Home sales heating up in third quarter

August continued the July surge in housing market, construction

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

Published:

 
photoSales of houses in Clark County, August 2013. Click to enlarge.

The local housing market continued to show year-over-year improvement, and it is being helped along by a surge in new-home building.

With 626 new and existing houses sold in August, sales for the month increased by 27 percent above August 2012 when 493 sales closed, Portland-based RMLS reported Friday. Month-to-month, August sales were down about 8 percent below July's total of 681 sales. The July total was the highest since 2005.

About 864 residential listings came on the market in August, compared to 596 new listings that were added the same month last year, and down slightly from 895 new listings in July.

"I'm feeling like these are good numbers," said Mike Lamb, a Vancouver real estate broker with Windermere Real Estate/Stellar Group.

Although tight, August's listings increased a bit from July's 3.5 months' homes-for-sale inventory. There were 3.9 months worth of available homes for sale in August, down 23 percent from August 2012. It means that at the current sales pace, the supply of 2,460 active listings in Clark County would be exhausted in less than three months if no new listings were added.

In a normal market, a healthy supply is about six months.

"It's interesting that the listing activity stayed high," Lamb said. He attributed the activity, in part, to a countywide increase in new-home building.

August homebuilding permits issued in unincorporated Clark County increased by a whopping 123 percent compared to the same month last year, the county's Department of Community Development reported this month. The department issued 105 permits to build single-family houses last month, up from 47 permits in August 2012 and up from 28 permits in August 2011. August's total was up slightly — about 9.4 percent — from July, when builders took out 96 permits for single-family houses

Increase in building

Housing permits totaled approximately $30.8 million in value, up more than 100 percent from $15.1 million worth of permits issued in August 2012, the department said.

Although Lamb characterized the county's supply of available listings as "a very low inventory situation," he expects better sales activity in September, in terms of listings, closed and pending sales.

"We are seeing a significant increase in building," he said. "The industry contracted so much and now (home) building is hot."

Rising prices ease

Meanwhile, Clark County home values decreased slightly in August. The median price — half sold for more, half for less — was $229,900, down slightly from July's median of $237,000. However, the median price increased by 11.8 percent year-over-year.

Lamb expects median prices to rise another 6 percent over the next year. "We've kind of dug our way out of the hole now," he said.

Others argue increasing sales and rising values have all but edged first-time homebuyers out of the market.

"Our inventory under $160,000 or $170,000 is a very, very difficult price range to find," said Vancouver broker Dale Chumbley, an agent with Vancouver-based Real Living The Real Estate Group.

Chumbley, who is also the president-elect of the Clark County Association of Realtors, said the lower price ranges are typically bank repossessions or short sale properties, in which the seller negotiates with the lender to sell the property. Chumbley said first-time buyers are often pitted against residential investors, such as those in the business of buying distressed homes to market as rental units or repair and sell for a higher price.

"It's very, very hard for a first-time buyer to compete with investors," he said.


Cami Joner: 360-735-4532, http://twitter.com/camijoner or cami.joner@columbian.com.