Record number of local home sales fell through in ’09

A buyer makes an offer on a house. The seller accepts it.

That means there’s a sale, right?

Not necessarily. Not anymore.

That’s what Jeremy Eide of Keller Williams Realty’s Renton office learned last year after he listed a four-bedroom house in Maple Valley for sale. It was a “short sale,” certain to fetch less than the owners owed on the home.

The first offer they accepted fell through. So did the second. The third contract was the charm, finally making it to closing.

A report released Tuesday suggests that a record share of King County home-sale agreements fell through last year.

Pending sales of single-family homes — offers accepted by owners — totaled more than 23,000 in 2009, the Northwest Multiple Listing Service said in its year-end summary.

But just 16,000 sales — about 70 percent — actually closed. The ratio was similar for condos, and for single-family homes in Snohomish County.

The gap has been much narrower historically. In 2008 the number of closed house sales in King County was about 85 percent of pending sales. In previous years it was above 90 percent.

“I have been shocked by the [recent] discrepancy,” said Mike Skahen, broker at Lake & Co. Real Estate in North Seattle.

He and other agents and brokers say fewer deals are closing because more of them are complex, time-consuming short sales. They fall through because the sellers’ lenders reject them, hoping to recoup more, or because buyers simply get tired of waiting for an answer.

Also, real-estate professionals say, sellers are accepting more offers contingent on a home inspection — only to have the buyers back out once they see the inspector’s report.

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