How to accept being priced out of my hometown
April 3, 2019 6:41 AM   Subscribe

I grew up in Seattle (Montlake specifically). My husband, baby, and I moved out of Seattle about 2 years ago to level up his career skills. We just couldn't afford to live there, basically... How can we move back?

I know job is first thing - but (in putting the cart before the horse fashion) I am specifically wondering areas. I am thinking East side as my husband does AR/Videogames programming/design stuff. I don't know much about the East side tbh. I feel like Seattle is way beyond our means. I want to live near public transit. I looked up and there is a lightrail coming in a few years... so is there anyplace in the Eastside that is affordable? I would like to be walking or decent bus to lightrail/Seattle. I guess schools is also something to think about (ahhhh - toddler is currently 2.5) I want my son to grow up near his grandparents and cousins but every time I look at redfin I get a bit weepy. I know we are privileged to have tech job access from husband. I am an artist and have done non-profit work mostly/SAHM right now. My family lives around Seattle (Lake City, Hillman City), West Seattle, Tukwila, Federal Way, Edmonds, and Kirkland (yeah - lots of extended folks - main fam in South Seattle). We racked up a lot of debt living in Seattle and not affording it the last time. I don't want to do that. This also means we have no savings and I dream of owning a house with a garden someday. Do I need a reality check?! (38 year old F here)
posted by PistachioRoux to Work & Money (25 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I live in Seattle and it is very expensive. I don't know of any family able to live on one income without some outside factor like family money.

A lot of people just rent and don't buy.

It seems like some people are trying to live in Edmonds or Lynnwood to reduce the cost.

Honestly I don't know what else to say. I don't think there is a magic answer here.
posted by k8t at 7:17 AM on April 3, 2019

Shoreline has good schools and will have lightrail in a few years. It used to be the place people who got priced out of North Seattle ended up -- like me -- but it isn't easy to find houses at normal human rates any more. There are a lot of new apartment buildings going in, though, if that's an option. It would be easy to get to your family in Edmonds, annoying to get to your family in West Seattle.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:46 AM on April 3, 2019

Could you live in Federal Way? There’s pretty solid bus at the transit center to Seattle proper. There’s also the Sounder to get to/from work.
posted by corb at 7:48 AM on April 3, 2019

Is teaming up with family an option? For example, buying a multi-family and sharing resources like heat/tv/internet/childcare. Or a loan for a downpayment.
posted by xo at 7:55 AM on April 3, 2019 [7 favorites]

Do you and your husband need to commute to an office 5 days a week or is some sort of remote/commute 1-2x a week an option? If it's the latter, Tacoma, Olympia, Everett, all sorts of more affordable places come into play. Oregon example here. I know several people who moved out of Portland to Salem, 40 miles south to afford a home and still stay connected to family/friends.
posted by caveatz at 7:56 AM on April 3, 2019

You could rent. I know the ideal is house-owning, and there is a lot of societal messages, peer pressure, and "that's just what people do and we would NEVER rent because it's burning money".

But it isn't. For context I live in a very expensive city, and I rent, despite having enough savings to be a cash buyer. I can pay outright cash for an apartment and I choose not to. I have done a bunch of financial models and if you look at housing as an investment, it generates poor returns for your money, and I might as well rent.

There are a bunch of people out there who run contrarian like myself, might be worth a read.
Radreads' The hidden benefits of renting (over buying)
Mr Money Mustache "Rent vs. Buy: If You Have to Ask, You Should Probably Rent"
posted by moiraine at 8:00 AM on April 3, 2019 [11 favorites]

I also came to suggest finding a solution with family. It has its own challenges, but it could be viable. I know that there's a movement in Seattle to change zoning laws to allow for building backyard cottage dwellings to increase housing density. Do your parents have a large enough yard that you could consider aiming for that?
posted by quince at 8:01 AM on April 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

The city has changed so much even since I moved there in 2011, it's hard to imagine how much different it must feel for you. We felt like we couldn't afford to live in Seattle proper any longer without signing away our souls to one tech giant or another, so we moved to Minneapolis last summer, where we felt like we could live comfortably right in the city without making career decisions based principally on $$$. So far that is working out very, very well.

