Tri-City housing news mixed

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldOctober 9, 2012 

The Tri-City housing market may be down slightly when compared with recent years, but sales are on par to years before the federal first-time home buyer tax credit.

The slight fall was expected, Jeff Losey, executive director of the Home Builders Association of Tri-Cities, told about 60 people Monday at the Pasco Chamber of Commerce's meeting at the Pasco Red Lion.

Losey said he still expects to see about 1,100 new homes built this year in the Tri-Cities. That is a sustainable number, he said.

That's about 17 percent lower than last year, when there were 1,332 new homes started in Benton and Franklin counties, according to data from the Home Builders Association of Tri-Cities.

Nate Biehl, president of the Tri-City Association of Realtors, said the Tri-Cities is having a good fall. Typically, autumn sales are slow during an election year.

The interest rate is low, and people who were waiting for home prices to drop finally are deciding that prices are as low as they are going to go, said Biehl, broker/owner of RE/MAX First Advantage.

Through September, there were 2,165 homes sold, according to data from the Tri-City Association of Realtors. That's about four more homes than the same time last year, although it is less than 2009 and 2010 -- when the first-time home buyer tax credit was available.

Biehl said he believes the area will have about 3,000 homes sold this year, which is a decent year. The years with the tax credit were an anomaly, officials say.

The housing market has changed, Biehl said. Buyers no longer are willing to buy a home that needs improvements. They expect homes to be priced correctly, and homes that aren't don't get showings or offers.

Sellers have been slow to adjust to a market that is changing to be more balanced, or more of a buyer's market, in certain price ranges, Biehl said. Depending on the improvements they made, they can't always get their money back in the home sale.

The area's low apartment vacancy rate, which has hovered under 3 percent for a while, also has helped home sales, he said.

The Tri-Cities doesn't follow the national trends, Losey said. Some of the areas hit the hardest now are seeing a turnaround in their home building market.

Through September, the Tri-Cities saw the number of new housing permits decline by about 16 percent compared with the same time last year, to a total of 917 new homes, Losey said.

Still, the Tri-Cities recently was named the nation's 13th strongest local economy, according to a report by research firm Policom Corp. That report looks at a 20-year window, Losey said.

West Richland, Richland and Prosser are seeing more home building activity than last year. Richland is up by 4 percent to 210 homes so far this year. But Pasco, which at times is half of the market, is down by about 37 percent, he said.

Pasco has issued 255 permits for new single family homes through September, 147 less than the same time last year. Losey said the new school impact fee is contributing to that.

Kennewick is down about 14 percent to 204 homes, a drop of 34 homes, Losey said.

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