There were 18 showings on the first day for a Camas home that Jamie Benway wanted to buy last month.
Benway, 33, and her husband were living in a San Diego suburb condo for the last four years before buying their new home in Camas to be closer to family. Like many home sales now, they made an offer over the asking price, and it was accepted before they even stepped foot into the house.
“It was very competitive,” she said.
The housing market in Southwest Washington continued to surge ahead in many categories, causing a squeeze on buyers like the Benways. In Clark County, home prices continued to rise, with the median sales price increasing by 18.7 percent from $435,000 in March 2021 to $525,000 in the same month this year.
From February to March alone, home median sales prices increased from $512,000 to $525,000.
Inventory also decreased to a very small window of 16 days, showing that all the homes currently on the market in Southwest Washington could be sold within two weeks. In February, total market time, or how long a house is on the market on average, was at 27 days; in March of 2021, it was 29 days.
Taking into consideration how many of those homes, however, are new homes still being built or planned and how many are homes with contingent offers, there’s actually a bit less than two weeks of housing supply.
“We had a really good March by any measure,” said Mike Lamb, a broker with Windermere Stellar. “It was the second-best month on record.”
New home sales activity in March was the best indicator of the growing market. There were 932 pending residential sales reported to RMLS, up 23 percent from February. New homes entering the market also increased in March, with 1,010 new residential listings submitted.
Even though mortgage rates are rising, Lamb said that it is likely to stimulate home sales because “consumers anticipate rates will rise even more,” he wrote in a RMLS report.
“Buyers may become more sensitive to prices due to rising rates. If that happens, it could cool the market enough to moderate increases in prices.” Lamb wrote. “While that would change the market dynamic, it would ultimately lead to a healthier and more sustainable market.”
Nate Brantley, co-owner and chairman of Brantley Christianson Real Estate LLC, said that homeowners who have owned for five or more years are poised to win in the market, especially those coming from California cities where land is more expensive than Clark County.
He said that anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of the buyers in Clark County are from Oregon or California, but it fluctuates.
For the Benways, who moved here from San Diego, Clark County was a much cheaper option than San Diego. They have friends who bought a San Diego home within the last few months, and the Benways spent the same price for a 4,100-square-foot home than their friends in San Diego spent on a 1,300-square-foot home.
Brantley said he is seeing homes under the $500,000 mark start to see a little more time on the market in the last few months, and the bidding wars for those lower-priced homes are starting to cool off a little.
“Inventory building for those lower prices homes, but the rate is higher, and the cash-to-close is coming down,” he said about the cheaper homes. “The ability to negotiate is better now than the last couple of years.”
However, for those lower-cost homes, rising interest rates are making things tougher, especially when the rising mortgages rates don’t lock in until after the offer is accepted; getting preapproved for a mortgage means that the rate could go up if they don’t buy a home fast.
A $700,000 house at 3 percent (last year’s mortgage rate) and a $550,000 house at 5 percent now have the same payment, which is “a stat I can’t get over,” Brantley said.
The biggest issue is the lack of housing in Clark County.
“I don’t see any significant short-term relief in terms of inventory,” Lamb said. “We can’t build enough houses in Clark County to solve the demand problem. We cannot do it.”
A week ago, Lamb visited the site of a future subdivision of 80 or so to-be-built homes in the Camas school district. The builder’s representative began a wait list for buyers last summer, and the number of people on that list was 600, Lamb said.
“I was flabbergasted,” he said. “What does that tell you about demand and supply?”
Sarah Wolf contributed to the reporting of this story.