First the bad news: the number of homes sold in Bellingham in November of 2008 was down 41% from November of 2007 and down 38% for Whatcom County as a whole. Average prices were down 16% in both Bellingham and Whatcom County. The average prices were impacted strongly by softness in the upper end of the market, as was indicated by the smaller change in median prices - down 10% in Bellingham and 12% in the county as a whole.
Year-to-date numbers give the illusion of greater strength, with unit sales down 28% in Bellingham and 26% overall for Whatcom County. Average prices year-to-date have dropped just 3.8% in Bellingham and 5% throughout Whatcom County. What must be remembered is that these numbers include the stronger early months of the year and have not been holding up over the past 2 months.
The following graphs give a visual sense of what has been going on in our real estate market since January of 2007.
The chart above shows the number of residential units sold in Bellingham by month through 2007 and 2008. The market saw less bounce during the typical "selling season" and in November declined considerably below the level at which it began in the first quarter of the year. This is not typical of the normal sales curve, which tends to end the year at about the same point where it began. The next 2 months should tell us if this is an aberration or an indication that the 2009 sales curve will be lower still.
This chart covers the same time period as the unit sales chart above, but its message through much of the year is more positive. Average sale prices have been rather sticky, dropping just 3.8% year-to-date from 2007 to 2008. October and November saw this trend change, at least in part due to softness in the upper end of the market. While these numbers reflect Bellingham sales, they typically constitute approximately 50% of total Whatcom County sales, and the trend lines are very similar.
Inventory levels, particularly in Bellingham and Sudden Valley, are definitely lower than a year ago, at least in part due to little new construction. Sudden Valley is seeing fairly strong sales due to the new construction inventory available there, and contractors have been discounting prices fairly heavily.
Another bright spot in the local real estate scene are current interest rates. Most lenders have FHA programs and rates that are very attractive with as little as 3% down. I received an e-mail notice from a local mortgage broker this week with 30-year fixed rate home loans available at 5% interest, no points, 20% down. The key to that one was a credit score of at least 740. That is the best I have seen, but there are a number of good loan opportunities out there and they are changing constantly, so stay in touch with your lender if you are planning to buy.
I was asked today if people are still moving here, and the answer is yes. We are also seeing investors coming into the market, which is a good sign. So what is coming for Bellingham/Whatcom County real estate Probably more of the same for some time, although I think the contraction in inventory and lack of new construction will be with us for a while, which will serve to help hold the price point.
In any type of real estate market it is important to know what is going on before you jump in as either a buyer or a seller. We track many segments of the market so that our clients have the knowledge they need to make good decisions. It's one of those services that we consider essential, so if you have a need to know, come talk to us.