The Gardner Report – Fourth Quarter 2017

Economic Overview

The Washington State economy added 104,600 new jobs over the past 12 months. This impressive growth rate of 3.1% is well above the national rate of 1.4%. Interestingly, the slowdown we saw through most of the second half of the year reversed in the fall, and we actually saw more robust employment growth.

Growth continues to be broad-based, with expansion in all major job sectors other than aerospace due to a slowdown at Boeing.

With job creation, the state unemployment rate stands at 4.5%, essentially indicating that the state is close to full employment. Additionally, all counties contained within this report show unemployment rates below where they were a year ago.

I expect continued economic expansion in Washington State in 2018; however, we are likely to see a modest slowdown, which is to be expected at this stage in the business cycle.

Home Sales Activity

  • There were 22,325 home sales during the final quarter of 2017. This is an increase of 3.7% over the same period in 2016.
  • Jefferson County saw sales rise the fastest relative to fourth quarter of 2016, with an impressive increase of 22.8%. Six other counties saw double-digit gains in sales. A lack of listings impacted King and Skagit Counties, where sales fell.
  • Housing inventory was down by 16.2% when compared to the fourth quarter of 2016, and down by 17.3% from last quarter. This isn’t terribly surprising since we typically see a slowdown as we enter the winter months. Pending home sales rose by 4.1% over the third quarter of 2017, suggesting that closings in the first quarter of 2018 should be robust.
  • The takeaway from this data is that listings remain at very low levels and, unfortunately, I don’t expect to see substantial increases in 2018. The region is likely to remain somewhat starved for inventory for the foreseeable future.

Annual change in home sales

Home Prices

  • Because of low inventory in the fall of 2017, price growth was well above long-term averages across Western Washington. Year-over-year, average prices rose 12% to $466,726.
  • Economic vitality in the region is leading to a demand for housing that far exceeds supply. Given the relative lack of newly constructed homes—something that is unlikely to change any time soon—there will continue to be pressure on the resale market. This means home prices will rise at above-average rates in 2018.
  • Compared to the same period a year ago, price growth was most pronounced in Lewis County, where home prices were 18.8% higher than a year ago. Eleven additional counties experienced double-digit price growth as well.
  • Mortgage rates in the fourth quarter rose very modestly, but remained below the four percent barrier. Although I anticipate rates will rise in 2018, the pace will be modest. My current forecast predicts an average 30-year rate of 4.4% in 2018—still remarkably low when compared to historic averages.

Days on Market

  • The average number of days it took to sell a home in the fourth quarter dropped by eight days, compared to the same quarter of 2016.
  • King County continues to be the tightest market in Western Washington, with homes taking an average of 21 days to sell. Every county in the region saw the length of time it took to sell a home either drop or remain static relative to the same period a year ago.
  • Last quarter, it took an average of 50 days to sell a home. This is down from 58 days in the fourth quarter of 2016, but up by 7 days from the third quarter of 2017.
  • As mentioned earlier in this report, I expect inventory levels to rise modestly, which should lead to an increase in the average time it takes to sell a house. That said, with homes selling in less than two months on average, the market is nowhere near balanced.

Average Days On Market

Conclusions

Market SpeedometerThis speedometer reflects the state of the region’s housing market using housing inventory, price gains, home sales, interest rates, and larger economic factors. For the fourth quarter of 2017, I have left the needle at the same point as third quarter. Price growth remains robust even as sales activity slowed. 2018 is setting itself up to be another very good year for housing.

 

 

 

 

Matthew Gardner is the Chief Economist for Windermere Real Estate, specializing in residential market analysis, commercial/industrial market analysis, financial analysis, and land use and regional economics. He is the former Principal of Gardner Economics, and has more than 30 years of professional experience both in the U.S. and U.K.

 

 

 

 

 

This article originally appeared on the Windermere.com blog.

What Can We Expect From The 2018 Housing Market?

crystal-ball-2307393_1280

It’s the time of the year when our Chief Economist Matthew Gardner looks deep into his crystal ball to see what’s on the horizon for the upcoming year. As we are all aware, 2017 has been a stellar year for housing across the country, but can we expect that to continue in 2018?

