Tuesday, February 18, 2020
Feb. 18, 2020

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Will the housing market stabilize in 2018?

Continued high demand, increasing prices blocking some would-be buyers

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
2 Photos
Will Mantz, left, and his wife, Jannea, right, stand outside their house with their daughter Ari. They rent their home and are hopeful the housing market will balance out soon so they can buy. Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian
Will Mantz, left, and his wife, Jannea, right, stand outside their house with their daughter Ari. They rent their home and are hopeful the housing market will balance out soon so they can buy. Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian Photo Gallery

Even though his house is near his daughter’s school, convenient to his wife’s work and in a great neighborhood, Will Mantz wants to move.

As a renter, Mantz, a 44-year-old software sales representative with DiscoverOrg, said he’s ready to put down roots. He wants to build equity and be able to mold a house to his liking.

“Rather than paying it away to somebody else for their equity and their home, I’d rather do it for my own,” he said. “And be able to make decisions for that house, whether it needs tweaks or fixing or whatever else.”

But finding such a place in Clark County’s housing market lately has been a footrace that he and his family refuse to run. He and his wife, Jannae, got pre-approved for a loan last spring and went house shopping — only to find “a complete mess,” he said.

“One of the places we went to, that we liked, in the span of a week it had 30 offers on it,” he said. “Even in places where we were high bidders, people would come in with $10,000 to $15,000 (on top of that).”

His story mirrors those of many hopeful homeowners in Clark County, where demand is high and the supply of single-family homes remains low. So the Mantzes are bystanders.

“We stood in driveways so many different times waiting for people to finish their housing tour,” he said.

The Mantz family is still renting and wondering when the market will be more placid. How long they will have to wait, though, is unclear. Experts on the local market say it could level off soon, though 2018 will likely remain hot.

Let’s appreciate

As with many economic questions, the housing market’s future will likely be answered by supply and demand.

Demand is most noticeably high, especially whenever someone takes a flier from a box in front of a home for sale. According to the latest data provided by the Regional Multiple Listing Service, the median house sold in Clark County last month had a price tag of $330,000. Prices have risen 10.5 percent since January, when houses sold for a median of $298,600.

While that appreciation can benefit current homeowners, it can set a harsh pace for people looking to own, according to Leslie Girard, a loan officer and manager at the Vancouver branch of Evergreen Home Loans.

“A lot of folks say ‘I’m going to wait a year and save. I can save $8,000,’ ” she said. “Last year, if it was a $250,000 house and saw a 10 percent appreciation, that house went up $25,000 while you wanted to save eight. People can’t usually save that fast.”

This is the fourth year in a row for double-digit increase in local home prices. In 2016, prices rose 10.7 percent between January and November, on top of 14.2 percent in 2015 and 15.9 percent in 2014.

Terry Wollam, managing broker for ReMax Equity Group in Vancouver, said it seems would-be buyers such as the Mantzes are finally starting to pull back.

“It’s a reflection of a price increase we’ve seen and buyer sentiment growing with wages not following suit,” he said. “I think it just shows that there’s not going to be buyer support for 10 percent appreciation year-over-year that we’ve had in years past.”

Still hot

An increase in the supply of single-family homes could cool the red-hot housing market. But homebuilders and real estate analysts say Clark County isn’t there yet.

Vancouver-based Urban NW Homes is running five framing crews at once right now to keep up with its order for new homes. Owner Troy Johns said the crews are booked through April, and Urban NW expects to build more homes than usual in 2018.

“We’re basically telling everyone if they want a house, it’s nine months out before the move-in,” he said.

According to RMLS reports, new listings, which include new construction and older homes coming back up for sale, are still short of pre-recession levels. They have risen every year since 2012.

And inventory, a statistic that calculates the number of months it would take for the current stock of housing to be sold, has been reported at less than three months since March 2015. Mike Lamb, a broker at Windermere Stellar Vancouver, said a balanced market usually has six months of inventory.

“There are some people out there who think we’ll see less appreciation in the housing market this coming year, but because of our inventory situation the way it is and the strong demand, I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he said. “We’re sucking it up as fast as it gets listed.”

Still, the Mantzes plan to wait out the market. Will Mantz said they aren’t interested in homes built in the last decade because the lots are generally smaller.

“I don’t want to live where I can reach out the side window of my house (and) high-five my neighbor,” he said.

Mantz added that he feels more fortunate than a lot of prospective homeowners. He enjoys his rental enough that he could stay there another year, and be picky about the home he and his wife will eventually buy.

“We want something from the 1950s, ’60s or ’70s. We definitely have limitations, but that falls on our sense that we can be picky. And why not? It’s a huge investment and a huge commitment. Why not be picky?”

Mantz said his family won’t expect to go house shopping again until 2019.

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