King County’s housing
market hit two milestones in December: The median single-family home price set
a new high, $508,000, topping the $481,000 peak reached in July 2007 before
prices began their long slide.
And the number of active
listings of houses and condominiums — just 2,196 — hit the lowest monthly level
since at least 1993, according to data from the Northwest Multiple Listing
Service.
For sellers, it’s a
dream. For buyers, it’s a nightmare. And for sellers who want to buy their next
home, it’s complicated.
The desperation for
listings is so great that it’s encouraging some to go off the beaten path to
get deals.
Affordability under
pressure
For example, Faira, a new
Kirkland technology firm started by former eBay and Microsoft veterans, is free
for sellers and charges buyers only a 0.5 percent fee. Its chief executive even
penned a
 sincere offer to Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff to help sell his Madison Park
home.
Mike Chaffee, a John L.
Scott broker in Issaquah, uses the personal touch. At homes not on the market,
he drops off a handwritten solicitation with a photo of his buyer and $5
Starbucks gift card. The kicker: The whole transaction costs the seller half
the typical 6 percent commission.
Such off-market home
sales represent a shadow inventory: Chaffee says one-third of the roughly 60
homes he helped sell last year were not listed on the MLS. He guesses that
about 10 percent of homes sold by other agents are off-market deals.
“I just sold a
1,600-square-foot house in Kirkland on a 6,000-square-foot lot built in 1940,
for $940,000,” Chaffee said. “A little cottage house! It says to me there’s no
inventory in really desirable areas. Some people are just fed up of waiting so
long, they’re OK with paying a little bit more.”
Or a lot more. Last
year’s bidding wars resulted in homes in popular neighborhoods selling for
premiums that shocked even brokers. There was a three-bedroom home in north
Ballard that sold for
 $640 a square foot. A Montlake house listed
for $880,000
 sold for $1.6 million.
November’s $11.2 million
sale of a Hunts Point waterfront mansion appeared to be the highest price among
homes sold in King County last year. According to
 media reports, the
buyer was a senior Microsoft executive who helped lead its cloud platform.
Surrounding counties also
saw robust gains: The median price in Snohomish County was $358,000, up 8
percent; in Pierce County, $252,500, up 11 percent; and in Kitsap, $269,950, up
15 percent.
Location, location
Across the region,
however, there continue to be large discrepancies in home prices and market
dynamics.
On the Eastside, the most
expensive submarket in King County, the median price of single-family homes
sold in December was $675,000, up a relatively small 6 percent over the year.
In Seattle, the median
price rose 20 percent over the year to $600,000. North King County saw its
median price jump 25 percent over the year to $480,000.

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