From his corner office in Johnson Tower in the midst of Washington State University’s Pullman campus, Glenn Crellin is far from the most populated parts of the state. Still, from his vantage, he contemplates rental rates around the Puget Sound, home sales in Spokane, and real estate in Moses Lake.
Crellin is the state’s real estate numbers guy and in mid-summer he’s just about to release a report that will stir up homeowners and real estate agents with news that home sales were showing some positive signs.
Crellin and his reports appear regularly in newspapers throughout the state. He’s also well placed in Washington where for some the real estate market is a spectator sport. In recent years, Internet blogs, posted by agents and consumers alike, have scrutinized the real estate market—watching condo projects go up, reporting on housing sales, following new listings and new neighborhoods on a daily basis.
Back in the 1980s real estate interests approached the state about creating an objective source to look at sales activities and provide reports about the behaviors of buyers and sellers in Washington. In answer to the request, the WSU Board of Regents created the Washington State Center for Real Estate Research at WSU in 1989. Crellin, an economist who worked for the National Association of Realtors in Washington, D.C., was hired by the University to direct the center in 1993.
The quarterly housing reports are the bread and butter for the center, but the team, which each semester includes at least five business students, also tackles projects that look deeper into the stories. This fall they created a survey to discover just how much of an effect the $8,000 tax credit had on boosting home sales. “I want to focus on the credit as well as look at the Home Valuation Code of Conduct,” says Crellin. The conduct code was recently accepted by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the nation’s leading mortgage holders, to protect homebuyers and lenders from appraisers overvaluing properties. But realtors have complained that the new code is stifling home sales. Crellin wants to see if that is the case.
They’re also periodically looking at where seniors are living, how the rental market is behaving, and whether affordable housing, which was required under the Growth Management Act in 1990, has remained affordable.
For much of Crellin’s time at WSU, he’s been reporting on the significant rise of housing prices throughout Washington, and in particular in the Puget Sound region. It’s definitely an exciting market to watch, he says. The market prices peaked in 2007; then just a year ago, reports showed that sales of existing houses in Washington had dropped more than anywhere else in the country. Crellin provides the context: Our state’s decline started later than in most other parts of the United States, which is one reason it was so precipitous.
His expertise, while focused on the Pacific Northwest, is of national interest. This fall, Crellin presented to the California Association of Realtors his outlook for real estate markets nation-wide and in particular what was happening in the Pacific Northwest.
A few weeks ago he noted that while home prices around the Puget Sound are no longer plummeting, another downturn is impending, particularly in commercial real estate. As leases run out, many businesses that have been affected by the down economy won’t be renewing their contracts, and new construction has stalled, he says. “There are some concerns for the commercial side of the market,” he says. In addition, the $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit is due to expire December 1, which may stall new home purchases. Yes, housing is more affordable and the summer saw more activity, he says, “But we are certainly not on solid ground yet.”