Here are his thoughts:

Millennial Home Buyers

Last year, I predicted that the big story for 2017 would be millennial home buyers and it appears I was a little too bullish. To date, first-time buyers have made up 34% of all home purchases this year – still below the 40% that is expected in a normalized market.  Although they are buying, it is not across all regions of the country, but rather in less expensive markets such as North Dakota, Ohio, and Maryland.

For the coming year, I believe the number of millennial buyers will expand further and be one of the biggest influencers in the U.S. housing market. I also believe that they will begin buying in more expensive markets. That’s because millennials are getting older and further into their careers, enabling them to save more money and raise their credit profiles.

Existing Home Sales

As far as existing home sales are concerned, in 2018 we should expect a reasonable increase of 3.7% – or 5.62 million housing units. In many areas, demand will continue to exceed supply, but a slight increase in inventory will help take some heat off the market. Because of this, home prices are likely to rise but by a more modest 4.4%.

New Home Sales

New home sales in 2018 should rise by around 8% to 655,000 units, with prices increasing by 4.1%. While housing starts – and therefore sales – will rise next year, they will still remain well below the long-term average due to escalating land, labor, materials, and regulatory costs. I do hold out hope that home builders will be able to help meet the high demand we’re expecting from first-time buyers, but in many markets it’s very difficult for them to do so due to rising construction costs.

Interest Rates

Interest rates continue to baffle forecasters. The anticipated rise that many of us have been predicting for several years has yet to materialize. As it stands right now, my forecast for 2018 is for interest rates to rise modestly to an average of 4.4% for a conventional 30-year fixed-rate mortgage – still remarkably low when compared to historic averages.

Tax Reform

Something that has the potential to have a major impact on housing are the current proposals relative to tax reform. As I write this, we know that both the House and Senate propose doubling the standard deduction, and the House plans to lower the mortgage interest deduction from $1,000,000 to $500,000. If passed, the mortgage deduction would no longer have value for home owners who would likely opt to take the standard deduction.

If either of the current proposals is adopted into law, the potential reduction in mortgage-related tax savings means the after-tax cost of home ownership will increase for most home owners. Additionally, both the House and Senate bills also end tax benefits for interest on second homes, and this could have a devastating effect in areas with higher concentrations of second homes.

The capping of the deduction for state and local property taxes (SALT) at $10,000 will also negatively impact states with high property taxes, such as California, Connecticut, and New York. Furthermore, proposed changes to the capital gains exemption on profits from the sale of a home (requiring five years of continuous residence as compared to the current two) could impact approximately 750,000 home sellers a year and slow the growth of home ownership.

Something else to consider is that all of the aforementioned changes will only affect new home purchases, which I fear might become a deterrent for current home owners to sell. Given the severe shortage of homes for sale in a number of markets across the country, this could serve to exacerbate an already-persistent problem.

Housing Bubble

I continue to be concerned about housing affordability. Home prices have been rising across much of the country at unsustainable rates, and although I still contend that we are not in “bubble” territory, it does represent a substantial impediment to the long-term health of the housing market. But if home price growth begins to taper, as I predict it will in 2018, that should provide some relief in many markets where there are concerns about a housing bubble.

In summary, along with slowing home price growth, there should be a modest improvement in the number of homes for sale in 2018, and the total home sales will be higher than 2017. First-time buyers will continue to play a substantial role in the nation’s housing market, but their influence may be limited depending on where the government lands on tax reform.

This post originally appeared on the Windermere.com blog.

The Gardner Report – Third Quarter 2017

Economic Overview

The Washington State economy added 79,600 new jobs over the past 12 months—an impressive growth rate of 2.4%, and well above the national growth rate of 1.2%. However, as we anticipated in last quarter’s report, we continue to see a modest slowdown in the growth rate as the state grows closer to full employment. Growth has been broad-based, with expansion in all major job sectors other than Aerospace (a function of a slowdown at Boeing). Given the current rate of expansion, I am raising my employment forecast and now predict that Washington will add 81,000 new jobs in 2017.

