Home prices, condo sales working hard to play catch-up

SEATTLE - Here's the good news - home buyers are buying and sellers are selling. That's true across King, Snohomish and Pierce Counties according to the latest numbers from Zillow Inc. The not so good news - home values in each of the three counties are still down, some as much as 20 percent from where they were during the height of the housing boom.

According to the data Zillow just released for July it seems Pierce County is the 'hot spot' when it comes to selling - posting a 67.7 percent increase in the number of homes sold since last July.

But Dr. Stan Humphries, chief economist for the online real estate company, says it's important to put that number in perspective and look at home value appreciation for the area.

"Pierce County had the biggest decline in home value from its peak levels," Humphries says. "Currently, Pierce County home values are 27 percent below the peak value."

Pierce County homes hit that peak value in February 2007, averaging $286,400. According to Zillow, that number has fallen to $209,600. And Humphries says buyers seem to be taking notice.

"Because Pierce County had a much larger housing recession than King and Snohomish, affordability is enticing a lot more home buyers in the market due to lower mortgage rates," Humphries says.

King County follows Pierce, with home sales increasing 33.1 percent year-over-year, and a current home value index of $404,400 for July. Of the three counties, King County home values are the closest to what they were during its peak of $432,700 in June 2007. While Snohomish County has seen the biggest increase in home value appreciation year-over-year, 21.2 percent, homeowners are seeing the smallest percentage of home sales - 19.7 percent.

"Often times places with some of the highest appreciation have fallen the most," Humphries says.

Another area of the housing market to watch is condo sales, especially if you are a condo owner.
According to Humphries, the condo market tends to lag behind single family home sales - especially in the city of Seattle. Comparing data from May, June and July of this year verses last, Humphries says condo sales in that three month period total 21 percent whereas single family home sales total 32 percent.

"Condo owners seem to be favoring price over volume," Humphries says. "They are maintaining their prices which results in not as strong sales as on the single family side."

Looking ahead, Humphries says home values throughout the Seattle metro area, which includes all three counties, are expected to rise another 11 percent over the next 12 months. That's something to consider especially if you're thinking about buying.