Housing costs soar far from Seattle as remote working takes hold

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White-collar workers, detached from their desks after companies turned to remote working due to the pandemic, are moving their housing searches – and their money – away from Seattle.

The outlying areas exploded, from Spanaway to Pouslbo via Orcas Island.

Whatcom County, home to Bellingham, has also felt the change.

Remote workers aren’t new to Washington’s northwest corner, but local realtors say the pandemic felt like it was pushing the fast-forward button.

“People were flocking to the islands and Whatcom County,” said Annie Dameron Pederson, agent for John L. Scott. “It has become a different market. “

Homebuyers are coming in with cash to spend and mountain bikes in tow, Windermere agent Damian Pro said.

“They have this mentality of ‘we want to live our best life’,” said Pro.

While home prices have hit record highs across the country in the past year, western Washington has seen the most breathtaking growth in areas outside of Seattle.

The median single-family home in Whatcom County last month sold for $ 552,550, up about 18% from the same period last year and 37% from the same period in 2019, before the pandemic, according to data released Wednesday by the Northwest Multiple Listing. Service.

Elsewhere, the median home price last month in Snohomish County was $ 675,000, up about 18% from a year ago. In Pierce County, the median price was $ 506,650, up 16.5%. In Thurston County, the median of $ 470,000 is up 20.5%, according to the NWMLS.


Home prices have also climbed in San Juan County, although the small number of sales could cause the numbers to fluctuate widely. In September, the median home sold for $ 850,000, down about 6% from the same month last year, but up 6% from August.

King County’s median of $ 825,600 is up about 10% year-on-year.

However, with the arrival of autumn, the local real estate market is cooling down.

In the Puget Sound area, the number of pending sales last month was down from August, and home prices are roughly flat in most places month over month.

More homes were available at the end of September than in August, which is good news for buyers. But look a little further for the background: Far fewer homes are available for sale than at the same time in 2019, before the pandemic.

The measure of how long it would take to sell each home for sale at current demand, known as months of inventory, has increased slightly in King and Pierce counties, indicating the market is somewhat less fierce. But this measure is still less than three weeks.

Brianna Harvey hasn’t looked back since moving from Seattle to Bellingham last summer.

“As soon as it looked like working from home was going to be a long-term thing, I started looking,” said Harvey, who works in technology and grew up in Bellingham.

She wanted to live closer to her friends and family and have faster access to mountain biking and trail running. Even with a 20% down payment, Harvey encountered a tough market as she searched for homes within her budget of $ 400,000 to $ 425,000. Eventually, she got a two-bedroom bungalow for $ 450,000.

“My quality of life has improved significantly,” she said.

Redfin agent Cathie Butler said she has been working with buyers who have moved from California or the Seattle area, many of whom are willing to buy silver in the Bellingham area.

Butler estimates that most homes get eight to 12 bids and sell for about $ 50,000 to $ 60,000 more than their list price.

“It’s starting to calm down, but it’s still super competitive,” she said.

Rising prices push buyers with less to spend looking for alternatives.

“We have more people than ever contacting us,” said Dean Fearing, executive director of the nonprofit Kulshan Community Land Trust. (In a community land trust, the nonprofit owns the land under the house and the owner agrees to receive a limited amount of equity in order to keep the house affordable in the future.)

“There just aren’t any homes for sale that most workers can afford,” Fearing said.

Kulshan Community Land Trust is building around two dozen new homes and plans to build 45 over the next three to five years, Fearing said. The hot market makes it more difficult for his organization to buy land. The organization’s waiting list ranges from 40 to 70 potential buyers.

“We have been discovered,” Fearing said of Whatcom County. “People know it’s a community they want to move to. For years people have been doing this, but the pandemic, the mobility that allowed it, has only accelerated it even faster. “

The hot market can intimidate potential sellers, causing them not to move.

“I often hear this, ‘Well, we can’t sell … Where are we going to go? Said Pro, from Windermere.

Overpriced buyers are looking beyond Bellingham to Ferndale, Burlington, Sedro-Woolley and Blaine, he said.


In King County, the Eastside remains scorching, with the median home price of $ 1.31 million up 26% from the same period in 2020, but the number of new sales was down from to August. Seattle’s median price, $ 850,000, is up about 4%.

For condos, Seattle’s median price of $ 505,000 is up about 5% from last year and Eastside’s median price of $ 566,000 is up 3%.


Rebecca Lieberthal and her husband began looking for a home in the Seattle area last summer as a wave of buyers drawn by low interest rates were shopping from home. The couple made seven offers, sometimes rivaling a dozen other offers, before securing their new home in Burien this summer.

“More than excitement, we felt relief that the process was over,” said Lieberthal, who works as a nurse. As their family grows, they can get too big for the house.

Already, she said, “I dread this process again.”


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