Category Archives: Local

NWMLS brokers report brisk activity, noting “too early to tell” if coronavirus will soften sales

Source: NWMLS

KIRKLAND,Washington (March 5, 2020)

“We’re entering prime time for the real estate market, and more listings are on the way,” stated industry veteran J. Lennox Scott, as he reviewed the latest statistical report from Northwest Multiple Listing Service. MLS figures for February show year-over-year (YOY) gains in new listings, pending sales, closed sales, and prices. Scott, the chairman and CEO of John L. Scott Real Estate,expects a bump-up in inventory during March and April, but said, “We remain virtually sold out in many areas in the more affordable and mid-price ranges.”

Northwest MLS representatives who commented on last month’s activity reported little impact so far from the coronavirus (COVID-19) threat.

“It’s still too early to tell if the broadening effects of the coronavirus will sideline buyers,” said Matthew Gardner, chief economist at Windermere Real Estate. “What we do know is that news of the virus led equity markets sharply lower and this caused mortgage rates to drop significantly. Therefore, the question is whether buyers will put their search on hold until the virus has abated, or if they will decide to move forward so they don’t miss out on near historic low mortgage rates,” he added.

David Maider, broker/owner at Windermere Real Estate/M2 in Everett, agreed with Gardner. “It remains to be seen if the coronavirus scare will have any impact at all on the local real estate market other than to lower interest rates,” he stated.

“While the news is full of COVID-19, the stock market correction, and an unexpected interest rate cut that didn’t impress Wall Street, the Puget Sound region’s real estate market continues to stand strong,” stated Mike Grady, president and COO at Coldwell Banker Bain in Bellevue. “Our agents aren’t yet seeing any impact on open house attendance due to the COVID-19 outbreak. We continue to be bullish on the Puget Sound economy and real estate market.”

“I haven’t noticed any decrease in open house activity or in sellers being reluctant to have buyers view their home,” reported NWMLS director Mike Larson, the designated broker at ALLEN Realtors in Lakewood. “Short term, the coronavirus outbreak has resulted in investors turning to the bond market, which means lower interest rates and more buying power. Long-term, this virus could start to wear on overall consumer confidence, which is never good for real estate markets.”

“Historically low interest rates should help the housing market sustain strong momentum during the coronavirus outbreak,” according to Scott.

Member-brokers added 7,786 new listings to the MLS database during February. That was a jump of nearly25% from the same month a year ago when record snow hindered activity. Compared to January, last month’s inventory improved by 1,269 listings for a gain of nearly 19.5%.

February’s new listings (7,786) were the highest since October, but they fell short of matching demand. Brokers reported 8,355 pending sales (mutually accepted offers) for a YOY gain of more than 21%.

Inventory remained tight. At month end,there were 7,655 active listings in the 23 counties included in the MLS report. That was a 32% drop from the year ago total of 11,275. All but two counties (San Juan and Douglas) reported declines. Thurston County had the largest year-over-year drop, at 45.7%, followed by Snohomish (down 42%) and King (down 40.7%).

There is only 1.45 months of supply area-wide, according to Northwest MLS data. It is even more sparse in the four-county Puget Sound region where there is barely over a month’s supply (1.1 months). Snohomish and Thurston counties had the distinction of having the sparsest inventory, with both areas reporting less than a month (0.93)of supply.

“The Snohomish County housing market continued on a torrent pace during February,” said NWMLS director David Maider. Low inventory, a return to historically low interest rates, and plenty of buyer demand are stimulating the activity, according to Maider, owner/broker at Windermere Real Estate M2 in Everett. In many cases, sellers are receiving multiple offers exceeding the asking price, he added.

“The spring market has arrived,” exclaimed Dean Rebhuhn, owner at Village Homes and Properties in Woodinville. Multiple offers are normal in hot market areas, and many buyers are having pre-inspections before making offers to sellers, according to Rebhuhn. He said buyers are taking advantage of historically low interest rates and low down payment programs such as FHA with 3.5% down, zero down VA, and low down conventional mortgages.

Current listings are attracting brisk activity, stated John Deely, principal managing broker at Coldwell Banker Bain in Seattle. “Almost every new listing has had tremendous showing activity and multiple offers,” he remarked.

Deely described open house activity as “above average.” More than 400 buyers previewed four listings in the past 10 days. A north King County property in the $600,000 price range that was on the market for a week with an offer review on Tuesday had eight offers at $100,000 over the asking price, according to Deely, a member of the Northwest MLS board of directors.

“Ultra-tight inventory is terrific news for sellers, but it creates challenges for buyers, especially move-up buyers who are selling and buying in the same market,” said Larson. “Buyers who need to sell before they buy a different home are experiencing the very real dilemma of either being a contingent buyer, which no seller will even remotely consider, or of possibly being temporarily homeless if their home sells quickly and they can’t find a replacement,” he explained, adding, “Having a broker who can help navigate that terrain is super important.