My partner and I are Midwesterners by birth so it was easy for us to move back to the Midwest, but in your shoes I would 100% be looking at living in Tacoma or Olympia or Bellingham or another regional city, to stay close to family without figuring out some kind of semi-affordable situation in Seattle proper or a still-not-all-that-affordable-and-also-grimly-car-oriented situation in one of the Seattle exurbs.
posted by Kwine at 8:14 AM on April 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

Could you consider going back to work once your child is in school? A second income seems like the most obvious approach to a solution here.
posted by praemunire at 8:25 AM on April 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

I know some folks in their 30's who bought a house in Bremerton and they are pretty middle class (but also very committed to zero waste living.) It's not a viable daily commute, really, but the ferry is fun/pretty? From what I hear, though, other people are getting the same idea so it might not be affordable much longer.
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:26 AM on April 3, 2019

I’m in (I think) a comparable market... I’m priced out of my preferred neighbourhoods, too. So I’m having to look at alternates. Which honestly sucks (just yesterday I was cursing at the listings).

It’s tough (really tough!!!), but you’ve got to look at the numbers. Think of the longer-term, too (retirement, etc). If you have no savings, you need to think about cutting back (ie moving somewhere you can afford that ticks some, probably not all, boxes), generating more income somehow, or both. Go to r/personalfinance for the realest reality check :/

It’s shocking how much things can change in just a few decades. What seemed attainable and possible then just isn’t anymore for reasons beyond our control. It isn’t fair at all... but the best thing to do imo is put your logical hat on, see things for what they are, make informed projections, and adjust your plan and expectations (the best you can).

Imo at this time of life it’s best to prioritize earning/saving as much as possible and make housing choices secondary to that.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:45 AM on April 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

In terms of priority, is it more important to you to be in or near Seattle or more important to own your own home (regardless of location) in the near term (say 1-5 years)?

If Seattle is the priority, I would focus on the job hunt and building up your savings for a few years. You can rent in an area in Seattle where the schools would be a good fit for your kid, get an idea of what an workable budget is for you, and save the money for a down payment. You’ll also be there to scope out neighborhoods where you might be able to find a good deal on a house.

Alternatively, you could look for a place to live where you could afford to buy and there’s a good job match for your husband, with the idea of saving and perhaps moving to Seattle in the longer term (5-10 years).

Or as others have suggested, look for a compromise in an area where you’d be a 1-3 hour drive away from Seattle, which would make it easier to see family.

Either way I think you should prioritize building up your savings. I wouldn’t overreach in buying a house right now because there’s a lot of uncertainty in the larger market, with people speculating about what the economy will do in the next 1-3 years. I also wouldn’t buy a place in which you don’t plan to stay for at least 5 years.
posted by sallybrown at 9:09 AM on April 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thanks so much for the various answers.

I think I did/do want a magical answer. Dang reality. I definitely have it in my head that renting is throwing money away. I don't want to be at the mercy of landlords (have Seattle friends who received $400 am month increase to force-out) but staying with family/borrowing money from them isn't an option. I also have seen the house prices grow substantially and have worried that by the time we could save up a down payment we could no longer afford anywhere.
I'm planning on going back to work. Another income should help. My work at Art non-profits is way undervalued so we've been looking at husband for the main $job. Seattle is where many of the jobs in his field are. San Fransisco is another job market but seems even worse for housing and doesn't have the family connection.
I have looked on some threads here about DADU/ADU/Lane house and it *might* be a possibility at my dad's house but has ~many~ caveats involved.
I think the hardest thing is reconciling that the city I grew up in (that I felt outpriced me in 2001 - LOL) doesn't even exist anymore. I have to change my perception of what our living situation will be.
Part of this is feeling unmoored and really wanting to be settled someplace. We've moved almost every 2 years for the past 10 years and it's hard...
Thanks again
posted by PistachioRoux at 9:38 AM on April 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

>I think the hardest thing is reconciling that the city I grew up in (that I felt outpriced me in 2001 - LOL) doesn't even exist anymore. I have to change my perception of what our living situation will be.

