Friday, February 02, 2007

King of the Hill? Housing-Income Gap in King County Widens

The big scare across the country is falling house prices, leading to a cooler trend in the Real Estate market. But here in the Seattle area – and King County in particular – a more daunting problem is being caused by the exact opposite trend: high price tags.

A new study shows that fewer and fewer King County residents can afford to live within county limits. The typical wage-earning household would have to bring in nearly 50% more income in order to afford even the median-priced housing.

That average house in King was worth around $332k in 2005. At that rate, homeowners would need to make in excess of $88k a year to afford the suggested 30% of income devoted to housing costs. The average household, however, only brought in around $60k last year.

The gap between real income and the price of affordable housing has been widening year after year. In 2003 the average home in King County cost $265k, while the average income was only $1,500 less than it is now. In the years that followed, prices continued to climb, while income levels increased relatively slowly.

Many attribute part of the problem to increasing interest rates, but the gap is much wider than that. The truth of the matter is that Seattle is a highly desirable area in which to live and buy. The surplus of high-wage jobs make it relatively affordable for high-income professionals, but that does not account for the low-wage workers that are here to service the area.

Despite the numbers, low-wage families are not out of luck. The south end of King County is typically much cheaper than other areas closer to downtown, making home ownership more affordable here. The condominium market has also stayed luke-warm rather than raging hot. And apartment leases, which can offer lower monthly rates, though do not build real estate value, tend to be the norm among lower-income families.

For more information on the Seattle Real Estate market and online listing services, visit and




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