No Holiday Breather for the Local Real Estate Market

The holiday season is not distracting determined buyers from finding their new homes. Pending sales of homes hit an all-time high for the month of November, according to the latest statistics from Northwest Multiple Listing Service. But while buyers are persisting, sellers are staying on the sidelines. November’s report, which covers 23 counties around Washington state, also shows the number of new listings plunged to the lowest level in 11 months, with King County having the overall lowest inventory level at 0.96 months.

Why are so many would-be sellers missing a key opportunity to get top dollar for their homes? Many have the misperception that the holiday months are a bad time to list a home. On the contrary, this time of year can be an excellent time to sell. Here are 3 reasons why:

1.  Holiday Buyers Are Highly Motivated—While the number looking may be lighter, those who are out there are serious. This time of year, nobody has the spare time to be out browsing, especially when it’s dark and soggy by 4:30pm. If they’re looking, chances are they are intent on purchasing.

2.  Homes Typically Show Better—Creating that warm, cozy feeling to help buyers fall in love goes hand-in-hand with the holidays. Between the decorations, the smell of holiday baking, and roaring fire, your house likely feels most like a home during this festive time of year.

3.  Fewer Homes Mean Less Competition—Most sellers don’t want to hassle with their home being on the market during an already busy time of year. But for those who can manage it, less competition means greater opportunity for receiving a strong, solid offer.

While a typical market might warrant waiting until spring, our market here is anything but typical. Seattle and the Eastside continue to defy all forecasts, with little indication of home prices or activity leveling off soon. Even with the inevitable rate increases, we expect 2017 to be another banner year for real estate.

Another though there may be a perception that a hot market means a home practically sells itself, now more than ever it is critical to be working with an experienced, full-service broker. A highly competitive market often means more challenges and potential pitfalls for both buyers and sellers. In order to fetch top dollar with a solid buyer, a listing requires thoughtful preparation, sophisticated marketing, and strategic negotiation. While a listing may generate multiple offers, at the end of the day, it only matters if it makes it to closing.

Election Results Got You Thinking of Living Abroad? Here are Top 5 Destinations for Expats

Our country has been disrupted, to say the least. Whether you’re feeling crippled by despair or just plain done with the debacle that is American politics, you might be contemplating a move abroad.

If so, you’re not alone. On election night, Canada's immigration site was "temporarily inaccessible to users as a result of a significant increase in the volume of traffic.” Apparently, celebrities weren’t the only ones making plans to relocate.

So which countries offer the highest quality of life in terms of economics, experience, and family? Below are the top five recommendations, based on HSBC Expat Explorer Survey 2016.


1. Singapore

One of cleanest and safest multicultural hubs in the world, this city-state tops the list as the best place for expats for the second year in a row. It’s particularly attractive for immigrants seeking a new challenge, improved earnings, or better quality of life.

With a population of over 5 million, this booming metropolis is a major trading nation with an emphasis on modern lifestyles and well-planned infrastructure. Despite its relatively high cost of living, many expats report they have more disposable income than they had back home.

The housing market in Singapore is divided into public and private sectors. Public housing isn’t associated with lower income groups and even includes luxury options. High-earning Westerners usually choose to rent a private apartment or condo.


2. New Zealand

New Zealand, or Aotearoa in Maori, meaning “the land of the long white cloud,” is small in land mass but huge in natural beauty. It appeals to adventurers and outdoor enthusiasts looking for a more balanced lifestyle.

Apart from adjusting to the potential feeling of isolation, acclimating to life in New Zealand may present fewer challenges for expats. For starters, there is no language barrier and Kiwis are known for being avid world travelers who are welcoming to foreigners.

As expected, property costs more in New Zealand’s cities than in smaller towns and rural areas. Auckland is the most expensive place to buy or rent. Most expats choose to rent first and, if they decide to stay long term, they eventually go on to buy.


3. Canada

As Washingtonians, it’s convenient the third best place for expats happens to be our friendly northern neighbor. It boasts a strong economy, breathtaking landscape, and an enviable social security system.