Given the robust job market, it is unsurprising that the state unemployment rate continues to fall. The current unemployment rate in Washington State is 4.6% and we are essentially at full employment. Additionally, all counties contained within this report reported either a drop or stability in their unemployment rate from a year ago. I maintain my belief that the Washington State economy will continue to outperform the U.S. as a whole. Given such a strong expansion, we should also expect solid income growth across Western Washington.

Home Sales Activity

  • There were 25,312 home sales during the third quarter of 2017. This is an increase of 3.6% over the same period in 2016.
  • Clallam County maintains its number one position for sales growth over the past 12 months. Only four other counties saw double-digit gains in sales. This demonstrates continuing issues with the low supply of listings. There were modest declines in sales activity in six counties.
  • The market remains remarkably tight with listing inventory down by 14.2% when compared to the third quarter of 2016. But inventory is up a significant 32% compared to the second quarter of this year. Pending sales rose by 5.2% over the same quarter a year ago, which suggests that closings in Q4 will still be robust.
  • The key takeaway from this data is that inventory is still very low, and the situation is unlikely to improve through the balance of the year.

Home Prices

  • Given tight supply levels, it is unsurprising to see very solid price growth across the Western Washington counties. Year-over-year, average prices rose 12.3% to $474,184. This is 0.9% higher than seen in the second quarter of this year.
  • With demand far exceeding supply, price growth in Western Washington continues to trend well above the longterm average. As I do not expect to see the new home market expand at any significant pace, there will be continued pressure on the resale market, which will cause home prices to continue to rise at above-average rates.
  • When compared to the same period a year ago, price growth was most pronounced in Grays Harbor County where sale prices were 20.1% higher than the third quarter of 2016. Nine additional counties experienced double-digit price growth.
  • Mortgage rates in the quarter continue to test the lows of 2017, and this is unlikely to change in the near-term. This will allow home prices to escalate further but I expect we will see rates start to rise fairly modestly in 2018, which could slow price growth.

Days on Market

  • The average number of days it took to sell a home in the quarter dropped by eight days when compared to the same quarter of 2016.
  • King County continues to be the tightest market, with homes taking an average of 17 days to sell. Every county except San Juan saw the days on market drop from the same period a year ago.
  • This quarter, it took an average of 43 days to sell a home. This is down from the 51 days it took in the second quarter of 2016 and down by 8 days from the second quarter of this year.
  • At some point, inventory will start to grow and this will lead to an increase in the average time it takes to sell a house. However, I do not expect that to happen at any time soon. So we remain in a seller’s market.

Conclusions

This speedometer reflects the state of the region’s housing market using housing inventory, price gains, home sales, interest rates, and larger economic factors. For the third quarter of 2017, I have left the needle at the same point as the second quarter. Though price growth remains robust, sales activity has slowed very slightly and listings jumped relative to the second quarter. That said, the market is very strong and buyers will continue to find significant competition for accurately priced and well-located homes.

 

Matthew Gardner is the Chief Economist for Windermere Real Estate, specializing in residential market analysis, commercial/industrial market analysis, financial analysis, and land use and regional economics. He is the former Principal of Gardner Economics, and has more than 30 years of professional experience both in the U.S. and U.K.

 

This article originally appeared on the Windermere.com blog.

The Gardner Report – First Quarter 2017

Economic Overview

I’m happy to report that Washington State continues to add jobs at a steady rate. While the rate of growth is tapering, this is because many markets are getting close to “full employment”, during which time growth naturally slows. That said, I believe that the state will add around 70,000 jobs in 2017. Washington State, as well as the markets that make up Western Washington, continues to see unemployment fall and I anticipate that we will see this rate drop further as we move through the year. In all, the economy continues to perform at or above average levels and 2017 will be another growth year.

