Commentary: East Wenatchee and Douglas County housing ranked highly healthy

By Jim Russell
Empire Press Correspondent

The East Wenatchee housing market is ranked the third healthiest in Washington state, according to the second annual Healthy Housing Markets Study (tinyurl.com/j7to68w) published by SmartAsset, an online financial technology firm.

SmartAsset (smartasset.com) offers answers and assistance with research data and free analytical tools on its website.

East Wenatchee was ranked sixth in the first report.

How valuable is the report compared to other real estate reports, or is it primarily a local feel-good news release designed to attract residents to explore SmartAsset’s website?

My conclusion is the report is not nearly as valuable compared to free local sources.

The report summarizes four characteristics of healthy housing in East Wenatchee on the basis of stability, affordability, ease of sale and risk of loss. The news release stated, “A healthy housing market is both stable and affordable; homeowners in a healthy market should be able to easily sell their homes, with a low risk of losing money over the long run.”

I contacted Steve Sabato, a senior public relations associate of SmartAsset, to clarify which data they accumulated and for what periods.

Stability was measured by how long residents had lived in their homes and how many homes had negative equities. East Wenatchee residents have lived in their homes an average of 12.9 years and 6.2 percent of the city’s homes had negative equity in October 2015.

Salability was measured by the average number of days a home was for sale before it was sold in October 2015, which was 21.2 days. If most of those homes were low-cost because there were so few at that price, what’s happening in the higher priced market?

The risk of loss was measured by the percentage of homes decreased in value compared to a years earlier, which was 3.9 percent.

Finally the ability to sell and buy a home is linked to the monthly costs of owning a home in the area compared to household income. East Wenatchee home costs are 22 percent of the average household income, in census data from the 2010-2014 American Community Survey. There’s no explanation of how they calculated home costs.

The news release said the factors were weighted unequally to produce one number: “Affordability accounted for 40 percent of the housing health index, while each of the other three factors accounted for 20 percent.”

There are better statistics and sources of data. Douglas County data on housing affordability since 2006 is available on the Chelan-Douglas Trends (CDT) website, maintained by Eastern Washington University for Douglas County, at tinyurl.com/hgyuwhc. That data shows Douglas County housing was not affordable during the 2007-2008 financial crash, but has been affordable since then.

CDT uses the Housing Affordability Index (HAI), calculated by the University of Washington Runstad Center for Real Estate Research, comparing of a median priced home with a 20 percent down payment and a 30-year fixed mortgage compared to the median income for the area. When the principal and interest payments cost 25 percent or less of the middle income for the area, a household should have money for other living expenses.

Another source of substantial real estate data is the free monthly Real Estate Snapshot published by Pacific Appraisal Associates of Wenatchee (pacapp.com). The data is recorded by the North Central Washington Association of Realtors or its Multiple Listing Service for the total market of East Wenatchee, Orondo, Rock Island, Wenatchee and Malaga.

It reports last month’s sales and year-to-date sales compared to the same month the previous year.

More valuably, it breaks out homes within price brackets and calculates the number of sales per month and the number of months it would take to sell the inventory of those homes. The more inventory, the more price pressure on the seller, which is a good measure of the current risk of losing home value.

All in all, free local reports show we have an affordable, healthy local housing market, with salability varying by the sale price of the home. If you want a specific measure of stability, you might use SmartAsset’s statistic, but based on one month’s results, the statistic doesn’t seem stable to me.