”Frank Wilson, branch managing broker at John L. Scott in Poulsbo, said buyers’ pent-up demand continues to grow despite “turmoil in the marketplace, stocks riding a roller coaster, falling mortgage interest rates and shrinking inventory.” He noted buyers in Kitsap County have little to choose from with YOY inventory being down about 30%. “At any given open house there is heavy traffic and most new listings that are correctly priced are receiving multiple offers,” Wilson remarked.

Due to the housing shortage in Kitsap County, Wilson said some buyers are turning to alternatives, such as buying land and moving a mobile home onto it or purchasing land with the intent to build a home. “New construction cannot go up fast enough and unless it is already permitted, there would be two years’ worth of studies and permitting before any nails are driven.

”Grady reported similar demand in other areas. “Agents in our Kent Station office recently reported putting homes on the market and receiving multiple offers within three days,” he reported. At a Bellevue listing, more than two dozen couples attended an open house this past weekend.

Brokers say the supply-demand imbalance is contributing to rising prices.

The Northwest MLS report shows the median price system-wide for the 5,265 homes and condos that sold in February rose 9.34% from a year ago, from $407,000 to $445,000. Thirteen counties reported double-digit increases, while four counties had price drops.

“Skagit County continues to outperform, along with other areas immediately outside the Greater Seattle area,”noted James Young, director of the Washington Center for Real Estate Research. Prices in Skagit jumped nearly 27.8%. He also mentioned Kittitas, where prices surged 21.9%. “Price movements now are more like the spring season –it looks like the groundhog was right, spring came early!

”Young also described Kitsap and Thurston counties as outperformers in the Puget Sound region, noting prices rose 16.9% and 13.1%respectively. “This is consistent with recent activity in perimeter areas as home buyers seek value,” he suggested.

Grady said,“While we don’t have a crystal ball for these uncertain times, I continue to believe the indicators and information I’m hearing from agents on the ground support that our market will continue strong.” He believes 2020 will rival 2017 with similar short days on market, tight inventory and in many markets, a return to multiple offers.

Nationally, an editor with realtor.com reported the U.S. housing market is already feeling the effects of what could soon be declared a pandemic. “The already sluggish luxury real estate market has depended in recent years on an injection of Chinese buyers,”wrote Clare Trapasso in her report on coronavirus fears and possible impacts on real estate. She found that fewer Chinese buyers who account for a “significant chunk”of luxury buyers are touring properties in the U.S., thanks in part to the temporary travel ban enacted to prevent the spread of the virus.

“China has been the most important source of foreign demand for real estate,” says Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors®. Wealthy Chinese buyers often purchase luxury properties, such as high-rise condos, in California and New York. “The upper-end market can expect to be softer as a result.

“Northwest Multiple Listing Service is a not-for-profit, member-owned organization that facilitates cooperation among its member real estate firms. With more than 2,300 member firm offices and 30,000 brokers across Washington state, NWMLS(www.nwmls.com)is the largest full-service MLS in the Northwest. While based in Kirkland, Washington, its service area spans 23 counties and it operates 20 local service centers. ###For more news, visit nwmls.com and select “News & Information,” (includes latest press release, statistics and Northwest REporter),plus the NWMLSMedia Kit.

Home buyers in Western Washington “hit the ground running” in January

Source: NWMLS

“All indicators point to a vigorous spring market,” suggested broker Dean Rebhuhn when reviewing just-released statistics from Northwest Multiple Listing Service. The report covering 23 counties shows pending sales outgained new listings, record-low inventory that’s down 33% from a year ago, and double-digit price increases.

Matthew Gardner, chief economist at Windermere Real Estate(the largest regional real estate company in the Western U.S.), noted home buyers did not take very much time off during the holidays. “They hit the ground running as soon as the new year kicked off.”(Windermere has 140offices in the NWMLS market area.)

Rebhuhn, the owner of Village Homes and Properties in Woodinville, said new jobs, low interest rates, and lifestyle changes continue to drive the market. “Hot spot markets are experiencing multiple offers,” he reported.

Northwest MLS brokers added 6,517 new listings during January, a year-over-year decline of more than 8%. Pending sales (mutually accepted offers) topped new listing activity by 871 units. Brokers reported 7,388 pending sales last month, a 2.3% decline from the same month a year ago.

“So now we have a three month trend where we’re seeing pending transactions exceeding new listings addedin all major counties in the Puget Sound region,”observed Mike Grady, president and COO of Coldwell Banker Bain. “Inventory continues to decline slowly to barely more than a month’s on hand.

Our brokers are reporting it ‘feels like 2017,’ with multiple offers returning and review dates (where sellers identify a date to review all offers) being added to the mix because of the number of offers they are receiving,” he added.

