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How coronavirus could make Bellingham a new Seattle suburb

Telecommuting makes distant cities an option for Puget Sound home buyers.

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — Even in our uncertain economy, the Bellingham housing market is booming.

Coronavirus could be contributing to the good health of the market, business researchers say.

A modest 1,500 square foot, 3-bedroom, 1 and three-quarter-bathroom house in Bellingham recently sold for $439,000 — in less than 24 hours.

Low inventory and record low interest rates are creating bidding wars in Bellingham, making it one of the hottest markets in western Washington. Bellingham is about 20 miles south of Canada and about 90 miles north of Seattle. 

Jack Hovenier of Weichert Realtors said he's never seen the market like this before.

"We had one just yesterday where they offered almost 30% over asking price. There were nine offers and they came in second," he said.

Right now, the median price for a home in Bellingham is $620,000, according to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.

That's up nearly 20% from this time last year.

But is this a bubble that's about to burst? Experts say no.

Unlike the housing crisis of the early 2000s, there are more restrictions on who can borrow and how much, keeping prices more realistic.

Also, coronavirus has not impacted everyone equally.

Those who are still employed are mainly white-collar workers with stable incomes.

"Folks that are more typical renters have seen much more financial impact from COVID-19 than people who are buying homes," said James McCafferty, co-director of Western Washington University's Center for Economic and Business Research. "That's one of the reasons the home market has remained fairly strong through this experience." 

McCafferty's co-director, Hart Hodges, said the coronavirus could actually start pushing prices even further up, as the fallout from COVID-19 pushes employees further out of Seattle — possibly even creating a new, much more affordable, suburb 90 miles to the north.

"If you work in a tech company downtown and somebody said you now only have to commute 2 days a week and you can work from home the rest of the time, that changes the definition of a suburb or a bedroom community of Seattle."

The flip side to surging home prices is that many first time home buyers may have a hard time getting into the market and those hoping to upgrade may not be able to do so anytime soon.