Western Washington Gardner Report Q1 2016

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ECONOMIC OVERVIEW

Washington State has seen very robust growth over the past 12 months with the addition of 102,600 new jobs, which is 224,000 more jobs than seen at the previous peak in 2008. With this robust growth, it is unsurprising to see the unemployment rate trend down to 5.8%—well below the long-term average of 6.4%. As pleasing as it is to see the unemployment rate drop, it is equally pleasing to see that the decrease comes in concert with growth in the civilian labor force, which continues to grow at a very solid pace. I continue to believe that there is no risk that we will see a statewide decline in the employment picture in 2016.

HOME SALES ACTIVITY

  • There were 13,841 home sales during the first quarter of 2016, up by 3.8% from the same period in 2015. Sales activity continues to slow as a function of inventory constraints. Any spring “bounce” in listings has, thus far, failed to materialize.
  • The growth in sales was most pronounced in Grays Harbor County, which increased by 35% (but represented a real increase of just 63 units). Robust increases were also seen in Kittitas, Mason, Pierce, Snohomish and Island Counties. Sales declines were seen in San Juan, Jefferson, Cowlitz and King Counties.
  • Overall listing activity was down by 30.1% compared to the first quarter of 2015, and this continues to put upward pressure on home prices (discussed below).
  • Economic vitality in the region, combined with interest rates that continue to retest historic lows, is driving buyer demand that simply cannot be met. I hope that we will see more inventory come online as we move through the year, but believe that any reasonable growth in inventory will still be insufficient for the demand in the market.

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HOME PRICES

  • Given the demand factors mentioned above, I am not surprised that prices are up by an average of 10.1% year-over-year. This is up from the 9.3% average growth in prices that was reported in the fourth quarter 2015 report.
  • When compared to the first quarter of 2015, price growth was most pronounced in Jefferson County, and all but three counties saw prices increase by double digits from the previous year.
  • Interestingly, there were eight counties that actually saw a drop in average sale prices between the last quarter of 2015 and the first quarter of 2016. I believe this was caused by seasonal factors, but will keep an eye on it.
  • Very straightforward supply and demand factors are pushing prices higher. While this certainly favors sellers, I believe that there are some buyers who are starting to suffer from “buyers’ fatigue”. Rampant growth in inventory would sort this out but it is unlikely to occur this year.

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DAYS ON MARKET

  • The average number of days it took to sell a home dropped by sixteen days when compared to the first quarter of 2015.
  • As was seen in the Q4 2015 report, there were just two markets where the length of time it took to sell a home did rise, but again the increases were minimal. Skagit County saw an increase of three days while San Juan County rose by nine days.
  • It took an average of 86 days to sell a home in the first quarter of this year—up from the 78 days it took to sell a home in the last quarter but this is simply due to seasonality.
  • Sales activity remains most brisk in the Central Puget Sound counties. Given their proximity to the major job centers, this is not a surprise.

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CONCLUSIONS

This speedometer reflects the state of the region’s housing market using housing inventory, price gains, sales velocities, interest rates, and larger economics factors. For the first quarter of 2016, I have moved the needle slightly more in favor of sellers. content_16088_WWA_GardnerReportQ1_SpeedometerInventory constraints persist and this is now starting to affect sales activity, with growth in pending as well as closed sales starting to trend down. However, price growth remains well above average and interest rates are still close to historic lows.

ABOUT MATTHEW

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 over 25 years of professional experience both in the U.S. and U.K.

 

This blog was originally posted on the Windermere.com.

The Gardner Report: Fourth Quarter 2015

ECONOMIC OVERVIEW

The Washington State economy has added almost 370,000 jobs since the lowest point of the recession at the start of 2010. Additionally, total employment is 176,000 jobs higher than seen at the 2008 peak. With a vast majority of our metropolitan areas having fully recovered from the job losses seen during the recession, I expect to see somewhat more modest job growth in the coming year. That being said, our economy will continue to expand, which will be a benefit to our region’s housing market.

