King County has now had record-breaking price increases for three months in a row, and costs here are soaring faster than in just about any other U.S. county. Prices rose more than 10 percent in Snohomish, Pierce and Kitsap counties.

Share story

As a year of record-breaking home-price increases continues across the Seattle area, millennials and other first-time buyers are comings to grips with the reality that they simply can’t save up quickly enough to match the rise in home costs.

The median price of a single-family home in King County last month grew 16.1 percent from a year earlier, the most for any September since records began in 2000, new data out Thursday show. That follows the hottest-ever August for the local housing market, and the hottest-ever July.

The options for homebuyers looking for cheaper alternatives farther out weren’t much better: Prices rose more than 10 percent in Snohomish, Pierce and Kitsap counties.

The effects of a half-decade of home-value surges have taken a large toll on affordability. In the last five years, home prices across King County have grown four times faster than wages, according to figures released Thursday by ATTOM Data Solutions.

Colin Perez, a 30-year-old tech worker, and his wife have been renting for the past two years while they searched for a home to buy. Despite making “decent money” and saving up, they’ve only fallen further behind.

“Where do I have to be in my career in the Seattle market to be able to afford something?” he said. “I’m 30 now; if I wait until I’m 40, is it even going to be affordable? You can’t catch up.”

They thought about putting less money down to grab a home at today’s prices, but that would make their mortgage huge. “It’s gotten to the point where the reality of living in Seattle for us is really low,” he said.

Justin Baghai, a tech worker renting in Ballard, started looking to buy a two-bedroom this summer and upped his budget to $500,000. He put in an offer above list price on a condo in Redmond but was outbid by $50,000 by a foreign investor.

Baghai, who is 25 and says he earns a good income, figures anyone under 30 not making six figures in Seattle will have to spend about 10 years saving up to afford a home. Earlier this year, a survey found nearly half of local millennials are considering moving because of housing costs.

“Every single day I go on Zillow and just look at new listings, and every day I’m disappointed without fail,” Baghai said. “At this point it’s looking unlikely that I’ll even be able to live in the Seattle area, where I grew up, and that’s frustrating.”

The monthly home-sales data released Thursday show more of the same for what has been the most expensive year ever for Puget Sound- area real estate.

The only good news for buyers is that prices have dipped a bit since the record highs reached earlier this spring and summer, but that almost always happens this time of year. The year-over-year increases, on the other hand, have been the highest on record three months in a row.

King County’s median price of $625,000 is nearly $87,000 more than at this point a year ago.

The biggest price increases were on the northern and southern edges of the county, where homes are most affordable. Seattle’s median price of $725,000 is up 15.1 percent from a year ago. The Eastside price grew 14 percent, to $855,000.

More and more homes are edging above the $1 million mark, which used to denote a luxury home but now might just mean a regular house in a desirable location. More than 3,700 homes have sold for seven figures so far this year in King County, a 42 percent increase from a year prior and nearly double the total from two years ago.

King County’s home-price growth in the third quarter of this year was the 5th-highest among America’s 407 counties with at least 100,000 people, ATTOM’s data show.

Among the largest metro areas, the Seattle region has led the nation in cost increases for the last 11 months.

Stephanie Calabro and her husband are renters in Eastlake who both work in Seattle, grew up here and have family in the area. They “feel like either we’re just going to have to rent forever or move to a more affordable city,” she said.

“It’s sad,” Calabro said. “We hate the thought of commuting an hour a day so that we can purchase a livable home.”

Mark Corcoran, a Seattle broker with Windermere, said the best thing prospective buyers can do is set realistic expectations.

Home shoppers may have to look farther out to cheaper areas and lose multiple bidding wars before they can get a house. If you can afford a $700,000 house, you should be looking at homes priced at $600,000 in case they get bid up, he said.

“It really sucks to be a buyer in this market right now,” he said. He just had a client who lost two straight bids despite offering more than $100,000 over list price.

Both Enumclaw and the Jovita/West Hill Auburn area saw prices soar 29 percent from a year prior. Costs grew more than 20 percent in Auburn, Black Diamond/Maple Valley, Renton-Highlands, Sodo/Beacon Hill, North Seattle, Shoreline/Richmond Beach, the Eastside area south of Interstate-90, east Bellevue and Kirkland-Bridle Trails.

The only areas where prices dipped at least 1 percent from a year ago were Queen Anne/Magnolia and the condo-only market of downtown Seattle.

The shortage of homes for sale continues to help drive up prices. Inventory across the county was down 16 percent from a year ago and has been dropping nonstop for several years now.

In Pierce County, despite the normal seasonal slowdown, home values hit a new all-time high of $318,750 — up 14.3 percent from a year prior.

In Snohomish County, the median sale was $450,000, a 13.9 percent increase. In Kitsap County, costs grew 10.3 percent to nearly $315,000.