Home prices heat up in Clark County

Average, median prices see healthy bump in February

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

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Clark County home sellers are calling the shots once again, from the looks of the area's house prices in a report issued Wednesday.

"We saw a healthy bump in the average and median home sale price in February," said Terry Wollam, a Realtor with Re/Max Equity Group in Vancouver.

The county's median home price — half sold for more, half for less — was $234,800 in February, representing a 16 percent increase over the median during the same month last year. February's median price was 6.7 percent higher than January's median of $220,000. The average price of a home sold here was $252,500 in the twelve months ending in February.

"It's definitely a seller's market, but in a healthier way than in 2005, '06 and '07," Wollam said. That frenzied period of homebuying was fueled by lax lending standards and mortgages that were bundled and sold as securities.

What's different now is that some lending banks are keeping the mortgage loans in-house, he said. At the same time, some banks are easing up on credit standards within reason, which means lenders still face a list of federal compliance standards set by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010.

"The pendulum has swung from one end to the other side," Wollam said, adding that some lenders are coming up with new 3 percent down programs for conventional lending. Other companies are just now changing their lending programs to focus on buyer financing.

"The re-fi's (requests to refinance an existing mortgage) are gone," he said.

Wollam expects to see Clark County's housing market continue to heat up through 2014, with demand fueled by still-low mortgage rates, move-up buyers and home sales to workers transferring into the county to work for firms such as Fisher Investments in Camas. The asset management firm's local campus has grown by more than 155 employees since May, bringing its total Camas workforce to 650 people.

"I've had four different sales to Fisher employees in the last month," Wollam said.

He expects inventory of houses for sale to tighten as more prospective homebuyers enter the market, despite an increase in new housing starts countywide. In February, there were 5.7 months worth of houses listed for sale, which means it would take that many months to sell the entire supply if no new listings were added. It was down nearly 11 percent from January's inventory of 6.4 months.

Home sales, median home price

Clark County home sales and median home price in February. Source: RMLS, Portland