At the end of January, the MLS database totaled only 7,791 active listings of single family homes and condos, well-below the year-ago figure of 11,687 (down 33.3%).

A check of records dating to 2005 shows the selection is at a new low level, shrinking below the previous low of 7,921 reported for February 2018.In fact, for the 15 year span from 2005-2019 (180 months), inventory has dipped below 10,000 listings during only eightof those months.

Measured by months of supply(the ratio of active listings to closed sales), there was 1.54 months of inventory system-wide at the end of January. The selection was even more meager around Puget Sound, ranging from 1.1 months in Pierce County to about 1.3 months in King County.

“The fever in the real estate market is over the lack of inventory and competition from high buyer demand, not the flu,”said NWMLS board member John Deely, principal managing broker at Coldwell Banker Bain.

Looking at the report for single family homes in King County(excluding condos), he noted the number of active listings is down nearly 44% from a year ago, while closed sales rose more than 7.1%.

Northwest MLS 2019 Real Estate Sales Statistics

Source: NWMLS (January16, 2020)

Members of Northwest Multiple Listing Service reported 92,503 closed sales during 2019, slightly fewer than the previous year, but the dollar volume surpassed 2018 by more than $1.8 billion for gain of over 3.8%.

Measured by dollars, last year’s sales of single family homes and condominiums were valued at just over $49billion. The sales activity reflects the work of around32,000brokers at more than2,400 member offices. The member-owned Northwest MLS serves 23 counties around the state.Collectively, these counties encompass more than 82% of the state’s population.

Of last year’s 92,503completed sales, 80,734were single family homes (87.3%of the total) and 11,769were condos (12.7%). Newly-built residences accounted for about 13%of the sales.

The area-wide median price for last year’s sales of single family homes and condominiums(combined)was $425,000, a gain of about 5.7%from the year-ago figure of $402,000. A comparison by county shows median sales prices ranged from $149,900in Ferry County to $619,000in King County.

Year-over-year prices for single family homes (excluding condominiums) increased about 6.1%system-wide, jumping from $410,000in 2018 to last year’s median price of $435,000. Condo prices were flat, rising less than one percent from the 2018 figure of $352,000 to last year’s median selling price of $355,000.

Inventory shortages persisted throughout 2019. Brokers added 110,940 new listings (down 5.3% from the 2018 total of 117,177), but that volume was outpaced by pending sales.

Member-brokers reported 114,410 mutually accepted offers during 2019, a slight gain (1.9%) over 2018 when they logged 112,267 pending sales.Last year, the area-wide supply, as measured by months of inventory, averaged 1.78months, about the same as 2018. Among the counties in the MLS service area, Thurston had the lowest level,averaging just 1.14months, followed by Pierce at 1.3 months.Five other counties reported averaging less than two months of supply. In general, industry analysts use a 4-to-6 month range as an indicator of a balanced market, favoring neither buyers nor sellers.

Sales of high-end single family homes outgained 2018by about 3.3%, with homes selling for more than $1 million rising from 6,101in 2018 to last year’s total of 6,299; of these 65 residences commanded $5 million or more. The highest priced home in the 2019 sales report, located in Hunts Point, sold for $37,500,000. Sales of luxury condos fell below 2018 totals, declining 11.4%. During 2019, a total of 2,951condos sold for $500,000 or more. The previous year, 3,332 condos sold for a half-million dollars or more. Of last year’s high-end condo sales, 391 buyers paid $1 million and up. The most expensive condo, at nearly $4.7 million,was in downtown Seattle.

Eager home buyers were plentiful in December but their choices were meager

Source: NWMLS

KIRKLAND, Washington (January 6, 2020) – “The buyers are out there and are showing up at open
houses and making multiple offers on new listings,” was how one industry leader summarized
December’s housing activity involving members of the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.


Frank Wilson, Kitsap regional manager and branch managing broker at John L. Scott Real Estate in
Poulsbo, also said the severe shortage of inventory – “much lower than in years past” – will lead to
continued buyer frustration and escalating home values. He noted one of his colleagues added a new
listing the day after Christmas and it quickly drew 11 offers.


Newly-released figures from Northwest MLS show inventory at the end of December was down 31%
from the same month a year ago, with only 8,469 active listings compared to the year-ago total of 12,275.
The figures include single family homes and condominiums across the 23 counties in the MLS service
area.


Last month marked the sixth straight month of declining inventory, noted James Young, director of the
Washington Center for Real Estate Research. MLS figures show inventory peaked in June when the
database had 16,680 active listings ̶ about twice as many as December.


Inventory for single family homes and condos (combined) was down by more than 30% in seven
counties: Thurston (-54%), Pierce (-38.9%), King (-38.8%), Snohomish (-35.6%), Mason (-32%), Kitsap
(-30.6%), and Skagit (-30.5%). System-wide there is only about 1.2 months of supply.


