With continued low inventory and appreciating home prices, the King County real estate market has favored sellers for some time. This year appears to be no different, with homes scarce in Seattle and on the Eastside, the cost of new construction skyrocketing due to the price of land, materials and labor, and the inventory of for-sale condominiums having been whittled down significantly in 2021. So, where exactly is there opportunity for buyers? And in a market that’s both competitive and fast-paced, how can a buyer find success?
To answer this, we spoke to three local Windermere leaders, two based in Seattle and one on the Eastside. Collectively, they shared the vision that this year’s market will pose challenges to most buyers, but that there is opportunity for those who enter the market ready to compete and with realistic expectations. Read on for tips from these seasoned pros who oversee thousands of real estate transactions a year.
Laura Smith, co-owner and designated broker of Windermere Real Estate Co., sees a buyer’s ability to pivot as a key skill in this market. “A market as competitive as this one favors those who are open-minded and flexible,” she says.
Real-time data and savvy guidance from their broker can help a buyer adjust their strategy — and even their economic parameters — mid-search. But, as Smith says, “sometimes they have to have lost a previous offer or two to understand how important flexibility is.”
Matt Deasy, president of Windermere East Inc., even sees geographic flexibility as an important asset to buyers in this market.
“With the median price of Eastside homes setting records, some people may have to adjust their search parameters to include Seattle neighborhoods, or other areas in King County,” Deasy says.
And in some cases product flexibility may even be required, says Patrick Chinn, owner of Windermere Real Estate Midtown.
“As we start to see Seattle’s new construction mix change, bringing more attached homes and more DADUs*, buyers in certain price ranges will need to reset their expectations about space, layout and lot size,” Chinn says.
Chinn notes that some buyers seeking out single family homes may benefit from considering a pivot to condos, since “there are still some great buys in that market.”
All three experts agreed that beyond staying flexible, buyers will need to come to the table well prepared. They’ll need to be ready to waive some or all offer contingencies, and they’ll need to know the amount of money they can bring to a transaction.
“Knowing and embracing their financial tolerances will be key to each buyer’s success,” Chinn says.
“Buyers should be very aware of their upper financial limit,” says Smith. “Ideally before they start seriously searching for homes.”
In some cases, it may benefit a buyer requiring financing to be able to show up to the transaction as if they were a cash buyer.
“Cash buyers often prevail in a multiple offer scenario,” Deasy says, “because the assurance that there’s money already in the bank and the prospect of a faster closing is very appealing to sellers who are sitting on empty homes.”
Deasy, Smith and Chinn all say that their brokers’ clients have had success leveraging the Windermere-affiliated Buyer Capital program, which provides either up-front cash to strengthen a buyer’s offer or a buyer performance guarantee.
“The best thing about this program is that it makes our buyers more attractive to sellers and gets their offers to stand out against the competition,” Deasy says.
Our experts agree that another way homebuyers can succeed in the competitive Seattle/Eastside real estate market is to work with someone who has their back from start to finish.
Due to the nature of the 2022 market, Deasy is unwavering on this point. “Who you hire to guide and represent you will determine whether you can get your home in this competitive environment,” he says. “For buyers, hiring a smart, skilled and strategic broker is everything.”
Smith agrees. “A strong broker will educate and navigate on the subtleties of the market, and this will be key this year,” she says.
In describing the hyper-competitive nature of today’s market and what it takes to win in a frenzied environment, Smith tells the story of one of her brokers who recently helped her client win against 29 offers.
“She had educated her clients so well that they were prepared to do what it took to get the home. They understood the nuances of what the market required and were prepared to go there,” Smith says.
Chinn notes the extra mile that a good broker will go to help their clients succeed. He applauds the hard work and committed service ethic of his brokers, and sees both as key to buyers’ success in a market like this one.
“Every day I see our agents agonizing over the ways the market challenges their buyers and celebrating the wins they help secure,” Chinn says. “Whether they’re supporting a buyer through their fifth inspection, seeking out new inventory to grow their opportunities, or working to save them money, these guys are ridiculously focused, and determined too. They never rest.”
In a low-inventory market like this one, opportunities for buyers can be few and frustrations many. Chinn points out the importance of buyers finding the right person to represent them, someone they connect with and who will advocate fiercely for them.
“To me, an important trend from 2021 that will continue this year is how personal a residential real estate acquisition is, how hard it can be in a market like this, and how the right human touch — with skill and passion and smarts — can solve for a lot of risk and a lot of anxiety,” Chinn says. “No algorithm will ever be able to address that part of the equation.”
*Editor’s note: DADUs are Detached Accessory Dwelling Units, typically a smaller home or cottage sharing a city parcel with a larger residential structure.