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Shawn Vestal: Spokane’s real estate market is (finally) hot

September 16, 2016 GMT

We talk a lot about our affordable houses, here in Spokane.

Newcomers enthuse about how much house they can afford. We commiserate with our West Side cousins – and our Kootenai County in-laws – about the manic-depressive state of their real estate markets. We take some comfort in the stolid nature of the market here, where booms and busts and bubbles mostly leave us alone.

And yet things have gotten kind of hot – positively hot-ish – in the Spokane home market. The August figures are in: Home sales for the month were up nearly 18 percent, the highest in 11 years, according to the Spokane Association of Realtors. Average home prices rose 6 percent. The number of homes available has shrunk. You hear rumors of bidding wars for homes, of homes snapped up within days – or sometimes in hours.

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“It went up for sale on a Tuesday morning,” said Karen Semerad, who sold her South Hill home earlier this year. “We had a full-price offer at about 7 (p.m.).”

Meredith Coleman had a similarly quick turnaround when she and her wife, Melissa Nystrom, sold their Kendall Yards townhouse this summer.

“We had a full-price offer within 10 hours,” she said. “It was kind of crazy. We didn’t expect it to go that fast.”

Rob Higgins, executive officer of the Spokane Association of Realtors, said such stories are not unusual.

“We’re selling houses as fast as they come on the market, if they’re priced right,” he said.

Higgins said that the number of homes sold in August – 821– was the highest monthly total since August 2005. He said that in 2015 and this year, sales and home prices have been improving as part of Spokane’s slow awakening from the recession.

“We’ve been gradually coming out of that in the past five years,” he said.

Spokane’s relatively low home prices stand in stark contrast to hotter markets. The average home price in Kootenai County right now is approaching $250,000, compared to $215,000 in Spokane County. In Boise, home prices rose almost 10 percent in the last year, and nearly 60 percent in the last five. Super-pricey Seattle and Portland also are seeing double-digit increases in home prices this year – the median home sale in Seattle this year hit $560,000.

Higgins said that roughly 60 percent of all homes sold in Spokane County were priced between $100,000 and $250,000.

Marianne Bornhoft, an agent at Windermere Manito and a director for the National Association of Realtors, recently bought a home on North Normandie Street after a bidding war. The home – “kind of a fixer” that she intends to rent out – is in the same neighborhood where she bought her first house years ago, and when it went on the market she Facebooked the real estate agent immediately, quickly following up with an above-asking offer that was accepted over two others.

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Not all homes sell in an instant, of course, and real estate agents say those homes are often priced too high.

Sarah Coleman is a 21-year-old recent college graduate who moved to Spokane in May with her husband, Brendan Babiarz, from upstate New York. She got a job with Exit Real Estate North as a social media and marketing manager. The couple hadn’t intended to buy a home yet, but market conditions and interest rates made them rethink that. They found a home they liked and put in an offer; another potential buyer had also made an offer, but after some back-and-forth they ended up having their offer accepted, and they’re headed toward closing.

They were able to buy the home for much less than the original asking price of $310,000 – the home had been on the market quite a while, the price had been reduced a couple of times, and they eventually agreed on $219,000.

Semerad, who sold her home in a day, had experience as buyer and seller in the past year. She and her husband, Keith, have lived in Spokane since 1965. Late last year, they decided to sell their home on 40th Avenue, to move to a quieter neighborhood. They bought a Hangman Valley home in December for $220,000; five weeks later, they listed and sold their former home in a day for $229,000.

“It’s like a jigsaw puzzle if you have to buy and sell, and ours fell into place,” she said.

Meredith Coleman, who sold her Kendall Yards townhouse, said she and her wife wanted to buy a bigger place because they are working to become foster parents. They had purchased their townhouse four years ago for $163,000, and sold it for $235,000. As they began looking for a new place to live, they found that other homes on the market were selling as quickly as theirs had.

“We did have a little more trouble buying, because properties were going so quickly,” said Coleman, 28, who works in fundraising for the Spokane Symphony.

They found a 30-year-old, three-bedroom home on Hemlock Street, overlooking Doomsday Hill, and closed Aug. 1. They’re settling in, still hanging pictures, she said.

“We’re hoping to have kids in the house this winter,” she said.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.