At the same time, there are barely any homes available on the opposite end of the market — those selling for under a quarter-million dollars.
The blazing housing market is pushing a growing number of “normal” houses in middle-class neighborhoods into a price category once reserved for luxury estates: The Seattle area this year has already smashed its previous full-year record for sales of million-dollar homes.
Nearly 12 percent of all single-family houses sold in King County so far this year have fetched more than $1 million, easily double the average rate over the last decade, according to sales data crunched by Windermere Real Estate.
At the same time, the other end of the market has all but disappeared. Now, less than 5 percent of homes fit into the cheapest price bracket of less than $250,000, down from an average of nearly 15 percent over the last decade.
The rise in million-dollar home sales has been slowly building for five years but is now growing much faster than normal. This year, by the time September rolled around, the county had already seen more seven-figure sales than in any other full year.
“It wasn’t that long ago, you start talking about seven figures, that was rarefied air. Now, it’s a more substantial market than we’ve ever seen before,” said Matthew Gardner, Windermere’s chief economist. “A million dollars, any way you look at it, is still an awful lot of money. However, it’s what it takes now to buy into some of these markets.”
The biggest concentration of million-dollar houses remains in ritzy areas like Mercer Island, West Bellevue and the Seattle waterfront. In those places, it’s almost impossible to find something under $1 million, said Windermere Realtor Anna Riley.
But now, there are plenty of seven-figure homes selling in places close to downtown like Capitol Hill and First Hill, and a decent amount in middle-class neighborhoods like Ballard, Fremont and West Seattle. Even some small town homes in pricier markets like Queen Anne, and condos downtown, have reached seven figures.
Kate Holmes and her husband consider themselves regular middle-class people — he’s a public schools teacher and she’s in marketing for a software company — but they found themselves reaching past the seven-figure mark to find their new home in the Bryant neighborhood in northeast Seattle.
Like so many others moving up in the market, their main source of wealth was their old home: They sold their 100-year-old fixer-upper in Ballard this summer for $800,000, nearly twice what they paid for it last decade.
“We’re normal people: the idea of owning a million-dollar house didn’t seem in the realm of normal for us,” Kate, 41, said Friday, the same day they closed on their new house. “We thought, a million-dollar house, that was something Donald Trump lived in.”
The new house is hardly a mansion: The three-bedroom isn’t even the most expensive property on the block, and there were plenty of bigger homes for six-figures they saw on the market. It was initially listed under $1 million but went for more than $100,000 over asking after a bidding war.
“We live in a million-dollar house. We kept saying it to ourselves like it seemed surreal,” Holmes said. At the same time, she said, “I worry about living in a city where this is becoming a bigger reality, where there are no starter homes any more.”
Indeed, prices across all types of homes continue to climb. New monthly data released Friday by the Northwest Multiple Listing Service shows the county’s median single-family house cost $550,000 in October, up 14.6 percent from a year ago.
That’s a reversal after the annual price gains had started to slow in recent months. Home costs even went up a bit compared to a month ago, which almost never happens this time of year, when home buying slows. (Prices are still down slightly compared to the record heights reached in late spring.)
Perhaps most distressing, the number of homes available for sale — a big driver of home costs — dropped slightly compared to a year ago after a rare uptick last month. That inventory remains at historic lows.
At the high end of the market, those looking to stand out now have to buy multimillion-dollar homes. The county now sees 2 percent of homes sell for at least $2 million. Historically, those multimillion-dollar houses have been preserved for only the top 1 percent of homebuyers.
“What we used to consider luxury listings was anything over $2 million, and now that has scooted up to $3 million,” Riley said.
Riley said international buyers, tech executives and transplants from richer markets like California and Vancouver, B.C., make up a bulk of the buyers for today’s luxury homes. Some sellers, meanwhile, choose to “cash in” by pocketing a bulk of the profits and buying something in a cheaper area.
Of course, part of the increase in seven-figure sales is due simply to inflation, but the hot market is the biggest factor. The rate of million-dollar homes soared 33 percent this year, three times faster than the average from the previous decade.
The demand for super-pricey homes has grown so much that Windermere, the region’s largest broker, launched a new line of “ultraluxury” services this week called the W Collection tailored for homes worth at least $3 million. More than a dozen agents will be targeting wealthy clients across Western Washington.
The share of million-dollar homes in Seattle is more than twice the national big-city average and rising faster than most other cities, according to an analysis in May by Trulia, which looked at the value of all homes, not just those recently sold.
But Seattle ranked behind the San Francisco Bay Area, Southern California, Honolulu and New York on the list of the highest rate of million-dollar homes.
Looking at the rest of the market data out Friday, Kitsap County also saw significant gains, with prices rising 13.7 percent from a year ago to $294,000.
But the areas to the north and south of King County saw price gains slow compared to recent months. Snohomish County is up 5.9 percent to $386,599 and Pierce County is up 9.7 percent to $279,950.