Bellingham seems to be leading the way in Whatcom County’s real estate recovery.  It is the first month since October of 2007 in which the number of houses sold was equal to the number sold in the same month of the prior year.  No other areas in Whatcom County matched their prior year sales, but some did better than others.

  • Bellingham sold 82 houses in May of both 2008 & 2009
  • Ferndale was down just 5%
  • Other areas dropped from 23% to 75%
  • Whatcom County as a whole was off 16.7%

The good Bellingham numbers were not totally unexpected, as pending sales have been rising relative to last year for the past 3 months, while inventory levels continue to fall.

 Average price changes varied widely, as usual, from an increase of 8% in one area to a decline of 17.6% in another from May of last year.  Some of our communities are small, so one or two home sales can have a major impact as a percentage change.  The larger samples of Bellingham and Whatcom County as a whole are better indicators of trends:

  • Bellingham:  Average down 9.3%, Median down 9.4%   May 2008 to May 2009
  • Total Whatcom County:  Average down 6.6%, Median down 1.1%

As shown by the chart above, we are seeing the normal increase in sales as we go into spring, with the curve a bit steeper than it was last year, but without the large jump that occurred in 2007.  Average and median prices, after rising in the first 3 months of this year, have dropped rather steeply in April and May.

This drop is alarming until we look into the distribution of sales within the price ranges.  While average prices still seem to be lower, the softness in the price ranges above $500,000 has been largely responsible for the size of the drop.

So where is our real estate market going  I continue to see a gradual strengthening, with more sales and relatively stable prices.  As is typical, Bellingham is and will continue to recover first.   The chart below shows the number of homes for sale and the number of homes under contract by week since the beginning of the year and compares numbers from 2007 & 2008 to those this year.  Pending numbers have been up for the past 13 weeks – not by much, but by enough to catch sales up to last year.