What Is the Cost of Living in Seattle?
Here's a breakdown of what you need to be able to afford living in and around Seattle.
The median annual household income for the Seattle metro area is $81,747, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.(Getty Images)
Seattle is a dream location for many people who are looking to live in a major city with excellent job prospects and access to plenty of outdoor recreation options. But people are willing to pay a premium to live in this area, with its scenic views of the Puget Sound, high-paying jobs at major companies like Microsoft and Amazon and temperate climate, so the cost to live here can be steep. Prepare yourself for not only high home prices in many parts of the area, but for groceries, evenings out and other expenses to add up as well.
Here’s what you can expect to pay while living in the Seattle area:
- $442,333 is the median home price for the metro area, based on Zillow data.
- $1,297 is the median monthly rent for the metro area, based on Zillow data.
- $99 to $253 or more may go to monthly public transportation, depending on distance and type of transit.
- $400 per month per person for groceries, per data from crowdsourced information site Numbeo.
- 10.1% sales tax in the city of Seattle.
- No state income tax means less money will come out of your paycheck, giving you more to cover housing, entertainment and other costs.
The True Cost of Living in Seattle
Seattle ranks No. 9 in the U.S. News 2019 Best Places to Live rankings, boosted by high scores for its flourishing job market, reputation as a desirable place to live and population growth due to people moving to the area.
According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the median annual household income for the Seattle metro area is $81,747. This is high compared to the rest of the U.S., as the median household income for the 125 most populous metro areas in the U.S. is $60,958. The median annual housing cost for the Seattle area is $20,415, which factors in median mortgage, utilities and property tax payments for 12 months for homeowners in the metro area, and median gross rent for 12 months for renters.
In all, the cost of living in Seattle requires 24.97% of the median household income. Out of the 125 metro areas on the Best Places to Live list, Seattle is the 34th-most expensive place to live.
Home Prices in Seattle
The median home price for the Seattle metro area is $442,333, according to long-term data from real estate information company Zillow. That's well above the national median home price of $227,025.
Considering the most recent numbers, however, homebuyers should expect to pay even more to live in the Seattle area. In November 2019, the median sale price for King County, where Seattle is located, was $612,000, according to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.
As is the case in most parts of the U.S., you can expect to pay a premium in certain neighborhoods and suburbs, while others are more affordable. Seattle sits between the Puget Sound and Lake Washington, and many highly desirable neighborhoods are near the central part of the city or downtown, including Belltown and Lower Queen Anne.
On the eastern shore of Lake Washington, the median home price in the high-end suburb of Bellevue is $907,000 as of November 2019, according to Zillow data.
You're more likely to find more property at a lower price if you live slightly north or south of Seattle, as most high-priced properties are found in the neighborhoods and cities located between three major bodies of water in the area: the Puget Sound, Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish.
For example, in Des Moines, Washington, 15 miles south of the center of Seattle, the median home price is a more affordable $396,300 as of November 2019, according to Zillow. “Buyers are going north, south and east to find homes that fit their budgets and lifestyles,” Dean Rebuhn, owner of Village Homes and Properties in Woodinville, Washington, said in a press release from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.
Affording a Home in Seattle
With high median prices, affording a home in Seattle is tough but not impossible. Homebuyers should examine all the financing options available to them, such as a low down payment program. Homebuyers throughout the U.S. are benefiting from low interest rates; Freddie Mac reported the average 30-year, fixed rate mortgage rate in the first week of December 2019 was 3.68%, compared to 4.75% during the same week in 2018.
To make your Seattle home a worthy investment, be sure it's one that you're willing to live in for more than a few years. Enrico Pozzo, a Realtor and local broker with Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty, notes that Seattle properties appreciate in value quickly, but homeowners who stay only a couple years don't see the same payout as people who live in a house for a dozen years or more.
“What provides the client with the best possible outcome is that they live there longer, and there’s more time for (the property) to appreciate,” Pozzo says. Then when you sell your home after 10 or more years, the equity you've built up in the property makes it much easier to put a large down payment on your next Seattle home.
Other Costs of Living in Seattle
As residents of Washington, people living in and around Seattle have no income tax, which means less money comes out of their paychecks. However, Seattle residents do pay higher sales tax than residents of most other parts of the U.S. The combined total sales tax is 10.1%, including 6.5% for the state of Washington and 3.6% for the city, according to tax information company Avalara.
There’s a fairly convenient loophole that many Seattle area residents take advantage of, however. “If you have a lot to buy, drive over to Portland, Oregon – just three hours (away) – and there’s no sales tax,” Pozzo says.
The typical Seattle resident should be prepared to pay roughly $400 per month per person to cover their monthly food expenses, based on grocery cost information from Numbeo.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 10% of Seattle-area residents take advantage of public transportation for their commute. Public transit in the area is primarily made up of buses and trains. Commuters can use their ORCA card to pay for fares on all types of transit.
Bus fare costs $2.75 per ride for adults, while a trip on one of the train lines varies in cost depending on the line and distance traveled, from $2.25 to $5.75 for adults. For all types of transportation, fares vary depending age – children and seniors pay less, for example – and low-income residents can also receive reduced fare options. The ORCA card costs $5 initially, but it can be reloaded with money for continuous use.
To save on commuting costs, you can be among the 4% of Seattle area residents who walk or the 1% who bike to work.
How to Afford Seattle
The more money you make, the easier it is to live exactly where you want in Seattle – or any other place for that matter.
However, living in Seattle on with a lower salary than the median or with less savings for a down payment is possible. “If someone is on a budget and they really want to live in the heart of the city, I could probably find them a $200,000 (to) $250,000 co-op,” Pozzo says. A housing cooperative, or co-op, is typically an apartment building or community where all the residents own equal shares and control of the building.
The area’s easy access to outdoor destinations, including Olympic National Park to Mount Rainier National Park and North Cascades National Park, means more options to spend your free time outside the city. If nature calls to you, a longer work commute may be a reasonable trade-off for close access to hiking trails, skiing opportunities and more.