Strong demand, tighter inventory drove the increase in sales prices.
Snohomish County home sellers benefitted from continued strong demand for housing and a shrinking supply of listings that drove up year-to-date median sales prices by 13.4 percent in December.
While home-sale prices increased from $222,750 to $254,975 in December, condo prices were volatile. Condos in the Everett-Mill Creek area posted a 42.9 percent increase in median sales price from December 2011, rising from $80,450 to $114,999. In Snohomish, Monroe and east county, condo-sale prices sank by 53.8 percent, from $154,450 to $71,400, but that was based on only six closed sales.
Home buyers in Snohomish County made offers on 872 residences during December, outnumbering the 581 new listings. The imbalance helped push up prices and further thinned already depleted inventory, the MLS said in a news release. Pending sales were down 13.9 percent from 1,013 sales reported one year ago.
Throughout 2012, Snohomish County MLS members reported more pending sales than new listings. Year-over-year inventory in December was down 53.4 percent.
Jerry Martin, of RE/MAX Northwest Realtors in Bothell, said the declining inventory in Snohomish and King counties meant prospective buyers could pick from 50.4 percent fewer homes in December 2012 compared to the year before.
Martin said recent Congressional action on taxes is good news for short sales. Congress extended the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act through the end of 2013 so that homeowners considering short sales will not have pay taxes on the forgiven debt. He said many housing industry experts consider the act to be one of the key drivers in bringing the real estate sector back to life.
While the expected seasonal slowdown occurred in December, determined buyers were undaunted by sparse inventory and bad weather, according to December statistics from Northwest Multiple Listing Service.
"This is a unique housing market," said J. Lennox Scott, chairman and CEO of John L. Scott Real Estate. "There is nothing normal about the combination of factors fueling the current market."
Brokers expect the housing market rebound to continue, while cautioning sellers to refrain from becoming too greedy and expressing hope for controlled natural growth to sustain the recovery. They also believe distressed properties, rising rents and re-engaged investors will have an impact on activity for the foreseeable future.
"Buyers are taking note of sellers who overprice their homes," Northwest MLS director Darin Stenvers, the office managing broker at John L. Scott Inc. in Bellingham, said in the news release. "These buyers are not wasting their time looking at that section of the market for fear of losing a 'turnkey ready' home that they can buy and close on."
Even with low-priced distressed properties being part of the mix of sales, median sales prices are edging up, especially for single-family homes.
Looking ahead, many brokers expect a strong market in 2013.
"Last year was the best year in real estate for both buyers and sellers since 2007, with better pricing for homes, lower interest rates than ever recorded in history, and best of all, the opinion the market has finally bottomed out," MLS director George Moorhead, branch manager at Bentley Properties in Bothell, said in the news release.
Those factors combined to "start a buyer frenzy" from February to mid-August, he noted, but added, "We never quite got that level of excitement back for the months of September to December."
Moorhead fears another "perfect storm" with double-digit appreciation will return. He prefers "controlled natural growth" as the best recipe for long-term economic stabilization, "not frenzied bubble growth with no foundation for support."
Kurt Batdorf: 425-339-3102; firstname.lastname@example.org.