I was trying to be practical above (because I have to tell myself the same things) - but I feel this so hard, you have no idea. It’s a real struggle to come to terms with the actual vs fantastical options.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:49 AM on April 3, 2019 [5 favorites]

What about the south end? Burien is decidedly not as cheap as it used to be, but the bank would have given me the loan I got on just my low end software developer's salary. It's honestly no farther from a lot of things than a lot of places inside the city limits. It's not vastly more suburban than a lot of Seattle addresses either. I'm not going to say that my experiences with the Highline schools have been amazing, but ya gotta remember that a big element in school ratings are what upper class white parents feel it ought to be like, rather than actual educational outcomes.
posted by wotsac at 10:05 AM on April 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Also, for those who say the "Bremerton commute isn't doable on a daily basis" - um, no - I've been doing that for almost 20 years. Yes, it's a long commute (especially on the car ferries - 1 hr each way), but you can work during the commute, and it *is* beautiful. Kitsap County (where Bremerton is) is much more affordable than Seattle, but our prices are starting to spike as well. There are currently two communities with fast (passenger-only) ferries to downtown (Bremerton and Kingston), and Southworth is coming on line next year. Bremerton will also get another ferry added to our P/O line, so that should get better soon - right now every 'commute' run sells out.
That's a long-winded way of say "don't rule it out until you check it out.' IMO, YMMV yadda yadda yadda
posted by dbmcd at 10:21 AM on April 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

I just want to push gently against your (or rather the common) narrative that renting is bad.

I don't want to be at the mercy of landlords (have Seattle friends who received $400 am month increase to force-out)
This is definitely a problem in renting. I know all the laws relating to renting at the top of my head, and can spout to you under what conditions is eviction permitted, deposit disagreements, landlord duties, etc. I gotta protect myself.

But you know what? There is an upside in renting too. The biggest one for me was when I lost my job and my husband lost his job. We weren't worried about making our mortgage payments. Sure, we had rent payments to make, but we could give one month's notice and downsize into a smaller flat if we needed to. We live small, we live light, even with a toddler in our house. We never have to worry about having no money if the boiler breaks or a leak develops in the flat.

As for financial considerations, let's do some Economics 101. If you buy a house with a mortgage, you are locking your deposit in, and you are paying mortgage interest. Yes, you are still burning money through interest payments when you're buy a house -- peculiar why no one ever thinks of that! And what's your opportunity cost in locking your deposit? You could have put the same deposit into vanilla index funds. Over the last three years, the index funds I invested in have returned 12% every year. I believe the historical average is something like 6% for American stocks. Instead of building equity in your home, you could build equity via investments, and meanwhile you could rent in places that you actually want to live.
posted by moiraine at 11:43 AM on April 3, 2019 [5 favorites]

I think the hardest thing is reconciling that the city I grew up in (that I felt outpriced me in 2001 - LOL) doesn't even exist anymore. I have to change my perception of what our living situation will be.

Yeah, I hear this a lot in Portland, where I live. I think it's frustrating to feel like your home, the place you grew up, isn't available to you as an easy option -- though a friend from New York City commented to me once that no kid who grows up there has any expectation of owning a home there ever.

So it becomes about trade-offs and ranking what you want:
Location in the country (Seattle versus elsewhere)
Location in the city/neighborhood
Commute time
House size
House type (condo, townhouse, unattached, etc)
School district
Having a stay at home parent
Working in a lower paying field you enjoy
Who lives in your house (could you get a housemate?)
Yard size
Access to transit and neighborhood amenities
Lifestyle (how much you can go out to eat, buy clothes, go on vacation, etc)
Family size (if you might have another kid)
Owning versus renting
Car ownership (one car is much cheaper if you now own two)
Ability to save for college

There's so much of this that we don't think about consciously when we make decisions about where to live, and sometimes trying to weigh all these factors next to each other can help make choices.

