Much of the increase in home sales took place in the Mount Baker area (up 35.1 percent year over year), Lynden (up 27.6 percent) and Ferndale (up 24.8 percent).
In Bellingham, homes sales rose just 0.8 percent. While Bellingham is still the largest single market in Whatcom County, its market share is decreasing, Johnson said. After rising to 46 percent of the residential sales in 2013, Bellingham’s share dropped to 38 percent in 2015.
Johnson said the change in market share for homes sold could have several explanations, but the biggest factor probably is the availability of land in Ferndale and Lynden to build new homes. For a family who wants a new home and makes a reasonable income, Johnson they usually need to look outside Bellingham.
“Inventory levels have dropped more in Bellingham and prices are generally higher there than for a comparable home in other areas,” Johnson said.
While home sales jumped in Whatcom County, prices rose only moderately in 2015. According to Johnson’s report, the median price for a home sold in Whatcom County last year was $285,500, a 2 percent increase compared to 2014. The median price has steadily risen in recent years: In 2014, the median price jumped 7.7 percent compared to 2013. Back in 2011, the median price was at $242,310.
Bellingham’s median price for homes sold jumped 8.7 percent in 2015, to $325,000.
It could be a bit of a mixed bag for local real estate in 2016. The aluminum smelter operations at the Alcoa Intalco Works plant near Ferndale are expected to be curtailed in the coming weeks, laying off around 465 people. If the smelter remains idled for a long period, Johnson suspects some of those workers could leave the area, putting homes on the market. Combined with the recent closure of the CH2M Hill Bellingham office and layoffs at other companies like Faithlife, there may be less demand and more inventory in the coming months.
However, mortgage rates remain low and are not expected to rise dramatically. That, combined with a local unemployment rate that had fallen to around 5 percent prior to the recent layoff announcements, could bring buyers to the market.
Currently the most in-demand homes are generally in the $300,000 range in established neighborhoods, particularly in Bellingham.