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RISMEDIA, Oct. 9, 2007-With Halloween on the horizon, should buyers be spooked about the local housing market? Not according to the latest figures from Northwest Multiple Listing Service and reactions from some brokers who believe now is an ideal time to be making offers.

Trying to time the market is “a fool’s game,” remarked one MLS director. “If you are buying a home to live in for more than three years, then buy the one you love, not the one that you can save $25,000 on,” advises Matt Deasy, general manager at Windermere Real Estate/East Inc. in Bellevue.

J. Lennox Scott, chairman and CEO of John L. Scott Real Estate said now is “an ideal time for buyers.”
Just-released figures from Northwest MLS indicate prices are still rising but inventory levels may have peaked. Sales, though, are still sluggish compared to year-ago volumes.

Brokers added 12,385 new listings to inventory during September – the fewest number since February when they added 11,333 new listings. When added to the existing offerings, there are nearly 49,000 residential properties for sale across 19 counties. That’s about 33% more than a year ago.

“Buyers have an excellent selection of homes and condos today in all price ranges,” said NWMLS director Dick Beeson, broker/owner of Windermere Real Estate/Commencement Associates in Tacoma. He believes the market is slowly starting to turn. “With inventory starting to dip slightly, buyer’s choices will be reduced as the year progresses,” Beeson suggests.

The condominium inventory is about 62% larger than a year ago, thanks in part to the addition of several new projects coming on line. The MLS analysis shows about three of every 10 condos currently offered for sale is classified as new construction.

“The time is right for buyers on the sidelines to step forward. They have many more home choices now than in the past few years,” observed Marcie Maxwell, adding, “and they may have opportunities to negotiate with sellers.” Maxwell, an associate broker at Windermere Real Estate in Renton and Certified Residential Specialist, has been selling real estate for 18. She cites the example of a well-located 3-bedroom home with a remodeled kitchen on a large lot in Renton. She is surprised it has not yet sold, considering less than a year ago it probably would have been in a bidding war. “There are a lot of nice homes for sale in the $200,000-to-$400,000 range,” Maxwell remarked.

MLS brokers reported 5,748 pending sales (offers made and accepted, but not yet closed) during September, about 32% fewer than 12 months ago. (For the same month a year ago, members notched 8,499 pending sales.) Through nine months, pending sales are at about 89% of last year’s volume.

Prices area-wide for sales of single family homes and condos (combined) that closed during September rose more than 4% compared to a year ago. Seven counties (Cowlitz, Grant, Grays Harbor, Kitsap, Mason, Pacific and San Juan) registered double-digit price gains from 12 months ago.

For single family homes (excluding condos) prices are up about 3.7% from a year ago. In the four-county Puget Sound market, Kitsap County claimed the largest year-over-year gain at 12.8%, followed by King County at 5.9%. The median price of a home that sold in Snohomish County rose about 2.7% compared to a year ago, while Pierce County report a very slight (1%) dip.

Condominium price gains continued to outperform single family homes. Area-wide, condo prices surged nearly 10% from a year ago. For condo sales that closed last month in King County, the median price was $299,900, a jump of 14.8% from the year-ago figure of $261,250.

“As expected, the turbulent mortgage market continues to have an effect on home sales,” observed Lennox Scott of John L. Scott Real Estate. However, he added, “Every week things are getting better. Interest rates are still low, the local economy is healthy, and job growth is strong. This is an ideal time for buyers because they no longer have to pay the pricing premium that existed in previous years. There is less competition for homes, yet prices continue to appreciate, creating a great opportunity for buyers to position themselves for the future.”

The current market presents some good opportunities for both buyers and sellers, according to industry insiders.

Now is a good time for buyers to negotiate favorable terms of sale – but not always with a price reduction, Beeson suggests. For example, he said buyers may ask to have certain personal property included in the agreement, such as washer/dryer, lawn mowers, swing set, hot tubs, satellite dish and furnishings. Closing dates that favor the buyer and a seller’s willingness to make repairs as indicated by inspections are other items that can be negotiated, he noted.

Beeson expects homes near urban centers and employment centers will become more expensive as demand outpaces supply. He also anticipates rising demand for services from professional agents.

“The professional agents of 2007 are educating their buyers and sellers like never before, and both parties need to listen and follow their advice so they will make wise and prudent decisions,” he emphasized.

Daniel Kennedy, president of the Seattle-King County Association of Realtors, agreed, saying sellers with unreasonably priced properties or who have homes that not properly prepared for showing will be disappointed. “Buyers are savvy and will not put up with previewing overpriced houses,” he remarked. Sellers should heed their agent’s advice when they are counseled to de-clutter, clean or make minor repairs, according to Kennedy, an associate at Coldwell Banker Bain in Seattle.

Northwest Multiple Listing Service, based in Kirkland, is the largest full-service MLS in the Northwest. The MLS is owned by its member brokers and currently encompasses nearly 2,100 companies with more than 26,000 sales associates. Together, they serve 19 counties, mostly in western Washington, plus Grant, Kittitas and Okanogan counties in the central part of the state.