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Originally published April 3, 2014 at 6:14 PM | Page modified April 4, 2014 at 9:22 AM

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Home price rising more slowly, but for-sale signs remain scarce

The median price of single-family homes in King County rose in March to $414,950, an increase of 6 percent from a year ago, while prices climbed even more in Snohomish and Pierce counties.


Seattle Times business reporter

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The median price of single-family homes in King County rose in March to $414,950, an increase of 6 percent from a year ago, the Northwest Multiple Listing Service said Thursday.

Prices surged in Snohomish and Pierce counties: The median price rose 9 percent to $314,975 in Snohomish, and 13 percent to $230,000 in Pierce.

A continuing tight inventory of homes for sale kept pressure on prices.

“Everyone’s waiting for the spring bounce in listings,” said Seattle economist Matthew Gardner. “We’re all hoping that’ll be the case. Without a doubt there are still more buyers than sellers.”

Still, annual price growth has been slowing: In January the median price in King County was 17 percent higher over the previous 12 months; in February, 11 percent higher.

The number of active listings every month has been higher than a year ago, but the number of pending deals — mutually accepted contracts to buy a home that haven’t closed yet — is lower than last year in all three counties, suggesting buyers are being more choosy.

“People aren’t going to pay anything for anything,” Gardner said.

The Eastside, the most expensive market in King County, saw the median price of homes sold jump 9 percent to $599,950. There were 529 homes sold in March, down 14 percent from a year ago.

Meanwhile in Seattle, the median price dipped 3 percent to $450,000. There were 576 homes sold last month, about 12 percent more than a year ago.

In Southwest King County, the county’s lowest priced market, the median jumped 16 percent to $255,500.

Wall Street investors have been scooping up single-family homes at the lower end of the market and turning them into rentals, particularly in South King County and Pierce County.

But they may be scaling back: In February, institutional buyers bought 40 homes in the tri-county area, down from 126 in January, according to RealtyTrac, a California-based market-research firm. RealtyTrac defines institutional buyers as those who purchased 10 or more homes in a year nationwide.

With fewer investors in the market, first-time homebuyers and move-up buyers stand a better chance of competing for homes. But there will be more first-time homebuyers bidding on homes, real-estate agents said.

“Rents are on the rise, and when this happens, there’s often a shift where people get priced out of the rental market and move into homeownership,” said OB Jacobi, president of Windermere Real Estate, in a news release. “This leads to more demand for homes and upward pressure on prices.”

Renters who can’t afford single-family homes typically buy into condominiums.

After peaking in June 2008 at $295,000, median King County condo prices plunged. The median price was $175,000 as recently as January 2012, according to the MLS.

Last month, the median price of the 525 King County condos sold was $250,000, the MLS reports, while the median was $193,500 in Snohomish and $135,000 in Pierce.

Seattle condos sold for a median $285,000 in March, down 3 percent from a year ago. On the Eastside, condos sold for a median $274,000, 17 percent higher than last year.

Sales were most brisk in Southwest King County, the lowest price submarket: There were 52 condo sales, 27 percent more than a year ago, for a median $119,000.

Real-estate agents say the tight inventory of homes and condos for sale is the status quo for the foreseeable future.

“We believe the shortage will persist through this year and into 2015 in price ranges where 90 percent of sales activity is occurring,” said J. Lennox Scott, chairman and CEO of John L. Scott Real Estate, in a statement.

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or sbhatt@seattletimes.com On Twitter @sbhatt



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