Home Sales

  • There were 15,652 home sales during the first quarter of 2017. This is an increase of 9.5% from the same period in 2016, but 20.7% below the total number of sales in the final quarter of 2016.
  • With an increase of 45.5%, sales in Clallam County grew at the fastest rate over the past 12 months. There were double-digit gains seen in an additional 10 counties, suggesting that demand remains very robust. The only modest decline in sales was seen in Grays Harbor County.
  • The number of homes for sale showed no improvement at all, with an average of just 6,893 homes for sale in the quarter, a decline of 33% from the previous quarter and 25% from the first quarter of 2016. Pending sales rose by 2% relative to the same quarter a year ago.
  • The key takeaway from this data is that 2017 will offer little relief to would-be home buyers as the housing supply remains severely constrained.

Home Prices

  • With demand continuing to exceed supply, home prices continued to rise at above-average rates. Year-over-year, average prices rose by 9.5% but were 1.1% lower than in the final quarter of 2016. The region’s average sales price is now $409,351.
  • Price growth in Western Washington is unlikely to taper dramatically in 2017 and many counties will continue to see prices appreciate well above their long-term averages.
  • When compared to the same period a year ago, price growth was most pronounced in Kittitas County, which rose by 19.6%. Double-digit price growth was seen in an additional 10 counties. The only market where the average price fell was in the ever-volatile San Juan County.
  • It is clear that rising interest rates have not taken much of a sheen off the market.

Days on Market

  • The average number of days it took to sell a home in the first quarter dropped by 16 days when compared to the first quarter of 2016.
  • King County remained the tightest market, with the average time to sell a home at just 31 days. Island County was the only area where it took longer to sell a home than seen a year ago; however, the increase was just one day.
  • In the first quarter of the year, it took an average of 70 days to sell a home. This is down from the 86 days it took in the first quarter of 2016, but up from the 64 days it took in the final quarter of last year.
  • Given woefully low levels of inventory in all Western Washington markets, I do not expect to see the length of time that it takes to sell a home rising in 2017. In fact, it is likely that it will continue to drop.

Conclusions

This speedometer reflects the state of the region’s housing market using housing inventory, price gains, home sales, interest rates, and larger economic factors. For the first quarter of 2017, I moved the needle a little more in favor of sellers. The rapid increase in mortgage rates during the fourth quarter of 2016 has slowed and buyers are clearly out in force.

This article originally appeared on the Windermere.com blog.

The Urbanization of Downtown Bellevue

glass-200888_1280

When you hear of a city that is “something between an urban jungle and the classic picture of suburbia,” Bellevue may not be the first place that comes to mind. However, that’s exactly how one young couple describes downtown Bellevue in a recent article from The Seattle Times – and they aren’t the only ones.

When and how did downtown Bellevue transform into a dense, urban, mini-Seattle?

According to the article, downtown Bellevue is the fastest-growing neighborhood in the city, so much like the growth in Seattle it happened fairly quickly. Most of it has occurred over the past four years as developers have built more than a dozen new apartment projects in the neighborhood – and more are in the works. Permit data from the city shows that since the latest development cycle began in 2013, downtown has seen $800 million worth of new projects come up and $100 million more about to begin.

The current wave of projects is a little different than the last. This time the surge is mostly apartments, which are seen as a safer investment, but at least two companies are planning the city’s first new condos in a decade. Additionally, office construction in this current development cycle has added 1.5 million square feet of office space to downtown, most of which has already been leased.

Residents of downtown have been experiencing the effects of this growth and they are welcoming some changes more than others. Millennials are starting to think of downtown Bellevue as a lively, energetic, interesting neighborhood and residents and visitors have given the area high marks for safety and cleanliness. Less welcome changes include added gridlock on the roads and an increase in housing costs.

Luckily, our region is no stranger to adjusting to expansion so the future of Bellevue looks bright.

Read the full article from The Seattle Times.

How to Avoid the Most Common Buying and Selling Mistakes

There’s nothing more exciting, rewarding, and fulfilling than buying a home. However, it’s a complex transaction, and there are a number of steps along the path that can confuse, betwixt, and befuddle even the most seasoned buyers and sellers.

How can you avoid those potential pitfalls and common mistakes? Look to your real estate professional for advice and keep these guidelines in mind:

BUYERS:

#1 Review your credit reports ahead of time

Review your credit report a few months before you begin your house hunt, and you’ll have time to ensure the facts are correct, and be able to dispute mistakes before a mortgage lender checks your credit. Get a copy of your credit report from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Why all three? Because, if the scores differ, the bank will typically use the lowest one. Alert the credit bureaus if you see any mistakes, fix any problems you discover, and don’t apply for any new credit until after your home loan closes.

