Home sales trending up, but prices still constrained by foreclosures

Home sales on Grays Harbor continued on a roller-coaster ride last month, with the South Beach area showing the first signs of a climb back toward stability.

For Westport/Grayland, closed sales were up 166.7 percent for March and 83.3 percent for the year, with average home prices rising 27.8 percent for March and 45.7 percent for the year.

Closed home sales in the Aberdeen/Hoquiam area were up 83 percent last month over March 2011, but average prices continue to fall — down 21.3 percent for the month.

Monthly statistics compiled and released by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service also show that closed sales for Aberdeen and Hoquiam combined are up 38.1 percent for the year, but prices are down even more, 22.2 percent, since Dec. 31.

There were 25 closed sales in Aberdeen/Hoquiam in March, compared to 12 in March 2011, but the average price was $63,912, plunging from the average price of $98,991 last March.

“If you look at Aberdeen in particular, we’re just cleaning out the foreclosure inventory,” said Tom Quigg, owner/designated broker at Windermere Real Estate/Grays Harbor Inc., who analyzes the statistics in the local market.

He noted a large number of homes from federal Housing and Urban Development foreclosures came on the market early this year, adding to the large inventory of homes on the market and driving prices down, particularly in Aberdeen.

The statistics overall show widespread differences in the housing markets of different communities around the Harbor.

“Each region of the county seems to have its own market characteristics,” Quigg said.

Ocean Shores, for example, saw closed sales drop in March by 11 percent over last March, and year-to-date closed sales also are down 20.5 percent, with average prices falling by 35.8 percent in March and 27.7 percent for the year.

Thorn Ward of John L. Scott Realty in Ocean Shores said the statistics were “not particularly encouraging.” There were 15 closed sales in Ocean Shores this month, compared to 17 in March 2011, while year-to-date sales are 29, compared to 36 in 2011.

“That’s a pretty small number. It wasn’t that long ago when typically Ocean Shores would sell 100 lots and probably 30 houses in a month,” Ward said. “I don’t see anything on the horizon that’s changing that particularly.”

Ward’s office actually saw more activity in January than in March.

“It wasn’t that long ago when sales only slacked off in November and December,” he said. “Now I get the feeling that we will be at this level year-round.”

Mike Coverdale, owner and designated broker at Windermere/Westport, believes the new statistics show that the Wesport/Grayland market is returning to normal after the recession of the past four or five years. He believes it has rebounded faster than the North Beach area because there are fewer homes on the market.

“The biggest difference is supply and demand,” Coverdale said. “Over on the North Beach in Ocean Shores, the number of units on the market is very high, so that leads a buyer to think they have lots of time to look and maybe it’s not yet the bottom of the market. If they wait, they think they’re going to get a better deal.”

But in Westport and Grayland, according to Coverdale, there are few properties available. Where there might be a few three-bedroom/two-bath homes in the Westport/Grayland area to look at on the market, there are 150 or more available in the Ocean Shores area. That’s kept prices from dropping too low in South Beach areas.

“There were fewer short sales and foreclosures in our market,” Coverdale added. As a result, not a lot of homes sold last year when prices were deflated countywide by the number of foreclosures.

“This year, sellers have loosened up a little, and buyers are realizing that this is the best that it’s going to get so they better get something before it starts going in a different direction,” Coverdale said.

That’s what happened with the condo market in Westport over the past two years. Last year, there were new condos being sold at auction. This year, only two are currently on the market, with one selling in March for $105,500. Only five condos sold in all of 2011.

“This summer, as condos come back on the market, I think they will trend back up in price,” Coverdale said.

Ward said foreclosures continue to drive down prices in Ocean Shores, and that one or two low-priced transactions in a month’s time can have a big impact on overall statistics in the area. Many people still own second homes or vacation homes in Ocean Shores and may not need to sell, Ward said. When they do decide to sell, often they will want to list the home for more than they can actually get for it in the current market.

“The number of lots and homes on the market in Ocean Shores really is about the same as it always has been,” he said. “The number of sales that take place, however, is down considerably. “

Quigg points to pending sales as an indication of where the market is headed, with pending sales trending up in all areas. Countywide, there are 259 pending sales so far this year, compared to 233 at the same point in 2011.

“However, we continue to see a drop in average prices,” Quigg said. “Until the number of foreclosed properties decreases, we will continue to see this trend.”