Clark County home sales continue to improve

Prospective buyers tussle over shrinking supply in a seller's market

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

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Homes sales, a factor driving Clark County's recovering economy, continued to show signs of improvement in April as buyers tussled over a shrinking supply of single-family homes listed for sale.

Realtors are now reporting multiple bids for houses in popular neighborhoods and subdivisions in Camas, Battle Ground and in the areas served by Evergreen Public Schools. They also are seeing more lenders reject financing, as buyers overstep their financial boundaries. The trends and other data in a Wednesday report also suggest that sellers now have a firm upper hand in the county's housing market.

"We're seeing signs that buyers are under a lot of pressure right now," said Mike Lamb, a Vancouver real estate broker with Windermere Real Estate/ Stellar Group.

The median price — half sold for more, half for less — was $234,900 for all houses sold countywide. It was a 9 percent increase over the median in the same month last year, according to a report issued by Portland-based RMLS. The organization reported a low, 4.1 percent supply of houses listed for sale in Clark County, which means it would take 4.1 months to sell all of the inventory if no new listings were added.

"It's slim pickings," said Lamb. He estimated the actual supply is less than two months worth, not counting the bank-owned short sales and lots counted before a house is built.

"We'd have more sales if we had more inventory, that's for sure," Lamb said.

In April, there were 522 closed home sales, down just 1.3 percent from the same month last year, but up 13.2 percent from March. There were 701 home sales pending in April. Lamb said the wide gap between the number of houses sold and the number pending indicate that more real estate agents are encountering failed transactions, in which buyers can't get approved for a loan to cover the offer. He said it's hard to know how many transactions have run aground, since the missed sales aren't tallied up in the RMLS data.

"It's gone up to around 20 percent," Lamb estimated. "It's totally predictable when you have strong demand and low inventory."

At the same time, it can be heartbreaking for buyers and sellers when a sale falls through because a buyer has stretched beyond their limits, said Tracie DeMars, a Vancouver real estate broker with ReMax Equity Group.

"You get all the way, and the lender won't do a loan on them," she said.

It can add up in costs for the buyer, who is responsible for about $1,000 in refundable earnest money, and another $800 to $900 for a home inspection and appraisal. DeMars and Lamb both cautioned homebuyers to look for experienced brokers.

"You don't get the first home you want every time," DeMars said.

"You've got to remember your priorities and hang in there," Lamb said. "We'll find them something. It just takes more work."

He also is seeing a few more baby boom generation buyers showing interest in purchasing single-story houses in which to live out their retirement years or transition from larger houses. Those are buyers who are regaining the home equity they had lost when the housing bubble burst in late 2007, he said.

Home foreclosure activity dropped to a seven-year low in Clark County in April. That's a steep 83 percent decline from the same month last year, but slightly higher than the number of foreclosures in March.

Experts say the numbers indicate homeowners are seeing more equity, providing an incentive to list the house and move up. That will eventually free up that inventory for first-time buyers considered the foundation of a healthy real estate market.

"Right now, more buyers are getting into the market," DeMars said, "They are lower-end buyers and we need them. They are the bedrock of the entire market. As they start buying houses, people can move up."

Clark County home sales and median home price

For the month of April 2014. Source: RMLS, Portland