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Average housing prices in Whatcom County increase by more than $100,000 in a year

The hot housing market is having a chilling effect on first time homebuyers.

WHATCOM COUNTY, Wash. — The Whatcom County housing market is continuing to set records. The average price of a home just topped $560,000, and is showing no signs of dropping. 

"We have a lot of qualified buyers really eager to find a home," said Jack Hovenier, of Weichert Real Estate, who also lives in Whatcom County. "We've hit another record. We've never seen anything like it, here."

In July of last year, 145 homes sold in Bellingham at an average price of about $560,000. This July, almost the same number of homes sold for an average price of $731,000 -- that's an increase of more than $172,000, or 31%.

The county as a whole is also seeing similar increases.

In Whatcom County, 316 homes sold last July at an average price of $482,000. This July, a few more homes sold for an average price of more than $600,000, resulting in an increase of nearly $121,000, or 25%. 

"Interest rates are low and there are a lot of cash buyers," said Hovenier. "People are moving up from King and Snohomish counties where they can find a quiet community and they can now work remotely."

The downside of the boom is the fact that those red hot numbers are pricing countless first time homebuyers out of the market.

"It's virtually impossible for most young families to buy a home without some type of help," said Dean Fearing, who runs the Kulshan Community Land Trust and says he's part of the solution.

Working with Habitat for Humanity and the Whatcom Community Foundation, the Kulshan Community Land Trust buys land and creates permanent, affordable housing for families.

Twenty-three townhomes are currently being built with dozens more in the works. The mortgages on those homes are based on income and range from $300 to $900 a month -- much less than most rents in the county.

Buyers also earn 1.5% equity per year until they decide to move, which is usually enough to put a healthy down-payment on a bigger home. 

On average, homebuyers with the Kulshan Community Land Trust stay seven years and are able to cash in $30,000 to $50,000 in equity.

"Many of our homeowners would never be able to buy a home. They'd be stuck renting, so this is an opportunity to realize that dream," said Fearing, who called those families "the missing middle."

"We're doing everything we can to ramp up our production," said Fearing. "I want to get to a place where we are building 50 to 100 homes per year in the next few years."

Even those who stand to profit greatly from the boom are pushing for programs like the land trust.

Hovenier said he worries for the county's future. "I think it's a healthy community when school bus drivers, teachers and police officers can afford to live in the town they work in," he said.

Hovenier predicts the western Washington housing market will cool down over the next year. But, putting that into a perspective people in the Pacific Northwest can understand, Hovenier said, "That's like cooling down from 95 degrees to 85 degrees."