American dream: revised

Joan Maybank has spent the last two years preparing to buy a home. Now that she’s ready, prices have risen higher than she can afford.

In May, the median price of single-family homes in Snohomish County reached $345,000, an increase of 19.3 percent from the previous year.

Families who find home prices too expensive are being forced to look more closely at condominiums, said Ann Schroeder-Osterberg of the Housing Authority of Snohomish County.

According to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service, the median condominium price in Snohomish County in May was $203,250, about $140,000 less than the median price for a single-family home.

In recent months, condominium prices have also been less volatile than detached home prices, rising only 7 percent between May 2005 and May 2006.

With the limited amount of land available for building and the high cost of road improvements, a market shift toward condominiums may be a good thing, said Tony To, executive director of HomeSight, a nonprofit housing agency serving King and Snohomish Counties.

“People should really look at growth density in our urban areas,” To said. “If you want to preserve the environment and preserve the existing character of the neighborhoods without high density, you’re going to have to increase density in certain designated areas.”

It may be time for people to start revising their ideas of what they want in a home, To said.

“The American dream of a single-family home with a yard and a garage has really become unachievable for some people,” he said. “It’s going to be very expensive for that, and that’s not going to change. People may have to settle for a townhouse of a condominium instead.”

An easier solution to the price dilemma would be for the county government to open up more land for housing development, said Russ Hokanson, executive vice president of the Snohomish County Camano Association of Realtors.

He said the biggest contributor to rising home prices is restricted land supply because of the state Growth Management Act of 1990, which forces developers to build in designated urban growth areas.

“There’s a lot of competition for buildable lots, and that drives up prices significantly,” said Mike Pattison, government affairs manager for the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties.

The Snohomish County Council was “pretty stingy” about expanding urban growth areas when it completed its 10-year-update in December 2005, said Councilmember John Koster, who leads the Planning and Community Development Committee.

The growth act has succeeded at protecting natural resources and curbing sprawl, but it has also contributed to rising home prices by reducing available land, Koster said.

Increasing density through condominium development is one way to combat that problem, he said.

“I think we’re going to have to accept the fact that there’s going to be some greater density,” Koster said. “Some jurisdictions are going to have to consider different types of development. Like it or not, that’s where we’re at. That’s what the law says.”

Condominiums may be the new “starter home” for many families, he said.

But it is questionable whether Snohomish County residents are ready to embrace condominiums as substitutes for detached single-family homes, Pattison said.

“Over time, people’s tastes will change, but people looking to move to Snohomish County do so for the American dream of the yard and white picket fence,” Pattison said. “The market here isn’t demanding condominiums as much as it is in more urbanized areas.”

For Maybank, who is working with HomeSight to purchase a home in South Snohomish County, a condominium isn’t an ideal situation.

She’s in the market for a three-bedroom house with a yard.

“My kids desperately want a yard, and I love gardening,” she said.

Furthermore, few condominiums are available in the area near her children’s prospective high school, she said, and relocating isn’t an option.

Ultimately, the future of housing development in the county will follow homebuyers’ preferences, Koster said.

“There’s a segment of the population like myself who want a little space,” he said. “The law of supply and demand never goes away, no matter what the government does.”

Reporter Melissa Santos: msantos@heraldnet.com.

Snohomish County May housing prices

Single-family homes: $345,000, up 19.3 percent from May 2005.

Condominiums: $203,250, up 7 percent from 2005.

Snohomish County May housing prices

Single-family homes: $345,000, up 19.3 percent from May 2005.

Condominiums: $203,250, up 7 percent from a year ago.

Michael O’Leary / The Herald

Owners of the Nautica in downtown Everett recently converted the units in the apartment complex to condominiums.

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

FILE - In this file photo dated Monday, March 11, 2019, rescuers work at the scene of an Ethiopian Airlines plane crash south of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  The number of deaths in major air crashes around the globe fell by more than half in 2019 according to a report released Wednesday Jan. 1, 2020, by the aviation consultancy To70, revealing the worst crash for the year was an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX on March 10 that lost 157 lives. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene, FILE)
US board says Boeing Max likely hit a bird before 2019 crash

U.S. accident investigators disagree with Ethiopian authorities over the cause of a 2019 Boeing 737 Max crash.

