December 11, 2017

Seattle home buyers getting off the fence

By AUBREY COHEN
P-I REPORTER

Floyd Cleofe thought about buying a home in 1996, just after starting work as an engineer at The Boeing Co.  “For personal reasons, I chose not to do so at the time,” he said last week. “I kicked myself for not getting in the market back then.”

In the fall, as Seattle home prices and mortgage interest rates dropped, Cleofe decided it was time to start looking seriously for a home.  “I just came to the realization that the time is now,” he said. “There are so many things that are to my advantage.”

But Cara Grill of Seattle isn’t there yet.  “I’ll probably wait a little bit longer,” she said outside of a Phinney Ridge open house Sunday. “I’m hoping the prices continue to come down further.”

Some areas of the country have more homes than could sell at just about any price, thanks to rotting economies or huge amounts of speculative construction. Seattle is relatively well off in both respects — its housing recovery largely depends on when potential buyers decide prices are low enough.

“There’s still a lot of people who have jobs and a lot of people who’ve moved into the market area and have been sitting, waiting to have the opportunity to buy,” said Bill Riss, chief executive of Coldwell Banker Bain real estate.  Riss and other area real estate professionals argue the time to buy is now, and say they are starting to hear from more buyers.

“It’s not often you have a market where the rates are down and the prices are down at the same time,said Deborah Arends, an agent with RE/Max Northwest Realtors.

Henry Samonte, an agent with John L. Scott Real Estate, said he saw a big uptick in calls from buyers and visitors to his listings last weekend.  “It seems that people are coming out of the woodwork,” he said.

But skeptics, such as Timothy Ellis, editor of the Web site Seattlebubble.com, said those waiting for the best deal should sit tight.  “I think prices still need to fall, on average, at least another 15 percent before we hit the bottom in the Seattle area,” he said.

January often brings a surge in new listings for homes, relistings of homes that were taken off the market and buyers making a home search part of their New Year’s plan. Sure enough, a pile of new listings popped up last week, and many open houses had decent traffic Sunday.

Golan Kedan of Seattle recently got serious about buying after roughly two years of casual looking.  “We’re getting fairly close to a time where it’s going to be as good as it gets,” Kedan said. “My feeling is that the market is starting to bottom out and so now is a good time to buy.”

But Mike and Libet Wallblom were leaning toward continuing to rent, even though it would mean moving into their fourth rental home in the two years they’ve been house hunting.  “Prices are moving in our direction,” Mike Wallblom said. “I forecast June is going to be the best time.”

Tracy and Michael Kasten, who rented after moving from Boston more than four months ago, also think prices might fall more. But they plan to buy before Seattle’s school registration deadline in March.

“There’s only so long you can wait,” Michael Kasten said outside a Phinney Ridge open house Sunday with Tracy and their children, Avery, 6, and Nicholas, 4. “You’re kind of putting your life on hold in the meantime.”

Kay Sterner and Trevor Leffler said they didn’t think they’d get a better deal by waiting, but the uncertain economy was contributing to their hesitation, along with a spending hangover from their wedding, honeymoon and the holidays.

Sterner pointed to budget cuts at the University of Washington, where she works, and slowing in the software industry, which employs Leffler.  “It’s a gamble right now,” she said.  Cleofe ended up closing on a newly built Ballard townhouse Dec. 19 after watching prices drop through the fall.  “It was a lot more (home) than I was anticipating, and I got it for a good deal,” he said. “I actually got it for less than the list price, with some money thrown in for closing costs.”  So does he worry that he could have gotten a better deal by waiting?

“That was a consideration, but it was the right time for me in my life right now,” Cleofe said. “In the long run, it’s going to go up.”

P-I reporter Aubrey Cohen can be reached at 206-448-8362 or aubreycohen@seattlepi.com.




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