HOME SALES ACTIVITY

  • There were 16,895 home sales during the fourth quarter of 2015, up by 4.6% from the same period in 2014. Sales activity is starting to slow somewhat but this is due to inventory constraints.
  • The growth in sales was most pronounced in Cowlitz and Lewis Counties and double-digit growth was also seen in Thurston County. Sales declines were seen in Grays Harbor County and Skagit County, but only minimally.
  • The number of home sales grew in all but two counties, with the average number of sales up by almost 6% from the same period in 2014.
  • I am not surprised to see some decline in sales start to appear. Listing activity was down by 28% compared to the fourth quarter of 2014, and there were no counties where there were more homes for sale in Q4-2015 versus Q4-2014.

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HOME PRICES

  • Prices in the region rose by an average of 9.3% on a year-over-year basis but were
  • 0.4% lower than seen in the third quarter of 2015.
  • Unsurprisingly, no counties saw a drop in average home prices compared to fourth quarter last year.
  • When compared to the fourth quarter of 2014, San Juan County again saw the fastest price growth with an increase of 37.6%. However, this county is notorious for extreme swings given the huge variations in prices in the San Juan Islands. Double-digit percentage gains were also seen in five other counties.
  • As long as inventory constraints persist, it is likely that price growth will continue.
  • That said, modest increases in interest rates, in combination with declining affordability conditions in several markets, will likely slow price appreciation.

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DAYS ON MARKET

  • The average number of days it took to sell a home dropped by nine days when compared to the third quarter of 2014.
  • It took an average of 78 days to sell a home in the fourth quarter of this year—down from the 91 days it took to sell a home in fourth quarter of last year.
  • There were just two markets where the length of time it took to sell a home did rise, but the increases were minimal. Jefferson County saw an increase of eight days while Mason County rose by two days.
  • King County remains the only market where it takes less than a month to sell a home.

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CONCLUSIONS
content_15322_WWA_GardnerReportQ4_SpeedometerThis speedometer reflects the state of the region’s housing market using housing inventory, price gains, sales velocities, interest rates, and larger economics factors. For the fourth quarter of 2015, I have left the needle at the same position as the previous quarter. In as much as the market is still very heavily in favor of sellers, I fear that some markets are reaching price points that will test affordability. Furthermore, while inventory levels are likely to see some growth in 2016, it will not be enough to satisfy demand, adding further upward pressure to prices.

Overall, 2015 was a stellar year with sales volumes and home prices moving higher across the board. In 2016, I believe we’ll see some growth in sales activity, as well as continued price growth – just at more modest levels than last year. Interest rates are going to rise moderately through the year, but still remain very competitive when compared to historic averages. In other words, any increase in interest rates should not be a major obstacle for home buyers.

Looking forward, I believe 2016 will be a year of few surprises. Because it is an election year, I do not expect to see any significant governmental moves that would have a major impact on the U.S. economy or the housing market.


content_MatthewGardner_colorMatthew 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 over 25 years of professional experience both in the U.S. and U.K. 

This blog was originally posted on the Windermere Blog.

The Gardner Report: Third Quarter 2015

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Economic Overview

After a period of above-average growth, Washington State has seen a modest slowing in employment growth, but we continue to add jobs at a respectable rate. The State unemployment rate was measured at 5.3%, marginally above the national level, but it is trending in the right direction.

Although growth continues to be uneven across the state, there are some encouraging signs which suggest that all of our main metropolitan areas should see positive job growth for the foreseeable future.

Home Sales Activity

• There were 22,207 home sales during the third quarter of 2015, up by 14.1% from the same period in 2014.
• For the first time in several years, there were no counties that saw annual decreases in home sales.
• The growth in sales was most pronounced in Kittitas County, and all but two counties saw double-digit percentage increases from the same period last year.
• The lack of available inventory in the region continues to be a concern. Listings in the third quarter were down by 18% from the second quarter, and down by 24.5% from the third quarter of 2014.

