"State's Real Estate Market is Unstable in First Quarter, Bringing Mixed Results"

“Shifty stock markets, rising mortgage interest rates, the fifth consecutive quarter of declining housing affordability and typically unsettled winter weather combined to create mixed results in Washington’s housing markets during the first quarter of 2000.According to statistics released by the Washington Center for Real Estate Research at Washington State University, both the numbers of homes sold, and the selling prices for those home, diverged widely across the state.The statistics, produced in cooperation with the Washington Association of Realtors, indicate the total resale housing market in the state remained virtually unchanged from a year ago, posting a slight 0.2 percent decline to 24,350 homes sold between January 1 and March 31.This statistic concealed wider local variations however, with 10 of the state’s 39 smaller counties reporting increases in activity of at least 10 percent when compared with figures from 1999. Meanwhile, two other counties with small populations experienced double-digit increases in home sales over the same period.Most of the state’s population centers reported modest declines in home sales, as consumers wait to see where the economy is headed, said Glenn Crellin, director of WCRER.The median home price for the quarter was a record $174,700, a 4.5 percent increase over last year. The highest median price was $245,000 in King County, which was joined by San Juan; Snohomish and Jefferson counties as the only areas with reported median prices higher than the state. The lowest median price reported was $63,000 in Wahkiakum County.Wide local variations were evident in terms of price changes also: 21 counties reported higher prices, while prices were lower than a year ago in 14 counties.Higher home prices and mortgage rates offset continued income gains, resulting in diminished housing affordability for the fifth consecutive quarter, Crellin said.The Housing Affordability Index, which measures the ability of a middle-income family to purchase a median price home at current interest rates stood at 108.4. An index of 100 means a median income family could barely afford the home purchase, while higher values mean greater affordability.Jefferson and San Juan counties reported the poorest affordability conditions for the first quarter. Housing was most affordable in Wahkiakum and Lewis counties.For households hoping to purchase their first home in Washington, the first-time buyer index stood at 65.2, indicating that it is increasingly difficult to become a home owner, despite the euphoria surrounding government statistics indicating the homeownership rate is at record levels, Crellin said.The typical renter who desires to become a homeowner in Jefferson and San Juan counties currently has less than half the income required to purchase a typical starter home in those communities, said Phil Souza, a real estate broker and president of WAR.WCRER and WAR have been producing these statistics since early 1994.”