Getting Warmer

Bainbridge Island Real Estate Market 2017Winter Dormancy

In many ways, the first quarter of 2017 reflected the past two years of the Bainbridge Island real estate market and, for that matter, the markets of most of the neighborhoods around us. Seasonably low inventories limit buyers’ choices early in every year. Meanwhile, inclement weather (which we believe had a greater than normal influence this year) tends to dampen the enthusiasm of sellers getting homes ready as well as buyers who would rather stay in than venture out to go look at properties. Finally, there’s a perception that the market doesn’t really “begin” until spring. These factors all conspire year after year to make the first quarter the quietest.

A Snapshot of Activity

Looking back to 2016, there were 72 residential transactions (defined as both homes and condominiums) in the first quarter, compared to 129 in the second quarter, 156 in the third and even 117 in the fourth (also perceived as a slow quarter). So we were prepared for the “slow time” this year. We hoped for more inventory because we knew there was demand. As it turned out, in spite of the weather, we got a little bit of what we wanted. We had 83 residential home and condominium sales in the first quarter of 2017, up 15% from last year’s 72. It should not be a surprise that our active inventory (homes not under contract) was up 29% from last year when measured on February 2nd. In a sellers’ market, inventory is the fuel that pushes the machine (as opposed to buyers being the fuel in a market they control). But there’s a footnote to these numbers: the condominium market had 27 sales – the best first quarter we’ve had since 2007 – and condominium sales were up 68.8% over last year’s first quarter figures. If we set aside the increase in condominium sales, our first quarter sales were essentially flat.

Perception Versus RealityBainbridge Island Real Estate Market 2017

The media has painted a pretty rosy picture of our market for sellers: just put up a for-sale sign, set any price you want and wait for multiple offers to roll in! In reality, while a strong market can make it easier to sell a home, there are certain goals that need to be in a seller’s mind regardless of the market.

The first is to sell the home within an acceptable timeframe. On the chart below, you’ll see the “active” inventory (homes that haven’t sold) is higher than it’s been since 2013. Also, even if you have an interested buyer, it doesn’t necessarily mean that buyer will end up purchasing the home. This quarter, there were 16 “failed sales” or homes that fell out of contract, down from 37 last year. Sales fail for all sorts of reasons: buyer’s remorse, which can come from price; realization of property condition; and reality checks are the most common. Also, getting the home sold in an acceptable timeframe is important to most sellers. In this past quarter, the average days on market was 71, up 22% from 2016! Yes, some homes sell right away, but they are usually the exception.

The second goal is to maximize the net yield to the seller. Condition, disclosures and presentation all affect buyer perception and price consideration. Buyers are smarter than ever, especially on Bainbridge. They usually conduct their own market research online and on foot and are often represented by professional agents. Now, as always, we need inventory for buyers to make choices. They will not just buy anything at any price, and their price ceilings are dictated by their perception of value. It’s true there are some multiple offers, but only 29% of homes sold in the first quarter went for over asking price (which may be fewer than some people would think) and the percentage of the overage was a scant ~3%. The boom of 2007 was not that long ago and most buyers (and their agents) clearly remember the risks of overpaying.

Bainbridge Island Real Estate Market 2017 Jen Pells

Closing Thoughts

Yes we’re in a sellers’ market, and yes there are multiple offers, and yes prices are rising. But Bainbridge is not Seattle; our market is smaller, less active and has a smaller (and, frankly, a bit smarter) buyer pool. To gain maximum benefit from this market, sellers should keep all this in mind (which is what professional real estate agents do). It’s also important to consider the buyer’s perspective, where there is another labyrinth to negotiate. About 40% of Bainbridge sellers end up on the other side of the table when they later become Bainbridge buyers, so they eventually experience the flip side of our market. Working with an experienced professional will help you achieve the best result and understand the many nuances, whichever role you occupy in the Island real estate market. So let’s dive in together into this busy season. It’s going to be an exciting ride.

