And so ends the Fall series of talks and presentations about real estate and affordability trends on Whidbey Island. The previous events are chronicled in a previous post. The title is Whidbey Island Is Changing – Langley – Fall 2019, but the Freeland event was included as a video attached subsequently. Coupeville finished the series and was recorded as a video which should be linked below (if the technology is cooperating.) The message from the audience is clear. Most residents recognize the trends, appreciate data that confirms some narratives though counters others, and that the basic conundrum persists: there is no clear solution, but the trends and therefore even the culture of the island are unsustainable. As different as the three locations can seem, they have a lot in common.
Each presentation was over an hour. Hopefully this summary takes less time to communicate. Whidbey Island has a real estate and affordability issue. Housing prices are rising faster than wages, inventory is reaching limiting lows, and demand remains high. As tough as the situation is for Whidbey, Whidbey is more affordable than the other islands, which tend to be more affordable than Seattle and Bellevue, which are more affordable than most cities along the Pacific Rim. In a world of unaffordability, Whidbey’s problems can almost seem attractive – from the outside. From the inside, there’s a widely-felt need. Tourism and vacancies are issues in the central and south parts of the island. Navy pressures and influences are issues in the central and north parts of the island. Coupeville sits in the overlap, affected by all of the issues, with the balance being that, even there, prices continue to rise.
Prices continue to rise, but people who have studied history or who have experienced recent economic upheavals know that prices do not go on forever. But when do they take a break? Recessions and such are frequently only apparent in reflection. Timing the top, or recognizing a bottom are gambles more than analyses. Waiting for a market to correct has poor odds of success. In the meantime, there will always be someone that has to buy and someone that has to sell. Jobs, relationships, health issues, can all inspire actions that have nothing to do with market timing. As everyone else waits for “the market” to make up its mind, buyers and sellers driven by necessity become the ones who define the direction. Until then, if supply hits a systemic minimum, and if demand remains high, then prices will continue to rise.
It was impressive to see audiences of people who approached the issues sincerely and rationally. That doesn’t mean they were happy, but they listened with serious resolve. The world can definitely benefit from such perspectives.
Presentations about real estate trends need frequent updates. The world changes. The changes in the next six months can be political nationally and locally; economically, where debt is up, interest rates are down and even negative in much of the world; communities handle local issues like noise and resource limits; and nature does what nature will do without negotiation. Without planning, the Pacific Northwest is seen as a haven from many of the problems, or at least a retreat from many of them – except the hyper-local ones that folks off-island may not care about.
Rather than be caught up in the next few weeks, months, or even years it can be helpful to think in longer terms. A thirty-year mortgage is a typical measure in real estate. What will Whidbey Island be like in thirty years? Today’s politics may be moot. The economy will undoubtedly go through a boom and a bust or two or three. Local issues will either become serious enough to require action instead of talk, or the lack of action will change the issue. Climate refugees are already arriving, but what will happen if Western Washington shakes? Within thirty years it is easy to imagine technology changing water, sanitation, commuting, remote working, and the military. Technology is partly why the Northeast had to find industries to replace textiles, Pittsburgh switched from steel mills to robotics, and coal fields are creating solar workers. What will happen here and how will it affect real estate and affordability? The only way to really know is to invent a time machine, or stay tuned and keep watching.