Sizzling Wasatch Front home sales, prices reached record highs. Here’s why.

Low interest rates and pandemic-related buying made the suburbs a hot place to live.

Home sales on the Wasatch Front reached historic highs in 2020 as low interest rates spurred heavy buying that wiped away an early pandemic slowdown and lifted prices to new peaks.

Sales of single-family houses, condominiums, town homes and duplexes in Salt Lake County topped 19,125 last year, up from 18,125 in 2019. That 2020 volume beats the region’s previous sales high of 18,907 set in 2005, when a U.S. housing bubble was building.

“Hectic is a good word,” said Alicia Holdaway, a Draper-based real estate agent and former president of the Salt Lake Board of Realtors. “Buyers are getting more and more desperate.”

The median home price on a single-family home in Utah’s most populous county is at a record $425,000, up 12% from 2019, according to new data released Wednesday.

For the five-county region centered on Salt Lake City, a new high of 43,281 homes changed hands last year, even though buyers and real estate agents coped with fewer listings in a tight market, more virtual tours and a host of other health-related precautions due to the COVID-19 crisis.

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Single-family home sales were up in Salt Lake, Utah, Davis and Weber counties, with only Tooele County seeing a small decline. Regionwide, the median sale price for all home types is $357,990 — a stark benchmark as Utah struggles with a housing shortage.

Coronavirus-related options for working from home prompted thousands to consider a move last year. Real estate agents reported clients searching for home offices, exercise rooms and home-schooling areas as well as dwellings closer to open space. Purchases by out-of-staters relocating from more densely populated areas also heightened Utah’s housing demand.”

“I’m seeing buyers from Arizona, California, Connecticut, even investors from China,” said Matt Ulrich, Salt Lake Board of Realtors president and an agent with Ulrich Realtors, based in Cottonwood Heights. Between incoming buyers and new demand from existing residents striking out to new locales, Ulrich said, “it’s kind of like a perfect storm.”

We have families stacked two and three deep in homes, ready to get out, but there’s not enough inventory,” he said. “And we have people coming in from out of state, and we’re not building enough.”

With mortgage rates dipping as low as 2.67% in December and the Beehive State’s jobs market recovering faster than most from the pandemic, many analysts says conditions are ripe to make 2021 a similar banner year.

And while it’s something of a sellers’ market, many would-be sellers might struggle to afford buying a replacement home in the same market.

That’s one of the logjams in our inventory,” Holdaway said. “You know, where do I go after I make all this money on my home?”

New data shows a palpable shift in buying since the pandemic began toward suburban ZIP codes as 2020 drew to a close, with large sales gains in places such as Sandy, South Jordan, West Valley City and Holladay.

As a prime example, sales in Daybreak, the master-planned community in South Jordan, where green spaces are plentiful, shot up to 1,055 in 2020, from 753 sales in 2019.

The spate of sales across the Wasatch Front stretched from early summer through year’s end, coming after the state’s residential real estate markets faltered in April and May amid initial fears of the contagion and the effects of health restrictions moved most showings online.

The resulting spree has slashed available listings and shortened dramatically how long houses remain for sale. The average home in October, November and December was on the market for 12 days — near a 24-year low, according to new data. Real estate agents say all but a few listings draw multiple offers swiftly these days and would-be buyers need to move fast.

Because the buying spurt has come when Utah already had a housing deficit and low inventories, the combined trends have sent housing prices across the region up ever more sharply, after years of steady gains already had pushed many homes out of reach for first-time buyers and those of more modest incomes.

Salt Lake, Utah, Weber, Davis and Tooele counties all saw homes prices rise by between 10% and 15% last year. The median price on a single-family home (excluding condos and town houses) for the entire Wasatch Front is now $393,498, new data indicates, up 11% from 2019.

With 2020′s trajectory, Salt Lake County’s home prices have now increased at a yearly rate of 5.1% since 1996, when the median home price was $129,000. By contrast, home prices nationally have risen 3.7% a year, a recent study indicates. Economists credit Utah’s higher population growth and job creation since 2010 for much of that trend.

In other signs of the Wasatch Front’s hot housing market:

• Salt Lake County’s most expensive ZIP code remains 84103, which spans the Avenues and up Emigration Canyon, but its ranking solidified in late 2020. Home prices there went from a median of $644,000 at the end of September to $806,500 by year’s end, a leap of 25.2% in one quarter.

• In Utah County, the top-priced homes are in Alpine; median cost: $779,000. For Weber, those addresses are in Eden, with the median price there at $716,310.

• Davis County’s highest prices are in Farmington, where homes sold for a median of $529,000 late last year. In Tooele County, the choice spot appeared to be Stockton, with a new median price of $439,762.

• Condominiums, town homes and duplexes — usually more affordable than single-family homes — accounted for more than 25% of all home sales in Salt Lake County — a near-record high indicative, in part, of bargain hunting. Yet some more expensive downtown condos have languished on the market.

Correction • 1:31 p.m., Jan. 27, 2021: This story was updated to correct the total number of Wasatch Front home sales for 2005.