Paddywack co-owner Shane Somerville with the 24-hour pet food pantry built by a local Girl Scout troop outside of her store on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022 in Mill Creek, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
An out-paw-ring of support: Mill Creek pantry feeds pets, day or night

With help from local Girl Scouts, the Mill Creek pet food store Paddywack is meeting the need for pet supplies in a pinch.

Kelly Cameron is the woodworker behind Clinton-based business Turnco Wood Goods. (David Welton)
Whidbey woodworkers turn local lumber into art

In the “Slab Room” at Madrona Supply Co., customers can find hunks of wood native to the south end of Whidbey Island.

Siblings Barbara Reed and Eric Minnig, who, co-own their parent’s old business Ken’s Camera along with their brother Bryan, stand outside the Evergreen Way location Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022, in Everett, Washington. After five decades in business, Ken’s will be closing its last two locations for good at the end of the year. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Print it or lose it: Ken’s Camera closes after decades caught on film

The local legend, processing film photos since 1971, will close its locations in Mount Vernon and Everett at the end of 2022.

Store owner Jay Behar, 50, left, and store manager Dan Boston, 60, right, work to help unload a truck of recliners at Behar's Furniture on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. Behar's Furniture on Broadway in Everett is closing up shop after 60 years in business. The family-owned furniture store opened in 1963, when mid-century model styles were all the rage. Second-generation owner, Jay Behar says it's time to move on. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Behar’s Furniture in Everett closing after 60 years

“It’s time to move on.” The small family-owned store opened in 1963 and grew to cover an entire city block.

Katy Woods, a Licensed Coach, Branch Manager, and experienced Banker at Coastal Community Bank.
Coastal Community Bank Offers Classes for Businesses

To support local business owners and their teams, Coastal offers complimentary Money… Continue reading

Innovative Salon Products online fulfillment employees, from left, Stephanie Wallem, Bethany Fulcher, Isela Ramirez and Gretchen House, work to get orders put together on Friday, Jan. 6, 2023, at the company’s facility in Monroe, Washington. The company began including pay, benefits and perks to its job listings over a year ago, well ahead of the new statewide mandate to include a pay range on job postings at companies with over 15 employees. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
New state law requires employers to give pay range in job postings

Washington’s new pay transparency law aims to narrow wage gaps based on race or gender — though some companies may seek loopholes.

Nelson Petroleum on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
‘Egregious:’ Everett fuel company repeatedly broke water standards

Nelson Petroleum faces a lawsuit from an Everett Mall Way strip mall over discharges into a nearby wetland.

Mike Lane and son Dave Lane, right, in front of their family store Everett Vacuum with their popular sign and saying, “everything we sell sucks” on Thursday, April 7, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Suck it up — and shop it up — at Everett Vacuum

After 80 years on Broadway, the family-run store with the “Everything we sell sucks” sign moved to Hewitt Avenue.

Customers leave J. Matheson Gifts Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Everett’s longtime J. Matheson gift store finds new life in Seattle

Miranda Matheson had her mother’s blessing when she opened a new J. Matheson Urban Gifts & Kitchens in Green Lake.

Carla Fisher and Lana Lasley take a photo together with Tommy Chong during 210 Cannabis Co’s grand opening Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022, in Arlington, Washington. Fisher and Lasley waited in line solely to get a photo with Chong. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Stillaguamish Tribe opens retail cannabis shop

More than 1,500 attended a grand opening on Dec. 10. The venture comes amid a boom in tribal cannabis stores.

Franco Montano works on putting together a wreath at his workshop on Monday, Dec. 5, 2022 in Monroe, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Monroe man runs taco truck by day, makes 100 wreaths by night

Franco Montano, a former factory worker, started making the holiday wreaths in 2008. He has expanded into a thriving family business.