A new decade begins with low inventory in housing market

While inventory is tighter than usual, there are still good homes on the market.

By Erin Flemming

Special to the Reporter

New year, new me? When it comes to unsold housing inventory in Bothell and Kenmore, not quite. As was the case a month ago, the local real estate market is tight on inventory — particularly in the low- and mid-price ranges on the Eastside.

John L. Scott Redmond broker Emma Mueller said she’s seen “fairly significant market tightening” since October.

“Active Eastside condo and single-family home listings dropped about 40 percent from October to November, and we saw an even more significant tightening in December as lingering inventory was picked over by buyers,” she said. “At the moment we have nearly equal numbers of pending and active listings on the Eastside. This means that there still are properties out there to be had, but you’ll find many of the available inventory have been on market for more than 30 days.”

Looking ahead, Mueller said many sellers are targeting March list dates, so she predicts buyers will see some relief in this inventory squeeze then. She added that while inventory is tighter than usual, there are still good homes on the market, so actively monitoring and touring properties right now is worthwhile for buyers.

Mona Spencer, branch manager for John L. Scott’s Redmond office, said she foresees a competitive housing market in 2020, given the lack of inventory and low interest rates. She added that a home’s location may come with additional consideration in the years ahead, due to climate change.

“With our changing climate, homes that are in potential flood zones will become more of a concern for location-focused buyers,” said Spencer. “In high-risk areas, insurers may stop providing insurance altogether, which will impact a buyer’s ability to obtain a loan. Also, buyers who are purchasing land and need to rely on well water will also need to carefully research their ability to drill for a well.”

Given these considerations, Spencer said it’s more important than ever for buyers and sellers to seek representation from professionals who understand the intricacies of selling and buying property.

Reflecting on the last two years, Mueller said buyers locally have raised the bar, which she doesn’t see changing in 2020, even if inventory tightens.

“Sellers will have to adjust their expectations in preparing to sell their home — to compete, sellers will have to tackle deferred maintenance or even take on some larger home updating projects,” said Mueller. “Even then, it may still take more than 30 days for sellers to get under contract. Luckily, I predict the continued possibility of contingent offers in 2020, particularly for luxury homes, which weren’t really available in the frenzied 2016 and 2017 markets.”

As we head into 2020, Mueller said that though interest rates and employment numbers are both positive, the urban core can be prohibitively expensive to many buyers. She primarily works with renters and first-time home buyers, and said she’s been hearing from renters lately who have hit a stress point with their housing situation.

“I’ve been getting calls from renters who are seeing their 2020 lease renewals jumping up more than six percent,” said Mueller. “In the urban core, rents are being impacted by new towers opening, bumping up prices even in buildings that are not making improvements. 2020 may be the year that some renters convert to homeownership simply because a mortgage pencils out lower than their rents.”

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