The inventory of single family homes (excluding condos) is especially tight in several counties, notably
Thurston (-54%), King (-41.4%), Pierce (-40%), Snohomish (-36.1%), and Kitsap (-34.3%).


Robb Wasser, branch manager at Windermere Real Estate/East and NWMLS director, noted the sharp
drop in King County marked the first time since March 2018 that the supply of homes dropped below one
month. “Looking all the way back to 2012 when home values first began recovering, King County has
only logged six months with supply levels lower than where we currently stand,” he remarked.


“This market is unlike any market I’ve seen in the South Sound over the past 40 years. Too many buyers
chasing too few properties,” remarked Dick Beeson, principal managing broker at RE/MAX Northwest in
Gig Harbor.


December’s volume of active listings included 3,777 new listings added during the month, but during the
same timeframe, 5,943 sellers accepted offers on their properties. That number of pending sales was up
about 4.7% from twelve months ago.


Brokers said December is typically a slow month for home sales with holidays and historically cold, wet
weather, but several MLS representatives commented on last month’s surge in activity:

Northwest MLS brokers say transition to fall creating opportunities for buyers

Source: NWMLS

KIRKLAND, Washington (October 7, 2019)

Northwest Multiple Listing Service brokers reported year-
over-year gains in pending sales, closed sales and prices, but its report summarizing September activity
also showed an 18% drop in inventory compared to a year ago.


“The transition into the fall housing market creates opportunities for homebuyers,” suggested J. Lennox
Scott, chairman and CEO of John L. Scott Real Estate. “Although there are fewer listings than what
buyers find during peak summer months, there is also less competition” for the available inventory, he
added.


While the intensity of sales activity is typically lower for new listings in the fall and winter, Scott noted
“It appears we are headed toward a more intense winter market than last year.” He said he expects the
number of unsold listings will continue to decrease once the winter “clean-up” of inventory begins.


At the end of September, MLS brokers reported 15,982 total active listings, down more than 18% from
the same month a year ago when the selection totaled 19,526 listings. Only three of the 23 counties served
by Northwest MLS – Clark, San Juan and Whatcom – had year-over-year gains in inventory, while 18
counties had double-digit drops. Thurston County reported the sharpest shrinkage, at nearly 35%.


“September’s housing market was a bit of a roller coaster, up in certain areas and down in others,”
commented OB Jacobi, president of Windermere Real Estate.. Within the four-county Puget Sound
region, Pierce County prices rose more than 10% thanks to high demand and low inventory, he noted.
“Buyers continue to be drawn to the area thanks to more affordable housing costs, but this influx is also
driving up prices,” he remarked.


MLS data show the median price for last month’s home sales in Pierce County ($379,950) was $213,800
less than the median price in King County ($593,750). A comparison of single family prices (excluding
condos) reveals a $275,500 difference between the two counties.


“In King County, prices were down nearly 2.7% while pending sales rose nearly 10%. This tells us there
is no shortage of buyers in the Greater Seattle area,” stated Jacobi. He also said home prices normally
start to taper off this time of year, “so this isn’t a major cause for concern.” Within King County, prices
rose in four of the six sub-markets; only Seattle (down 3.2%) and Vashon (down almost 28%) reported
drops.


The median price for single family homes and condos that sold last month in King County was $593,750,
down from the year-ago figure of $610,000 and the first time it dipped below $600,000 since January.
Three other counties, Okanogan, Pacific, and Clallam, also reported year-over-year price drops. Joining
Pierce County with double-digit price increases from a year ago were eight other counties.


System-wide, prices were up 5%, rising from $400,000 a year ago to $420,000. The volume of closed
sales increased about 4.4% from a year ago (7,962 versus 7,630).

Home buyers seeking affordability are expanding search outside Greater Seattle job centers

Source: NWMLS

KIRKLAND, Washington (September 9, 2019) – Depleted inventory continues to frustrate would-be
buyers in Western Washington. Many of these potential homeowners are expanding their search beyond
the major job centers in King County, according to market watchers who commented on the latest
statistics from Northwest Multiple Listing Service.


The MLS report summarizing August activity shows less than two months of supply system-wide, and
only about 1.6 months of supply in the four-county Puget Sound region. The sparse selection is pushing
up prices. For last month’s sales of single family homes and condos across the 23 counties served by
Northwest MLS, prices rose nearly 6.2% compared to a year ago.


“Areas immediately outside the Puget Sound region and along the I-5 corridor continue to see double-
digit house price growth,” noted James Young, director of the Washington Center for Real Estate
Research (WCRER) at the University of Washington. He attributes the increase to high demand in these
areas “due to first-time homebuyers who struggle to afford housing in King and Snohomish counties as
well as from existing homeowners cashing out of Seattle and King County.”


“While August is always a slower time for listings and sales, what is really surprising this year is the
decrease in new listings taken, while pending sales increased,” observed Mike Grady, president and COO
of Coldwell Banker Bain.


