Home values across the greater Seattle area have been steadily rising for years, with the pandemic causing prices in some neighborhoods to skyrocket. While this has increased competition for buyers trying to enter the market, it’s also had an interesting impact on those who already own a home in the area. According to the 2021 American Housing Survey (AHS), Seattle ranks sixth highest for the ratio of home-value-to-income among 25 metros included in the survey.
Essentially, this means that many homeowners in Seattle own homes that are worth many times their annual income. An old adage in real estate states that buyers should aim to spend about 2.5 times their annual income on their home purchase—but in Seattle and the other metros on the list, this rule of thumb simply doesn’t apply. In fact, four out of five Seattle homeowners reported that their home was worth at least three times their annual income.
According to the survey, the median home value-to-income ratio in the Seattle metro was 4.9, meaning that approximately half of the owner-occupied homes in the area were worth more than 4.9 times the owner’s income, and half were worth less than that. For the purposes of the study, the Seattle metro area included King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties.
Of the homeowners in the Seattle area, about 23%, or nearly 150,000 households, had home values worth 11 times their income. The reason for this is partially because of the rapid appreciation of homes in the area over the last few years. Many of these high values can be attributed to longtime homeowners who bought at a much lower price point and have seen their homes appreciate tremendously over the last decade. On the other hand, some of these “house-rich, cash-poor” owners have simply spent a greater portion of their income on their home purchase.
The American Housing Survey is conducted every other year; the first time Seattle was included was 2013, when the median ratio of home values to income was 3.3. In 2021, 3.3 was the national average, only slightly up from 3.0 in 2011.
Of the five cities with higher ratios than Seattle, four were located in California. Miami was the only other city outside of California to rank in the top six.
With mortgage prices causing the housing market to slow down a bit from the frenzied pace of the last few years, it remains to be seen how the income-to-home-value ratio will shift before the next survey.