When Amy and Bob Ramstead moved to Yakima last August, they expected to sell their home in Portland and buy a home here within a few months.

It ended up taking nine months.

The couple made an offer on a home shortly after moving to Yakima, but it was contingent on them selling their Portland home, which didn’t happen. The Yakima home went back on the market and was under contract with a different buyer within two weeks.

The Ramsteads ended up renting out their Portland home so they could focus on buying a home in the Yakima Valley.

The second go-around with the house hunt, which started around mid-March, proved challenging. Since the couple decided not to sell their Portland home right away, they aimed for a home that cost less than $250,000, a high-demand price point for many Yakima homebuyers.

Every home they looked at was gone within days.

“We were shocked, absolutely shocked,” said Amy Ramstead, 51. “We thought we had the time (to make an offer). We thought it might take us a little while — like a month — to find a house.”

Indeed, the Yakima Valley real estate market in the past two years has seen rising prices and bidding wars, especially on properties in the in-demand price ranges.

“Anything under $300,000 is moving fairly quickly,” said Ricardo Gonzalez, a broker with Yakima Valley Real Estate.

Local experts say there are signs of hope, with slightly more inventory on the market in the past few months.

The number of homes sold during the first five months of this year decreased year-over-year, but prices continued to rise.

As of the end of May, the number of homes sold this year dropped by

6.2 percent compared to 2018, according to data from Headwaters-The Source, a Selah-based firm. The average sales price for Yakima County homes was $230,212, a 3 percent increase from the same period in 2018. That price is also a whopping

23.4 percent increase from the same period in 2016, the last time the average home price was less than $200,000.

Higher-priced homes are selling, too, if not at the same rapid pace.

Gonzalez said he’d seen some homes for $350,000 or more sell after 80 to 100 days on the market. A few years ago, it wasn’t unusual for those homes to sit on the market for months, even more than a year.

Those who have sold their home have been able to use their equity to upgrade to a larger and more expensive home, said Moriet Miketa, owner of Heritage Moultray Real Estate. One house she listed at $415,000 received multiple offers and ended up selling for $10,000 more than the original price.

As of the end of May, 28 Yakima County homes had sold for more than $500,000, compared with 22 homes during the same period in 2018.

Adjusting expectations

Buyers are still adjusting to the price increases, Miketa said.

“People who are coming from the Midwest and Florida, they definitely have sticker shock when they get here,” she said.

Tanya Keeley had been looking for a home since March. Keeley and her family are relocating from St. Petersburg, Fla., because her husband, John, has a new job.

Keeley, 43, said she looked at at least 30 homes over three visits to Yakima. She and her husband finally placed an offer on a house last week. They hope to move in sometime next month.

Keeley said she had to adjust her price expectations. A house that would have gone for $200,000 in Florida, for example, costs at least $300,000 here, she said.

Luckily, the family had extra money saved up for a pool they never purchased, so they were able to increase their budget.

“It’s just a little surprising,” she said. “I felt our market in Florida had gone up a lot in the six years since we bought (our home).”

Relief coming

There may be some relief for buyers this summer thanks to a slight increase in homes on the market, Gonzalez said.

In recent years, there had been just a few hundred homes on the Yakima market at any given time, compared to upward of 1,800 during the market downturn in 2010.

With far fewer homes for sale, there were multiple bids on the homes that did come to market, causing the drastic increase in prices in the last few years.

Gonzalez estimates that there are about 500 homes for sale in the Yakima area, which is still quite low but an improvement from previous months. He expects that number to increase in the months to come.

Miketa said most sellers didn’t sell before because they feared they wouldn’t have anywhere to go. However, with the robust price increases, more sellers are willing to take that chance and are even ready to sell and live in a rental until the right home comes along.

“More and more sellers are jumping into the game,” she said.

She welcomes some relief in the inventory, especially if it calms things down for buyers.

“We need the market to balance out a little bit,” she said.

Meanwhile, buyers are also learning to adjust their expectations, Gonzalez said. Buyers now have heard from friends and family about their experiences and realize that in today’s market they need to offer at least the list price, if not more, and to not ask the seller for concessions such as closing costs.

Buyers are a “little easier to work with and understand the process a little more because it’s been happening for more than two years,” Gonzalez said.

Real estate agent help

After a few months of a tough home search, Amy Ramstead, too, understands the process better.

“My advice to people is to be patient and to be prepared,” she said.

Ramstead said she’s come to value help — in this case from Miketa, the Ramsteads’ agent.

In early May, Miketa called Bob Ramstead, letting him know that a seller had contacted her about a home that had the features they were looking for. More important, the house was within their budget.

Within 36 hours, the Ramsteads had looked at the home and made an offer. The home never officially came on the market, and the Ramsteads completed the purchase at the end of May.

Amy Ramstead, now settled in her new home, credits Miketa for helping them.

“Find (an agent) willing to do the work for you,” she said. “That’s the key.”

Reach Mai Hoang at maihoang@yakimaherald.com or Twitter @maiphoang