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Less houses for sale

This 1,511-square-foot home located at 43 Ironwood, in Longview is listed for $319,900, making it $54,900 above the May 2019 median sale price. 

Housing prices are on a steep incline in Cowlitz County, and the lack of available homes is not easing the climb.

The median selling price of closed home sales here was $265,000 in May, a 12.5% gain from $235,000 in May last year, according to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.

Rising prices are driven by a basic economic fact: There are more buyers than there are houses for sale, creating a strong seller’s market.

Local Realtor Shannon Crayne-Comstock said every real-estate agent in town would say they are getting competing offers, and bidding wars are normal right now.

“Inventory is kind of growing a smidge. But there is still tons of buyers out there,” Crayne-Comstock said.

In fact, there were fewer houses in the market last month (172) than a year earlier (188), according to NMLS. Only about a month and a half of housing inventory is for sale, less than half of the four to six months’ supply that NMLS considers a balanced market.

Despite rising prices, Cowlitz County’s housing prices were still among the lowest in Western Washington. Median prices last month, for example, were $345,000 in Thurston County, $369,000 in Clark County, $500,000 in Snohomish County, $400,000 in Whatcom County and a whopping $700,000 in King County.

Nevertheless, Cowlitz housing prices have shot up rapidly and only hit $200,000 in June three years ago. Rising prices are making homes less affordable to many people. Cowlitz County’s Home Affordability Index was about 124 last month. A score higher 100 indicates the homeowner is less likely to be able to qualify for a mortgage.

Crayne-Comstock says she hopes more new housing developments bring more supply to the market.

“The new developments won’t bring prices down, but sellers have had four years. It’s time buyers have a little bit of time,” said Crayne-Comstock, a member of the Real Living The Real Estate Group.

Several notable housing projects are planned in the county, but it will be a while before they become available.

Among the notable projects on the books, a new development by Jeff Rauth in Lexington will involve constructing 80 apartments and 44 single-family homes, according to the Board of Commissioners’ June 11 agenda documents.

The commissioners recently agreed to change the zoning there from urban to multi-family. Rauth for now is declining to talk about the project, which will take up nearly 16 acres of open land at 1941 West Side Highway.

The Lexington housing development, “will benefit the growing community of Lexington and Cowlitz County as a whole by creating housing opportunities,” according to a Cowlitz County planning staff report.

Elsewhere, developer Larry Wood is building the Village Pointe project in West Longview. Scheduled for completion in 2024, Village Pointe will include 15 apartment buildings with 360 rental units and 50 town homes.

Developer Brad Hoggatt is planning a development that could accommodate 38 single-family houses and 27 town houses in his new project in Kalama. The Sunset Terrace subdivision is the furthest along of several in the Kalama area.

After declaring a state of emergency in housing and homelessness in 2017, the Cowlitz County Commissioners passed resolution 17-127. The resolution states, “The lack of adequate new housing construction in Cowlitz County has resulted in the demand on and deterioration of existing affordable housing stock.”

Cowlitz County has reported 99 new building permits for single-family units, 14 permits for new mobile homes and zero permits for new multi-family units so far this year 2019. However, county Building and Planning Director Elaine Placido said Monday her department is expecting 60 applications for multifamily and commercial building permits in the next six to 12 months.

Only four townhouse style duplex and two live-work unit permits have been issued in Woodland since January.

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