The Tri-Cities is expected to have one of the top 20 healthiest housing markets in the nation next year.
The Tri-Cities, at No. 17, was the only metropolitan area in the Northwest to make the list created by Builder Magazine and Hanley Wood Market Intelligence.
The healthiest of the 100 largest markets nationwide were determined using home prices, employment, population projections, unemployment rates and median household incomes, said Jonathan Smoke, executive director of research for the real estate research firm.
The Tri-Cities does well in all categories, and each is expected to improve in 2012, he said. For example, the area's home prices are expected to grow by about 3.8 percent next year.
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The Tri-Cities might be one of the smaller markets to make the top 20 list, but the area's economy has been relatively strong during the national housing downturn and recession, Smoke said.
Already, construction permits in the Tri-Cities have been rebounding for more than a year.
The area also has an above-average number of high paying jobs, combined with relatively affordable housing, Smoke said.
And the Tri-City home ownership rate is higher than the national average, he said. It increased to 69.5 percent in July, while nationally the rate is 66 percent and has been declining each year.
The Tri-Cities is the most affordable metropolitan area in the state, said Paul Roy, president of the Tri-City Association of Realtors.
Housing affordability means it has made more sense for families moving to the Tri-Cities in the past decade to buy homes rather than to rent, he said.
An increasing home ownership rate combined with a growing number of households creates a demand for homes, Storm said.
Roy said August and September were disappointing in terms of home sales in the Tri-Cities. Consumer confidence is low, but he expects that confidence to improve.
Through September this year, 2,145 homes were sold in the Tri-Cities, according to a report by Coldwell Banker Tomlinson Associated Brokers of Kennewick.
An average of almost eight homes were sold each day so far in 2011, compared with about nine homes sold a day on average in 2009 and 2010, according to the report.
Roy said October sales should end up better than the same month last year.
There is about eight months of inventory for sale because of fewer sales and more listings, he said. But he expects that anomaly will correct itself after winter.
Inventory is based on the sales pace in the past, he said. And if things pick up to 2008, 2009 or 2010 levels, the housing inventory will be just right.
The Tri-Cities is estimated to have 1,244 new homes issued building permits this year and 1,099 in 2012, according to Builder Magazine's report.
Rene Dahlgren, director of government affairs for the Home Builders Association of Tri-Cities, said builders expect to see a similar number of permits for new single-family homes next year as this year.
As of September, 1,089 permits for new single-family homes were issued in the Tri-Cities, and about 1,300 total are expected by the end of the year, according to the association.
Dahlgren said that is sustainable and keeps builders relatively busy. But they would like to see some growth.
Unlike the rest of the state, the Tri-City home market has maintained its stability, she said.
-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; firstname.lastname@example.org