As of 2015, more people own a home in King County than ever before. And 100 percent of that growth since 2005 has occurred among people age 55 and older.
Here’s a statistic that’s sure to demoralize any first-time homebuyers feeling squeezed out of Seattle’s tight housing market:
As of 2015, more people own a home in King County than ever before. New census data show that we’ve finally eclipsed the peak number from the housing-bubble era.
But if homeownership seems like a distant dream to you, there’s a likely explanation: You’re too young.
The data reveal that local homeowners have gotten a lot grayer. Since 2005, 100 percent of the growth in King County homeownership has occurred among people age 55 and older.
Overall, the number of homeowners in the county hit a record 491,000 last year, surpassing the 2008 high of 486,000. And it happened in dramatic fashion, surging by more than 20,000 in a year — the biggest single-year increase in King County since the Census Bureau became producing annual estimates in 2005.
In this regard, Seattle stands apart from much of the country. Nationally, the number of homeowners still lags, down by more than 1 million from the pre-recession peak.
But it was homeowners age 55 and over driving all that local growth — they numbered 233,000 last year, an increase of more than 60,000 since 2005.
People in this age group now make up nearly half of all homeowners in the county.
If it sounds like older people suddenly starting buying up all the homes in the area, that’s not what happened.
Rather, the massive baby-boom generation — most of whom already owned homes — matured past age 55 since 2005. That swelled the ranks of homeowners in this age bracket.
There also are new buyers in this age group, says Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors. He thinks some of the growth could be driven by older folks fleeing higher-priced California markets.
“I would not be surprised even if there are retirees from, say, San Francisco, moving to Seattle,” he said. “They may not be looking for jobs; they just like the area.”
Nationally, homeownership rates among younger people are way down from the mid-2000s — the hardest hit are millennials, many of whom are saddled with debt and living paycheck to paycheck.
But in King County, millennials have fared a lot better than their peers nationwide.
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In 2015, there were about 51,000 homeowners under 35 in King County. That number is almost exactly where it was in 2005 — a decline of less than 1 percent.
Compare that with the national figure: The number of homeowners under 35 in the United States dropped by more than 25 percent in that period.
“With the jobs they’re getting here, many are making good money, so they’re very competitive in the housing market,” said Zillow chief economist Svenja Gudell. “And if you have the means and the patience and — in all honesty — the good luck to find a home, it makes a lot of sense to buy, given how high rents are.”
In the Seattle area, it’s the next oldest group — the Gen Xers — who have taken the hardest hit in the housing market.
The number of homeowners age 35 to 54 in King County declined by 26,000 from 2005 to 2015 — a 9 percent drop. Gen Xers also saw the biggest decline in homeownership rates, from 69 percent to 62 percent.
People in this age group often were hit hardest when the housing bubble burst because they were the prime age to buy homes. Many wound up in foreclosure, and the damage to their credit makes re-entering the housing market even more difficult.
And Seattle’s sizzling market just compounds that, according to Yun.
“People who have gone back to renting from being homeowners are suddenly realizing that even though they are experiencing some income growth, the home-price growth is much faster,” he said. So they’re still renting.
Yun also notes that the homeownership rate among the under 35s has always been low in the Seattle market compared with the national average — so when the recession hit, they had less far to fall than the Xers.