Home Prices

• Prices in the region rose by an average of 6.3% on a year-over-year basis and were 9.6% higher than seen in the second quarter of 2015.
• The only county where home prices fell on an annualized basis was in Kittitas County, but the drop was a minuscule 0.5%. Kittitas County saw sale prices grow by 5.8% between the second and third quarters of this year.
• When compared to the third quarter of 2014, San Juan County showed the fastest price growth with an increase of 14.6%. Double-digit percentage gains were also seen in four other counties.
• As long as inventory constraints persist, it is likely that price growth will continue. However, if interest rates rise in 2016, as they’re expected to do, we will likely see price growth slow.

Days on Market

• The average number of days it took to sell a home dropped by nine days when compared to the third quarter of 2014.
• It took an average of 74 days to sell a home in the third quarter of this year—down from 84 in the second quarter.
• There were just two markets where the length of time it took to sell a home did rise, but the increases were minimal. Jefferson County saw an increase of eight days while Mason County rose by two days.
• King County remains the only market where it takes less than a month to sell a home.

Conclusions

This speedometer reflects the state of the region’s housing market using housing inventory, price gains, sales velocities, interest rates, and larger economics factors. For the third quarter of 2015 I have moved the needle a little farther in favor of sellers. Although sales did slow between the second and third quarters, I attribute this to a lack of inventory rather than any other factors. Additionally, interest rates dropped between the second and third quarters, which made buying more favorable.

The persistently low levels of inventory in the region remain a concern. Such an imbalance between supply and demand is unsustainable. When I look at the ratio between listings and pending sales there are some counties with less than two months of inventory, which is troublesome. Any number below four months is certainly considered to be a seller’s market and, in my experience, a prolonged period of time with less than six months of inventory results in an unstable market.

In normal housing market cycles, when such an imbalance exists we could expect home builders to fill in the gap with inventory, but this has not happened thus far. Unless we see a rapid escalation in construction activity, the market will remain remarkably tight well into 2016.

About Matthew Gardner

content_Headshot_-_Matthew_Gardner

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 over 25 years of professional experience both in the U.S. and U.K.

You’re welcome to download and view the full PDF report for more information. This blog was originally posted on the Windermere Blog.

Gardner Report: First Quarter 2015

content_WWA_GardnerQ12015_SpeedometerFirst Quarter Takeaway from Matthew Gardner: This speedometer reflects the state of the region’s housing market using housing inventory, price gains, sales velocities, interest rates, and larger economic factors. As you can see, we are still very clearly in the midst of a seller’s market, and unless we see a significant increase in listings, it will remain that way for the foreseeable future.

Price growth remains at healthy levels as inventory constraints persist. Interest rates are still at historic lows, and we expect that this will continue to be the case through 2015, which further favors conditions for home sellers. That said, obtaining a mortgage remains more difficult than it should be due to the ongoing implementation of the “qualified mortgage” rule which reduces access to financing to certain buyer segments.

To conclude, the region is in need of inventory and I hope that we will see a modest increase in listings as we move further into the late spring/early summer. Some are talking about the potential for another housing “bubble” given the lack of homes for sale and the bullishness of buyers in bidding up properties; however, I believe that there are sufficient safeguards in place so that we will not see this happen.

Read the full report on Windermere.com.

Gardner Report: Fourth Quarter 2014

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Fourth Quarter Takeaway from Matthew Gardner: Our market continues to add jobs and our population continues to rise (+63,000 in 2014), both of which are very positive. However, our housing market continues to have a lack of homes for sale.

Will we see an increase in listings in 2015? That is the million dollar question. If not, then we might see builders going into overdrive in an attempt to address pent up demand.

Interest rates are going to rise in 2014, but not at excessively fast rates. By the end of 2015, I still expect to see the average 30-year fixed rate below five percent, but a lot closer to it than we stand today.

I expect to see home prices continue to appreciate in 2015, but at somewhat slower rates that are more sustainable over the long term. However, it is possible that price growth may continue to escalate faster than anticipated, even if we see the number of homes for sale increasing, if a higher proportion of those homes coming to market are high-end homes.

*For a far more detailed analysis of the Western Washington housing market click on the pretty pic! It’s packed with all of the dirty details.