A lot of Seattle-area renters surely can relate to the pressure that Casey and Deborah Roberts were feeling.
The couple nervously watched from the sidelines as home prices in the area hit record high after record high.
“We weren’t planning on moving,” Casey said, “but we thought we better bite the bullet now and buy while we can still afford it.”
The couple would have loved to stay in the Redmond area, where they’d been renting. But not with the median home price on the wrong side of $700,000. So they crossed the county line from King to Snohomish, where they closed on a four-bedroom split level in December for about $200,000 less than they would have paid in Redmond.
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“We decided to go for Bothell, where the homes are a bit less expensive,” Casey said.
It seems a whole lot of folks are thinking along the same lines lately. At least that’s what some striking new data from the Census Bureau suggest.
Of the more than 3,100 counties in the nation, none saw a bigger jump in the number of movers from other counties last year than Pierce and Snohomish. They ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, for net increase in people moving in domestically.
Is it folks fleeing higher home prices and rents in King County — and, in doing so, perhaps taking on a much longer commute?
The new data are tantalizing — while they show a surprising influx into Pierce and Snohomish, they don’t reveal where in the U.S. all these movers are coming from. So at this point, it’s a matter of speculation on how much of the Pierce and Snohomish gain is King’s loss.
The Census Bureau calls this data “net domestic migration” — it’s the number of people who moved in from other counties, minus the number who left.
Pierce County had nearly 12,000 more folks moving in than out from within the U.S. last year — up from less than 5,000 in 2015.
Remarkably, not that long ago Pierce was actually running a deficit. Back in 2010, still in the thick of the Great Recession, Pierce had a net loss of nearly 1,700 people to other U.S. counties.
The surge in domestic migration for Snohomish County was only slightly less dramatic than in Pierce, jumping from a surplus of about 4,500 movers in 2015 to 10,500 last year.
King County is also adding more people domestically than it’s losing — about 8,500 more. A healthy number, to be sure, but well behind Pierce and Snohomish. And that’s a reversal from recent years, when King was outpacing its neighboring counties.
Even so, King County remains a much bigger draw for movers from overseas. Last year, King’s population gain from international migration was 15,500, at least six times more than either Pierce or Snohomish.
While it’s likely that a lot of the movement to Pierce and Snohomish is coming from King, that’s probably just part of the story, says King County demographer Chandler Felt.
“These aren’t necessarily all people who are migrating from King to Pierce or King to Snohomish. A lot of them are coming directly from California or Arizona or Texas to the Seattle suburbs, and commuting to jobs in King County,” he said.
“It really underscores the rapid growth of the Puget Sound region as a whole.”
And with housing costs as high as they are in King County, it makes sense that Pierce and Snohomish are starting to absorb a greater share of the growth.
Felt cautions that the new census data, although dramatic, reveal only a single-year change in domestic migration into Pierce and Snohomish counties: “This may be a short-term trend, and may not continue indefinitely.”