The Washington State economy added 104,600 new jobs over the past 12 months. This impressive growth rate of 3.1% is well above the national rate of 1.4%. Interestingly, the slowdown we saw through most of the second half of the year reversed in the fall, and we actually saw more robust employment growth.
Growth continues to be broad-based, with expansion in all major job sectors other than aerospace due to a slowdown at Boeing.
With job creation, the state unemployment rate stands at 4.5%, essentially indicating that the state is close to full employment. Additionally, all counties contained within this report show unemployment rates below where they were a year ago.
I expect continued economic expansion in Washington State in 2018; however, we are likely to see a modest slowdown, which is to be expected at this stage in the business cycle.
Home Sales Activity
- There were 22,325 home sales during the final quarter of 2017. This is an increase of 3.7% over the same period in 2016.
- Jefferson County saw sales rise the fastest relative to fourth quarter of 2016, with an impressive increase of 22.8%. Six other counties saw double-digit gains in sales. A lack of listings impacted King and Skagit Counties, where sales fell.
- Housing inventory was down by 16.2% when compared to the fourth quarter of 2016, and down by 17.3% from last quarter. This isn’t terribly surprising since we typically see a slowdown as we enter the winter months. Pending home sales rose by 4.1% over the third quarter of 2017, suggesting that closings in the first quarter of 2018 should be robust.
- The takeaway from this data is that listings remain at very low levels and, unfortunately, I don’t expect to see substantial increases in 2018. The region is likely to remain somewhat starved for inventory for the foreseeable future.
- Because of low inventory in the fall of 2017, price growth was well above long-term averages across Western Washington. Year-over-year, average prices rose 12% to $466,726.
- Economic vitality in the region is leading to a demand for housing that far exceeds supply. Given the relative lack of newly constructed homes—something that is unlikely to change any time soon—there will continue to be pressure on the resale market. This means home prices will rise at above-average rates in 2018.
- Compared to the same period a year ago, price growth was most pronounced in Lewis County, where home prices were 18.8% higher than a year ago. Eleven additional counties experienced double-digit price growth as well.
- Mortgage rates in the fourth quarter rose very modestly, but remained below the four percent barrier. Although I anticipate rates will rise in 2018, the pace will be modest. My current forecast predicts an average 30-year rate of 4.4% in 2018—still remarkably low when compared to historic averages.
Days on Market
- The average number of days it took to sell a home in the fourth quarter dropped by eight days, compared to the same quarter of 2016.
- King County continues to be the tightest market in Western Washington, with homes taking an average of 21 days to sell. Every county in the region saw the length of time it took to sell a home either drop or remain static relative to the same period a year ago.
- Last quarter, it took an average of 50 days to sell a home. This is down from 58 days in the fourth quarter of 2016, but up by 7 days from the third quarter of 2017.
- As mentioned earlier in this report, I expect inventory levels to rise modestly, which should lead to an increase in the average time it takes to sell a house. That said, with homes selling in less than two months on average, the market is nowhere near balanced.
This speedometer reflects the state of the region’s housing market using housing inventory, price gains, home sales, interest rates, and larger economic factors. For the fourth quarter of 2017, I have left the needle at the same point as third quarter. Price growth remains robust even as sales activity slowed. 2018 is setting itself up to be another very good year for housing.
Matthew Gardner is the Chief Economist for Windermere Real Estate, specializing in residential market analysis, commercial/industrial market analysis, financial analysis, and land use and regional economics. He is the former Principal of Gardner Economics, and has more than 30 years of professional experience both in the U.S. and U.K.
This article originally appeared on the Windermere.com blog.
What lies ahead for the local housing market in 2018? We sat down with Windermere Chief Economist Matthew Gardner to get his thoughts. Here are some highlights:
Home prices will continue to increase, but at a slower pace
The strong local economy, high demand and very low inventory will continue to boost home values in 2018, according to Gardner. However, he believes that the double-digit growth of 2017 will moderate, and predicts home prices in King County will rise by 8.5% in the new year.
Mortgage interest rates will rise slightly.
Gardner admits that interest rates continue to baffle forecasters. The rise that many economists have predicted the past few years has yet to materialize. His forecast for 2018 sees interest rates increasing modestly to an average of 4.4% for a conventional 30-year fixed-rate mortgage.
More Millennials will enter the housing market.
Despite the relatively high cost of homes in our region, Gardner expects more Millennials to buy homes in 2018. They are getting older and more established in their careers, enabling them to save more money for a down payment. Many are also having children and are looking for a place to raise their family.
The tax reform bill will have a limited effect on our housing market.
The recent changes to the income tax structure will have an impact on homeowners, but Gardner does not believe that impact will be significant here.
The mortgage interest rate deduction will be capped at $750,000 – down from $1,000,000. But according to Gardner, just 4% of the mortgages in King County exceeded $750,000 in 2017. Most buyers of more expensive homes have been making larger down payments, or buying homes for cash.
Since the $1,000,000 mortgage deduction cap is grandfathered in for those who have already purchased a home, some homeowners may opt to stay put rather than move. That could result in fewer homes being placed on the market.
- The tax bill eliminates the deduction for interest on home equity loans. This is bound to slow down the trend of homeowners choosing to remodel their home rather than trying to find a new home our inventory-deprived market.
The increase in home prices may moderate, but inventory will still be very tight. 2018 is on track to be a strong seller’s market.
This post was originally featured on the Windermere Eastside Blog.