Central WA home prices spike amid influx of Seattle-area transplants

Affordability matters

Affordability may seem irrelevant to homebuyers who can buy homes in the high six figures or even above $1 million. However, real estate brokers in both Chelan and Kittitas County said that even high-end buyers can be priced out.

If those buyers purchase homes at lower price ranges, that downward activity may ultimately lead to homebuyers with smaller budgets being unable to buy a home entirely, said Bishop, the Wenatchee real estate broker.

Tourist areas in Kittitas and Chelan counties such as Roslyn, Cle Elum, Chelan and Leavenworth need workers for services such as restaurants and grocery stores. Local service workers who often earn far less than tech workers are getting priced out of buying homes or even renting, said Wallace, the Cle Elum real estate broker.

“You have to have the service sector be able to afford to live here,” Wallace said. “Especially with the price of gas. They can’t be commuting from a less expensive area and work here because it’s just not going to pencil out for them.”

More housing is being built in Kittitas and Chelan counties, but much of it is not within reach of low-income or middle-income residents, said Bay, the John L. Scott managing broker in Cle Elum.

In Kittitas County, new home construction includes custom homes in Suncadia that cost $1 million or more. Even home developments elsewhere in Cle Elum come in a half a million each.

Rynd, the real estate broker in Chelan, said he’s worked on projects with a local housing trust, such as one in Chelan that provided five townhomes at an affordable price. The two-bedroom homes cost $200,000, well below the nearly half-million median prices for homes sold in April 2021, when the project was completed. The much lower price was possible by having the buyer lease the land from the housing trust but own the home. “The challenge is trying to scale that,” he said.

There’s general agreement that local and statewide planning and zoning regulations could also impact a community’s ability to bring in additional home stock.

Bishop said he’s seen government officials give lip service to affordable housing, then make it difficult for builders to finish projects on time. He said he’s not against reasonable regulation, such as those that ensure a home’s design or zoning isn’t disruptive to neighbors. Still, he feels that implementing additional requirements—such as barriers for sidewalks in areas that previously never required them—can be excessive and only hamper the building pipeline.

In Kittitas County, Wallace said she would like officials to look into zoning that would allow the construction of duplexes and different kinds of multifamily housing. Most existing construction is for custom single-family homes. As a result, the home supply in the area consists of large high-end homes and older, smaller 1,500-square-foot homes but not much in between, Wallace said.

What is not being built is the spec homes that were being built across the US for first- or second-time homebuyers in the 2000s, she said.

However, while affordability continues to be an issue, there is some relief. While prices have continued to appreciate, they have not been increasing at the same rate as a year ago. Instead of pushing 50%, appreciation is usually between 4% and 10%, Wallace said.

Bay, the John L. Scott managing broker, said that’s partly because more homes are coming onto the market. Interest rates also increased, which slightly tempered the market. As a result, buyers in the market are now more likely to look for homes at a less frantic pace.