Four consecutive years of rising home prices in Anchorage came to an end in 2016 as a weakened economy caused prices to stall out, according to year-end data from the Multiple Listing Service.
The drop in average price for a single-family home was slight. In 2016 it was $366,015, down by about a quarter percent from $366,909 in 2015. Prices fell by larger percentages during softer periods in the Anchorage housing market in 2008, 2009 and 2011, during and slightly after the Great Recession.
Prices may not have fallen by all that much in Alaska's current recession, which has been driven by low oil prices and a resulting budget deficit, but the odds are greater that a buyer might ask for and receive more concessions, such as having closing costs covered by a seller.
Closing costs are fees associated with a housing transaction. For a buyer, these fees can add up to between 2 and 5 percent of the home's price, or several thousand dollars, according to real estate website Zillow.
Anita Bates, an associate broker at Dwell Realty, frequently works with sellers who are builders of new homes. She said these sellers tend to hold fast to listed prices, but have been more amenable of late to picking up a greater percentage of buyer closing costs than in the past.
"In many instances, building companies have obtained a pre-construction approval from a bank and if they discount the price of the home, that jeopardizes their ability to go out and get another construction loan," Bates said.
And what does the small decline in prices say about the market as a whole?
"Certainly a decline of only a quarter-percent is not in itself any proof of a real estate calamity. But it very well could signal the beginning of a trend that promises better shopping opportunities in 2017 and beyond," said Niel Thomas, a realtor who provided the MLS data to Alaska Dispatch News.
The slowdown was apparent in other indicators. In 2016, 2,944 homes were sold, down slightly from 3,000 in 2015. Homes sat on the market for an average of 50 days, five days longer than last year.
Overall housing inventory was higher in 2016. In July, typically a strong month for listings, there were 1068 homes for sale, compared with 786 the year before. By December the gap had narrowed to 664 listings, up from 613 in 2015.
Bates called the year "average" and "stable" and believes 2017 will be "similar if a little bit tougher."
"I don't see anything on the horizon that's going to cause it to be outstanding one way or the other," Bates said. "Boring is good. Stable is good."