By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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Emily Ingram, a mortgage lender at Wells Fargo Bank in Port Townsend, asked who owned a home in Jefferson County before a crowd of about 30 people at the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
About 80 percent raised their hands.
When she asked how many thought their homes had increased in value over the past two years, fewer than five hands stayed aloft.
“While many people are pessimistic, in most cases, we have seen an increase of about 4.9 percent over the past year,” Ingram said at Monday’s gathering.
“Things a re looking up,” Ingram said.
Jefferson County Assessor Jeff Chapman said Tuesday that the 4.9 percent rate “sounded about right” but could not be verified by assessor data since property valuations were on a four-year cycle during the economic downturn.
The office has changed to a yearly assessment process so such data will be more accurate beginning this year, he said.
Ingram said local home values were at their peak in 2006 and their lowest point in 2011.
“House prices will continue to increase, but we are not going to see 2006 prices for a long, long time,” Ingram said.
Ingram said values increased in all of Port Townsend aside from Cape George, which showed a decrease, though the number of sales was too small to offer a statistical significance.
She also said there were increases reported in Port Hadlock, Oak Bay, Chimacum and Port Ludlow.
She said decreases were seen in Brinnon and Quilcene.
Ingram tracked the 492 people who moved to the county in 2013, finding the top four origins were Seattle, California, Oregon and Texas.
“People are coming here to retire, to get out of traffic,” she said.
“Many are buying second homes now with the intent to retire here, and people aren’t moving here for a job,” she added.
“If buyers already live here, they’re young, so the people moving into Jefferson County from elsewhere tend to be older, but we seem to have a healthy mix of people buying primary residences, second homes and investment properties.”
Increases in home values could lead to a corresponding rise in interest rates, Ingram said, predicting a 5 percent to 5.5 percent level by the end of this year, up a whole point from today’s average rate.
She said this means a hypothetical average couple, each making $12 an hour, will need to lower their expectations as to how much they can spend on a home.
“In 2013, that couple could afford a $210,000 home [with a 5 percent downpayment],” Ingram said.
“Today, they can afford $191,000, and next year, if rates increase, they will only be able to afford $171,000,” she said.
“Regardless of the price range, the same amount of money isn’t going to get you the same home one year from now, so if we want more people to become homeowners in Jefferson County, we either have to increase wages or create affordable housing.”
Ingram said many mortgage companies have gone out of business. She felt that would result in better customer service for those seeking to finance a home.
“Those of us who are left will be competing for the business that’s out there,” she said.
“Consumers are going to get better service and better pricing.
“Brokers will need to really be on their game if they want this business.”
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or firstname.lastname@example.org.