Valley housing market a ‘pressure cooker’ amid pandemic bidding

High demand and limited inventory had fueled real estate bidding wars.

It’s a seller’s market in Snoqualmie Valley real estate, thanks to increased demand from tech workers and a reduction in the number of people looking to sell throughout 2020.

According to Redfin, median home prices were $799,500 in Snoqualmie, a 23% year-over-year increase from November 2019 to November 2020. Homes were generally on the market for only six days, down from 18.5 days in 2019. In North Bend, median home prices rose even more dramatically, with the median home selling for $884,000, a 40% increase year-over-year. The average number of days on the market was 5.5 days as of November.

None of this throws Redfin’s Scott Petrich, a real estate agent, for a loop.

He said throughout the pandemic, which began in February 2020, there were several buyers who weren’t worried about losing employment or income. These buyers generally work for large tech companies in the area, like Amazon, Microsoft or Google — jobs that can easily switch to remote work and pay a good wage.

As many people around the state found themselves stuck at home beginning this spring, some wanted to upgrade their housing.

“I think just the general theme there is that people are dying for an office space, because a 1,000-square-foot Belltown condo just isn’t going to make the cut,” Petrich said.

Tech engineers are some of the most common people looking to buy homes right now in the Snoqualmie Valley, Petrich said.

It’s something that David Cook, of North Bend’s Cook Real Estate, has also seen. Amazon had announced thousands of new jobs at the beginning of 2020, which created pressure even before the pandemic.

“The deals were out here,” he said. “They could come out here and buy a lot more house for the money.”

When the coronavirus pandemic hit in March, that high demand didn’t dry up since Amazon in particular wasn’t affected as much as other companies. And other tech company workers haven’t seen their incomes impacted, he said.

On the ground, Cook said two-thirds of the houses he deals with are being sold to tech people. But these buyers are generally looking for new construction and higher end homes. He hasn’t seen as much interest in middle- and low-priced homes. If someone is paying $500,000 or more for a home in the Valley, there’s a good chance it’s a tech worker, Cook said.

This has led to dramatic bidding wars, Petrich said. He remembered one house on Snoqualmie Ridge that had 21 offers, an amount he’d never seen before. He’d heard of one Quadrant Home, which generally isn’t a big seller, receiving 18 offers.

The hot seller’s market isn’t limited to the Valley, Petrich said. Single family houses in Seattle are also seeing intense bidding wars. But apartments and condos have been less competitive as people look for more space, and to avoid common areas like elevators and shared hallways.

At the same time as people are looking for homes, there’s been a drop in supply. Housing supply is one of the Puget Sound region’s perennial problems, driving inventory down and prices soaring. The pandemic is hyper-charging this effect. Would-be sellers are wary of showing their homes to strangers, and others may be riding out the pandemic before selling.

Cook is anticipating the busiest spring housing season of his career this year. He said the Christmas season has been much busier than normal, and if he’s busy over Christmas, then he’ll be working nonstop during the spring.

“Now we have all this pent up energy. People who wanted to move last year are saying ‘OK, I’m going to move this year,’” Cook said. “It’s a pressure cooker, and I can feel it.”

On the commercial side of real estate, Cook said there’s many people who want to start or move businesses, but who are waiting until the pandemic is dealt with.

Anticipating a busy spring, Cook suggested potential sellers begin listing earlier this year — in February or even January. He said they don’t want to get lost in the shuffle this spring, and by listing early, there’s the potential to capture the market.

For buyers, Petrich advised always keeping a lookout for buying opportunities. To avoid bidding wars, focus on homes that have been on the market more than seven days. He also recommended expanding the search to include houses that may be a little over-budget or that have been on the market for weeks.

“Don’t get too much buyer’s fatigue,” he said. “There’s definitely opportunity out there.”

Puget Sound isn’t alone in its bidding wars and skyrocketing prices. The Associated Press reported that U.S. home prices jumped in October by the greatest amount in more than six years, largely due to pandemic-fueled buying. Home prices slipped back a bit in November, but sales were still some 26% higher than in November 2019.