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Bainbridge Island real estate market improves

The economic storm raging through America's real estate market has thundered for years. But now, local industry officials are reporting a break in the clouds.

"Bainbridge is a great marketplace, we are probably one of the safest market places around," said Jim Laws of Windermere Real Estate on Bainbridge.

"We've really weathered this storm as well as any community has," he said.

Weathered, but not unaffected. Bainbridge wasn't immune to the financial ailment that struck the nation in 2008.

"The first months of 2007 were crazy busy, and then somebody flipped a switch," Laws said.

That "switch" caused industry numbers on the island to drop considerably. The island went from 332 homes sold in 2007 to 187 sold in 2008. The median price in 2007 was $680,000. That dropped to $493,000 in 2008.

Prices and home values fell. People have since been reluctant to buy or sell. Until now.

"Bottom line, it was a great year," said Craig Clark of Johansson Clark Real Estate.

The numbers for 2012 have come in and they have those in the island's real estate industry excited.

"In terms of trends, we will look back and see that 2012 was a great time to buy real estate," Clark said.

The numbers have slowly climbed back up in the wake of the 2008 crisis, but last year showed the most progress. There was a 50-percent increase in homes sold in 2012 from 2011.

"To go from 257 homes sold (in 2011) to 386 homes in 2012, that's a big jump," Laws said. "And that actually surpassed 2007."

The median price of an island home also showed improvement in 2012. The current median home price is $524,650 after a 6 percent rise last year.

"This is the first time we've had an increase in the median price since 2007," Laws said.

The median price is still not up to 2007 levels when it was approximately $680,000, before dropping to $493,000 in 2008.

Laws notes that the numbers only account for home sales, and not other real estate purchases such as condos or business properties.

He further said that the statistics relate to the island market as a whole, not necessarily to any one particular home.

"If I say the market has gone up 6 percent, that means some homes have gone up 6 percent and other homes have gone up 10 percent, and others have stayed flat," Laws said.

The news is giving real estate brokers a positive outlook for 2013.

"In the next 24 months we could see a 7 percent increase in value," Clark said. "Interest rates are going to stay low, and inventory is going to stay low which will drive up the market somewhat. It won't stampede, but values will trend up."

But the news doesn't come without caution.

"The outlook would be consciously optimistic," Clark said. "Our problem is that we have more buyers than we have properties to meet their needs."

Laws also pointed to the national economy as something to consider as well.

"For buyers to feel confident enough to pay money, they have to feel confident enough that they will have a job," Laws said. "Stuff like the fiscal cliff, and the next fiscal cliff, and Europe, creates concern."

"The real estate market is driven by employment," he said.

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