Servants, untethered from their desks after companies switch to remote work due to the pandemic, are taking their searches — and their money — further from Seattle.

The outlying areas have grown tremendously, from Spanaway to Poulsbo to Orcas Island.

Whatcom County, home of Bellingham, also felt the change.

Remote workers are nothing new in Washington’s northwest corner, but local real estate agents say the pandemic felt like hitting the fast-forward button.

“People flocked to the islands and Whatcom County,” said John L. Scott agent Annie Dameron Pederson. “It became a different market.”

Home buyers are arriving with cash to spend and mountain bikes in tow, Windermere agent Damian Pro said.

“They have a ‘we want to live our best life’ mentality,” said Pro.

With home prices hitting record highs across the country in the past year, western Washington has seen the most stunning growth in areas outside of Seattle.

Last month, the average single-family home in Whatcom County sold for $552,550, an increase of about 18% from the same time last year and 37% from the same time in 2019, before the pandemic, according to data released Wednesday by the Northwest Multiple Listing Maintenance.

Elsewhere, the average home price in Snohomish County last month was $675,000, up about 18% from last year. In Pierce County, the median price was $506,650, an increase of 16.5%. In Thurston County, the median of $470,000 is up 20.5%, according to the NWMLS.


Home prices have also risen in San Juan County, although the small number of sales there can lead to large swings in the numbers. In September, the average home sold for $850,000, down about 6% from the same month last year, but up 6% from August.

King County’s $825,600 median is up about 10% year on year.

However, the local housing market is cooling off somewhat with the arrival of autumn.

In the Puget Sound region, open sales were lower last month than in August, and house prices are stagnating month-on-month in most places.

More homes were available at the end of September than in August, welcome news for buyers. But look a little further back for context: There are far fewer homes for sale than at the same time in 2019, before the pandemic.

The measure of how long it would take to sell each home for sale at current demand, known as months of inventory, rose slightly in King and Pierce counties, indicating the market is a little less cutthroat. But that measure still remains at less than three weeks.

Brianna Harvey hasn’t looked back since moving from Seattle to Bellingham last summer.

“As soon as it seemed like working from home was going to be a long-term thing, I started looking,” says Harvey, who works in tech and grew up in Bellingham.

She wanted to live closer to friends and family and have faster access to mountain biking and trail running. Even with a 20% down payment, Harvey found herself in a tough market as she searched for homes in her $400,000 to $425,000 budget. She ended up getting a $450,000 two-bedroom bungalow.

“My quality of life has definitely improved,” she said.

Redfin agent Cathie Butler said she works with buyers who have relocated from California or the Seattle area, many of whom are ready with cash to buy in the Bellingham area.

Butler estimates that most homes receive eight to 12 listings and sell for about $50,000 to $60,000 more than their list price.

“It’s starting to cool down, but it’s still super competitive,” she said.

Rising prices mean that buyers who have less to spend are looking for alternatives.

“We have more people than ever contacting us,” said Dean Fearing, executive director of the non-profit Kulshan Community Land Trust. (In a community land trust, the nonprofit owns the land under the home and the homeowner agrees to receive a limited amount of equity to keep the house affordable in the future.)

“There just aren’t houses for sale that most working people can afford,” Fearing said.

Kulshan Community Land Trust is building about two dozen new homes and plans 45 over the next three to five years, Fearing said. The hot market makes it more difficult for his organization to buy land. The organization’s waiting list ranges from 40 to 70 potential home buyers.

“We’ve been discovered,” Fearing said of Whatcom County. “People know this is a community they want to move to. People have been doing that for years, but the pandemic, the mobility that caused it, only accelerated it faster.”

The competitive market can intimidate potential sellers, forcing them to refrain from moving.

“I often hear that: ‘Well, we can’t sell… Where are we going?” said Pro, from Windermere.

Priced out buyers are looking beyond Bellingham to Ferndale, Burlington, Sedro-Woolley and Blaine, he said.


In King County, the Eastside remains red-hot, with an average home price of $1.31 million, up 26% from the same time in 2020, but the number of new sales was lower than in August. Seattle’s median price, $850,000, is up about 4%.

For apartments, the Seattle median price of $505,000 is about 5% higher than last year and the Eastside median of $566,000 is 3% higher.


Rebecca Lieberthal and her husband began looking for a home in the Seattle area last summer when a wave of buyers, drawn by low interest rates, went shopping. The couple made seven offers, sometimes competing with a dozen others, before securing their new home in Burien this summer.

“More than excitement, we felt relieved that the trial was over,” says Lieberthal, who works as a nurse. As their family grows, they may outgrow the house.

She already said, “I’m scared of this trial again.”

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