New figures on U.S. housing sales indicate the housing market may be starting to rebound, and recent sales figures in Spokane and Kootenai counties suggest the local housing market is picking up.
The U.S. Commerce Department said Monday new-home sales rose 11 percent in June to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 384,000 houses, from a May rate of 346,000, which was higher than previously thought. It was the third straight month of increases. However, the median sales price of $206,200 was down 12 percent from $234,300 a year earlier.
At the same time, the National Association of Realtors said sales of existing homes increased 3.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.89 million units in June from a downwardly revised pace of 4.72 million in May, but were 0.2 percent lower than the 4.90 million-unit level in June 2008.
That compares with a 28 percent increase in home sales in Spokane County from May to June and a 2.4 percent increase last month in Kootenai County, where July sales are on pace for a healthy increase.
“It’s a good indication we are seeing stability,” said Kim Cooper, spokesman for the Coeur d’Alene Association of Realtors.
Another sign of improvement comes from a decrease in the supply of homes on the market. In Spokane, the number of homes for sale fell from 3,400 a year ago to 3,282 at the end of June. It would take 6.6 months to sell those homes at the current sales pace, an improvement from a nine-month supply at the end of March.
Kootenai County does not keep comparable statistics on the supply of homes.
Glenn Crellin, director of the Washington Center for Real Estate Research at Washington State University, said sales figures are just one small indicator of the housing market’s direction. A broader improvement will hinge on economic recovery, he said.
“You have to have people with jobs who are willing to make a commitment” to buy a home, Crellin said.
He pointed out that Washington had a nearly 12-month supply of homes at the end of March, with 47,000 dwellings for sale. A healthier number would be a five- to seven-month supply.
Rob Higgins, executive vice president for the Spokane Association of Realtors, said part of the sales increase may stem from government stimulus programs, including an $8,000 federal tax credit for first-time homebuyers.
The credit has apparently sparked more sales of entry-level homes and as a result might be partly responsible for the decline in average prices.
New low-end houses are going up in Airway Heights and on the Rathdrum Prairie in Idaho.
In Kootenai County, homes priced at less than $200,000 accounted for half of all sales a year ago. This year, homes less than $200,000 have accounted for 65 percent of all sales, Cooper said.
The average price of homes sold in Spokane was down 11 percent from June 2008 to June 2009. But from May to June it rebounded, from $181,677 to $192,970.
A similar rebound occurred in Kootenai County, where average prices tumbled from $224,850 in June 2008 to $197,172 last month. As recently as February, the average price was $186,986. The average home sales price in Kootenai County had gone as high as $232,339 in 2005.