February Stats Preview: Surprise Sales Spike Edition?

With another leap day behind us, it’s time to take an early look at February’s stats. Most of the charts below are based on broad county-wide data that is available through a simple search of King County and Snohomish County public records. If you have additional stats you’d like to see in the preview, drop a line in the comments and I’ll see what I can do.

First up, total home sales as measured by the number of “Warranty Deeds” filed with King County:

King County Warranty Deeds

That’s a fairly substantial increase from last year: 25%. It will be interesting to see if that big of a boost carries through to the NWMLS-released numbers.

Here’s a look at Snohomish County Deeds, but keep in mind that Snohomish County files Warranty Deeds (regular sales) and Trustee Deeds (bank foreclosure repossessions) together under the category of “Deeds (except QCDS),” so this chart is not as good a measure of plain vanilla sales as the Warranty Deed only data we have in King County.

Snohomish County Deeds

Snohomish also came in above 2011, but only by 2%.

Next, here’s Notices of Trustee Sale, which are an indication of the number of homes currently in the foreclosure process:

King County Notices of Trustee Sale

Snohomish County Notices of Trustee Sale

Big drop from a year ago in both counties, but also another month-to-month increase.

Here’s another measure of foreclosures for King County, looking at Trustee Deeds, which is the type of document filed with the county when the bank actually repossesses a house through the trustee auction process. Note that there are other ways for the bank to repossess a house that result in different documents being filed, such as when a borrower “turns in the keys” and files a “Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure.”

King County Trustee Deeds

Moving in the opposite direction of foreclosure notices, falling the last four months in a row.

Lastly, here’s an update of the inventory charts, updated with the inventory data from the NWMLS.

King County SFH Active Listings

Snohomish County SFH Active Listings

Continuing the unusual trend began last month, inventory continued to drop during a time of year that it usually is trending up. 2012 is still living up to its title of the year of crappy selection.

Stay tuned later this month a for more detailed look at each of these metrics as the “official” data is released from various sources.

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About The Tim

Tim Ellis is the founder of Seattle Bubble. His background in engineering and computer / internet technology, a fondness of data-based analysis of problems, and an addiction to spreadsheets all influence his perspective on the Seattle-area real estate market. Tim also hosts the weekly improv comedy sci-fi podcast Dispatches from the Multiverse.


  1. 1
    Brady says:

    That is a 2.6 months supply of homes in King County. Very low. That will have an effect on the market. Positive for pricing, but negative for buyers looking for selection.

  2. 2

    […] In Seattle, realtors are perk up, trading stories of that now-mythical experience, multiple offers above listing. For Seattle, Zillow lists 7,300 homes “recently sold” versus some 3,200 for sale. That’s not to say it hasn’t been a cold winter for home-sellers–all three Case-Schiller price tiers fell in December, points out Seattle Bubble–but a stagnant inventory was helping to push prices down. More recent numbers suggest a “surprise sales spike.” […]

  3. 3
    Pegasus says:

    C’mon in ….the water is warm………….

  4. 4
    Dave0 says:

    Supply (inventory) is low, demand (sales) is increasing. Anyone with a basic knowledge of economics knows what should come next… increasing prices.

  5. 5
    Dweezil says:

    Very interesting trend. So, is this it? Are these the signs of the bottom? I feel like I am waiting for the other shoe to drop as I can’t believe this is all the price correction we’re going to get. Maybe I need to buy now, before the echo bubble arrives.

  6. 6
    Pegasus says:

    The number of underwater homeowners grew to 11.1 million, or 22.8% of all mortgaged properties, during the fourth quarter, CoreLogic said Thursday.

    An additional 2.5 million borrowers had less than five percent equity, considered to be “near-negative equity”. Together, negative equity and near-negative equity homes accounted for 27.8 percent of mortgages.

    Good luck selling those homes!


  7. 7
    David S says:

    I feel like we’ve been looking at the same 18 non-distressed SFH’s in our search area for 2 years now. When that drops to 16 I’m going to have to move fast!

  8. 8
    Pegasus says:

    RE: Dave0 @ 4 – Declining foreclosure volume is one of the key reason inventory levels are dropping. The 1/3 decline in foreclosure volume in 2011 has resulted in a sharp drop in foreclosure inventory resulting in a sharp drop in total inventory. Distressed sales have been running at about 30% of total sales nationally for a few years but fell to about 20% in 2011. With a 2 million more homes expected to go into foreclosure over the next 2 years, a year long internal review of procedure after the 2010 “robo-signing” scandal and the 50 State AG settlement with the largest services/banks, distressed inventory is expected to rise sharply over the next several years.

    I think the sharp drop in many US housing markets (and this was happening for much of 2011) has to do with three key reasons:

    A large swath of foreclosure volume was artificially delayed.

    Seller confidence has waned after the pounding it took last fall.

    Low interest rates extended by the Fed for the next two years have removed any sense of urgency.