A comparison of year-over-year statistics for August shows the volume of new listings dropped nearly
13% system-wide and 18.5% in King County. Last month’s total number of new listings (10,488)
declined 6.3% from July’s volume (11,193).


Brokers reported 10,602 pending sales (mutually accepted offers) during August for a 4.9% increase from
a year ago. Pending sales rose nearly 6.6% in the Puget Sound region, led by Snohomish County with a
gain of 15.8%. Six counties had double-digit gains while an equal number had declines.


Grady noted June and July were also lackluster this year with regard to listings “when typically they are
both still fairly active coming off spring. The pending sales numbers indicate that buyers are indeed out
there and willing to purchase, but there are simply not enough homes,” he commented, adding,
“Everything that is listed is getting sold and fairly quickly.”


The volume of total active listings is down more than 10% from a year ago, with only four of the 23
counties in the report showing a year-over-year increase (Chelan, Grays Harbor, San Juan and Whatcom).
Fourteen counties had double-digit drops. At month end there were 16,697 active listings in the MLS
database, down from the year-ago total of 18,580.


MLS figures show only seven counties have more than three months of supply, with four-to-six months
generally considered the volume needed for a balanced market.

Buyers getting “some relief” as key indicators point to strong summer for housing market

Source: NWMLS
KIRKLAND, Washington (July 8, 2019) – Inventory, pending sales and prices all increased during June
compared to a year ago, according to the latest report from Northwest Multiple Listing Service. The same
report, which covers 23 counties in Washington state, shows year-over-year drops area-wide in both the
volume of new listings and closed sales.


“Clearly we now see that the market is moderating – that is we’re definitely moving from a ‘hyper-
market’ to one where a correction is underway compared to last year,” remarked Mike Grady, president
and COO of Coldwell Banker Bain. “While it’s the best time to buy that we’ve seen in some time, and
buyers are getting some relief, it is still a seller’s market,” he added, noting some buyers are experiencing
multiple offer situations, or considering inspection waivers, or are even forced to consider markets outside
King County for affordability.


Three Northwest MLS directors from Pierce and Kitsap counties suggest their counties are attracting
some of the frustrated buyers from King County.


“The darling of the Puget Sound real estate market is Tacoma/Pierce County,” stated Dick Beeson,
principal managing broker at RE/MAX Northwest Realtors in Gig Harbor, pointing to low inventory and
appreciating values. “The secret is out about Pierce County,” agreed Mike Larson, the president at
ALLEN Realtors in Lakewood. “You can buy twice the house for about half the price. You just have to
be willing to deal with the traffic if you work north or south of here,” he proclaimed.


“The Kitsap market continues to be robust and is maintaining its velocity in sales,” added Frank C. Leach,
broker/owner at RE/MAX Platinum Services in Silverdale. He believes Kitsap County will continue to be
strong given its economic foundation together with its affordability factor and quick access to Seattle, but
noted it is constrained by available inventory (currently at 1.4 months of supply).


MLS figures show the median price for single family homes and condos that sold last month in King
County was $637,675. In Pierce County it was $372,500, about 58 percent of the King County price, and
in Kitsap County it was $387,000, about 60 percent of the sales price in King County.


System-wide prices increased more than 3.5 percent from a year ago, from $425,000 to $440,000,
although four counties registered declines, including Douglas, Ferry, Jefferson, and King. June’s median
price was unchanged from May.


At midyear, the overall median price was $424,517, which compares to $405,000 for the first six months
of 2018, an increase of 4.82 percent.


“As long as interest rates stay low and people seek value outside of King and Snohomish counties, house
prices should continue their upward momentum,” stated James Young, director of the Washington Center
for Real Estate Research (WCRER) at the University of Washington.

Learn Calligraphy from the Rainier Arts Commision

The Rainier Arts commission has something very special to offer the citizens of Rainier and surrounding areas! 

July 17th is the beginning of the first of our class: “Calligraphy for Beginners”. 
The class will start at 7pm and will go through to August 28th. The cost will be $25.00 per person.

The class will be held at the lower part of the School District office, the Rainier Community Cultural Center and Art Gallery. 

You can sign up through the lovely ladies at City Hall.

