With the number of homes for sale rapidly increasing the last few months, and the pivotal month of October now nearly halfway over, I think it is a good time to take somewhat of an in-depth look at inventory. I refer to October as "pivotal" because as far back as I have reliable data (2000), inventory has always decreased from September to October. If inventory increases this month, I believe we will have truly turned a corner.
Some of the local papers in the last few months have claimed that the Seattle area is becoming a "buyer's market." Personally, I think that's malarkey. I'm a potential buyer, and there's still no way I'd touch this market with a ten foot pole. It has been said by some commenters on this blog that in order to see any significant slowdown in price appreciation and a return to a "balanced market," the Seattle area would need to experience a two-to-three-fold increase in homes for sale. Let's take a look at some historical inventory data to see how that claim holds up, and to explore the following questions: What does a true buyer's market look like for the Seattle area? How soon will we at least experience a balanced market?
Unfortunately, I have been unable to obtain solid MLS data on inventory & sales any further back than the year 2000 (if anyone out there can help me on that, I'd love to hear from you). However, I was able to locate a number of data points back through 1993 via the Seattle Times archives. All of their reports from that time period give numbers from the "Puget Sound Multiple Listing Service," which includes all of King, Snohomish, and "North Pierce" counties. When I refer to record highs below, the time period under consideration is from 1993 to the present. For the purposes of comparing current (post-2000) data to these historical figures, I'll be assuming that 75% of listings and sales in Pierce county take place in "North Pierce." With that introduction, here are some of the interesting data points I found.
Record High Inventory (pre-2000)
As well as I can tell, the record high inventory in the two-and-a-half county region was 17,292 homes in July 1996. (The Seattle P-I claims that the summer of 1994 had 23,000 homes on the market, but that figure is not corroborated by the Times—which put the number at 14,000-15,000,—and is so far outside of every other number I can locate, that I believe it to be a typo.) That month saw 3,315 pending sales, making the Months of Supply (MOS) 5.22, while YOY appreciation stood at 5.1%. For the most part, it looks like that was a fairly "balanced" market.
Record High Inventory (post-2000)
The all-time (since 1993) record high inventory appears to have been in the summer of 2003, just as housing mania was really taking hold in Seattle. Specifically, June 2003 had 20,807 homes for sale in King, Snohomish, and North Pierce counties. While the number of homes on the market was quite high, so was the number of pending sales: 6,396. The MOS for June stood at 3.25, and appreciation hovered around 3-5%. I'd call that a seller-friendly market.
Record High Months of Supply & Record Low Pending Sales
Going back a bit further we find that late 1994 to early 1995 had an even more balanced market than 1996, possibly even tipping slightly in the buyers' favor. MOS exceeded 6.0 from October '94 through March '95, while YOY appreciation was 3-4%. The record high MOS was 6.89 in December 1994, a month that also saw the record low pending sales of just 1,726.
So where do we stand currently? Last month there were 19,173 properties for sale in King, Snohomish, and North Pierce counties. Note that this is very near to the record high inventory of 2003, while the 5,530 pending sales are slightly fewer than June 2003. September's MOS comes in at 3.47. A year ago, the 2.5-county region had an MOS of just 2.13.
If September's YOY trends (+36% listings, -17% pending sales) carry through to 2007, next September we will be looking at approximately 25,994 properties for sale, 4,595 pending sales, and 5.67 MOS. Of course, no one really knows whether the current trends will continue. Looking at the trend of the last few months' YOY numbers, it would be fairly easy to make the case that inventory will increase even faster, while pending sales decline faster.
|YOY % Change|
|King County SFH only|
So does inventory need to double for Seattle to be a balanced market? No. Even if sales held steady where they are (not likely), we would only need approximately 70% more inventory to reach a balanced market. Personally, I think we are likely to see the elusive 6.0 MOS balanced market as early as next spring, and no later than next winter. Will it stop there? What will happen if the greater Seattle area sees 8.0, 9.0, 10.0 or even higher MOS? I think it's possible, and based on the historical data, I think it could push "appreciation" into negative territory.
Your thoughts, corrections, and analysis are welcomed.