Buying a home is a stressful process no matter where you are. If you're trying to get into a booming real estate market like the Seattle area, though, the stress level is at another level.
The good news is that you don't have to reinvent the wheel or conquer the task alone. Local experts have been navigating the Seattle housing market for years or decades, and are happy to give you some guidance.
For some insider tips and key things to know about buying a house in Seattle, check out this helpful list.
Things to Know About Buying a House in Seattle
If you go in blind, the Seattle housing market can feel like a circus. To prepare yourself for the journey ahead, read through these tips for buying your next home.
1. Get into the Market ASAP
You may already be aware, but Seattle's real estate prices have been climbing steadily for years. In the past year alone, Seattle home prices increased by an average of 14.9%. Even more shockingly, they've risen by 43% in the past five years.
These increases show no sign of stopping. As a prospective home buyer, this means you want to buy in as quickly as possible. Of course, that doesn't mean that all areas and neighborhoods are growing at the same rate, so don't assume every deal is a great one.
2. Narrow Down Your Neighborhood
If you try to look at every home in your budget, you'll never be finished. It's important for every home buyer to make a list of their top priorities, and location is usually near the top.
Seattle has a large metro area, and neighborhoods vary greatly in their amenities and atmospheres. Before you start a serious search, make sure all decision-makers are on the same page about your target neighborhoods.
Knowing your ideal neighborhoods early in the process will also help your real estate agent give you guidance. For instance, some neighborhoods have fast turnaround times, so you may need to prepare for a fast decision.
3. Building Year Has a Strong Influence on Price
Seattle's housing market is heavily age-focused. The least expensive homes were built in the mid-1900s (think 1940s and 1950s). As you branch out from that on either side, though, the homes get more expensive.
Many home buyers think that the older a home is, the more affordable it will be. Seattle's real estate market values historical homes tremendously, so a home from the early 1900s could be as expensive as one from the early 2000s.
There's another caution that goes along with this. Don't assume that a home is high-quality just because it's expensive. Those 100+ year old homes can come with plenty of pricey issues. An older home may not be the best choice if you're at the top of your budget, because you may need more money for repairs.
In the same way, not all new homes are high-quality, either. As with any area that experienced a housing boom, Seattle has some new homes that were built in a hurry. That means the construction quality could be compromised.
Ultimately, the moral is to never buy a home without an inspection.
4. Don't Get Your Heart Set on Air Conditioning
If you're new to the Seattle area, you may be surprised to learn that most homes in the area don't have air conditioning. This could seem strange to people coming from a warmer climate, and many of these buyers put air conditioning on their "must have" list.
If you limit your search to air-conditioned homes, you'll pay a pretty penny. It's better to stay open to houses without air conditioning. It may be cheaper to add the A/C later than to find a home that already has it installed. You may even be surprised at the temperate climate and realize you don't need it as much as you thought you did.
5. Choose Your Time of Year Carefully
Planning the time of year for your home search and your move can make a strong difference in your final results. For Seattle (as for most housing markets), the market shifts with the seasons.
Primarily, you need to decide whether inventory or price is your largest obstacle. The summer is the most popular time for moving. If you want to have the largest inventory to choose from, start searching in the late spring and early summer.
If your top priority is striking a deal, though, winter is a better time to buy. The number of people buying homes is lower in the winter, so sellers tend to offer lower prices during this time, specifically between Thanksgiving and New Years.
6. Use Caution Buying a Condo if You're an Animal Enthusiast
As much as we all love our furry friends, they add a level of difficulty to a home search. For many buyers, dogs, in particular, lead them to look for a house with a yard and a solid fence.
If you want to buy in a more urban area, though, most of the inventory will be condos. Many condos can be great homes for pets, with nearby dog parks and easy coordination with dog walkers.
However, be careful to read the fine print. Many condo buildings have policies that limit the number, breed, and size of pets you can have. Make sure you know what the restrictions are before signing on the dotted line.
7. Be Flexible on Square Footage
Space is one of the largest factors in the cost of your home. Of course, you want enough room to be comfortable for a long time, but looking for too much space can push your budget.
The median price per square foot in Seattle is $517. To put that in perspective, the median throughout the US is $148.
Instead of having a set idea of how much square footage in mind, be open to possibilities. Some homes can feel larger and give you more usable space with 1,000 square feet than others do with 1,500 square feet.
Ultimately, the layout has more of an impact on whether a home fits your needs than a magic number of square footage. Take the time to visit homes whether you think they'll be large enough or not. Just be sure to measure your furniture to ensure everything will fit.
8. Decide Whether to Prioritize Home Price or Commute Time
In Seattle, as in most other metro areas, the closer you are to downtown the higher your home price will be. For many people, this translates to a higher home price in exchange for a short commute.
Unfortunately, there are few opportunities to snatch up a surprising deal near downtime. Some homebuyers detest a long and frustrating commute. If you're able and willing to pay top dollar for that easy commute (and you're confident you'll stay with the same employer), go for it.
However, if your home's affordability is a higher priority for you, be prepared to sacrifice some time by adding to your commute. Deciding between these two priorities will help you narrow your search.
9. Be Prepared for a Fast Move
Like in many booming housing markets, homes in Seattle can sell extremely quickly. This is truer in some areas than others, but there's always a possibility that you'll fall in love with a home that's selling in 24 hours.
It's a good idea to research your target markets while you're still saving up your down payment or waiting for financing. However, it's important to have all your ducks in a row before you contact a real estate agent and start a serious search.
As a home buyer, there are few things worse than falling in love with a home and finding out you can't buy it because your paperwork and mortgage financing aren't ready. You should prepare yourself financially and emotionally to jump on a great home when it comes along.
10. Low-Balling May Not Be an Option
A lot of buyers think it's always a good negotiating tactic to start with a much lower offer than you're willing to pay. If you're in a slow real estate market, it might be true. In a booming market like Seattle, though, you'll do more harm than good could end up offending the seller.
When you put in an offer on a home, there's a good chance you'll be battling with several other buyers. In many cases, the seller won't go through the effort of letting you put in a second offer; they'll just choose the highest one.
Even if your offer is the only one currently on the table, a low offer may be enough for a seller to write you off. It's a seller's market, and they know it. They may feel that it isn't worth their time to negotiate with someone who wants to start so low.
How to Start Your Home Search in Seattle
It can be overwhelming to try to learn all the things to know about buying a house, especially in a complex market like Seattle. The tips above can help you arm yourself with the knowledge you need to find that perfect house.
To take the next step of learning about your mortgage options and getting pre-qualified, contact our mortgage experts.