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Originally published Saturday, July 13, 2013 at 8:02 PM

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Residential real-estate market makes recovery

Home sales in Puget Sound submarkets have moved in the same direction — but at different speeds — in the past two years. Also: a local private equity firm partners with USAID to spur energy infrastructure in India.

Seattle Times business staff

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I do not get the USAID deal with Northern Lights. The United States does not need to be... MORE
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After a bumpy 2011 and a slow-starting 2012, there is no disputing the residential real-estate market this year has pulled out of the depths of the mortgage crisis.

For the last 18 months, the median home price in King County has gone up each month when compared to the same month a year ago. Since January, the median price also has gone up each month from the previous month. Median means half the homes sold for more, half for less.

The high-water mark was set in July 2007, when the median price of a single-family home in King County was $481,000.

A closer look at the submarkets in June shows the same basic trend with a few twists.

• Eastside: The most expensive area keeps its title. In the last two years, the median has moved up 16 percent to $591,825 from $510,000 in June 2011. The July 2007 median high was: $628,000.

• Seattle: The median is $458,000, up 19.7 percent from $382,500 in June 2011. The July 2007 median: $499,000.

• North King County: The median is $375,000, up 22.4 percent from $306,250 in June 2011. The July 2007 median: $448,250.

Foreclosures and short sales hit the southern end of the county the hardest. Even so, the prices have increased.

• Southwest King County (Burien, Tukwila, Des Moines, Federal Way, west Kent): The median is $240,000, up 28 percent from $187,500 in June 2011. The July 2007 median: $330,000.

• Southeast King County (Renton, east Kent, Auburn, Maple Valley): The median is $292,100, up 21.7 percent from $239,900 in June 2011. The July 2007 median: $375,000.

If you have been sitting on the sidelines the last two years, you have missed the bottom in terms of prices and interest rates.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac reported Thursday the average on the 30-year loan rose to 4.51 percent, a two-year high.

The average on the 15-year fixed mortgage increased to 3.53 percent from 3.39 percent last week. That’s the highest since August 2011.

Just two months ago, the average rate on the 30-year loan was 3.35 percent — barely above the record low of 3.31 percent.

— Becky Bisbee, bbisbee@seattletimes.com

Seattle firm lands U.S. backing for India energy deals

Seattle-based private-equity firm Northern Lights Capital has invested in almost a dozen financial firms, from a London fund of hedge funds to a Cleveland small-cap stock specialist.

But its latest deal is the only one that drew a shout-out from Secretary of State John Kerry.

Northern Lights recently finalized an innovative agreement with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) that’s expected to trigger at least $100 million of new private investment in renewable-energy projects in rural India.

India is the world’s third-largest consumer of coal and likely would use even more if bureaucratic and financial hurdles weren’t hobbling the growth of its energy sector. That makes it a critical factor in global-climate change, though it gets much less attention than China.

Northern Lights partner Jack Swift says the agreement should spark “some really cool projects” in regions that aren’t connected to India’s fragile and blackout-prone electrical grid.

For example, he says, “Many of the cellphone towers are run by diesel — a guy drives out and fills the tank every week. What if those were run by solar?”

Kerry cited the USAID investment during his June visit to India, calling it one way to “support off-grid clean energy and simultaneously help to solve the twin problems ... of energy access and climate change.”

The deal involves a $40 million credit from USAID, and a corollary $15 million commitment from Northern Lights, to backstop a $100 million fund raised from private investors.

“We don’t actually write a check to anyone” at this point, says Ben Hubbard, director of USAID’s Development Credit Authority. He compares the program to “a mini-SBA” that offers guarantees much like the Small Business Administration does for domestic bank loans.

In the worst-case scenario, investors in the $100 million fund would still get 55 percent of their original capital back — first from Northern Lights and then from USAID’s credit. That creates “a very attractive risk-reward investment for somebody coming out of the U.S.,” says Swift. It’s the first time Hubbard’s program has done this with an energy-focused investment.

More typically, it works with local banks in specific countries, agreeing to share in losses on loans in targeted areas.

Its payout rate on such guarantees is just 2 percent, he says.

Nobody investing federal money in energy projects is likely to have forgotten the storm of criticism around the $528 million loaned via a U.S. Department of Energy program to Solyndra, the solar-panel developer that failed in 2011.

But Hubbard says that even the bottom 25 percent of private investments in India’s energy sector are paying back their investors’ capital. “There’s very little risk to us, the way this has been structured.”

Also, the government isn’t trying to pick winners in new technology with this program, he says. Projects will use established technology and be chosen by the private-sector investment manager.

The money raised by Northern Lights will go into its portfolio company Nereus Capital, which operates out of Mumbai and has already invested in one local energy project.

How remote is that project? Says Swift, who paid a visit: “It’s really rural. We flew from Mumbai for probably three hours and then we drove for another six hours.”

— Rami Grunbaum, rgrunbaum@seattletimes.com

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