More homes on the market, but demand stays high

    More homes went on the market last month than in any since 2008, a sign that the logjam that’s characterized the Portland-area market in recent years could be breaking.

    But the bump in inventory was easily gobbled up by eager buyers, new numbers from the Regional Multiple Listing Service showed. As a result, competition for affordable homes remains intense while prices continued to climb.

    “As much as we are still heavily below the levels needed for sustainability, at least it’s trending in the right direction,” said Matthew Gardner, chief economist for the real estate company Windermere. “At the buyer’s side, there’s a little more choice.”

    The dwindling inventory has been one of the key drivers of the current housing market, pushing prices higher and edging out marginal would-be buyers. Even those who can afford to buy have been frustrated by stampeding offers and the sense that there just aren’t enough homes for sale to weigh options.

    The metro area’s median home price reached $388,000 in May, 9.4 percent increase from a year earlier.

    May saw 2,896 homes sold across the metro area, the same number as a year earlier. The slim inventory is likely keeping that number low.

    But if sales continued at the same pace, it would take just a month and a half to sell all the homes on the market. In a balanced market, that number would be closer to six months; as it is, it indicates a strong seller’s market.

    Not all homes are selling at the same frenetic pace. Those at the very high end of the market, priced above $850,000, are selling more slowly than they would have a year ago, Gardner said.

    Lower-priced homes, however, are still seeing multiple offers within days. That includes suburban homes, well outside of the hot close-in neighborhoods of Portland.

    “It does feel less frantic, but less frantic means instead of 20 offers, there’s like five,” said Mickey Lindsay, vice president at the real estate firm Oregon First. “It’s still tough. It’s just not bizarre.”

    Buyers are finding they have more options to tour, Lindsay said. But when they find a house they like, they’re likely to miss out if they wait to put in an offer.

    And first-time homebuyers, who are likely buying with a mortgage and a small down payment, are still competing with buyers paying entirely with cash, or at least with large down payments.

    An expected increase in mortgage rates could further curb affordability, cutting into demand for homes and perhaps slowing the growth in prices.

    Despite longstanding predictions that rates would climb, they’ve instead fallen this month to their lowest level of the year.

    Nonetheless, economists expect rates to rebound in the second half of the year. Gardner said he expects to see rates close to 4.5 percent by year’s end, up from around 4 percent today.

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