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Best Places for Homeownership in Washington

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by on February 28, 2014

Written by Chip Olsen

Washington residents are known for being a sharp bunch. More than 31% of residents 25 and older have earned bachelor’s degrees or higher, according to recent U.S. Census figures. Some of the nation’s top companies, including Microsoft, Starbucks and Amazon.com, employ the brightest minds in The Evergreen State. Eight Fortune 500 companies are based in Washington.

So smart people, take note: a recent study conducted by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies concluded that one in four American households are spending more than 50% of their income on rent. But in our top 10 best places for homeownership in Washington, homeownership costs generally take up only about 30% of monthly median household incomes. NerdWallet analyzed the 86 places in Washington with more than 15,000 residents to determine which locations have characteristics that are favorable to homebuyers. Our analysis is based on three main questions:

 1. Are homes available?  We looked at the metro area’s homeownership rate to determine the availability of homes. A low homeownership rate is likely a signal of competitive inventory, more options for renters rather than buyers and expensive housing. Areas with a high homeownership rate led to a higher overall score.

2. Can you afford to live there? We looked at median household income, monthly homeowner costs and median home value to assess affordability and determine whether residents could live comfortably in the area. We used monthly homeowner costs to measure cost of living. Areas with high median incomes and low cost of living scored higher. Thinking of buying a home yourself? Check out our mortgage tool to find the best rate.

3. Is the area growing? We measured population growth to ensure that the area is attracting new residents and showing signs of solid growth. This is likely a signal of a robust local economy, which is another attractive characteristic for homebuyers.

 For more details on our methodology, please see the “Methodology” section at the end of the report.

1. Union Hill-Novelty Hill

This unincorporated area of east King County leads our list with affordable monthly homeownership costs at just 26.7% of median monthly household income and a high homeownership rate of 86.4%. The median home value is $578,700 and the population here swelled by 16.7% between 2010 and 2012, which is the second highest on our top 10 list. Still, nature lovers will appreciate the abundant open spaces and extensive trail systems found within this area located about 20 miles east of Seattle. The Lake Washington School District educates students who live in the Novelty Hill-Union Hill neighborhood, which sits close to numerous high-tech and biomedical companies. Residents also enjoy horseback riding, biking and hiking at the nearby Redmond Watershed Preserve, a sprawling 800-acre area.

2. Mill Creek East

Mill Creek East, a Census-designated place located inside the city of Mill Creek,  boasts an entire network of parks, open spaces, pathways and trails for residents to keep active. Mill Creek East has a high homeownership rate of 86.4% and homeownership costs that amount to 28% of median monthly household income. The median home value in Mill Creek East is $360,800. Colleges within the area include Central Washington University and Everett Community College.

3. Burien City

Burien, a Puget Sound waterfront community located about 11 miles south of Seattle, is booming: the population here grew by a whopping 29.5% between 2010 and 2012, according to U.S. Census data. The homeownership rate is by far the lowest on our list at 53.1% and homeowner costs as a percentage of household income is the highest on our list at 45.8%, putting it outside the general affordability of our other top 10 picks. That said, interest in Burien as a place to call home is certainly growing and,city officials and residents in this strong community take pride in their area’s appearance and their efforts to aid the environment. Plus, locals can look forward to annual events such as the Spring Carnival Days and the Wild Strawberry Festival. 

4. Maple Valley

Located about 30 minutes southeast of Seattle, this city has a homeownership rate of 83.5% and homeowner costs that take up 27.9% of the median monthly household income. Maple Valley offers a thriving community center, which offers classes and programs for children, adults and seniors, and residents can also relax and learn at the Maple Valley Library. The popular Lake Wilderness Park features walking paths, tennis courts, fishing and swimming and residents can test their skills at the city’s skate park or witness Mother Nature’s beauty at the Lake Wilderness Arboretum. Plus, golf enthusiasts can swing the sticks at the Lake Wilderness Golf Course. And every June the city celebrates Maple Valley Days with a carnival, parades and a car show.

 5. Graham 

Graham, a rural community located about 30 miles east of the state capital of Olympia and only 45 miles from beautiful Mount Rainier National Park, has a homeownership rate of 84.6% throughout almost 35 square miles of land. The Bethel School District educates the area’s students and voters recently approved two propositions that will enrich the district’s technology efforts and extend current local funding for schools, including day-to-day operations. Graham’s monthly homeownership costs stand at 31.7% of monthly median household income.

