –– the universal answer is no,” Pace said.

Such buyers are being forced to look farther out, in rural areas and other counties, to find a home they can afford, he said.

There’s more bad news, Pace said: Realtors worry that certain segments of the population are harmed by shortages of affordable homes, which he blamed in part on King County’s land-use regulations for housing. Home prices will continue to skyrocket, he said, leaving “economically vulnerable families on the edge of becoming homeless.”

Overall, though, April was a booming month for sellers of homes.

Inventory and interest rates remained low, “causing high demand for homes, especially in the more affordable price ranges,” said Joe Spencer, president of John L. Scott Real Estate.

NMLS said brokers in the 15-county region reported 10,677 pending sales during April, up 11.4 percent from the same month in 2004. Brokers reported 12,116 new listings last month, 116 fewer than the year-ago total.

Homes were on the market in King County an average of 44 days; the average a year ago was 57 days.

Counties outside the central Puget Sound region are experiencing hefty increases, according to NMLS. Prices for homes sold last month in Island, Jefferson, Kittitas, Mason and Skagit counties were 20 percent higher than a year ago.

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