While home sales this year are well off of last year's pace, there are signs that the swoon might be easing at least when it comes to newly built homes.
The sales of such homes have shown a slight uptick here since July, says Rob Higgins, executive vice president of the Spokane Association of Realtors.
The association's monthly market activity report for October says that 79 new homes were sold in Spokane County that month, the fourth successive month in which such sales had increased from the month earlier. There were 73 sales of newly built homes in July, 74 in August, and 78 sales in September.
Sales of such homes had fallen in May after being up in February and again in both March and April, and year to date they're still off plenty, falling to 620 at the end of the first nine months, down from 934 in the first nine months of 2007.
Also, the numbers here don't quite measure up to a 23 percent jump that the U.S. Department of Commerce reported in its 13-state western region between August and September.
Higgins says that earlier, sales of newly built homes here hadn't plunged as dramatically as they did in severely depressed real estate markets in Southern California, Arizona, and Nevada in the months prior to September's big increase.
"The state of Washington is somewhat different from much of the West," Higgins says. "In Southern California, where sales are starting to increase, prices are down considerably to where people are buying homes."
Even with the West's month-to-month improvement from August through September, sales for September are down 38 percent from the year-earlier month, the Commerce Department report says.
Corey Condron, vice president of Condron Construction Inc., a prominent Spokane-area home builder, says that during the current housing market slowdown, construction of new homes also has dwindled, and the inventory of new homes on the market has remained constant.
Condron says he's encouraged that this year's sales of newly built homes, though lower than last year's, seem to have remained steady through the summer and into fall.
"It's staying steady when it should be dropping off," he says. "This is traditionally our slow time of year."
He is hopeful sales of new homes will rebound to higher levels in the spring.
"I think we've got two more quarters to hang on here before we see light at the end of the tunnel," Condron says.
The mortgage crisis accounts for some of the reduction in the inventory of newly built homes on the market in other parts of the West, such as in Southern California, where properties are selling, albeit at steep discounts, he says.
The Spokane market however, is less encumbered by foreclosures, he says.
The California Association of Realtors reports that the number of home sales there, including both new and older homes, shot up in September by 96 percent above the year-earlier month. The median sales price in September, however, fell 41 percent there, compared with the year-earlier month.
"They are seeing things bottom out," Higgins says. "If they are coming out of the bottom, we're probably right in there. We run three to 12 months behind those markets."
Including transactions involving new and older dwellings, single-family home sales in the first 10 months of the year in Spokane County totaled 4,359 units, down 28 percent from 6,042 sales in the year-earlier period.
Meanwhile, the median price here for home sales closed in October was $177,000, down 4.3 percent from $185,000 in the year-earlier month, he says.
"We're having a modest reduction in prices," Higgins says.
September and October marked the first months of the year in which the number of homes on the market here declined from the previous month.
As of Oct. 31, some 3,173 houses were listed for sale in Spokane County, down from 3,387 listings in the September report and 3,467 in the August report.
The Oct. 31 listings, however, were slightly higher than a year earlier, when the association had 3,106 listings, although that number represented an upward trend then, Higgins says.
It's more common for the number of homes on the market to decline around the holidays, when fewer sellers choose to list their homes, says Ken Lewis, the broker at Prudential Spokane Real Estate, which has offices in Spokane and Spokane Valley. He believes, however, that the reduction in inventory between the end of August and Oct. 31 is more than just a normal seasonal adjustment, and says he's encouraged by that.
"Maybe we will get inventory down to a manageable level," he says. "The market here isn't terrible, it's just that buyers have a lot of choices."
For instance, someone looking for a house in the $130,000 to $200,000 range in the Spokane area might have 75 homes to choose from, he says, adding, "Maybe if we can get inventory down another 20 percent, sales will be faster by spring."
Lewis says he's not looking for any great market improvements here through December, when wintry weather is apt to hinder home sales.
"I can see the market making a turnaround, but we have to experience winter first," he says.
As far as the real estate industry here goes, spring begins in less than two months, because buyer interest here generally starts to pick up in early January, he says.
Higgins says single-family home sales are on pace to exceed 5,000 units this year, down from 6,933 homes sold in 2007.
"The hope is that next year's sales will be 5,000, or maybe up a little," he adds.
In Kootenai County, the rate of decrease in home sales is similar to that in Spokane County.
The Coeur d'Alene Association of Realtors reports that in the six-month period ending Sept. 30, the number of homes sold in Kootenai County fell 28 percent to 1,504, down from 2,097 sales in the year-earlier period. The median sales price also fell, to $195,000 from $202,000, the association says.
Subscribe today to our free E-Newsletters!SUBSCRIBE