Seattle Region January Home Sales

The number of Seattle-area homes sold in January rose above the extremely low level of a year ago but it was still the second-lowest tally for that month in at least 16 years. The region's median sale price fell to the lowest point since spring 2005 as foreclosed properties, condo resales and other sub-$300,000 transactions gained market share, a real estate information service reported.

A total of 2,208 new and resale houses and condos closed escrow during January in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metropolitan statistical area encompassing King, Snohomish and Pierce counties. January sales fell 36.1 percent from December but rose 30.3 percent from January 2009, according to MDA DataQuick of San Diego. The firm tracks real estate trends nationally via public property records.

Total sales have risen on a year-over-year basis for seven consecutive months. However, January's total was the second-lowest for the month of January, behind last year, since at least 1994, when DataQuick's complete (all home types) Seattle-area stats begin.

A decline in sales between December and January is normal for the season. On average, sales have fallen 24.8 percent between those two months. Across the West and beyond, this January's home sales tended to fall more than they normally do from December.

January's 364 new-home sales fell nearly 8 percent below January 2009 to the lowest level in DataQuick's statistics for a January. New-home sales this January made up just 16.5 percent of total Seattle-area sales, down from 23.3 percent a year ago and a 16-year average of 19 percent.

Among the home type categories, resale condos posted the biggest annual gain in sales, rising 68.1 percent from January 2009. Condo resales made up 16 percent of all sales this January, up from 14.9 percent in December, 12.4 percent a year ago and a 16-year average of 12 percent.

January sales of all new and existing homes priced below $300,000 represented 53.7 percent of all sales, up from 51.0 percent in December and up from 48.2 percent a year earlier.

At the other end of the home-price spectrum, the share of total sales over $1 million fell to 1.9 percent in January, down from 2.8 percent in December and 2.9 percent a year earlier. A total of 41 new and resale homes sold for $1 million or more in January, down 54.9 percent from 92 in December and down 14.6 percent from 48 in January 2009. On average over the past five years, 76 homes have sold for $1 million or more in the month of January. Looking at all months, sales of $1 million-plus homes peaked in June 2007, when 293 sold.

The median price paid for all new and resale houses and condos combined in January was $287,000, down 3.5 percent from $297,450 in December and down 5.9 percent from $305,000 a year earlier. January's median was 21.4 percent lower than the Seattle area's peak $365,200 median in June 2007. The last time the median was lower was in May 2005, when it was $279,950.

The overall median has fallen on a year-over-year basis for 24 straight months. It reached a high for 2009 of $312,000 last June.

The median paid for resale single-family detached houses was $289,000 in January, down 5.2 percent from $305,000 in December and down 3.7 percent from $300,000 a year earlier. January's resale house median stood 26.7 percent below the peak $394,500 median reached in June 2007.

The median paid for resale condos in January was $237,000, up slightly from $235,000 in December but down 5.2 percent from $250,000 a year earlier. The resale condo median stood 15.4 percent below its $280,000 peak in June 2008.

Another key price measure, the median paid per square foot for resale single-family detached houses, fell slightly in January to $171. That was down from $172 in December and down 1.4 percent from $174 a year earlier. This January's figure was 28.4 percent below the peak $239 median paid per square foot in June 2007. The figure has mostly trended lower each month since hitting a 2009 high of $183 last June.

In January, foreclosure resales rose in the greater Seattle area: a record 28.5 percent of all homes resold were houses or condos that had been foreclosed on in the prior 12 months, up from 25.7 percent in December and up from 23.9 percent in January 2009.

Foreclosure activity dipped in January compared with December but was higher than a year ago: The 698 single-family house and condo units foreclosed on in the Seattle region represented a 34.8 percent decline from December but a 17.5 percent increase from a year earlier. The figures are based on the number of trustees deeds filed with the county recorder's office. The document signals that a home was lost to foreclosure. The highest month for foreclosures was last October, when 1,117 trustees deeds were filed.

In the 12 months ending this January, 9,847 homes were foreclosed on in the Seattle region, up nearly 81 percent from 5,450 in the prior 12-month period.

The foreclosure totals can include units that the county assessor has designated condos, but are currently used as apartments (e.g. a 100-unit complex designated as condos but used as apartments could be foreclosed on and those units would be reflected in the foreclosure total for that month). For this reason and others, the number of foreclosure filings has seesawed month-to-month over the past year, and a single month's increase or decline doesn't necessarily indicate the beginning of a lasting trend.

First-time buyers and investors continue to buy many of the distressed properties on the market.

Absentee buyers accounted for 17.2 percent of all January home sales - a relatively low percentage in the West but the highest it's been in the Seattle area since this time last year. January's figure was up from 16.4 percent in December but down from 18.5 percent a year earlier. 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.

Absentee investors paid a median $233,000 for their homes in January, down 10.5 percent from December and down 21.7 percent from a year earlier.

Those buyers who appeared to be using cash to purchase their homes made up 19.6 percent of all buyers in January and paid a median $261,950. Specifically, these were transactions where there was no indication of a purchase loan recorded at the time of sale. Some of these "cash" buyers could have used alternative financing arrangements outside of a typical purchase mortgage, and in some cases these buyers might be taking out mortgages after their purchases. All-cash deals are popular in many Western markets where prices have dropped sharply and sellers favor the relative speed and certainty of cash transactions.

The use of government-insured FHA loans, a popular choice among first-time buyers, fell slightly in January: 34.1 percent of all purchase loans were FHA, down from 36.2 percent in December but up from 26.4 percent a year earlier and up from 5.4 percent two years earlier, according to an analysis of public property records.

Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA MSA

Number of sales Jan-09 Jan-10 %Chng
Resale houses 1,089 1,491 36.90%
Resale condos 210 353 68.10%
New homes 395 364 -7.80%
All homes 1,694 2,208 30.30%
Median sale price Jan-09 Jan-10 %Chng
Resale houses $300,000 $289,000 -3.70%
Resale condos $250,000 $237,000 -5.20%
New homes $340,000 $310,000 -8.80%
All homes $305,000 $287,000 -5.90%

Media calls: Andrew LePage (916) 456-7157

Copyright 2009 MDA DataQuick Information Systems. All rights reserved.

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