By Don Nelson
The Methow Valley real estate market continued its long, slow climb out of the recessionary trough in 2013, recording the most sales transactions and highest dollar volume of sales since the peak year of 2007.
In 2007, according to Multiple Listing Service information, sales in the Methow Valley were nearly $56 million before bottoming out at $22.5 million in 2009. Sales volume has generally crept up since then, to $38 million through early December 2013 compared to $30 million in all of 2012.
The total number of sales dropped from 224 in 2007 to 103 in 2009, and climbed to 172 through early December 2013 compared to 154 in all of 2012.
The increased 2013 sales included the re-emergence of higher-end purchases, which had fallen off in recent years.
Dave Thomsen of Coldwell Banker Winthrop Realty said in a recent report that the higher figures come with caveats: “Sale prices remain well below pre-recession market levels and some market sectors remain weak, including land and commercial sales,” he said.
High-end sales have been scant in recent years, but in 2013 the valley saw three sales in the $900,000 to $1 million range and two sales in the $700,000 range, Thomsen said.
Anne Eckmann of Blue Sky Real Estate in Winthrop said that 2013’s performance was “miles above” recent years but added that “we’re not back to where we were in 2007.”
From 2011 to 2012, the median price of a real estate transaction in the Methow rose 5 percent, she said. In the first half of 2013, she said, the median rose another 5 percent.
“Land sales are still languishing,” Eckmann said, in part because buying a house is generally less expensive than building one.
Buyers are snatching up reasonably priced, quality listings, Eckmann said.
Inventory is a bit scant in the popular $250,000 to $500,000 price range, she said, because those properties turn over more quickly.
“If they were priced appropriately, they moved,” Eckmann said. She cited a listing in Winthrop — a house with a “nice esthetic” and the increasingly popular shed roof design — that had multiple offers within five days after it was listed in the $300,000 price range.
“Buyers are looking for low-maintenance, efficient living,” Eckmann said.
Seattle market matters
Patsy Rowland of Winthrop Star Properties agreed that land sales are still lagging, in part because financing can be difficult and not many buyers can make a straight cash purchase. Recently, she added, more sellers are willing to carry contracts — which can be advantageous to buyer and seller, she said, but also can have its pitfalls.
Rowland noted that the nature of the Methow Valley market — predominantly second homes — makes it a bit unpredictable and heavily reliant on larger markets such as Seattle, where many potential buyers are looking at the Methow as a place to recreate or retire.
Historically, the Methow market goes more or less as the Seattle market goes.
One of the biggest changes in the real estate business, Rowland said, is that “not many people just walk in the door.” Now, with so much information about listings available online, many potential buyers already know what they’re interested in.
But there’s still nothing like seeing a property in person with an experienced agent, Rowland added, because details and nuances might not show up in a listing. “You can’t buy property online like it’s Amazon.com,” she said.
Many more people are also using mobile devices and scanning listing codes to get instant information on a listing, including more photos and details. “Mobile is critical” to a real estate agent’s business, Rowland said, because the number of smart phone users has increased dramatically.
“When buyers want information, they want it now,” she said, adding that “the days of putting up a sign and taking a picture” are long gone.
Other potential buyers are constantly monitoring properties online, usually from afar. Rowland said she recently had clients who had been watching a particular home for two years.
Not ‘normal’ yet
Tricia Eyre at North Cascade Land and Home in Winthrop said “2013 was a really good foundation for recovery but it’s still somewhat uneven” compared to peak periods in the past.
“I hope that 2014 will bring us back to or near normal,” she said.
Consumer optimism seems to be on the rise, Eyre said, and that translates into more people coming back to the real estate market. And an improving Seattle-area economy is good for the Methow Valley, she said.
Eyre said she noted that some people who were cautious about buying or who couldn’t qualify in the past were able to make purchases this year. And she said there was an encouraging number of local first-time home buyers.
Eyre agreed that because the cost of building new homes remains daunting for many potential buyers, existing properties were in high demand this year. “The best value has been to buy something existing,” she said.
Delene Monetta of Windermere Real Estate/Methow Valley, which has offices in Twisp and Mazama, said her firm is “really encouraged to see that the market has improved” the past couple of years.
Most noteworthy, she said, was the movement back into the upper-range sales. “There were some really key sales at price points over $500,000,” she said. The $250,000-$400,000 price range remains competitive, she said.
In the upper range, Monetta said, some properties sold because the owners made realistic adjustments to a marketplace that is dramatically different than it was seven years ago. “Those who adjust are doing OK,” she said.
Monetta said low interest rates have helped more local residents get into the market.
Like the other real estate professionals in the valley, Monetta emphasized the value of working with a local broker, because Methow properties and neighborhoods vary so widely. “Mazama is still a market of its own,” she said.