Umatilla County residents are hungry for housing.

A recent analysis of housing trends in west Umatilla County and north Morrow County by appraiser Doug Barak shows that home values in those areas have gone up each year for the past 10 years, but Hermiston-based real estate agents say that hasn’t stopped people from snapping up homes, sometimes making offers within hours of a “for sale” sign going up.

“The right housing flies,” said Tami Rebman, president of the Columbia Basin Board of Realtors.

In 2019, according to Barak, housing in the west Umatilla/north Morrow county market had an average price of $228,523, up 9% from the year before and up $94,454 from 2010.

Pendleton homes sold for an average of $212,384 in 2019.

The real estate agents spoke from their experience based out of Hermiston, but said similar trends are happening in Pendleton and other parts of Eastern Oregon.

Rebman said even during the 2008 recession, Umatilla County saw only small decreases and stagnation in housing prices, unlike some areas of the country where home values plummeted and left millions of Americans owing more on their mortgage than their home was worth.

Right now, in the Hermiston area, there isn’t much available under $250,000, said Tracy Hunter, secretary for the Columbia Basin Board of Realtors. That means people looking for homes in that range need to be ready to compete.

“I’ve got one coming next week under $200,000 and I can guarantee there will be multiple offers,” Hunter said. “Buyers have to go in with their strongest offer. There’s not room to come in and say, ‘I will give you $10,000 less.’”

Being preapproved by a lender, preferably a local lender, helps buyers be competitive, said Stephanie Hughes, who also serves on the board.

On the other hand, Hughes, Rebman and Hunter all said that sellers can’t get too cocky and try to sell their home well over market value. The internet makes it easy for potential buyers to frequently browse online listings and get a good feel for what’s out there, and some will even access tax records online to see what the current owner paid for the property.

“Buyers are more educated than they’ve ever been,” Rebman said. “They’re so informed.”

Barak provided a chart of “sold to list” ratios each year since 1997, showing what percentage of the list price for which a home actually sold. In 2008, out of 359 homes sold in the west Umatilla/north Morrow market, sold to list ratio was an average of 94%. In 2019, for 459 homes sold, the ratio was 98.7%.

“There are people that are overpricing houses that are not selling,” he said. “We have astute buyers.”

It can also go the other way. Members of the Columbia Basin Board of Realtors obviously have a bias toward people using a real estate agent — particularly those who can call themselves Realtors after getting certified by the National Association of Realtors. But those interviewed for the story said they had seen “for sale by owner” cases where people had significantly underpriced their homes.

“People are leaving $10,000 or $20,000 on the table, basically,” Barak said.

One thing sellers can do to get the most value out of their home is to fix it up before they sell it. Hughes said people feel too busy these days to put a lot of time into fixing up a new house, and many of them aren’t coming into a new home with extra cash on hand to immediately start remodeling or putting in new carpet.

“Most people just want a house that’s put together and move-in ready,” she said. “It’s ‘condition, condition, condition’ where it used to be ‘location, location location.’”

Hunter said she encourages clients to drive by a home before they schedule a tour, and so something like the condition of the home’s exterior paint can make a big first impression.

Over time, the things buyers value have changed. Hunter said as more households have multiple vehicles, a three-car garage has become a more important amenity. Hughes said she sees a lot of clients looking for a shop, while Rebman said a big backyard used to be a big selling point. Now, homes with tiny yards often don’t have trouble selling, as people figure it’s less upkeep and watering, and their children could play at the park or school down the street. Barak said nationally, two top things people are looking for is a utility room and a pantry.

While the housing market in the area continues to do brisk business, pressure could be eased by new homes coming in. In 2019, according to Barak, Hermiston issued 62 building permits for new, stick-built homes (not including apartments, manufactured homes or townhomes). It issued 69 permits in 2018 and 44 in 2017. Pendleton issued 16 in 2019, 27 in 2018 and 18 in 2017.

The pace of new homes in west Umatilla County isn’t expected to slow. New subdivisions representing hundreds more homes are in the works in Umatilla, Stanfield and Hermiston. Hermiston locations where developers have gotten annexations, zoning changes or other actions by the city include Elm Avenue, West Theater Lane, East Theater Lane, Diagonal Road and East Punkin Center.

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