The Bainbridge Island Ferry from Seattle.  Summer 2013.

The Bainbridge Island Ferry from Seattle. Summer 2013.

Making Sense of a Strengthening Market

The statistics for the first half of 2013 are encouraging but a bit confusing. You look at the number of homes sold and there is joy. A total of 205 homes sold in the first six months even surpasses the “go-go” days of 2006 and 2007. If things are selling so well, why have both average and median prices declined? Our market may be strong, but it is slightly skewed. Our upper end continues to struggle in terms of both inventory and sales. Sales over $1M have dropped 48% from last year (although we have to point out that 2012 was an extraordinary six months for >$1M sales). We only had four sales over $1.5M this year compared to nine last year (and at the 2007 peak, there were 14). The lack of sales in this price range wreaks havoc with the numbers and has brought down average and median prices. There are a number of theories for this softness in the market, most of which are tied to potential sellers waiting for prices to rise (people with large mortgages, downsizers, etc.). This limits the inventory and compels buyers who cannot find what they are looking for to wait. (The inventory over $1M is currently 41% of what it was at this time in 2007.)

A Growing Middle

The good news is we are seeing more activity in the over $800K segment. At the end of the first quarter, we were at par with the number of sales between $800-$1M from 2012 and 2013. Now at the end of the second quarter, we are up 50% in that price range. Of the four sales over $1.5M this year, three occurred in the second quarter.

Bainbridge Island Real Estate Market 2013

A Strong Base

With all that being said, the rest of the market is doing quite well. In the first half of 2012, the Median Cumulative Days on Market of sold homes priced between $0 and $700K was 75 days; this year, it was only 22 days. We are not experiencing the quantity of multiple offers as our neighbor, Seattle, but they are not uncommon. It is extremely difficult to calculate price movement within price ranges, but we can say with confidence that prices have stabilized and are beginning to move up with properties that are getting a lot of attention.

The Condo Report

In many regards, the condominium marketplace is experiencing similar conditions. There have been 40 condominium sales in the first six months of this year. This is up 17.6% from last year and 66.7% from the market low of 24 in 2009 (but still way shy of the peak of 93 sales in the first half of 2004). Of the 40 condos sold, only one went for a price above $600K and only four above $500K. This is a mere 10% of sales compared to 40% of the 80 sales in 2007 that were above $500K (32 sold above $500K and 20 sold above $600K). It is no wonder the median price of condominiums sold this year is $318,500 versus $468,125 in 2007 (down 32%). Part of the problem may be that there are only seven listings over $600K. The good news, though, is that two of those seven are under contract as of this writing. There appears to be more life in the upper end of the condominium marketplace, but we need more results to be able to say so definitively.

Fort Ward on Bainbridge Island.  Spring 2013.

Fort Ward on Bainbridge Island. Spring 2013.

Solid Land

Land sales bottomed out back in 2008 with only nine sales in the first six months. Since 2011, we have seen steady land sales growth: 12 in 2011, 22 last year and 28 this year. We still have a ways to go to match the 53 land sales we had in the first half of 2004. However, we are experiencing good, consistent growth. Similar to the other segments, 86% of land sales were priced under $400K. Most sales have been concentrated in the city core area and have been purchased by custom home clients. (Individual lots outside of the core struggle as small individual spec builders still have trouble with financing.)

Developing Stories

Although small spec builders have yet to return in appreciable numbers, there are a number of developments either under construction or in planning around the island. The largest (and most visible) is Grow Village, where construction is underway and people are paying close attention. Also under construction are 15 new homes on Ericksen Ave. (“Ericksen Urban Cottages”), six on Burlingam (“Burlingam Court” by Hudson Homes). Nine homes will begin construction next week off Springridge Road (“Timberbrook” by DeNova Homes), and 18 are being proposed for Wing Point. Pleasant Beach is also in the permitting stage for 22 additional apartments after the existing inventory rented at a rapid pace. New construction is an indication of confidence and optimism and these projects send an important message: “We are back!”

4th of July on Bainbridge Island

4th of July on Bainbridge Island. July 2013.