The entry process for immigrants can be strict, but for skilled expats Canada has an express entry program. It is based on a point system in which points are awarded based on skills, education, number of languages spoken, and job viability. Enough points and you are invited to apply for residency.

Canada emerges as one of the world’s best destinations for expats to access property ownership. Almost three quarters (74%) of expats in Canada say they own a property in their new country (compared with Canada the global average of 32%) while only 19% say they own property in their home country (compared with the global average of 41%).


4. Czech Republic

While it has only existed as an independent country since 1993, the Czech Republic is fast becoming a popular destination for expats. Perhaps by way of its old world charm, the cosmopolitan capital of Prague is luring highly skilled workers and growing its force as one of Central Europe’s most industrialized economies.

In terms of quality of life, the country’s infrastructure is high and the quality of healthcare is improving. Newcomers report plenty of schooling options and while the price tag for international schools can be high, overall the costs of raising children ranks very favorable.

Most expats are property renters in the Czech Republic, because there are some restrictions on foreigners buying property. If you are looking to buy property, it’s best you engage an estate agent if you don’t speak Czech.


5. Switzerland

With its reputation for excellent living standards and a relatively stable economy, Switzerland justifies its position in the top five. It’s a country synonymous with trade, finance and the finer things in life.

Diversity is one of the first things you’ll notice when moving to Switzerland. The country has four main language groups all with their unique culture and traditions. But prepared to work a little at getting to know the locals. Some expats report that developing friendships with the Swiss, who can appear reserved, can take time.

Housing in Switzerland tends to be efficient and modern, however space is limited. For expats used to the sprawling family homes so common in the states, that might mean significant downsizing and coming to terms with compact apartment living.

ImmigrationHilary Long
What’s So Special About Seattle?

Seattle is a pretty unique place. But if you live here, I don’t have to tell you this. Where else can you sail the San Juan Islands and climb Mt. Rainier, all in the span of a weekend? What other city can say it put a PC on every desktop and, a Pumpkin Spice Latte in every hand, and a Prime delivery box on your doorstop?  Seattle is a tapestry of natural wonder, technological innovation, and worldwide cultural diversity. No wonder we love living here.

You may have noticed that our secret is out. Yes, our Emerald City is quite the gem and it seems like everybody wants a piece of it. From startups to behemoths, from Silicon Valley refugees to foreign investors, companies and individuals are migrating to our area in droves. What makes this corner of the country so appealing? There are a few key factors driving our area’s transformation.

Knowledge Capital

For several decades, Seattle has been establishing itself as a highly productive innovation center. We’ve traded in our flannels and garage bands for, well, flannels and high tech. We are home to billionaires, innovators and Nobel prize winners. In 2015, Seattle ranked 5th in GDP per worker and was recently identified as one of the 19 “knowledge capitals” in a wide-ranging study by the Brookings Institute. (For the entire report and cool interactive charts, click here.) The Seattle region is home to talented workforces driving the growth of companies such as Amazon and Microsoft, and dozens of engineering outposts—with more arriving all the time. All this equates to an educated population with higher median incomes, lower unemployment, and stronger job growth—in essence, an intellectual-based economy earning a spot as a mover and shaker, and one that is better equipped to weather the inevitable ups and downs.

Overall Desirability

Great places to work and being a great place to live usually go hand-in-hand. Having a strong economy in a city means it can invest in all of the infrastructure, amenities, schools and health care it takes to make a city a livable place. U.S. News and World Report just ranked Seattle No. 7 on its list of Best Places to Live and Work, and several suburbs, such as Bellevue and Kirkland, are regulars on lists that rank top cities to live in, such as’s 2016 list. A healthy job market, nationally recognized public schools, plentiful outdoor recreation, and diverse cultural amenities all contribute to their livability equations. And strong livability leads to more people moving in. From 2015 to 2016, net migration (people moving in vs. people leaving) to the state totaled 87,100, compared to 57,600 the previous year.

