Washington state was ground zero for the coronavirus in the U.S.
After the outbreak was first detected late last year in China, a 35-year-old man who entered a hospital in Snohomish County on Jan. 19 became the first confirmed case in the U.S. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, the man was otherwise a healthy person, but had recently visited China.
In the months since, other parts of the U.S. — New York, New Orleans, etc. — have suffered more. But Washington’s place as ground zero still makes it a kind of canary in the coal mine for the way that the pandemic ripples across a region’s socioeconomic landscape. With that in mind, here’s what’s going on in Washington right now:
Statewide cases and deaths
- Washington state had 119,838 confirmed cases as of Tuesday, according to the state’s Department of Health.
- The state had suffered 1,020 deaths by Tuesday.
Statewide crisis response
- Gov. Jay Inslee first closed bars and restaurants, and limited the size of public gatherings, on March 15.
- On March 23, Inslee issued a stay-at-home order. He then extended the order last week so that it will remain in effect through May 4.
- All schools were closed beginning March 17. The closures were initially temporary, but Inslee later extended them through the remainder of the school year.
- A moratorium on evictions began on March 18. Inslee has also urged lenders to work with homeowners who can’t pay their mortgages.
Statewide real estate
- There were 9,418 active listings in the Northwest Multiple Listing Service (NWMLS) database in March, which represents a 21.6 percent year-over-year decrease. NWMLS operates in the western part of the state and covers 23 counties, which have about 80 percent of Washington’s population.
- New listings also dropped 2.1 percent year-over-year last month, according to NWMLS.
- NWMLS-listed homes and condos had a median sale price of $458,900, up 10.3 percent year-over-year.
- NWMLS agents and brokers closed 6,735 deals for homes and condos in March.
- Inslee’s orders in late March initially appeared to prohibit in-person real estate activity. However, in a March 27 letter he allowed for in-person meetings when necessary. He also said activities such as appraisals and walk-throughs could happen in person as long as no more than two people were “on site at any one time, exercising social distancing at all times.” Open houses remain banned, and Inslee has said that most transactions should be taking place online.
- The median listing price of homes in all of Washington state at the end of February was $415,000, according to data from Zillow. Zillow also reported that home values have risen 5.7 percent over the last year. It’s worth noting, however, that Zillow’s data only goes through the end of February, meaning that it does not reflect the major economic turmoil that happened in March.
King County (Seattle)
Confirmed cases as of May 19th:7,848
Deaths as of May 19th: 530
According to NWMLS, in King County (non-condo) residential new listings dropped 8.1 percent year-over-year in March. Pending sales were also down 8.5 percent. Closed sales rose 1.9 percent.
King is the most populous county in Washington, with more than 2 million people, and is anchored by Seattle, the state’s biggest city.
The average days on market in King County fell 34.2 percent year-over-year in March for non-condo residential units, from 38 to 25 days.
King County’s median sales price last month for residential houses was $725,000, up 7.4 percent year-over-year.
For condos, the median sales price was $439,725 last month, up 0.4 percent.
Seattle has also worked to help struggling renters. On March 3, Mayor Jenny Durkan enacted a 60-day eviction moratorium. The city also barred landlords from charging their tenants late fees during the pandemic.
Pierce County (Tacoma)
Confirmed cases as of May 19th:1,808
Deaths as of May 19th: 68
The median sales price for condos was $290,000, up 7.4 percent year-over-year.Pierce County’s median sales price last month for non-condo homes was $410,000, up 12.3 percent year-over-year.
Days on market fell 32.5 percent, from 40 last March to 27 this year.In Pierce County, (non-condo) residential new listings were up 2.8 percent year-over-year last month, from 1,427 to 1,467. Pending sales were down 4.2 percent.
Pierce County is home to more than 876,000 people — making it the second most populous county in Washington. The county’s largest city is Tacoma, which is part of the Seattle metropolitan region.Deaths as of April 7: 15
Confirmed cases as of May 19th:3,125
Deaths as of May 19th: 125
Snohomish County is just north of Seattle and considered part of that city’s metropolitan region. The county is home to more than 800,000 people and its largest city is Everett.
According to NWMLS, Snohomish County had 1,240 new (non-condo) listings in March, which is 0.2 percent higher than one year prior. Pending sales were down 9 percent year-over-year, and the median sales price was up 5.6 percent to $524,425.
Days on market for non-condo homes dropped 32.6 percent, from 43 last March to 29 this year.
The median sales price for condos last month was $390,000, up 11.6 percent year-over-year.
Thurston County (Olympia)
Confirmed cases as of May 19th: 127
Deaths as of May 19th: 1
Thurston County is located at the south end of Puget Sound and is home to Olympia, the state capital.
Nearly 300,000 people live in Thurston County.
NWMLS reports that in March new (non-condo) listings fell 2.5 percent year-over-year in Thurston County. Pending sales were down 9 percent.
The county’s non-condo median sales price was $355,000 in March, up 7.6 percent. Days on market fell 43.6 percent, from 39 last March to 22 this year.
The median sales price for condos was $215,000, which represents no change compared to one year ago.
Confirmed cases as of May 19th: 412
Deaths as of May 19th: 30
Spokane County is located in the western part of Washington and is anchored by the city of Spokane — the second largest in the state. About half a million people live in the county.
According to the Spokane Association of Realtors (SAR), there were 559 closed sales in the area last month, up nearly 28 percent over February and 19.4 percent year-over-year.
The average sales price last month was $308,012, up 14.3 percent year-over-year. March’s median price was $289,900, up 18.1 percent year-over-year.
SAR told Inman that inventory in the region is currently very tight and that the first quarter of 2020 has been strong.
Caveats and reasons for caution
While both the numbers and the comments from Washington real estate agents indicate the state’s market is still moving, NWMLS published a report on Monday that suggests caution is in order. The report notes that the numbers don’t yet reflect the extent of the pandemic, and indicates that April and May will likely see additional declines.
“We expect that all numbers will decline in April and May as a direct result of the governor’s ‘Stay Home’ order that became effective on March 26,” Mike Grady, president and chief operating officer at Coldwell Banker Bain, is quoted as saying in the report.
Windermere Chief Economist Matthew Gardner went so far as to say in the report that March’s numbers are “essentially irrelevant given the fact that the economy went into freefall during the month.”
However, other experts also noted in the NWMLS report that buyers should still benefit from low interest rates while sellers can take advantage of low inventory — meaning there are signs that there could still be good times ahead for real estate in Washington.
- Washington’s Department of Financial Institutions is providing help for homeowners who cannot pay their mortgages.
- The state has a list of resources for renters who cannot afford their rent.
- Washington Realtors is providing pandemic resources for real estate professionals.
- NWMLS is also providing information related to the pandemic.
- The Seattle Housing Authority has additional information for people struggling to pay rent.
Update: This post was updated after publication with new coronavirus numbers and additional data on Spokane County.