Paul's Bellingham Blog

My thoughts on Bellingham, the Real Estate market, and more

2016 Year in Review in Bellingham & Whatcom County, Plus 2017 Forecast

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2016 turned out to be one of the best Real Estate years in Bellingham & Whatcom County’s history. Home sales were up 8%, with the most home sales ever in Bellingham.
And with the lack of new construction to meet this demand, home appreciation was the highest it’s been since 2006-2007. Median home prices rose 11% in Bellingham ($344,000 avg sale price) and about the same appreciation level throughout Whatcom County. Looking at the dollar per sq ft average sale price for Whatcom County, below (which is another indicator) it also shows about a 10% appreciation over the last year.

But home appreciation is always local to your neighborhood and price range. The biggest price jumps occurred in the most popular Bellingham neighborhoods, like Columbia, Cornwall Park and Sunnyland, which saw appreciation of about 15% over the last year. But just about every area of the city and the county saw appreciation of at least 7%.

The condo market in Bellingham, which has been slower to rebound, also finally saw a jump in values, with condos also appreciating about 9%.

Now moving forward, what shall we expect? There is some reasons to assume the hot market could cool down a little bit.
-Interest rates have jumped up from an average of about 3.7% for most of last year, to 4.25% average.
-The Canadian dollar continues to be weak, which impacts the Blaine and Birch Bay market a bit (Particularly the condo market near the border).
-And with prices having gone up, affordability becomes more of a concern.
Zillow has tempered predictions of home prices rising–just another 3% in Bellingham this year. That sounds right on paper, but looking at the 2 charts below, and being in the mix every day with buyers and sellers, I can easily see home prices jumping up more than Zillow’s projection.

The months of inventory (which is: How many months it would take to sell through all of the available homes based on current pending sales pace) is really incredible right now. Normally, being at a 3 to 6 month mark is a sign of a healthy and strong Real Estate market. Higher then 6 months, and prices may be declining, lower then 3 months, and home prices are typically going up.

The Bellingham market is absolutely on fire with just a 1.4 month supply of homes available.

Whatcom County also has a lack of inventory with just a 2.4 month supply.

So the numbers say prices are still going up. And I meet with a network group of top agents every week, and our first meeting of the year, every agent is working with multiple buyers looking for a home right now.. The point being that there is a HUGE back log of buyers still looking to buy this year in Bellingham & throughout the county. So with the lack of inventory and high demand, prices should continue to rise in our area at least through the spring. Very tough to be a buyer right now, but really an ideal time to sell.

New Census and Home Value information for Bellingham

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The population continues to grow in Bellingham, now 83,365 at end of 2015, up 3% from 80,867 in 2010.
That is within the city limits, but the population is an estimated 104,356 when including everyone who lives within the Bellingham address, which includes the community of Sudden Valley and the surrounding unincorporated areas of Bellingham.
And no surprise, with the population growth, lower unemployment rate (now 6.8%), andlack of new construction in Bellingham since 2010.. home values are increasing. Home values are up 7% year over year right now as of April 2016. With less then 3 months of inventory in Bellingham (meaning if nothing new came on the market, all homes would be sold within 3 months at current sales pace), that points to prices continuing to rise at a modest rate for the next year.

Inventory Shrinking in Bellingham & Whatcom County

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The active homes for sale has been steadily dropping right now in Bellingham & Whatcom County. This is always the case in the fall, but see the chart to the right–you can see that compared to October of last year, the active listings in Bellingham (the green line) are down about 40%, yet pending sales (the skinny red line) are up!

Bellingham WA (and all of Whatcom county) home sales have been on a slow and steady increase over the last 3 years. But based on the tight supply and growing demand, there is no question market values (not just sales, but actual home values) are trending up….and at a faster pace.

The momentum  & strength of our local market is definitely increasing every month right now.

Why I am still with John L Scott Real Estate after 12+ years

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I am often asked why I don’t start my own Real Estate brokerage, or create a bigger team, or move to a larger company. I have stayed at the same office, with the same company, and kept just 1 office assistant for over 12 years. This is rare!

Most agents change companies at least once (if not multiple times). Then as they start to become highly productive, they will hire a sales team (buyers agents and/or multiple licensed assistants) or start their own real estate company. While I totally respect the agents who expand their business this way, there are several reasons I have stayed my course.

1) When you hire Paul you get Paul.
The idea of leveraging your time with a team or even a company does have its appeal. However for me I love having a direct relationship with my clients. I very much enjoy the skills involved in managing the inherent complexity of making a Real Estate choice. Buying or selling Real Estate is not a walk in the park, and I want to be there every step of the way for my clients.

2) My association with John L Scott enhances my brand, and my ability to deliver top-notch services to my clients. John L Scott Real Estate is a great company, with millions invested in marketing, the website, and even an awesome Real Estate android/iPhone app. Being a part of a large company gives me (and in turn my clients) access to the most innovative Real Estate tools available. Smaller companies cannot always provide and invest in this kind of technology.

2) My office: Not too big, not too small…
Our office in Bellingham is big enough to create a great team environment for networking, but small enough (about 40 agents) to have a boutique / big family feel. I get amazing support from the office staff and branch manager Darin, allowing me to again, focus my time on marketing & showing property.

So in sum, by not spending my time building a real estate team or a company of my own; by staying with a company like John L Scott; by not moving around to different offices looking for greener pastures; I have been able to focus ALL of my time and energy on simply working with my clients; focusing my time and talents at getting better at what I do; mastering the craft of being the best Realtor I can be for my clients.

It’s also helped me have a balanced life. Having some free time still with my family (we have 2 little kids 3 and 5!) and friends, is important to me.

This is not to say anything negative about agents who build teams or small companies. Some of the agents I have the most respect for have gone this route (even my Dad did!). It is just an explanation of why I personally choose to work the way I do.

Maybe one day I will be more interested in the building a Real Estate empire of my own. Right now I still love working with clients and helping people buy and sell houses. Keeping it simple.

Webcast about Bank Owned Homes and Short sales

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I was just interviewed about foreclosures and short sales, here is the video below:

City of Bellingham will now require you to register all rental properties

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The City of Bellingham has enacted into law a rental registration program. Fees will be $10 to register each rental unit for up to 20 units, $8 a unit for over 20 unites, and registration will begin July 1st. The city will be inspecting all rental properties every 3 years (that is the plan at least). And the registration will require landlords to post the registration in rental properties, and comply with a check list of safety and hazard compliance measures (things like carbon and smoke detectors install and no safety hazards).

It will be interesting to see how this works out. Some homes that are run down will have a hard time complying, and landlords will need to put money into these homes, and then ultimately raise rents to account for that. This should create some benefit in many cases for renters (to be renting a safer home that is to code and compliant)…But it may also create an even bigger shortage of affordable rentals in town. Many of the most affordable rentals are once where landlords have slacked on the maintenance, but kept rents low. As owners go in to make updates and comply, there is no question some rental rates will rise.

So like it or not, it’s happening. You can find more information at