Clark County home values tumble

First-quarter decline coincided with a 6.5% sales increase

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter



Housing Market Snapshot

Clark County First Quarter

Year Median Price

2011 $194,200

2010 $218,100

2009 $224,100

2008 $257,400

2007 $277,900

SOURCE: Washington Center for Real Estate Research, Pullman

Home values across Washington plummeted in the first three months of the year, and Clark County was no exception, according to just-released state research data.

That could be good news for first-time home buyers, according to the report from the Washington Center for Real Estate Research, which showed statewide home prices softened by 4.5 percent in the first quarter, compared with the last three months of 2010. Meanwhile, total home sales increased 6.5 percent in the first quarter, compared with the fourth quarter 2010, reported the research center, based at Washington State University in Pullman.

Despite rising sales in Clark County, the median price — half sold for more, half for less — was $194,200 in the first quarter, down 8.1 percent from the previous quarter and significantly lower than the statewide median of $228,200.

Statewide, first-quarter prices dropped to $228,200 in the first quarter, compared with $239,000 in the last three months of 2010.

The combination of increasing sales and softening prices indicate rekindled buyer enthusiasm, which could include interest among first-time purchasers or real estate investors, said Glenn Crellin, director of the research center at WSU.

“The market strength clearly was driven by bargain hunting,” he said.

It was especially true in Clark County, where one out of every 545 households was in some stage of foreclosure in April, according to a report Thursday from California-based RealtyTrac Inc. It was the third-highest rate of foreclosure among the state’s 39 counties.

That’s why Clark County home prices could inch lower still before bottoming out in the second half of 2011, Crellin said.

“It will be difficult to get to the tipping point until we clear out more of the pre-foreclosure and foreclosed inventory,” he said

Nevertheless, Crellin sees signs of stabilization in the wobbly housing market, which has begun to stand on its own without the help of the federal homebuyer’s tax credit that propelled homebuying before expiring in June 2010.

In Washington, year-over-year home sales declined by 4.6 percent in the first quarter compared with the same period last year. In Clark County, home sales declined 7.4 percent in the first quarter compared with the first three months in 2010.

“We’re comparing a period that doesn’t have the stimulus to a period that does,” Crellin said. “The market is beginning to stabilize.”

Clark County’s housing affordability index level rose to 180.7 in the first quarter, up from 152.1 in the same period last year — a sign that housing here is generally affordable and is becoming more so, the center reported. Statewide, the housing affordability index was 152.

The affordability index measures the ability of a household that earns 70 percent of the area’s annual median income to make payments on a median-priced home, assuming a 20 percent down payment and a 30-year mortgage. An index score of 100 means there is a balance between the ability to pay and the cost. Housing becomes increasingly less affordable the more the score sinks below 100.

In Clark County, households that earn 70 percent of the annual median income bring in $38,630 a year. The county’s annual median household income is $55,185. Across the state, median home prices varied by county, ranging from a high median of $442,500 in San Juan County to a low median of $121,500 in Grays Harbor County.