#2 Get pre-approved

Before getting serious about your hunt for a new house, you’ll want to choose a lender and get pre-approved for a mortgage (not just pre-qualified—which is a cursory review of your finances—but pre-approved for a loan of a specific amount). Pre-approval lets sellers know you’re serious. Most importantly, pre-approval will help you determine exactly how much you can comfortably afford to spend.

#3 Know what you want

You and your real estate agent should both be clear about the house you want to buy. Put it in writing. First, make a list of all the features and amenities you really want. Then, number each item and prioritize them. Now, divide the list into must-haves and really-wants. A good place to start is the “HUD Wish List,” which is available online for free at http://www.hud.gov/buying/wishlist.pdf

#4 Account for hidden costs

In addition to the purchase price of the home, there are additional costs you need to take into consideration, such as closing costs, appraisal fees, and escrow fees. Once you find a prospective home, you’ll want to:

  • Get estimates for any repairs or remodeling it may need.
  • Estimate how much it will cost to maintain (gas, electric, utilities, etc.).
  • Determine how much you’ll pay in taxes monthly and/or annually.
  • Learn whether there are any homeowner or development dues associated with the property.

#5 Get an inspection

Buying a home is emotionally charged—which can make it difficult for buyers to see the house for what it truly is. That’s why you need impartial third parties who can help you logically analyze the condition of the property. Your agent is there to advise you, but you also need a home inspector to assess any hidden flaws, structural damage or faulty systems.

#6 Evaluate the neighborhood and location

When house hunting, it’s easy to become overly focused on the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, the condition of the home and its amenities while overlooking the subtleties of the surrounding neighborhood. Take time to check crime reports, school options, churches and shopping. If schools are a key factor, do more than simply research the statistics; speak with the principal(s) and chat with the parents waiting outside.

SELLERS:

#1 Avoid becoming emotional or sentimental about the sale

Once you decide to sell your house, it’s time to strip out the emotion and look at it as a commodity in a business transaction. If you start reminiscing about all the good times you had and the hard work you invested, it will only make it that much harder to successfully price, prepare, and market the home.

#2 Fix problems (or price accordingly)

Homes with deferred maintenance and repair issues can take far longer to sell and can be subject to last-minute sale-cancellations. These homes also often sell for less than their legitimate market value. If you simply can’t afford to address critical issues, be prepared to work with your agent to price and market your home accordingly.

#3 Don’t overprice your home (and/or refuse to negotiate)

Getting top dollar is the dream of every seller. But it’s essential that you let the market dictate that price, not your emotions or financial situation. Allow your agent to research and prepare a market analysis that factors in the value of similar homes in the area, and trust those results.

#4 Use quality photos

The vast majority of prospective buyers today search for homes online first. In order to make a good first impression, you need a wealth of high-quality photos of your home and surrounding grounds. You may also need to consider professional staging in order to position your home in the best possible light for prospective buyers.

The process of buying or selling a home can have plenty of twists and turns, but with some smart decision making, you can avoid the most common mistakes and pitfalls.

This post originally appeared on the Windermere.com blog.

Top 5 Seattle-Area Superlatives From 2016

Happy New Year 2017 retro design with inspiring handwritten typography

2016 has been quite a year to live in the Pacific Northwest, especially if you spent some or most of it in the housing market. This year’s market was truly unique, record-breaking, and game-changing (see: Windermere’s W Collection). To close out the year here are a few of the most noteworthy Seattle-area superlatives related to real estate – and a few confirming just how lucky we are to live in this beautiful pocket of the world.

Nation’s Hottest Housing Market

Let’s get straight to the point – this year Seattle was named the hottest housing market in the nation! According to Geekwire home prices in our region rose 11 percent between September 2015 and 2016, putting us ahead of Portland for year-over-year growth.