  9. 9
    Blurtman says:

    RE: Pegasus @ 6 – Not everyone with a negative equity mortgage wants to sell. And if you owe $400k on a $300k home, and you sell and cover the $100k loss out of pocket, you can always buy another $300k home where you want to move to, and it is a wash. Assuming you have enough for a down. You’ve just realized what was a up until then a paper loss. And now you have a mortgage that is not underwater (yet?). And if the market recovers, you can ride the upside in the new home, as you would have in the old home. Or, you can stay in the existing home, and pay the higher monthly payments and hope. If your circumstances haven’t adversely changed, i.e. decreased income, the challenge of paying the mortgage on the existing home should be the same from a financial perspective. What I am hearing, however, is the whining desire to only profit on upside moves, and not to experience the losses. Now where could average folks have gotten that idea?

  10. 10
    Pegasus says:

    RE: Blurtman @ 9 – How many people are going to be able to take that kind of hit out of pocket and put money down on a new home? Not many. Most are either stuck or will be seeking a short sale or foreclosure to get out from under it. If the market does move up that supply that is waiting to escape will clog the market. We have years to go with the delayed foreclosure pipeline, REO’s and shadow inventory.


  11. 11

    By Dave0 @ 4:

    Supply (inventory) is low, demand (sales) is increasing. Anyone with a basic knowledge of economics knows what should come next… increasing prices.

    By Brady @ 1:

    That is a 2.6 months supply of homes in King County. Very low. That will have an effect on the market. Positive for pricing, but negative for buyers looking for selection.

    Dave0, the supply is artificially reduced because many people can’t sell (or don’t want to try) due to their mortgage balances. Inventory was high in 2007, but that wasn’t what caused the downturn in prices. Lower prices, lower supply. Higher prices, higher supply.

    Brady, if you exclude the short sales, the supply is even lower.

  12. 12

    By Pegasus @ 8:

    RE: Dave0 @ 4 – Declining foreclosure volume is one of the key reason inventory levels are dropping. The 1/3 decline in foreclosure volume in 2011 has resulted in a sharp drop in foreclosure inventory resulting in a sharp drop in total inventory.

    Are you citing national or local stats there? Tim’s graphs only go back to 2011, and I don’t track active REO listings. I do sort of follow (but don’t record) REO sales and short sales. They’ve been holding rather steady for well over a year. It’s a big part of why the median now goes down in the winter–distressed properties make up a larger percentage of the total sales. I don’t though tend to look at how many REO listings there are at any given time, so I don’t know if today’s number is higher or lower than a year ago.

  13. 13
    gdawg says:

    RE: Kary L. Krismer @ 11

    Regardless of the reason for low inventory (many can’t afford to sell), econ 101 still applies and there will no doubt be an uptick in prices if demand is greater than supply–then as prices come up some, more people will be incented to sell and more will be incented to buy. Adam Smith, invisible hand etc.

  14. 14
    Yerbolat says:

    All those previous foreclosures are dragging down home valuations, so more folks will be formally underwater and willing to walk away or sell as new owners will be moving into their cheaper neighborhood

  15. 15
    David Losh says:

    I’m going to say that banks held off foreclosures with mediation programs over the holidays. That foreclosure process is ramping up again now so we should see more people trying to short sell. That will increase inventory. The short sale mill also looks to be stream lining.

    In my search for below $200K in North of Seattle there were 19 that looked decent. In December there was nothing but junk. It seems non distressed sellers are getting the message that they have to compete with price.

    I’ll look again tomorrow, and over the week end.

  16. 16
    Blurtman says:

    RE: Pegasus @ 10 – You are correct in stating that not many folks can cover that type of loss. But $100k was just an example. Unless you have to move, or your income has been adversely affected, how are folks whose home is underwater or in a state of negative equity any more financially unable to pay the mortgage then when the home was above water or in positive equity? I am positing than for some segment of the underwater population, it is not financial necessity that prompts the foreclosure or short sale, but the distaste at funding a losing investment. And to those folks, and the the greedy bailout lusting, dump losses on taxpayer banksters, I raise the fickle finger of fate.

  17. 17
    Blurtman says:

    RE: Yerbolat @ 14 – Why? If they are financially capable of paying the mortgage, why don’t they continue to do so?

    Yoru argument was Obama’s early in his term when he floated the lead balloon of principle reductions, which is getting a second look now. His argument – yes, it is distasteful, but if we don’t do it, your home will lose value. Not exactly a free marketeer, eh?

  18. 18
    Eastsider says:

    As a distressed property investor, I believe we have seen the worst, at least for now. You can speculate all you want but the numbers don’t lie. The Case-Schiller index is a lagging indicator. By April or May, the index should be moving up.

  19. 19
    David Losh says:

    RE: Eastsider @ 18

    I have no doubt that it will, because there is a sucker born every minute.

    As we get closer to the election, as we get more certainty, more people will pay more for property.

  20. 20
    BelNotRenter says:

    I believe that a significant part of the reason the fed is keeping interest rates so low, is not just to stimulate sales, but to keep owners who are underwater with an adjustable rate mortgage in their homes. My SIL has a 5 year adjustable set to reset in May and is deeply underwater. Two years ago I would have predicted disaster when the rate reset. But now they might actually get the same or lower payment. They will stay in that home for as long as they can afford the payment. Most of the people who want to intentionally default for being underwater, already have.

  21. 21

    […] time once again to expand on our preview of foreclosure activity with a more detailed look at February’s stats in King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties. First […]

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