A steady climb out of recession and home sale doldrums is reflected in state and local growth trends over the past quarter.
That's according to the UW-based Washington Center for Real Estate Research.
The center recently released a county-by-county housing market snapshot for the third quarter, July through September 2012.
Those figures show that statewide, Washington saw a 3.4 percent uptick in existing home sales over the three months and a 11.9 percent improvement over the same quarter in 2011.
Yakima County mirrored the trend in that sales of existing homes rose 2.3 percent during the third quarter and 13.1 percent over the previous year.
That impact has been felt in home values, which in Yakima County climbed 3.7 percent over the same time frame in 2011 and statewide grew by 7.9 percent compared to the third quarter of 2011.
All that activity means the median resale price of a Yakima County home is $151,000, the center reports, and statewide the median is $243,100.
"Washington's housing market, similar to reports from around the county, is clearly stronger than a year ago," said Glenn Crellin, associate director of the center. "Sales in the third quarter were higher than any time since the opening quarter of 2008."
Ken Nelson has been a realtor in Sunnyside for the past 27 years, and he says home sales are also looking up in the Lower Valley.
"Year to date actually it's pretty good," Nelson says of the general pace of home sales here. "It's started picking up again, but the way the consumer confidence was so low the last two or three years it's been really tough."
Nelson indicated that sales may yet get stronger in the new year now the 2012 presidential election is in the books.
He says a presidential election year brings a bit of hesitance for some home buyers as they take a wait and see approach on how the economy responds to the election outcome.
2010 a low-water mark
for valley real estate
Though the recession and housing bubble burst in 2008, Nelson says it was 2010 when it was felt the most here. He says 2010 was the "worst I've experienced in 27 years."
Even so, he notes the drop-off in home sales and values was not as dramatic as Western Washington, where some values plummeted 50 percent.
In the Yakima Valley, he estimates at the housing bubble's worst, property values here declined by maybe 13 to 14 percent.
Conversely, as property values and sales are rebounding, the pace of growth here will not be as sharp as that experienced in Western Washington.
"We're kind of in a little pocket here," Nelson says of the ag-dependent Yakima Valley. "Things usually don't hit us as hard here."
He also attributes the recent hike in home sales and property values to the fact that buyers are better prepared when it comes time to pursue a loan.
"Make loans that
Nelson welcomes reforms over the last few years that have done away with quick, rubber-stamped home loans that had few requirements.
"That's a train you could see would derail," he says. "It was getting out of hand, if you had a temperature you you got a loan."
The reforms, he says, are really at their heart just a return to the way lenders used to do business with borrowers.
Francisco Guerrero is the Sunnyside Branch Manager for HAPO Credit Union, and he agrees with the assessment.
Guerrero notes that even in the heyday of quick and easy home loans, HAPO continued to require that prospective borrowers provide plenty of paperwork.
That's still the case today, as he says home loan applicants must provide their last two W-2 annual wage statements, two years of tax returns and most recent pay stub.
Guerrero, a member of Sunnyside's planning commission, says HAPO's policy when it comes to home loans is to "make loans that make sense."
He says as regulations have tightened over the past couple of years, borrowers need to do their homework before they pursue home loans.
Guerrero says he sees more people looking to buy because interest rates are so low and the fact home appraisals in the Lower Valley still haven't returned to pre-recession prices.
"It's a good time to buy," he says. "People are shopping around more."