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Expert: Commuters are what really drive Puget Sound’s housing market

Traffic in downtown Seattle. (SDOT)

The disparity of housing prices in Puget Sound varies depending on which county you’re in, and fluctuates regularly when buyers start flocking out of bigger, more expensive cities. That being so, those prices are largely driven by a factor that’s been present since the dawn of the housing market: Location, location, location.

“It’s a very simple reason — the closer you are to the job centers, the more expensive your housing is because there’s a value to our time,” Windermere Chief Economist Matthew Gardner told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross.

To wit: The median price of a residential home in Pierce County was $374,000 in August 2019. In King County, it’s a whopping $670,000. Now, a good deal of factors play into that, such as home size, added value in backyards, two-car garages, and more, and competing buyers bidding up prices.

But when it comes down to brass tax, time is the most valuable commodity of all, and people will pay a premium for it.

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“Yes, you can get a great house for $400,000 in Pierce County,” Gardner noted. “But then you’re gonna spend three, three-and-a-half hours a day on the road commuting to and from work, so one offsets the other.”

According to Gardner, that’s really what keeps King County housing prices so high: The allure of a shorter commute. So, even while King County’s expensive homes have driven buyers south to Pierce County, prices in the former will still beat those in the latter largely on the strength of a quicker drive to the office.

“The expectation sellers have is … ‘we’ve had six or so years of massive price increases, that can continue, [and] my home is worth more and more and more.’ In reality, it isn’t,” he points out. “And so what we are certainly seeing around the region is well-priced, well-located homes are still selling very quickly.”

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