Seeking Balance

Even with our market’s renewed vigor, we could use a bit more balance. There is positive movement in our more expensive homes and condominiums, but in general the people who are in that segment are frustrated by the slowness of the recovery. Buyers are battling with a lack of inventory and choices while sellers are looking for better prices before committing to sell. We will get there; it just may take a little more time. We have been steadily improving since 2010 in terms of homes sold, so as long as there are sales and demand, prices will strengthen and improve.

Annual 4th of July Parade on Bainbridge Island. July 2013.

Annual 4th of July Parade on Bainbridge Island. July 2013.


What never changes is Bainbridge Island’s distinct character. We are a unique community, where people want to live. Where else can a Rotary Auction gross over $440,000 in six hours? The net proceeds will be recycled back primarily into our community’s non-profits, schools and students (1/6th of the proceeds go to international programs like ending polio and water wells in Uganda).

Sakai Intermediate School (5th-6th grade), 2009 Washington Achievement Award Winner

Sakai Intermediate School (5th-6th grade), 2009 Washington Achievement Award Winner

The Bainbridge High School Class of 2010 graduated on June 12th, one of the few sunny days so far this June.  The bright day was fitting for the high achieving class that is now entering the “real world.”  If you read my blog regularly, you’ve heard me say more than once that one of the reasons we moved here was because of the high quality schools. This year’s graduating class illustrates that very well:

Class size: 315

Number of National Honor Society Members: 104

Average GPA: 3.268

Principal’s Scholars: 10

Washington Scholar: 1

National Merit Semi-Finalists: 1

National Merit Commended Students: 18

Washington State Honor Awards: 145

Valedictorians: 10 (tied for highest GPA)

The Bainbridge Island School District also got a nod from one of my favorite school research sites, Greatschools. They profiled Bainbridge Island in their article Best Cities to Live and Learn 2010. The fact that one-third of the district’s teachers have Master’s Degrees is cited as one major contributing factor.  Test scores and small class sizes also play a major role in how Bainbridge stacks up. I taught in large inner-city and suburban schools for ten years before becoming a Realtor.  What I saw and experienced was that many of the problems in those schools were born from too large of schools.  Too many kids, too many cracks to fall into.  I love the small schools here on Bainbridge and the district strives to keep them even smaller by breaking the schools up by K-4, 5-6, 7-8 and 9-12. Small schools, smaller classes.  I like that the school staff knows my kids’ names.

More Bang for Your Buck

Another big factor for our family personally choosing Bainbridge was the ‘more bang for your buck’ aspect that Greatschools also points out in their article.  We knew we could find a good school system in a San Francisco suburb, but that came at a price, a very high cost of living.  On the flip, we knew we could live in or around Sacramento and have a lower cost of living, but that meant so-so schools, which meant private schools, which meant a higher cost of living for our family. Greatschools ranked Bainbridge Island as the 6th best school system for cities with median home prices between $400K- $600K (Bainbridge Island’s median home price is currently $526K). Another reason the school system rises to the top is due to community support for passing bond and levies.  The community, even those without school aged children, see the perpetual value of quality education.

For us, the numbers added up – and padding those numbers where factors you can not really quantify on a chart like, the small friendly neighborhoods, no bumper to bumper traffic, and countless community-centered events like this weekend’s annual Rotary Auction.

Bainbridge may be a small town, but it is surely not small-minded.  Here’s to the class of 2010 . . . and here’s to the class of 2020, I am hopeful they too can achieve the same high merits.

Explore Bainbridge Island Schools further on Greatschools.

On June 22, 2010, in Community, Schools, by

Ferry in Eagle Harbor on Banibridge Island
1. It is truly an island
Yes, there is a bridge to Poulsbo and beyond, but the Sound between here and Seattle is a perfect buffer to the action of the big city.

2. The low crime rate
I know we are not isolated from bad things or bad people, but I can breathe a little sigh of relief when I step off the ferry. The statistics speak for themselves. However, the incident at the pool the other day, proves it is very hard to totally get away from crime.

