Property Views: Seattle’s real estate market is red hot; Or is it?

It seems that whenever we open a newspaper or watch the news on television we are inundated with data about our fast-paced and highly competitive real estate market. We hear a lot about property listings receiving multiple offers, buyers waiving contingencies and homes selling well above asking price. This is happening all over the greater Seattle area, including in the Madison Park neighborhood. On the Eastside, this phenomenon is even occurring with some of the very high-end properties. While the city of Seattle has seen an extremely brisk and competitive market up to a certain price point, our 2017 market is not behaving like it is on the Eastside when it comes to the upper end of pricing.

For example, so far in 2017 the West Bellevue/Medina/Three Points area has had 15 closed sales of $3.5 million and above, and currently there are another 10 pending sales in this range. This equates to a monthly average of three closed sales and another two pending sales of homes in this price category. At the time of this writing, the inventory of homes in this price range includes 45 active listings. With three closed sales per month, today’s West Bellevue inventory includes 15 months of inventory (45 homes divided by three sales per month). If you include the pending sales, then the current inventory is reduced to nine months.

Seattle, on the other hand, has seen only one closed residential sale over $3.5 million to date in 2017, a waterfront home in the Laurelhurst neighborhood. In fact, in Madison Park and surrounding neighborhoods, the highest closed sale so far this year is a Denny Blaine home that sold for $2,965,000. Currently there are four pending sales of $3.5 million and over in Seattle, one of which is in Denny Blaine (two are on Queen Anne and another is in Laurelhurst).

What explains the difference between the Seattle and Eastside upper-end markets? One may think it is that Seattle has far fewer listings in $3.5 million price range. Yes, there are fewer, but not by much. At the time of this writing there are 29 active listings in Seattle priced at $3.5 million and above. At a rate of one closed sale in five months, or .2 sales per month, this represents 145 months of inventory in this price range. Even if you include the four pending sales, for a total of five sales to date, that is one sale a month or 29 months of inventory, double what can be found on the Eastside.

Why is this relevant? If you look at the data further, 11 (or more than one third) of the 29 active listings over $3.5 million are in our general vicinity (including Capitol Hill). In other words, it likely comes as no surprise that our community has the lion’s share of higher-end homes in the city.

Does this mean that Seattle is “out of favor” and we are experiencing a mass exodus to the Eastside? I certainly do not think so. If this were the case we would not be experiencing the bidding wars and lack of inventory in lower price ranges. Commutes from the suburbs are getting longer and many buyers desire to be closer to their in-city jobs and to all of the great cultural activities and restaurants that the city has to offer. I think that this phenomenon has a lot more to do with home style, presentation and preparation than a move away from city life.  For example, it is important to take a look at what has sold in the city so far this year. Of the five sales to date (four pending sales and one closed) two were built in 2007 and 2008 respectively, while another was built in 1993 and has been largely remodeled since then. There are only two older homes that have sold, one built in 1909 and one on 1926. However, the 1926 home was a studs-out remodel to the point that the county has given it an “effective year built” of 2014. This means that four of these five homes are close to being new.

So, what can a seller who is fortunate enough to have a home in this price rang do to ensure that theirs is the home that stands out and is selected for purchase by the next high-end buyer? There are several things. But, keeping it simple, “light and bright” is the key.

If you consider the only Seattle pending sale in the $3.5+ million range that does not have a build date in the past couple of decades, you will understand what I mean. This 1909 classic home still maintains its architectural integrity while featuring walls and ceilings awash in a warm white. Countertops are done in light marble and light fixtures are slightly more modern in style. Gone are heavy drapes and dark heavy furnishings.

All of this sounds expensive, but truly you do not have to rip out walls or take on a major remodel. Something as simple as paint can change the whole look and feel of a space. Also, furnishings can make a huge difference too. This does not mean that you need to start over and buy all new furniture for your home. Updating linens and towels or adding a few light throw pillows can often do the trick. Or, when preparing to sell, consider using a stager to bring in a few key pieces without having to purchase them.  

As a Seattle native, I am a huge fan of our beautiful, historic architecture. And as a former CPA and marketing professional I am very tuned into the statistics of what is selling in our current market. Being well prepared and using a little creativity can go a long way toward giving your home the attention — and successful sale — it deserves.

Lisa Turnure is a founding member of Coldwell Banker Bain's Previews office in Madison Park.