A Promising Start to the New Year

Real Estate on Bainbridge Island | Jen Pells Realtor

Familiar Themes

With regard to the Bainbridge Island real estate market and its year-end numbers, the similarities between 2016 and 2015 are striking. In both years, the market struggled with a lack of inventory and strong demand, while the market trends (that actually began in 2013) continued to respond to this condition. What makes 2016 special is we surpassed most (if not all) of the records set in our last ascending market of 2004-2007. While it makes some people nervous to be in this rarefied air, with the uncertainty that can accompany it, we don’t foresee any specific event that will change our market trajectory in 2017 (with one possible exception, which I will discuss later).

Record-Setting Prices

The median price of a home sold on Bainbridge has never been higher than in 2016. Even more impressive is the growth in the median, which has risen steadily since bottoming out in 2011 following the difficulties that began in 2007. In only five years, our median has grown from $493K to the current $740K – an increase of 150%. In that time, we officially drew even with and then surpassed the 2007 peak median of $680K. This is welcome news to all those sellers who have been hanging in there, whether they wanted to or not, waiting for prices to climb back up.

Our upper end has been the last market segment to enjoy our market’s resurgence, and finally joined the party in 2016. Sales over $1M were up 32.4% from 2015 and up 88% from 2014. Not only did we set a new “highest price sold” of $5.97M but we had five sales over $3M. Previously, the highest price for a home sold was $3.497 in 2007. Also for comparison, in the ten years between 2005 and 2015, there were only eight homes sold for more than $3M (an average of less than one, compared to the five sold in 2016).

Real Estate on Bainbridge Island | Jen Pells Realtor

Condos, Land and New Construction

Our condominium market also experienced a resurgence. In 2008, there were only 42 condominium sales on the island; in 2016, we had 104 sales distributed over all price ranges – the largest number since 2007. The condominium valley floor was in 2012 with a median price of $297K. In 2016, by contrast, we raised that by 35%, reaching a median of $400,750.

Although land sales were down last year (for reasons that are unclear, but we suspect a cyclical reaction from 2015’s exceptionally strong sales), new construction seems to be everywhere (especially in community centers). There is a plethora of multi-home projects underway across the island. Some are being developed by local owners, but we have also seen an influx of off-island larger development companies. New communities under construction: Ashbury – Off Wyatt – 18 residential homes (off-island developer); Landmark – Off Wing Point Way – 17 residential homes (off-island developer); Ferryview – Off Wing Point Way – 11 condominiums (off-island developer); Roost – Off Baker Hill – residential, commercial and townhomes (island developer); Pleasant Beach Village – 14 view condominiums (island developer). There are also many multi-home projects in the planning/permitting stage (Weaver, Finch and Torvanger to name a few).

The Density Trend

The development we’re seeing in places like Winslow and Rolling Bay addresses a sentiment we’ve been hearing from our clients for years: “We want to downsize and move into town.” As the higher end has become healthier, people have been able to achieve their goals of selling their larger homes (to enthusiastic new buyers!) and moving to smaller homes or condos in denser community centers. We anticipate Lynwood Center will also benefit from this trend as new homes come online (like The Roost and Pleasant Beach Village Townhomes and lots).

Real Estate on Bainbridge Island | Jen Pells RealtorMoving Parts

We’re keeping a close eye on interest rates, which are slated to go up again sometime soon. The concern is they rise to a point where they materially affect mortgage payments (and therefore home prices). Loan rates are still exceedingly affordable, so let’s hope they stay that way.

Demand will probably not be a concern for 2017, and supply will still most likely lag demand. We have new projects coming on-line now and throughout the year, but we still see some clients waiting to sell their homes (adding to inventory woes) because there aren’t yet enough choices on the market to justify the risk of having nothing to move to once they sell. The new projects will help, especially because they provide what current potential sellers have been asking for, but we see overall demand still exceeding supply. As much as last year? That could depend on what happens in Washington DC . . .

I Wish I had a Crystal Ball

Will 2017 go down the same growth-oriented path as 2015 and 2016? Will the change in federal leadership have a negative impact on our market? Obviously, we can’t predict unforeseen events, but the economic outlook for our region is very positive. Professional and business services jobs are predicted to grow 3% in the Seattle Metro area next year. Computer and mathematical jobs up 3.5%. All that growth without any new transportation infrastructure only makes Bainbridge look increasingly appealing. People continue to look beyond King County, and many are excited to discover the beauty and quality of life found on Bainbridge Island.