Baby Steps

Seattle Real Estate Begins to Turn the Dial Back to Normalcy

Some of the May numbers were jarring, though.

By Benjamin Cassidy June 10, 2020

The view of Seattle real estate looks sunny from Queen Anne, where prices climbed in May.

Caution: A glance at Seattle’s May real estate numbers may result in some eye-bulging. Year-over-year, new listings of Seattle homes and condos were down 29 percent, according to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service. Active listings dropped 36.8 percent. And prices even dipped slightly.

It’s a jarring display during a traditionally popular month to buy homes. But just like governor Jay Inslee has said that Washington will “turn the dial” in its economic reopening to the coronavirus pandemic, Seattle’s real estate comeback will happen gradually, too. A second look at those figures reveals that the city may already be on its way.

Since Inslee’s stay-home order imposed unprecedented restrictions on real estate and, well, everything else, it’s probably only fair to compare May numbers to its socially distant predecessor. The latest listing totals were both higher than April’s figures, and pending sales climbed 32 percent. That number suggests demand has picked up significantly since the early days of quarantine. It’s not even that far off last year’s pace; pending sales only declined 16.8 percent year-over-year. “The intensity of the housing market remains hot, but it's just different,” says J. Lennox Scott, the chairman and CEO of John L. Scott Real Estate.

Scott likes to look at those pending sales numbers, or the number of homes going under contract (when a seller has accepted an offer on the home but the sale hasn’t closed yet), to assess market vitality. By that measure, normal is much closer than it appears. “This last week, in Seattle and on the Eastside, we were at approximately 91% [of] the same levels a year ago,” Scott told me on Monday. “In Southwest King County, we are at 109.”

Scott acknowledges that listings haven’t caught up quite as quickly. Limitations on travel have made it difficult to move during the pandemic. People are also still a bit wary of inviting others into their quarantine spaces. Private showings have replaced open houses; John L. Scott continues to recommend sellers cap the number of days homes are available for showings “so you're able to do a real good clean-down after that particular day, instead of every day,” Scott says.

Prices also declined in Seattle after making gains in April. The luxury market may have something to do with that. In King County, where median prices lowered 2.8 percent as neighbors’ rose, headline-grabbing sales were scant. In May of 2019, 101 homes sold for $2 million or more. This past May, just 38 sold.

But closings don't happen overnight; finalized activity in May stems from some of our most socially distant days. As we continue to ease back on restrictions, expect those numbers to steadily increase.

A few other takeaways from the latest report:

  • Demand for single-family homes has outpaced interest in condos. Pending sales for the former were down 11.5 percent year-over-year. For the latter, those agreements have dropped 32.6 percent.
  • In Central Seattle, condo and house prices went up 16.4 percent compared to last May. Queen Anne/Magnolia wasn’t far behind at 14.3 percent.
  • Ballard/Greenlake prices took the city’s biggest hit at 8.1 percent.
Show Comments