Seattle Region September Home Sales

Seattle-area home sales held steady in September, rather than falling as they normally do from August, thanks mainly to a rise in sub-$200,000 transactions. The median sale price held firm, too, at $300,000 for the third consecutive month, a real estate information service reported.

A total of 3,794 new and resale houses and condos closed escrow during September in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metropolitan statistical area encompassing King, Snohomish and Pierce counties. September logged one more sale than the 3,793 in August, while it posted a 5.5 percent gain over the 3,595 sales in September 2008, according to MDA DataQuick of San Diego. The firm tracks real estate trends nationally via public property records.

Total Seattle-area sales have risen on a year-over-year basis for three consecutive months. Before this July, the region had seen 37 consecutive months of annual sales declines.

Despite their strength relative to August, September sales were the third-lowest for that month - behind September 2008 and September 1996 - since 1994, when DataQuick's complete Seattle-area statistics begin.

The absence of a dip in sales from August to September was unusual. On average, sales have fallen 11 percent between those two months since 1994. The only other time September sales didn't fall from August was in 2004, when they eked out a 0.3 percent gain.

September sales also bucked the seasonal norm and rose from August in other markets nationally. The likely reasons: Short sales became more common this summer and they take longer to close, meaning some mid-summer transactions that normally would have closed in August instead closed in September. New appraisal rules that took effect in late spring likely resulted in some longer escrows, too. September sales also got a boost from improved housing affordability - thanks to home price declines and historically low mortgage rates - and buyers trying to take advantage of a soon-to-expire federal tax credit for first-time buyers.

New-home sales continued to suffer in September as builders struggled to compete with lower-cost resale homes, especially foreclosures. New-home sales have fallen on a year-over-year basis for 35 consecutive months and in September were at their lowest level for that month since at least 1994.

September sales of all new and resale homes priced below $200,000 rose nearly 9 percent from August and represented 18.3 percent of all sales. In August, sub-$200,000 sales were 16.9 percent of total sales, while in September 2008 they were 12.3 percent.

At the other end of the price spectrum, a total of 84 new and resale houses and condos sold for $1 million or more in September, unchanged from August but down 16 percent from 100 sales of $1 million or more in September 2008. Sales of $1 million-plus homes peaked in June 2007, when 293 sold. During the first nine months of this year, sales of $1 million-plus homes fell 40.3 percent from the same period last year. The analysis is based on transactions where there was a price or purchase loan amount of $1 million or more in the public record.

The median price paid for all new and resale houses and condos combined in September remained at $300,000, the same as in August but down 6.2 percent from a year earlier. September's median was 17.9 percent lower than the Seattle area's peak $365,200 median in June 2007. The overall median has fallen on a year-over-year basis for 20 straight months, although September's 6.2 percent annual decline was the lowest for any month since August 2008, when it fell 5 percent from a year earlier.

The median amount paid for resale single-family detached houses held at $310,000 in September, the same as in August and July but down 4.6 percent from a year earlier. That year-over-year decline was the smallest since April 2008, when the median for that home-type category fell 2.7 percent from a year earlier.

Another key price measure for resale single-family houses, the median price paid per square foot, dipped slightly to $172 in September, down from $174 in August and down 15.5 percent from a year earlier. The September figure was 28.5 percent below the peak $240 median paid per square foot in July 2007.

In September, foreclosure resales edged slightly higher in the greater Seattle area: 17.8 percent of all homes resold were houses or condos that had been foreclosed on in the prior 12 months, up from 17.1 percent in August and up from 9.4 percent in September 2008. Foreclosure resales peaked in January this year at 23.9 percent of resales.

Also in September, 38.7 percent of all Seattle-area buyers used government-insured FHA loans, a popular choice among first-time buyers, according to an analysis of public property records. Absentee buyers made up 13.5 percent of all purchases - a relatively low percentage in the West. Absentee buyers include investors and second-home buyers, mainly, as well as others who indicated at the time of sale that they will have their property tax bills sent to a different address.

The use of adjustable-rate mortgages ("ARMs") to buy homes rose in September to 6.4 percent of all Seattle-area purchase loans, up from 4.8 percent in August and up from a decade low of 1.8 percent in May this year. However, September's purchase ARM level was down from 13.7 percent a year ago and down from a monthly ARM-use average this decade of nearly 33 percent.


Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA MSA

Number of sales Sep-08 Sep-09 %Chng
Resale houses 2,351 2,645 12.50%
Resale condos 551 577 4.70%
New homes 693 572 -17.50%
All homes 3,595 3,794 5.50%
       
Median sale price Sep-08 Sep-09 %Chng
Resale houses $325,000 $310,000 -4.60%
Resale condos $248,500 $240,000 -3.40%
New homes $346,009 $308,565 -10.80%
All homes $319,970 $300,000 -6.20%

Media calls: Andrew LePage (916) 456-7157

Copyright 2009 MDA DataQuick Information Systems. All rights reserved.