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In the Housing Market, a Few Decades Makes a Huge Difference

"[P]erhaps at this point, this column should include a trigger warning for any young couple traumatized by the current housing market around here."
August 23, 2019, 9am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Martin Cathrae

Gene Balk writes a column about the changes in the Seattle real estate market in terms of what money can buy.

This is not a happy story for many professional, middle-class residents of the city. "It’s hard to believe there was a time, and not really that long ago, when journalists — or teachers, or nurses — could go house hunting in the city of Seattle and actually buy something," writes Balk.

Even adjusting for inflation, the prices of homes in the final decades of the 20th century were far more attainable. For instance, "Census data shows that the median home value in King County in 1980 was $71,400, which, in today’s dollars, is about $225,000. That’s well below half of what it is now," reports Balk.

Balk's presentation of this information is underwritten by the implications of generational conflict. "How much less did boomers pay for their Seattle homes?" asks one of the infographics in the story (and the headline, for that matter).

To even the scales a little, Balk offers a few data points in defense of baby boomers:

…for a lot of folks back then, it didn’t seem so cheap. Keep in mind that King County home values in 1980 were about 50% higher than the U.S. median.

Another mitigating factor: Mortgage interest rates were much higher in the past, particularly in the early 1980s, when they peaked at around 16%. They didn’t fall back down into the single digits until the early 1990s.

There have always been members of the middle class cut out of the homeownership market, according to the implication of that data. Still, Balk expresses sympathy for the many among that number in 2019.

Full Story:
Published on Thursday, August 22, 2019 in The Seattle Times
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