Massive Thurston County tax increase proposed for $300 million new courthouse scheme

Thurston County Commissioner and former Thurston County Sheriff Gary Edwards was the lone vote against the massive tax increase

Last week, at the Thurston County Commissioner meeting held at Rochester Middle School, the Thurston County Commissioners, by a vote of two to one approved a massive 39.5% property tax increase to be placed on the April, 2020 ballot for Thurston County (see Board Agenda here – Item 6a). In theory, this tax increase is for a new courthouse project that has been pushed for many years by Thurston County staff, Thurston County judges, and various other special interests. However, in the rush to build a new $300 million (or more) courthouse in the City of Olympia, a lot of questionable steps have been taken, special interests are lining up for their payoffs, and the taxpayers of Thurston County are put far last on the priority list. If you didn’t know this – don’t worry, you are not alone– neither does 64% of the rest of Thurston County according to a recent taxpayer funded survey (see summarized report here, supporting docs here and here).
Independant Commissioner John Hutching’s vote to support the major tax increase was a disappointment to most of his supporters

Independent Commissioner Gary Edwards made an impassioned and well-reasoned speech against the proposal last week. Unfortunately, he was the lone dissenting vote against staff’s proposal. Most observers predicted that recently elected Democrat Commissioner Tye “the High Tax Guy” Menser would support the tax increase because he supports most tax increases. Menser has repeatedly admitted he is a protégé of former Commissioners Sandra Romero and Valenzuela who were also part of the max tax crew in Thurston County. However, it was Independant Commissioner John Hutchings vote to support the tax proposal which disappointed most people, particularly those who voted him into office. It now seems likely that this vote (along with a few notable others) have doomed his reelection chances in 2020. His political career is now in clear jeopardy. Few supporters of Hutchings voted for him so he could ramp up their property taxes for more unnecessary building fiascos in Thurston County.
Tye “The High Tax Guy” Menser was narrowly elected Thurston County Commissioner in 2018, and has been pushing for bloating government at every opportunity – regardless of the cost
Democrat Thurston County Commissioner Tye Menser
A massive tax increase and no guarantees

Several disturbing details surrounding this recent proposed tax increase have come to light. These should concern all who live, pay taxes, and vote in Thurston County. For example:
Thurston County Manager Ramiro Chavez at Commissioner meeting April 30, 2019 in Rochester, Washington

Normally, capital projects like buildings and new facilities are financed through a tax mechanism called “Revenue Backed Bonds.” Read more about these funding mechanisms in state law at RCW 39.46.150 & RCW 39.46.160. These are a predictable method of ensuring that the funding exists for the life of the bonded debt, and it dedicates the funds so that they can’t be diverted to other uses. However, under Washington State’s constitution, this type of debt requires a 60% voter approval. This is due to the fact that future generations are burdened by this decision to increase debt and this higher threshold was chosen to ensure that the projects being proposed are widely supported by the community. Thurston County Manager Ramiro Chavez admitted this would be the normal path to financing a massive building project like this, but staff had determined that 60% of the voters of Thurston County would never support this size of a tax increase. Therefore, staff wanted to push a financing method without this risky 60% voter approval hurdle. Instead, staff wanted to push “General Obligation Bonds” which only have a 50% voter approval threshold (See RCW 84 for state law on property taxes)

Secondly, supporters of this proposed new courthouse admitted, repeatedly during the April 23, 2019 public hearing, that the vote for the proposed tax increase should be held on any special election date EXCEPT during the November 5, 2019 general election date so that fewer voters would participate. Supporters of the tax were demanding this explicitly because they admitted the majority of voters in Thurston County probably wouldn’t support this tax increase. These comments were largely directed at this author’s earlier comments at the same hearing that if the Commissioners were going to put this tax increase on the ballot they should give the largest number of voters the chance to vote on it in November. Supporters of this tax increase are terrified that a large number of voters would vote to reject this proposal. I can’t blame tax supporters for wanting to hide from the voters because they probably would lose at the ballot box if the voters of Thurston County realize what this boondoggle really is. (From a policy standpoint, this is why I’ve always recommended eliminating the special election dates in Washington state law, and instead put all proposed tax increase votes on the November ballot. Making this policy change would reduce the special interest gaming of the current special election system).
This seems to be Thurston County’s staff approach to decision making

Which gets to the most disturbing aspect of this proposed tax increase. The tax increase itself legally has nothing to do with building anything at all. While it is being sold as a funding mechanism for some undefined courthouse project (nobody yet knows the true cost – $250 million? $300 million?), the actual legal language of the tax increase doesn’t require Thurston County to build anything with these funds. At first staff contested this fact, but when confronted by citizen Jon Petit with the actual language of the very proposal staff was pushing on the county commissioners, Thurston County Manager Ramiro Chavez was forced to admit Mr. Petit was correct. There is no obligation that Thurston County build anything. The only legal guarantee is if the voters are suckered into approving this scheme, they will be paying much higher property taxes.
Thurston County staff want to increase the burden on local taxpayers

Another policy impact of this tax proposal, if passed by the voters, is the fact that General Obligation Bonds take funds from the general budget of Thurston County. While this tax proposal is an increase of 39.5% over the existing rate of general obligation funds, it also means that if the staff of Thurston County start down the project path to build this building and they go over budget (a common occurrence in Thurston County), those increased tax dollars will be extracted and diverted from services like the sheriff’s office. It is a near certainty that taxpayers in Thurston County would be blackmailed into even higher tax increases in the near future to pay for the mistakes and the predictable budget fiasco of this undefined “new courthouse” project.
City of Olympia Mayor Cheryl Shelby (D)