 6. Sammamish 

Sammamish is the most affordable area on our list with monthly homeownership costs at just 23.9% of median household income, which was the highest on our list at $11,988 per month. The city tapped in at 89.3% for homeownership rate. Known as an excellent area for families, Sammamish offers a full serving of the state’s natural outdoor treats, including Lake Sammamish State Park, a 512-acre area. The city, located 20 miles east of Seattle and about 12 miles south of Union Hill-Novelty Hill, strives to mix a perfect blend of urban conveniences and unique character with values often found throughout smaller communities. The median home value is $589,000, the highest on our list. The area features a popular teen recreation center and construction on a two-story community and aquatic center is scheduled for June this year.

7. Covington City

Covington has a homeownership rate of 84.6% and monthly homeowner costs take up 28.5% of the monthly median household income. The Covington Aquatic Center is a nice spot for those who wish to make a splash and locals here benefit from several parks and trails scattered throughout the community. Plus, every July, residents take pride in the Covington Days Festival. The Kent School District serves the city’s K-12 students, and there are two nearby community colleges and a handful of close universities, including the University of Washington.

 8. Cottage Lake 

This unincorporated area located north of Union Hill-Novelty Hill has a homeownership rate of 93.2% – the highest on our list – and homeownership costs at 27.5% of median monthly income. Cottage Lake is a 63-acre lake located not far from Seattle, Tacoma and Bellevue. Nearly 22,500 people make this sweet spot their home. Median home value here is $564,000. Along with tons of outdoor adventures around this location, residents can also relax at the 15,000-square-foot Woodinville Library.

9. Eastmont

Located about 25 miles from Seattle, Eastmont made our list with its manageable homeownership costs at 30.1% of median monthly household income and a high homeownership rate of 85.6%. Population growth here limped along at 3.8% growth between 2010 and 2012, the lowest on our top 10 list. Picturesque Silver Lake is located near this unincorporated area, which sits in Snohomish County. Numerous golf courses can be found around Eastmont and many arts, cultural and recreational attractions are located about a dozen miles away in Everett.

10. Bonney Lake

Bonney Lake residents enjoy six city parks, a wide selection of trails, ample boating and a public pool. The homeownership rate in this city located about 16 miles southeast of Tacoma is 79.2%, while homeownership costs reach 31.8% of median monthly household income. In July, the city’s popular Tunes @ Tapps summer outdoor concert events and outdoor market will begin at the Allan Yorke Park. Additional summer events include movies in the park and the family-oriented Bonney Lake Days, both scheduled in August. Two school districts – Sumner and White River – educate area students.

Rank Place Nearest Big City Home Ownership Rate Median Selected Monthly Homeowner Costs Median Monthly Household Income Homeowner Costs as a Percentage of Household Income Median Home Values 2010-2012 Population Growth Overall Score for Home Owners
1 Union Hill-Novelty Hill Seattle 86.4% $2,816 $10,556 26.7% $578,700 16.7% 72.7
2 Mill Creek East Everett 86.4% $2,253 $8,041 28.0% $360,800 8.6% 69.0
3 Burien Seattle 53.1% $1,933 $4,216 45.8% $291,000 29.5% 68.1
4 Maple Valley Tacoma 83.5% $2,296 $8,217 27.9% $319,900 8.1% 67.9
5 Graham Tacoma 84.6% $1,852 $5,847 31.7% $237,900 6.8% 67.8
6 Sammamish Seattle 89.3% $2,867 $11,988 23.9% $589,000 7.1% 65.3
7 Covington Tacoma 84.6% $2,188 $7,669 28.5% $297,500 4.5% 65.2
8 Cottage Lake Seattle 93.2% $3,001 $10,927 27.5% $564,000 5.3% 65.0
9 Eastmont Everett 85.6% $2,205 $7,326 30.1% $331,200 3.8% 63.8
10 Bonney Lake Tacoma 79.2% $2,052 $6,453 31.8% $273,400 5.7% 63.0
11 Camas Vancouver 79.7% $2,127 $6,682 31.8% $315,100 6.2% 62.9
12 Kent Tacoma 54.2% $1,979 $4,873 40.6% $278,300 21.5% 62.7
13 Five Corners Vancouver 72.8% $1,666 $5,310 31.4% $215,300 7.3% 62.7
14 Silver Firs Everett 92.0% $2,375 $8,823 26.9% $355,100 -1.3% 62.6
15 Pasco Spokane 62.7% $1,264 $4,102 30.8% $151,700 10.9% 62.6
16 Bothell West Everett 83.7% $2,151 $7,271 29.6% $329,000 1.6% 60.8
17 Fairwood (King County) Seattle 73.0% $2,146 $7,445 28.8% $338,500 7.1% 60.7
18 Richland Spokane 66.6% $1,478 $5,729 25.8% $194,400 6.1% 60.5
19 Frederickson Tacoma 75.5% $1,870 $5,801 32.2% $229,400 3.8% 60.0
20 Inglewood-Finn Hill Seattle 76.1% $2,367 $7,383 32.1% $405,600 7.2% 60.0

