Clark County 4th quarter retail sales
Activity subject to sales tax
2013: $1.3 billion
2012: $1.2 billion
2011: $1.14 billion
2010: $1.1 billion
2009: $1 billion
SOURCE: Washington Department of Revenue
It was new houses, not holiday bargains, that drove Clark County retail sales to the highest increase in the state in the fourth quarter of 2013, a jump that was almost double the increase recorded statewide.
Home construction drove the county's taxable retail sales higher by 10.7 percent in the three months ending Dec. 31, which topped a statewide increase of 5.8 percent during the same period, the Washington State Department of Revenue reported Tuesday. Clark County also registered a higher year-over-year retail sales increase than Washington's four most populous counties — King, which grew 6.3 percent; Pierce, which grew 3.2 percent; Snohomish, which grew 6.2 percent; and Spokane, which grew 5.4 percent.
County sales of building materials shot up 20 percent to 59.4 million in the fourth quarter, the state reported.
"The highest contributor to the bump in sales, is new home construction," said Pam Lindloff, an associate vice president with NAI Norris Beggs & Simpson in Vancouver. "If you compare residential growth across the state, (Clark County) had pretty good new home construction last year," said Lindloff, a commercial real estate broker who specializes in retail trade.
The state reported sales taxes on $233 million worth of construction activity in Clark County in the fourth quarter, an increase of 21.7 percent from $191.4 million during the same period in 2012. The increase coincides with an increase in homebuilding, as measured by permits issued in Vancouver and unincorporated Clark County, which shot up 23.2 percent to 239 new homes, compared with 194 houses in the fourth quarter of 2012.
The taxed items "would be anything from someone buying their appliances at DeWils to Super Floors" in Vancouver, said Terry Wollam, a Realtor with Wollam & Associates Real Estate who works with local housing developers.
And Wollam said new-home builders can't avoid the sales tax by making purchases in sales-tax-free Oregon.
"Even if it is purchased from a supplier in Portland, the sales tax has to be paid on any item that goes into a new home," he said.
Wollam said the benefits can reverberate outward from an uptick in home building.
"The ripple effect extends a lot further than we think," he said.
Fourth-quarter store-only sales for the county totaled $613 million, up 8.7 percent from the same three months in 2012. Sales remained fairly flat for general merchandise stores, which registered $175 million in sales, and apparel sellers, which brought in $40 million in the fourth quarter.
Retail sales were strong in home furnishings, up 16.7 percent to $21 million; and electronics and appliance stores, up 20 percent to $21 million. The state reported the county's e-commerce and mail-order sales in the fourth quarter totaled $23.9 million, up 23 percent from the same quarter in 2012.
But the jump in new home building has yet to translate to a large increase in new retail businesses, Lindloff said.
Demand is still slow for space in retail strip malls and other shopping centers where the county's overall vacancy rate is still close to 8 percent, she said
"We'd like to see it in the 5 to 6 percent rate," Lindloff said. "That's when the high demand is going to occur."