Finally, most disturbingly, based on the testimony of the Mayor of Olympia, Cheryl Shelby at the April 23rd public hearing, some type of “partnership” arrangement has been hatched for the undefined courthouse boondoggle (and the taxpayers already have paid $200,000 for this “partnership” according to minutes from the August 14, 2018 commissioner meeting minutes (linked here see item 5a. Note Item 5b was the $300,000 cost of this draft feasibility report linked here) This is terrifying to anyone who has bothered to pay attention to local government in Thurston County. The only Thurston County local government with a worse track record and has demonstrated even more incompetence in building projects and financial mismanagement than Thurston County itself is the City of Olympia. Their bloated, overbudget City Hall (true cost of $52 million) was just the most glaring example, but they also like to give away multi-million dollar buildings for free (to organizations where councilmember spouses work), spend $350,000 on one-stall restrooms, and generally waste taxpayer funds on homeless camps and other fiascos.
The City of Olympia’s investment in Homeless Drug Addict Camps has helped add local flavor to the downtown city experience near the proposed courthouse location

Conveniently, the theoretical location of this “new courthouse” in downtown Olympia will also help the City of Olympia attempt to escape the consequences of their impactful planning policies which have managed to chase businesses away from downtown as fast as business leases expire. Local political “leaders” believe this Thurston County courthouse project might help mask the urban decay and postpone any local political reckoning for the failures of the past and current Olympia City Council. Thurston County voters have every reason to be concerned. In the recent survey – Thurston County voters were almost five times more concerned about the proposed courthouse costs and taxes than they were about any other issue related to this proposed scheme.
Thurston County – A history of building fiascos
Thurston County legal counsel Elizabeth Petrich at the hearing April 30, 2019. Her legal advice has helped Thurston County lose many lawsuits including the record setting $12 million jury verdict against Thurston County in the Maytown case.

Thurston County has a long and colorful history of incompetence, failure, and waste when it comes to building government facilities of any kind. Some have attributed these repeated failures to the planning department, which is often plagued with scandal and questionable leadership. A general government staff infection seems to exist in Thurston County upper management. Some of these failures have also been due to poor political leadership which has afflicted the county on a frequent basis over the years. Another theory involves concerns over the undue influence of special interests who always profit from these decisions like the architecture company and other vendors who stand to profit greatly from the mistakes of Thurston County staff. These special interests also appear to have great influence over the decision making at the staff level and tend to control and direct staff to do their bidding. Conveniently, this bidding always results in hefty sums of taxpayer cash which always end up with these special interests. Regardless of the theory, the result has often been the same –

Let’s look at just a few of the more recent examples:
Former Thurston County Commisioners Romero, Wolfe and Valenzula deserve to be recognized for all they achieved.
Don Krupp, former Thurston County Manager (now county manager in Clackamas County, Oregon)

Thurston County’s jail fiasco made state-wide news for half a decade as the brand new $61 million jail that was rejected by the voters, built by Commissioners Romero, Valenzuela, and Wolfe anyway (under the direction of former Thurston County Manager Don Krupp), and then sat empty for five years because nobody bothered to plan a budget to operate the facility. We’ve written about this fiasco over the years (see here, here, and here). Like most failures of Thurston County “planning,” this one began as an effort to circumvent the voters. A failed effort to build a $102 million jail/justice center was soundly rejected by Thurston County voters in 2004 (see election results here – 61% opposed). An effort to impose a different excise tax was also rejected later. As is frequently the case, Thurston County planning staff was certain they knew best and they colluded with the old Commission, put the debt on future generations by taking out more general obligation bonds without a vote of the people and then built the jail anyway.
While it was empty 5 years, it is finally being used.

Of course, they didn’t call it a “jail,” but instead used the Orwellian term “Accountability and Restitution Center” or “ARC” for short. Once the jail was completed, it sat empty for five years, costing the county $250,000 or more in annual maintenance costs while the county struggled to find some money to run the facility. It wasn’t until the failed Democrat incumbents Valenzuela, Romero and Wolfe were replaced by Independent Commissioners Blake, Edwards, and Hutchings that the empty jail was finally put to use.
3400 building in Thurston County – Thurston County spent $8 million and 18 years to reduce the value of this empty building from $4 million to $2 million

Another classic example of Thurston County’s planning incompetence was the sad saga of the 3400 building (read more written at the time here). This embarrassment existed for many years as another monument to local government incompetence and failure in Thurston County. Originally a commercial fish cannery purchased by Thurston County in 1998 for $3.4 million with the expectation it could be turned into a jail. Those expectations were dashed by reality (nobody at the time bothered to verify whether it could be converted to this use), and Thurston County gradually squandered over $8 million on this empty building. After 18 years during which time the 3400 building sat mostly unused and empty, the brilliant staff of Thurston County found ways to destroy the value even further by giving away the parking lot for a homeless camp project called Camp Quixote, and then finally dumping the failed money pit for a fraction of the purchase cost 18 years earlier.
The last time the Thurston County Courthouse was located in downtown Olympia, it was in this building which was vacated by Thurston County in 1978. (Wikipedia Commons)
Thurston County always seems to need a new courthouse.
Thurston County Treasurer Jeff Gadman bragged at the public hearing on April 23, 2019 about how much the current courthouse facility has been allowed to degrade with staff’s lack of maintenance.