Geographical Location

There’s an old saying in real estate that speaks to a property’s value: “Location, location, location.” Well in terms of location, Seattle’s in quite a sweet spot. Look to the south: our proximity to Silicon Valley has created a migration path that is fueling much of our growth. The Washington State Department of Licensing reports that in August 2016 alone, more than 7,000 requests for driver’s licenses were processed, led by Californians relocating to the area. Tech workers in the Bay Area are more than willing to trade their skyrocketing housing prices and unbearable commute times for ours. (It’s all relative, right?) Look to the north: our proximity to Canada, expressly Vancouver, adds to the mix. Vancouver’s newly imposed 15% foreign homebuyer tax is diverting offshore buyers to the West coast’s next metropolitan stop, Seattle. And while our geographical coordinates are working to bring more people in, our topographical limitations make it very difficult to simply build out. 

What do you make of all this change? At the risk of sounding fatalistic, I say ‘love it or leave it.’ (And based on the data, people aren’t leaving it.) There is no doubt our beloved city is undergoing an incredible growth spurt, but to bemoan the reality is a little like holding on to the good ol’ days. Let’s face it: we are the flannel wearing wallflower who wrote a song that got on the “cool” kids’ playlist, and suddenly we’re really, really popular. Oh wait. Maybe this transformation shouldn’t be much of a surprise after all. 

Hilary Long
Seattle: Is it Vancouver Déjà vu?

The popular West Coast cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles and Vancouver have long been the most direct routes to New World prosperity for Asian immigrants and their families. Now that generations of Chinese buyers have transitioned to life in North America, their experience and trend spotting is bringing to bear more practical considerations of economic fundamentals, financial and educational opportunities, and overall quality of life. So it’s no surprise that relative affordability, propensity for capital appreciation and even a recently imposed 15-percent foreign homebuyer tax in Vancouver, are boosting interest in alternative markets like Seattle—the next international gateway city on the rise.

Matthew Moore, President of the Americas for, a popular residential real estate search portal in China, noted significant changes: “ buying enquiries to Seattle increased by 143 percent in August 2016, compared to one year earlier. Meanwhile buying enquiries to Vancouver dropped by 81 percent during the same period, with all of that drop concentrated in the premium end of the market.”

The forested mountains and deep blue waters of Puget Sound, together with high-quality schools, a vibrant and diversified economy, and absence of a state income tax (unlike California) have drawn a gathering surge of Chinese buyers to the Greater Seattle region in recent years. Somewhat overlooked by past generations of immigrants in comparison with Vancouver BC and San Francisco, the Pacific Northwest has so far avoided the trap of high growth fueled by non-resident real estate investment. Yet, industry experts believe that’s coming and likely part of the draw. To the trained eye, Seattle, and especially Bellevue, is looking more and more like Vancouver, albeit about twenty years its junior.

A Canadian and former resident of Vancouver, Dean Jones, President and CEO of Seattle-based Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty, sees familiar signs. His company actively promotes local properties to immigrating Chinese and other Asian buyers with the deployment of an exclusive WeChat portal and establishment of their Asia Services Group, a collective of real estate advisors specialized in the language and logistics of foreign buyers. Jones is also on the Board of Directors for the Washington State China Relations Council and says the region is bracing for a wave of foreign direct investment.

“History may be repeating itself south of the Canadian border,” said Jones referring to Vancouver’s global arrival over the past two decades. “Savvy investors recognize the opportunity as do other stakeholders from Chinese developers to Chinese airlines—everyone agrees the Seattle area is fundamentally well-positioned. Fortunately, overseas demand is on top of our domestic housing drivers like job growth, increased population and wealth generation. The Pacific Northwest already leads the nation with median home price increases and rent growth.”

Unlike Vancouver, the housing market in Puget Sound region is not buoyed by immigration or foreign direct investment. Instead it has steadily lured productive capital investment in its own knowledge-intensive local businesses. Home to Microsoft, Amazon, and Expedia, and now with a large contingent of staff for Google, Facebook and a recently announced expansion by Apple and China-based Alibaba, Seattle has steadily augmented its high-tech eminence since the 1980s. These high-paying jobs draw a growing and well-paid workforce.

