Economist says housing better, except foreclosures

A top economist with the National Association of Realtors delivered a mostly positive housing message to the Washington Realtors Association on Wednesday, but said more needs to be done about the state’s “shadow” inventory of homes, a term to describe foreclosed or bank-owned properties.

National Association of Realtors economist Dr. Lawrence Yun wasn’t able to attend, so he did his presentation over the phone from New York, spending about 30 minutes addressing about 400 real estate professionals with the Washington Realtors Association.

Wednesday was “Hill Day” for the association, starting in the morning at the Red Lion Hotel Olympia. Then many headed to the Capitol Campus to lobby lawmakers about issues important to the real estate community.

Yun’s housing forecast for the state and nation was upbeat; he said he expects housing markets to benefit from momentum experienced last year. Median prices should rise in the high single digits, and the Seattle area should outperform the country, Yun said.

The Thurston and Pierce county markets showed improvement in 2012: year-over-year sales rose, while median prices didn’t fall but were flat or unchanged, an improvement in itself.

Some hurdles remain, Yun said, including the possible elimination or tweaking of the mortgage interest rate deduction for tax filers, and even stricter lending standards.

Inventory levels have dropped, too, so addressing Washington’s shadow inventory would help free up more homes for buyers, he said.

Shadow inventory levels have fallen throughout the country, except in Washington, he said, which needs to do more to get the court system to work through a backlog of delinquent mortgages.

Thurston County Realtors members agreed Wednesday; they also agreed they expect a good year for housing in 2013.

About 20 of them met with lawmakers, including local Realtors Pat Pieroni, Greg Moe and Bill Hutchinson Jr.

Pieroni said he thinks the market has hit bottom and will continue to improve over the next couple of years. The group also noted that inventory levels have fallen, which means buyer demand, combined with fewer homes to choose from, should lift median prices.

In December, inventory levels in Thurston County fell below 1,000 units for the first time in six years.

“It’s moving from a buyer’s to a seller’s market,” Hutchinson said.

Moe, though, pointed out that state budget issues still can affect the local housing market. Spending decisions in Olympia, essentially a state worker town, has a big effect on consumer confidence, he said.