The current Thurston County Courthouse was built in 1978. A casual review of newspaper articles from that era along with a review of archives demonstrates that the promises made to taxpayers back then remain identical to the promises made today for the “new” courthouse in downtown Olympia. The Thurston County Commissioners and planning staff in the 1970s promised that the new courthouse would be energy efficient, have plenty of parking, be sustainable long term, and have the ability and room to expand to accommodate future needs. Staff promised to maintain the facility. Many of those promises went unfilled – particularly the parking plans and building maintenance. However, the need to escape the problems of downtown Olympia like traffic, parking, and other related issues were real to the citizens of the community at the time.

In my next article on this subject, I plan to discuss better alternatives than this proposed fiasco. The biased process used to get this pre-determined outcome also merits more attention. Additionally, the special interests pushing this boondoggle for their own selfish ends, regardless of the harm inflicted on the community should be closely examined and studied.

Based on a 1975 Environmental Impact Statement, which this author found in the state archives, the Thurston County Commissioners at that time were defensive about the public criticism of the high costs for “marble palaces” and they were moving forward with the project regardless. It is worth noting, every Thurston County Commissioner who voted for the proposed courthouse project at the time were removed from office by the voters at the next election. History has a tendency to repeat itself and both Commissioner Tye “the big tax guy” Menser, and Commissioner Hutchings should take note.

Unfortunately, if this massive tax increase is approved, nobody will remember today’s politicians who hurt us, but the taxpayers, including tens of thousands yet unborn will still be paying for it.

Northwest MLS Housing Report for April signals good news for home buyers

KIRKLAND, Washington (May 6, 2019) –

Housing activity during April signaled good news for buyers
in Western Washington as inventory continued to grow, the rate of price increases was slowing in many
areas (and even decreasing in a few counties), and mortgage rates remained low.


Northwest Multiple Listing Service statistics for last month show a 28.5 percent overall increase in active
listings compared to the same month a year ago, a 5.8 percent gain in pending sales, and a 2.4 percent rise
in median prices for sales of single family homes and condos that closed during April. The volume of
closings dipped slightly (down 1.9 percent).


“Listings were popping up like April flowers and the bloom has produced a vibrant and healthy market,”
exclaimed MLS director John Deely, principal managing broker at Coldwell Banker Bain. “With an
increased supply of listing inventory, low interest rates, and a positive economic climate, buyers are
confident that this is a good time to buy,” he reported, while noting a larger number of buyers are opting
out of competing with other buyers.


“This year’s buyers and sellers are approaching the market with more caution and a focus on an
analytical, versus emotional approach that has ruled the last several years,” Deely said.


Northwest MLS members added 11,697 new listings to inventory during April for a year-over-year gain
of nearly 3.8 percent. During the same period, brokers reported 11,188 pending sales (509 fewer than the
number of new listings), resulting in net gains in the number of active listings in many counties, but
changes in inventory were wide ranging across the 23 counties the MLS serves.


Seven counties had double-digit growth in inventory from a year ago, led by King County (up 78.5
percent) and Snohomish County (up nearly 57 percent). The number of active listings declined in 10
counties, with Jefferson County reporting the biggest drop at 24.8 percent. System-wide inventory at the
end of April totaled 12,955 active listings, which represents a 7.8 gain from March.


“The spring market has arrived, bringing new listings and sales,” stated Dean Rebhuhn, owner of Village
Homes and Properties in Woodinville. Sellers who have prepared their homes for sale are experiencing
brisk activity, and buyers are finding more opportunities to purchase, thanks to low mortgage rates and
increased inventory, according to Rebhuhn.


“As we head into the prime buying and selling season, we’re seeing better news for buyers in King
County, with statistics showing there’s a bit more time to look and make a decision,” said Mike Grady,
president and COO of Coldwell Banker Bain. Pointing to the 78 percent increase in total active listings in
King County and the 57 percent jump in inventory in Snohomish County, he described the year-over-year
gains as “impressive,” but noted there is still less than two months of inventory in many areas. “Buyers
now have three-to-four weeks instead of three-to-four days to make a decision, so it’s still quite a ways
from a balanced market,” he emphasized.