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Fall Market Might Offer Relief for Burnt Out Buyers

Ask anyone shopping for a home in the greater Seattle area—it’s brutal out there. Lack of inventory, bidding wars, and rising prices have sidelined many well-qualified buyers and dissuaded others from even entering the race.

However, some key market factors may indicate that relief is in sight. For many discouraged or burned out buyers, the next few months might be the right time to reinvigorate their home search.

The highly competitive market of King County is driven largely by lack of inventory. With demand far exceeding supply, there is a backlog of buyers. But July numbers indicate we are seeing a much-needed uptick in the number of homes for sale. Housing inventory in the region is up 7.6% from July 2015. While we are far from a balanced market, more homes means less competition amongst buyers.

For those buyers willing to stick with it, this time of year can also mean less competition due to a distracted buyer pool.  There is a cadence to the real estate market, and typically the month of July is the peak. This year was no exception; our pending sales hit a record high in July. But activity tends to taper in August, as families shift their focus to taking advantage of the last days of summer and getting ready for back-to-school.

Lastly, while home prices are still rising, the majority of this year’s appreciation has likely already occurred. In King County, the median sales price of $505,000 was up 15 percent from twelve months ago when it was $439,000, but down slightly from June's figure of $510,000. We expect to see an increase of inventory from sellers who want to sell before the end of the year, but with more modest increases in price.

While it still takes tenacity and working with the right broker, the key message for the battled buyer is: don’t give up. The next few months will present the best opportunity to find a home this year.

Featured in Seattle Magazine | My City. Your Neighborhood.

I am excited to share that I am featured in the September edition of Seattle Magazine as a part of a neighborhood insert designed by Realogics Sotheby's International Realty. 

The insert offers a timely look at year-over-year market performance in 16 key markets throughout the Puget Sound region. Boasting with enviable economic fundamentals, the Seattle metro area is among the nation’s fastest-growing residential markets, with most neighborhoods reaching or exceeding their prior peaks for median home prices. I am proud to keep the good company of leading resident experts who live and work in the neighborhoods they serve, while at the same time, benefiting from a global network like no other. So whether your next home is around the corner or around the world, I'm here to help.

NeighborhoodHilary Long
British Columbia Government Charges 15% to Non-Resident Foreign Buyers in Effort to Curb Skyrocketing Real Estate Prices

Foreign buyers in Vancouver will be paying more for investment properties this month (beginning August 2). The Canadian provincial government of British Columbia has enacted a 15 percent real property transfer tax on foreigner-purchased properties in Metropolitan Vancouver, adding $300,000 to the cost of a two-million-dollar home. The tax is the response of Premier Christy Clark’s government to data indicating that foreign absentee buyers have been driving up home prices past the point of their affordability to native B.C. residents. Recent data showed that foreign buyers spent more than CN$1 billion on B.C. property in just five weeks, 86 percent of it in the Lower Mainland. “People who use housing solely as a means to make money rather than living and working in Vancouver should be taxed as such,” Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson is reported as saying.

As recently as last fall, the Clark government had steadfastly denied that foreign purchases were a significant driver of home price inflation in the region, instead attributing higher prices to limited supply, high domestic demand, development regulations, and low interest rates. Hence, officials including B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong had dismissed any notions that foreign buyers be targeted for disincentives, as was being advised at that time by Canada’s then Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Harper had reportedly said, “Some reports have suggested that speculative foreign nonresident buyers are a significant factor in driving homes out of the price range of average families, especially in Vancouver and Toronto. If speculators are driving up the cost of housing to unaffordable levels, that’s something the government can and should address … Other countries, like Australia, have put in place regulations that limit the ability of foreign buyers to purchase existing houses for investment purposes.”

Indeed, the restrictions enacted by Australia in 2010 appeared harsh. Those rules prohibit nonresident foreign investors from buying existing homes, and this constraint can only be lifted if they plan to redevelop or build new housing. Relief for temporary residents may be approved by the government before they purchase or build a home; but once approved, such residents can only purchase that one property for their personal residence while in the country. Once it is no longer their primary residence, they must sell it within three months. Yet despite the severity of the law, observers had reported no meaningful reduction in demand in recent years.

Read the Full Article Here >>