3. The great Bainbridge Island School District
We go back and forth with Mercer Island for the top spot in the state. However, as a former teacher, I know test scores are not everything. I love the small school my daughter attends. I love the feeling of the school, the kindness of the staff. The small size ensures that my daughter won’t get caught in any cracks and I love that Judy, the school secretary knows the names of everyone in our family!

4. Islandmoms Facebook
This group is awesome. It is a wonderful support community. If you are looking for a recommendation for a painter or doctor, this is the place to go. For feedback and advice on anything island, this is the message board to read and write on. If you are looking to borrow snow boots or a costume for your child, a total stranger will probably let you borrow them. It is great!

5. The Treehouse Café
They have the best Cesar salad and our family loves eating pizza on the couches in the restaurant.

6. Blackbird Bakery
An island institution. I just like knowing it is there. I am not too hip on their sweet stuff (my youngest daughter is though) or coffee, I actually like their loaves of wheat bread.

7. Dancing Paint Ceramic Studio
A great spot to spend an hour or two on a rainy or sunny day. It is a beautiful, light filled studio in downtown Winslow. You and/or your kids will love the creative outlet . . . and you thought you had enough coffee mugs, never! )now closed :(

8. The Bainbridge Island Public Library
Carmen the children’s librarian does a top-notch job with storytime. My preschooler loves to listen to her read and act out stories! Pierre the French Mouse is pretty cute too.

9. Sawan Thai Kitchen
Green Curry Chicken, yumm. Three-Star Spicy is spicy enough for me!

10. Bainbridge Performing Arts Theatre
Folks from Seattle ferry over to see our plays . . . and folks from Seattle come over to be in the plays too. They offer a great theatre program for kids too. My daughter loved the camp she was in last summer.

On March 31, 2008, in Activities, Community, Personal, by

The other day my seven year old had a dentist appointment at 10:00 am. Her elementary school starts at 9:30. To make it easy, we went to the dentist and then I drove her in to school late. I walked her in the office, knowing I would have to sign her in or check her in and she’d get a late slip to go to class.

When we walked in to the office, the secretary gave us a sly smile and as I started to explain that my daughter had had a dentist appointment, she interrupted me with “I know I already called your house and spoke with your husband.” First of all, I was stunned that she knew who we were, just by walking in the office and second, I was amazed that the school called home because my daughter did not show up in her seat that morning. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am delighted, but still shocked nonetheless. That is exactly what you would want to happen, right? If for some horrible reason your child did not make it from your car door or from the bus to their classroom one morning, you would want people to notice and let you know.

I am shocked because this is our first year at this school. We are used to attending a large kindergarten through eighth grade school in an even larger urban school district. After two full years attending that school, I did not know the secretaries names, nor did they know my name, or my face for that matter. Over the two years, there were few occasions when I had to visit the office, but because I was never greeted warmly, or even greeted at all, I simply tried to stay away from the office. Eventhough it was the main office, the frontline for parents and the public, the place people go when they visit the school, the staff always acted like you were interrupting a conference call with Bill Gates when they walked in.

In contrast, the first time I walked into the elementary office here on the island, I was there to fill out forms, etc. because we were enrolling. I had talked with the secretary about three days previous to let her know we were coming in. When she warmly greeted us, I told her why we were here and she asked us our last name. When I replied with Pells, she quickly spouted back my daughter’s name, in an “oh yes, we’ve been sitting here expecting you all day way.” I almost fell over. Because, like I said, at our previous school, the secretaries wouldn’t know me from Jane on the street.

And, yes, this is what I wanted out of a school for my children. I wanted them to attend a school that had a bit of a rural edge and was small enough to be a community where students, parents and staff knew one another. I love that the school my daughter attends is only kindergarten through fourth grade and I love that I feel like I am sending her to a little elite private school, when in fact she is attending a public school.

So, this is what it is important to me, it is something that matters, a good education, in a small community. So, when I miss my larger house and the larger city where I used to live, I remember why we chose to downsize, we were getting rid of the things that didn’t matter, so that we could afford the things that did.

On February 5, 2008, in Community, Personal, Schools, by

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