Whidbey real estate still a seller’s market despite virus

The pandemic pushed David and Becky Broberg, the owners of Blue Goose Inn Bed and Breakfast, to place one of historic Coupeville’s most prominent Victorian houses on the market.

The economic hit to their business prompted them to make the move sooner than planned.

Yet the coronavirus hasn’t changed the tenor of the real estate market, which is on their side.

Even with a stay-at-home order and economic turmoil, it continues to be a seller’s market on Whidbey Island, according to those who sell homes. The island has a limited inventory of properties on the market while demand remains relatively strong, although constraints on the mortgage market may have some effects on buyers, the experts said.

Craig McKenzie, managing broker for Keller Williams Whidbey Realty in Oak Harbor, said Gov. Jay Inslee’s decision at the end of March to modify his stay-at-home order to allow real estate activity allowed the industry to continue on by adapting to a new way of doing business.

McKenzie said his agents are set up to work from their homes and hold meetings virtually, for example, and in-person showings are limited to two people at a time; agents wear face masks and gloves and open all the doors and cupboards for customers.

The supply of homes on the market before COVID-19 was low and the pandemic didn’t change that.

“Decent properties that come on the market are gone in days, or certainly a week or two if it’s priced right,” he said.

His team sold 20 properties in the last three weeks, he said. Homes priced in the range of $450,000 and below are in the greatest demand.

Joseph Mosolino, managing broker at Windermere on South Whidbey, reports a similar situation. There are a limited number of homes on the market and they generally sell quickly.

Mosolino and his agents remain busy.

“If you have a home to sell, it’s a great time to get it on the market,” he said. “There’s so little inventory and the demand is still there.”

Mosolino said he expects more homes to come on the market in May, but he adds that it won’t be enough to make up for “pent up demand.”

“It’s not going to swing from a seller’s to a buyer’s market,” he said.

The demand persists in spite of obstacles buyers may face in securing mortgages.

Kevin Engstrom, mortgage loan manager at People’s Bank in Freeland, said rates are currently in the “low 3s,” which he described as the low benchmark.

However, Engstrom said, there has been a lot of volatility in the market, so it’s hard to tell what the future holds or what impact the continuing pandemic will have on rates.

“The federal government is going to have to borrow trillions of dollars, which is typically not good for mortgage rates,” he said.

People in his office are able to continue doing business remotely and also remain busy.

A lot of people are taking advantage of the rates to refinance their homes, but there’s been a decrease in the number of customers who are seeking loans for new homes, Engstrom said.

Those who are furloughed don’t qualify for loans, even if they expect to return to work.

The guidelines for issuing mortgages have tightened, he said, and “change on an almost daily basis.”

Rules for jumbo loans in particular have become tougher, which may have an impact locally.

“Two thirds of South Whidbey market can be in the jumbo range,” Mosolino said.

Numbers from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service illustrate how low the number of homes on the market was in Island County before the virus. In the first quarter, Island County had the biggest drop in the number of home sales from the same period last year among the 15 counties in the region.

The inventory dropped by 9.7 percent while home prices increased by 9.6 percent, which was slightly about average for the region.

In March, Island County had 171 new listings and 151 pending sales. The average price for closed sales was $462,000 and the median price was $395,000.

However, Windermere Chief Economist Matthew Gardner said the statistics for March are “essentially irrelevant given the fact that the economy went into freefall during the month” and April numbers will also be skewed because of the short time real estate was considered nonessential.

Mike Grady, president and COO at Coldwell Banker Bain, described April and May as “bridge months” before the market returns to a “more normal” activity level once the state is reopened.

McKenzie and Mosolino advise those interested in selling a house not to wait because of the pandemic.

Prices and demand are good now, they said.

“Who knows what is going to happen in the next six months,” McKenzie said.

Gardner predicted that home prices may drop in the third and fourth quarters but will still be up year over year.

As for the Blue Goose Inn Bed and Breakfast, the Brobergs plan on selling one of the two Victorian houses they own in town.

The 1891 Coupe-Gillespie house is zoned commercial but it is intended to be sold as a residential property, perhaps as a family vacation home.

The property, located at 704 N. Main St., is listed for sale at $649,900.

Picking between the two houses was a no-brainer for the couple, who reside in the pink house.

“The blue house has always been exclusively guest space, so we’ve never lived over there,” David Broberg said.