Housing market approaching balance, still favors sellers

Inventory, interest rates and buyer waryness factors in cooling market

Home buyers in Grays Harbor County and in Western Washington may finally have some relief from the booming housing prices of the last few years.

That could be due to higher inventory, which has cooled markets in some places, although September’s median home prices were still higher than a year ago, according to data from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service (NWMLS), which produces monthly reports based on housing data from 26 counties in Western Washington.

The September median price of a single family home in the county — $346,000 — eclipsed last year’s September mark by 8.13%. The price marks a trend towards a “balanced” market, at least in some places on the Harbor, according to Travis Jevolich, owner of Windermere Real Estate, Aberdeen and Ocean Shores offices.

“It’s already the time of year where we do see a little bit of a slow down (in the housing market),” Jevolich said. “It hasn’t the last two years, and now it’s back to the seasonal slowdown.”

“It feels more like we’re back in 2018 or 2019, as far as conditions right now,” he said.

Several factors spiked home buying during the pandemic — not only in Grays Harbor County but across the country — for several reasons, including an increase in location-flexible workers and retirement of baby boomers, according to Dan Lindgren, Grays Harbor County Assessor. At the same time, inventory lagged behind screaming demand, especially in outlying communities.

“I’ve never seen real estate prices climb as fast as they did in the last three years,” Lindgren said.

But inventory has finally had a chance to equalize the market. The number of active listings in September for residences in Grays Harbor was significantly higher than a year ago, growing by almost 90% in both Aberdeen and Hoquiam and by roughly 60% in Ocean Shores, where 144 homes were listed, the most of any town in the county.

The county saw 2.89 months of inventory — the number of months it takes for a new listing to sell — in September after the number hovered between 1 and 1.5 for most of the Spring.

One indication of the slowing market, Jelovich said, is seller behavior at the time of initial listing. September sellers were more “tuned in” to market listing prices as opposed to setting initial listings at abnormally high marks.

“The days of throwing it on the market and hoping you get something close to it, those are done. Buyers are a lot more tuned in with what’s going on and they’re not going to overpay,” Jelovich said.

Jelovich said rising interest rates created wary buyers, as did Lindgren, who said buyer awareness stabilized the market.

“I think that people are just being a little smarter and better buyers,” Lindgren said.

But Lindgren and Jelovich both said even though buyers had a larger selection to choose from, the market still favored sellers.

“It hasn’t turned into a buyer’s market, but it’s definitely flattened off in almost every area of the county, state, and some other areas, too,” Lindgren said.

Jelovich said he doesn’t consider a market a “buyer’s” market until months of inventory breaches four. According to the September data, that was the case in Hoquiam and Montesano, and nearly the case in Ocean Shores, which had 3.35 months of inventory.

Recently, markets with higher median prices have favored buyers, Jelovich said, as was the case in Montesano, where the median price was $340,000, and in Ocean Shores, where the median price was $405,900.

Both of those places followed the general trend of increasing prices, but not as dramatically as in Aberdeen, where median prices rose by 23% from last year, and inventory stayed low at 1.68 months.

Lindgren said he expected a steady rise in housing markets moving forward.

“This is speculation on my part, that we will see a fairly level and more balanced market, but I still think we will see a year-to-year increase between this time now and this time next year,” Lindgren said.

Contact reporter Clayton Franke at 406-552-3917 or clayton.franke@thedailyworld.com.