We owe much of this recognition to our booming tech industry, which has been bringing people to the Seattle area in droves. “Droves” refers to the 86,320 residents (and counting) who moved to Greater Seattle between April 2015 and 2016, marking the region’s biggest population gain this century.

Many of these thousands of people who flocked here for tech jobs were probably also considering other tech hubs, but we were more alluring because tech salaries in the Seattle area are among the highest in the U.S. after cost of living adjustments. That means their salaries go much farther here than other tech towns, such as San Francisco, enabling them to have a better quality of life.

The Region’s Largest Property Sale

Of all of the multi-million dollar property sales in our region the largest was the 50-story Safeco Plaza in Seattle, which sold for $387 million. The buyer was a Munich-based company that had previously acquired an Amazon-occupied property in the thriving South Lake Union neighborhood.

Eastside’s Biggest Property Sale

The Seattle Times recently reported a pair of investors from the United States and China bought a major office complex in Bellevue for $202.2 million, making it the biggest transaction on the Eastside this year. The three-building, 480,000 sq. foot complex is fully leased and will be home to tenants such as BitTitan and CenturyLink.

Seattle No. 1 Choice for Foreign Investors

What’s one important thing buyers of both of these properties had in common? They were foreign investors. This year Seattle became the No. 1 choice for foreign investors after British Columbia enacted a 15 percent tax on foreign buyers in August, causing them to redirect their real estate searches to the Seattle area. To quantify this impact, as of November, Chinese money accounted for about 55 percent of all homes purchased by foreign investors in Washington.

Seattle No. 1 Place to Live If You Love Spending Time Outdoors

While this last ranking isn’t directly related to real estate, it’s definitely worth boasting about! Six Washington cities made Business Insider’s list of “25 beautiful US cities to live in if you love spending time outdoors.” Seattle topped the list and Bellevue came in at No. 5. Every day we are surrounded by the beauty of trees, mountains, and water with endless opportunities and ways to enjoy them.

Windermere Launches New Ultra-Luxury Brand: W Collection

I’m so honored to be part of Windermere’s W Collection, a new brand in ultra-luxury! I’m happy to be able to help people reach their real estate dreams in an area with so much to offer, and that continues to grow. Read more about this unique program below and check out W by Windermere to see my profile!

W Collection

Anyone who has spent time in the Seattle area in recent years has likely seen for themselves how much the city has changed. Thanks in large part to the booming economy, growing tech sector, and increasing international appeal, Seattle is no longer a sleepy little city tucked away in the far corner of the United States. With this changing landscape has come an infusion of wealth that has seen the area’s high-net-worth population explode. And with it, so too has the ultra-high-end real estate market.

In order to meet the specialized needs of this burgeoning market, Windermere has launched W Collection, a new ultra-luxury brand specifically designed for homes priced at $3 million and above in Western Washington. OB Jacobi, President of Windermere Real Estate, says that Seattle’s population of “global affluent” is on the rise and they greatly value real estate. The proof is in the numbers.

Over the past five years there has been a significant increase in the number of home sales in the $3 million+ market. In 2011 there were only 45 such sales in King County, while in 2015 there were 131. “Windermere agents represent anywhere from 40-60 percent of the $3 million+ sales in the Seattle area, so we felt we were in the ideal position to build a brand that could provide enhanced marketing support to the growing number of ultra-luxury homes,” said Jacobi.

W Collection is its own standalone brand with a separate website, WByWindermere.com, signage, presentation materials, and specialized advertising opportunities. When developing W Collection, Jacobi said that the goal was to create a sophisticated, yet humble, brand that evokes the understated expression of wealth that is unique to the Pacific Northwest. “Our clients are not largely drawn to the shows of excessive wealth that you see at other companies and in other parts of the country. This is reflected in the W Collection brand,” said Jacobi.

The development of W Collection began a little over a year ago, and according to Jacobi, was a highly collaborative process with Windermere agents playing an integral role in every step, “Over the past 44 years some of Windermere’s best ideas have come from our agents who are totally in tune with the needs of their clients and the shifting demands of the market; W Collection was born from this same agent ingenuity.”

This article originally appeared on the Windermere.com blog.