Benton County was the most affordable metropolitan county in the state for first-time homebuyers during the second quarter of this year.
It's a title the county has claimed more often than not, partially because of high wages, said Glenn Crellin, associate director for research at the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies at the University of Washington.
Benton County has a first-time homebuyer affordability index of 127.9, according to seasonally adjusted data released recently by the center. That means a typical first-time buyer has almost 28 percent more income than the bare minimum needed to qualify to buy a typical starter home, Crellin said.
Franklin County's first-time buyer affordability index is 102.1, which means a typical first-time homebuyer has about 2 percent more income than the minimum.
While lower than Benton County, that's still better than the statewide first-time buyer affordability index of 95.5, where the average first-time buyer has about 5 percent less income than the minimum needed.
Statewide, seasonally adjusted home sales were up by about 10 percent compared with a year ago, but down by almost 3 percent from the first quarter.
However, sales still increased between the first quarter and the second quarter of this year, Crellin said. They just didn't increase as much as they normally do.
“We've clearly got a strengthening market,” he said.
Benton County saw an almost 2 percent increase in sales in the second quarter compared to the same months last year, while Franklin County had just over a 3 percent increase.
In Benton County, the actual number of sales between April and June was 850, compared with 830 the same time last year and 640 during the first three months of the year, Crellin said.
Franklin County saw 170 home sales between April and June both this year and last year, which was up from the 130 the first quarter of this year, Crellin said.
If the current trend continues, Benton County will see about 3,040 homes sold this year and Franklin County will see about 630 homes, Crellin said.
And the center showed the median resale price for homes in Benton and Franklin counties was $181,400, about 4 percent more than last year.
Paul Roy, managing broker with Coldwell Banker Tomlinson Associated Brokers of Kennewick, said he expects to see this year's sales stay similar to last year, which was a good year.
The main difference he sees is inventory, with more listings to choose from now than were available in 2010 and 2011.
In July, there were about 400 more homes on the market than in July 2010 and 70 more on the market than July 2011, Roy said.
That helps keep prices competitive and creates a buyers' market, he said.
Statewide, Crellin said foreclosures remain a concern. But that isn't an issue in the Tri-Cities.
The Tri-Cities actually is seeing fewer foreclosures this year and in 2011 than the previous two years, Roy said.
In the first six months of this year, there have been 149 foreclosures, he said. The Tri-Cities may see about 300 if the pace continues, which is less than 2011.
Mortgage interest rates are starting to inch slightly up, Crellin said. That may bring some buyers into the market who missed the lowest possible prices and interest rates but realize that they should move soon before both prices and interest rates increase more.
Mortgage rates still are low, Roy said.
“I don't know how it can go any lower,” he said.
As the market improves nationally, those interest rates will go up, he said.