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Bainbridge Island real estate market showing signs of recovery

After a difficult year, potential home buyers on Bainbridge Island and much of Western Washington are beginning to re-enter the real estate market, according to island realtors and the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.

Pending home sales – when an offer for a home is accepted but not closed for one reason or another – increased 55.6 percent in Kitsap County from this time last year, the MLS report said.

On the island, fewer homes are still on the market, and those that remain are being sold for a lower price than last year.

The report listed 255 homes and 101 condominiums on the market at the end of June, a decrease of 44 and 18 from last year.

The median price for homes on Bainbridge so far this year is $795,000, down from $845,000 on July 1 2008.

The median price for condos is down as well, currently at $399,000, down from $439,500.

Vicki Browning, managing broker at John L. Scott Real Estate, said the resurgence can be attributed to a "trickle-up" phenomenon. People who previously were unable to sell their homes managed to do so, allowing them to start pursuing other properties.

"Sellers are beginning to get real about their price or take it off the market," she said.

Potential buyers are less fearful about the economy than they were in the previous two years, and that has shown in the real estate market, said Barb McKenzie, owner and broker at Coldwell Banker McKenzie Associates on the island.

"People are wanting to move on with their lives and are realizing that things aren't so bad, that they can get financing and continue to plan for their future," she said.

Realtors also point to the first-time homebuyers tax credit as a reason for the increased interest. The credit, which is for as much as $8,000, is available until Dec. 1, 2009.

Carter Dotson, of Windemere Real Estate, said the tax credit should be extended because it appears to be an effective incentive for first-time buyers.

Even though prices have decreased in Bainbridge, the number of pending sales on the island aren't as high as the county as a whole. Between homes and condos, one fewer pending sale was reached during June, compared to June 2008. But for the year thus far, 161 pending agreements have been made – 20 more than the total at this time last year.

Closed sales decreased slightly this year – from 116 last year to 104 through this June.

Browning said the number of closed sales is low because it has taken longer this year for buyers to get their financing together.

Bainbridge lags behind the rest of the county because of the high prices of homes, Browning said. The median price of a house on Bainbridge is still more than $400,000 greater than the median for the county as a whole. A potential buyer needs better credit and superior financing to purchase a house on the island, she said. This eliminates many potential buyers.

However, McKenzie said, the island may see more people moving here because prices have decreased precipitously over the last year.

"Because prices are low, we are getting some other folks from other counties who wanted to live on Bainbridge Island but never could afford it," she said.

If sellers stay low with their prices, Browning said, this trend should continue. She characterized the local market as one full of "pent-up demand." More people are attending house showings, McKenzie said, but they have yet to sell their own homes. When they do, she said, the market should progress even more.

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