I will say that school district is one thing where you might have to dig a bit deeper than conventional wisdom.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:01 PM on April 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

I definitely have it in my head that renting is throwing money away.

I think if you do the math properly you will see that this is far from being definitely the case.

If I were running the world, no one who did not already know to do the calculations moiraine describes above, and more, before deciding whether to buy would even be allowed to get a mortgage.

Changing expectations from childhood is challenging, though. You have my sympathy.
posted by praemunire at 12:11 PM on April 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

My wife and I moved from Greenwood, where we rented for 9 years, because we had an awesome landlord who knew us and simply didn't raise our rent. Of course, he knew he was sitting on a gold mine and promptly cashed out as soon as the building went over the million-dollar mark.

We wound up in a Burien condo, super close to light rail and close-ish to downtown Burien (which has a surprisingly good restaurant scene). I can MeMail you the name of our realtor, if you'd like. She was FANTASTIC. The only negatives? We're also super close to the airport and crime is spiking a bit (but that's pretty much a Seattle-wide issue).

We moved here from different parts of the country in 2005 - she's from the Northeast, I'm from the Midwest - and we were both lamenting how much it has changed. Best of luck to you in your search and if you need any assistance, please feel free to reach out!
posted by theseventhstranger at 12:25 PM on April 3, 2019

Ahh this is so useful.

We've been renting since leaving Pittsburgh (where we lived in our 20s/met and probably why such sticker shock at prices!) And our experience has been awesome. My brain is keeping old assumptions (buy house or else).

I have heard from my grandma, who has rented the same apartment for like 40 years, that she's jealous of friends who has houses to sell and could move into old age homes. She's kinda SOL if anything happens. Obviously the family has her back in any way we can ..

I legit bought lottery tickets a few times in hope before we had to leave and generally feel very unskilled at stocks/etc... Need to investigate further. Money making money?! Weird. I know that's how rich people do it... Obviously not only the rich. It just seems hard to enter/like a different language.

I really appreciate the answers here

I'm thinking job will be office based maybe 1 day work from home. I mean, he's like, gotta get a job first, I'm just very neurotic I guess?! Ooof. I think being SAHM is a very hard job and I'm dreaming of being closer to family so I can get a wee break tbh...I don't know how to hire a babysitter - like truly that is a whole other issue.
Thanks again fine adults that seem much more put together than I am ;)
All is well
posted by PistachioRoux at 1:03 PM on April 3, 2019

Seattle isn't the same place you grew up in, and I say this as someone who might have briefly been your neighbor when you were a kid. But nowhere is the same as when you were little. There are over three billion people more on this planet than when you were born and they have to live somewhere.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:17 PM on April 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'm not sure this will help, but check out US Census bureau quick facts site on cities you are moving to if you are nervous about renting vs owning.
Census Bureau Quick Facts - Seattle

It has percent renters (Seattle is majority renter), median home value ($500k, so if you are looking for a home, know 50% of them cost more than 500k), median mortgage $2400 vs median rent $1400. That $1000 per month is the difference you can invest that moiraine is talking about to maybe eventually buy. The median travel to work time is 30 minutes.

It also approximates that 69% of women aged 16+ are in the workforce, so you being a stay-at-home mom in a dual-person household is a real minority, though how small is unable to be determined.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:39 PM on April 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

FYI you can also compare across cities, so you can compare where you moved from, and you can discern that getting on the property ladder in Seattle (eventually buying) is a much better deal than Pittsburgh and that renting is a much worse deal in Pittsburgh. Check it out: you pay an extra $1000 per month in Seattle and get $400k in possible home equity, and the rent differential is much tighter, $1000 rent vs buy in Seattle vs $500 rent vs buy in Pittsburgh. Hence why Seattle is hot and Pittsburgh is not.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:47 PM on April 3, 2019

Until light rail is built out, living in Federal Way and potentially working on the east side is virtually impossible. There is not (yet) a good public transit option from south to east.
posted by lhauser at 7:27 PM on April 3, 2019

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