Methodology

The overall score for each city was derived from each of these measures:

1. Homeownership rate made up 33.3% of the total score. A higher rate earned a higher score. The rate comes from the U.S. Census American Community Survey 5-year Estimates for all places in the state, Table DP 04.

2. Selected monthly owner costs as a percentage of median household income made up 16.7% of the total score. A lower percentage earned a higher score. Monthly homeowner costs as a percentage of median household income made up one-half of the affordability score. Median household income comes from the U.S. Census American Community Survey 5-year Estimates for all places in the state, Table DP 03. Monthly homeowner costs come from the U.S. Census American Community Survey 5-year Estimates for all places in the state, Table DP 04.

3. Median home value made up 16.7% of the total score. A lower value earned a higher score. Median home value made up one-half of the affordability score. Median home value come from the U.S. Census American Community Survey 5-year Estimates for all places in the state, Table DP 04.

4. Population change from 2010 to 2012 made up 33.3% of the total score. A higher percent change earned a higher score. The 2010 population came from the 2010 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates for all places in the state, Table DP 05. The 2012 population data came from the 2012 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates for all places in the state, Table DP 05. NerdWallet calculated the percent change.

86 communities were evaluated for this study. The study only evaluated places with a population greater than 15,000.

Image: Rutlo/Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/641Zw9

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  • Reba_Haas

    Interesting list. I’m assuming since this is “nerdwallet” that it’s geared for those individuals making $80,000 a year or more since the value ranges your list includes are well beyond what the average income is of the state. Most of my Amazon, Expedia and Microsoft clients do live in these neighborhoods but mostly if they’re planning families. For those who aren’t married or who don’t yet have kids, many more prefer to live further into the downtown districts of Bellevue, Kirkland and Seattle. BTW – You need to edit your information on Maple Valley, it’s not located NW of Seattle, it’s very clearly SE being past Renton as you head toward Mount Rainier and Enumclaw. As a local REALTOR working in the area, you can count on me to know this info! :) I do have to say that posting Burien on your list was an eye-opener since most techies I know won’t go here even though it’s a really fun downtown area that’s changed a lot in the past 5-10 years. I’m curious what your reports had about Renton and its variety of neighborhoods in this city of over 90,000 residents. Any info you can share?

    • Maggie Clark

      Hi Reba, thanks for your comments. We’ve corrected the location on Maple Valley, thanks for pointing that out. To your question on Renton, I looked in our data and Renton wasn’t in the top 20 because the homeownership rate (55.3%) was low in comparison to the top cities. Renton was moderately affordable (38.4% of monthly income to homeownership costs) and had moderate population growth of 5.7 percent between 2010 and 2012. These studies aren’t geared toward any one income group, but focus on affordability in relation to the median household income of an area, homeownership rates and population growth. Thanks for the feedback!

      • Reba_Haas

        Except for some of these areas you list are neighborhoods in cities (Union Hill as an example). Even if in the unincorporated area of King County, most people who live there consider themselves as part of Redmond. That’s a serious limitation and misstatement of the data because those same folks probably looked for homes in Redmond proper such as on Education Hill. That area doesn’t survive by itself without the rest of Redmond. Not trying to bust chops here, but it’s not that great of a list of “best” places.