Home sales continued hot streak in Walla Walla in 2019

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If you're in the market for a home in Walla Walla, Wash., options may feel a little slim lately.

Even though listing inventory in 2019 increased 1.5% over 2018, last year's stock started the year and ended it with the lowest level inventory of the decade, continuing historic lows for the Walla Walla Multiple Listing Service, according to year-end data.

And when new listings are out, you have to strike quickly, said Windermere Real Estate broker Jose Martinez. One of his more recent properties lasted just eight days on the market.

But Martinez says with demand he often has to prepare clients to brace for an offer as quickly as 24 hours from the listing.

It's a massive contrast from when he started 12 years ago, just as the crash was coming and homes could average 200 or 300 days on the market.

"Now if properties don't sell within one week or two weeks, people wonder what's happening," he marveled.

The relatively small inventory means demand is high.

Last year was the fourth best for home sales within the listing service that includes Walla Walla and College Place.

In 2019, records show 795 home sales closed. That figure was down 12 homes from the previous year and 43 homes from the record set in 2016.

The median sales price grew 7% to $266,704 for 2019. That means half of all homes sold for more and half sold for less. The peak month came in August, when the median residential sales price was $291,600. The average price was $299,753.

Windermere Walla Walla owner and designated broker Doug Simcock said the fourth quarter of 2019 saw more activity than the final quarter of 2018. Twenty-seven more homes were sold in the last three months of the year than the final months of the previous year.

He believes the activity was interest-rate driven.

"They've just stayed lower longer than anyone predicted," Simcock said.

Although the rate of the increase in the median price of a home slowed from 9.6% in 2018 to 7% last year, the prices still offer "sticker shock" for first-time home buyers and longtime residents who remember prices before the housing boom of the early 2000s.

The story of home sales in 2019 echoed the scenarios of the year before in Walla Walla, except that momentum was expected to turn slightly as interest rates had been expected to slowly rise.

The market balances out between buyers and sellers at homes priced between about $375,000 and $450,000, Martinez said. Homes above $500,000 are considered part of the buyer's market but are moving at a slower rate.

He said many coming into town from other communities — retirees, relocating families, buyers returning to their roots, for instance — often find the community affordable compared to where they live. They can sell their properties, invest in the local market and get more home for less money overall.

But that also affects market values for those employed locally with less income overall.

"It's starting to get away from our local buyers," Martinez acknowledged.

One silver lining is for those already in a home and interested in buying up.

"A lot of buyers sometimes forget their home is worth more than what they think," he said.

With anywhere from 216 to 286 homes listed in a given month during the last quarter of 2019, eyes are also on new developments, such as the 122-unit apartments at Rose and Colville streets downtown, for decompression in the housing market.

"There's a lot to really be excited about in terms of our local market, and certainly not to be blind to our needs," Simcock said.

"I think we have another active year ahead of us. There's more to be thankful for than worried about."

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