This year, Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty (RSIR) presents a new format for our annual waterfront report. In order to illustrate a full calendar year of waterfront transactions in 14 counties of Western Washington, while remaining comprehensive and up to date, our 2018-19 waterfront report exhibits 15 months of waterfront sales, from January 2018 through March 2019. For each month of this period, we chart monthly selling activity, reporting average and median selling prices, and mapping every waterfront sale in 27 topographically focused areas. We begin with five broader subregions among the 14 counties, in which we look at monthly cycles of sales, prices, and cumulative days on market (CDOM) for waterfront properties in comparison with those of non-waterfront homes sold.

To this data-centered analysis, we add insightful remarks by our brokers. For sellers, these remarks address seasonality, market positioning, and other special considerations for waterfront properties. For buyers, they set forth key questions that will narrow selection criteria. For both, they underscore the value of working with an expert broker. Our aim is to provide guidance to help buyers and sellers to make sense of this diverse and ever-changing real estate market segment.

THE FIVE SUBREGIONS

The five subregions analyzed in depth comprise all major markets for waterfront real estate in Washington State north and west of the Columbia River:

  1. Waterfront Center: the city of Seattle, Eastside King County to Sammamish, and the eastern shore of Bainbridge Island

  2. Waterfront East: King County west of Sammamish, Snohomish County to Lake Stevens, South Whidbey Island, Kingston on the Kitsap Peninsula, and Pierce County east of Lakewood

  3. Waterfront West: Grays Harbor, the South Puget Sound Basin, Hood Canal, and Kitsap County west of Kingston and Winslow

  4. Waterfront North: Central and North Whidbey Island, Camano Island, Port Townsend, Snohomish County north of Port Gardner, Skagit, Whatcom, and San Juan Counties

  5. Mountain Lake and Riverfront: Chelan and Kittitas Counties.

When viewing summary findings from these different subregions, one common takeaway should be the similarity in proportional transaction volume trends between waterfront and non-waterfront sales. In most areas, the seasonality of waterfront sales is not so different from that of non-waterfront sales. The differences in median selling prices between waterfront and non-waterfront residential sales also should be observed.

Maps (above): the five subregions for analysis of seasonal waterfront transaction data. Each mark is a single transaction during the subject 15-month period (January 2018 through March 2019).

Waterfront Center

Residential waterfront selling transactions in Seattle and the Eastside peaked in May and June of 2018, with sales in each of these months equaling 12.5 percent of the total for the year. This compared with a June peak of 11.3 percent of annual non-waterfront residential sales. The monthly proportions of annual waterfront sales also exceeded those of non-waterfront sales through the autumn months. In both Waterfront Center and subregion Waterfront East (profiled next), the surplus monthly proportions of annual waterfront selling transactions over the equivalent figure for non-waterfront homes sold was greatest in September at about 28 percent higher; but even this difference amounted to only 2.2 percent of annual sales in that month. In other words, the difference between the annual waterfront selling trend and the selling trend for all residential homes is not great and should not inhibit potential sellers from bringing their homes to market; nor should buyers expect greater concessions on prices in the slower months.

It is possible that the overall decline in transactions through the end of 2018 dampened waterfront as well as non-waterfront selling. By median selling price, the premium paid for waterfront properties over non-waterfront residential homes in Waterfront Center ranged from $880,000 in 2018 Q1 to $1.23 million a year later.

Chart Group A: seasonal waterfront transaction data for Waterfront Center.

Waterfront East

North and south of Seattle, residential waterfront selling was most active in May and July. Sales in each of these months comprised 11.7 percent of the total for the year. The proportion of annual waterfront sales in August was only slightly lower, at 11.5 percent. These compared with a June peak of 10.9 percent of annual non-waterfront residential sales. The monthly proportions of annual waterfront sales remained higher than those of non-waterfront sales through September, at 10.0 percent to 7.8 percent, respectively. Median selling prices of waterfront sales exceeded those of non-waterfront sales by amounts ranging from $103,000 in 2018 Q2 to $175,000 in 2018 Q3.

Chart Group B: seasonal waterfront transaction data for Waterfront East.

Waterfront West

Residential waterfront selling transactions west of Puget Sound to the Pacific Coast peaked in August at 12.1 percent of the annual total, following 11.9 percent in July. In comparison, both August and June saw the most active selling of non-waterfront residential property, at 10.7 percent of the annual total in each of these months. Median selling prices of waterfront sales exceeded those of non-waterfront sales by amounts ranging from $125,000 in 2018 Q2 to $165,500 in 2018 Q4.

Chart Group C: seasonal waterfront transaction data for Waterfront West.

Waterfront North

From the Admiralty Inlet and Port Susan to the Canadian border, residential waterfront selling peaked at 11.7 percent of annual waterfront sales in June. This share slightly contracted to 11.6 percent in July, which saw the most non-waterfront residential selling, at 11.0 percent of 2018 transactions. The monthly proportions of annual waterfront sales remained higher than those of non-waterfront sales in September and October, at 9.7 and 9.9 percent, respectively. Median selling prices of waterfront sales exceeded those of non-waterfront sales by amounts ranging from $167,300 in 2018 Q1 to $250,000 in 2018 Q4.

Chart Group D: seasonal waterfront transaction data for Waterfront North.

Mountain Lake and Riverfront

The low volume of waterfront sales in these counties, concentrated along the Yakima River and the shores of Lake Chelan, raise challenges to the sustainability of seasonal patterns evident in any single year. Nevertheless, in 2018, June, July, and October saw the highest monthly proportions of annual waterfront sales here. The gap between median waterfront and non-waterfront residential selling prices widened by as much as $420,000 in 2018 Q1. 

Chart Group E: seasonal waterfront transaction data for Mountain Lake and Riverfront.

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For Buyers & Sellers

General Recommendations

 

With generations of experience in waterfront listing and selling, RSIR brokers offer a wealth of insight to sellers and buyers of waterfront homes. While home selling statistics offer clues as to when to list locally, RSIR brokers who have successfully guided sellers through this process are well equipped to advise each seller when to list and how to prepare a home for sale.


As we have shown, waterfront sales do follow an observable trend that mimics the rest of the home-selling market. However, the demand for waterfront properties is year-round, and notions of seasonality should not delay a timely listing.


Waterfront homes in certain price brackets will be targets for buyers who have financial considerations that will impact when those buyers need to close:


As with any listing, prepping, staging, and marketing a waterfront home for sale are each essential to a successful closing. Yet there are considerations that set these homes apart.


Some markets, such as the San Juan Islands and Lake Chelan, are notably slow-moving, and this should be factored into the duration of a listing contract between broker and seller.


Our brokers know how to best position a waterfront property for that buyer who will be most highly motivated and ready to purchase it.


In addition to representing sellers, RSIR brokers are experienced in helping buyers to successfully navigate the market. Here again, timing is subjective—buyers will act when the objects of their dreams appear.


Brokers can effectively guide the buyers they represent by asking the right questions.


A diverse market satisfies all kinds of buyers. Some buyers seek a serene retreat:


But the most visible waterfront attributes are the ones catering to energetic buyers:


Buyers and sellers alike should carefully select a knowledgeable broker to help them through this challenging, but ultimately rewarding process. RSIR brokers know the region and possess insight into each of these distinctive markets.