Two Ends Same Island

A few posts ago there’s a description of Whidbey’s Arbitrary Borders. That was subjective. One area feels like this. Another area feels like that. North is the Navy. South is a bunch of tourists. Central is a low-altitude fly-over zone with a few movie sets and many farms. Each has a thread of reality. There are some factual, objective differences that make a real difference to housing, economies, and communities.

Most of this data is from the 2017 Island County Housing Needs Analysis. The 2020 Census won’t be reflected for a while, but it is eagerly awaited.

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The simplest demographic difference is age. Oak Harbor’s median age is about 30 years old. At the other extreme is Langley where the median age is about 57 years old. 57-30=27 which sounds like a difference of a generation. It is almost as if the kids are up north and the parents are down south, kind of like the parents living in one part of the house that’s far removed from the kids in another part of the house. 

Thirty-somethings are more likely to get paid by the military and W-2s. Folks getting close to sixty are more likely to be paid from 401Ks. Thanks to the Gig Economy, both areas see service industry workers being paid by 1099s. 

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It is no surprise then that the median household incomes are different. Oak Harbor’s median income is about $45,000 while Langley’s is just over $50,000; about 10% higher. Younger people spend more as they create a life. Older people may already have a car, a house, and a portfolio. 

The North has younger people, who are also likely to look for housing to grow into. Bigger is better, in case kids come along. Empty-nesters can be downsizing, getting rid of those extra bedrooms, and probably care less about schools and bus routes. Young people can be buying their first house, and can be thrilled to finally have a place of their own, any place – and are ready to move again, and probably again. As people retire, commutes don’t matter, the kids aren’t home. The parents can move into their dream home, their forever home. 

Ironically, both areas deal with houses where occupants may be gone for months at a time. Both may involve cruises, though some are equipped with jets and catapults and military food, while the others are equipped with jet skis and lunches and well-stocked bars.

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The vacation types are more likely to leave a house empty, though. According to the census, the North’s vacancy rate is similar to the rest of Washington State’s, 9%. The South, however, is three times higher, 27%. In one case, there’s a lack of housing because there isn’t enough housing. In the other, there’s a lot of housing, but much of it isn’t being used. Add housing up north, and people get housed. Add housing down south, and it may become more vacation and short-term rental properties. 

There are other distinctions that are objective but not as measurable. North Whidbey doesn’t need the ferries, though it benefits from them. South Whidbey relies on the ferries, as well as deliveries that are best driven across a bridge than floated on bumpy waves. The convenience of big box stores may mean more to young, growing households. The small town ambiance of local shops and avoiding brands dominates among the more retired communities. 

Put it all together, add the economics of supply and demand, and find that the real estate market is busier on the north end, where median time on market is 15 days instead of 24 days; and real estate prices are higher on the south end, with median sales price of $404K versus $322K. 

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As for affordability, in general (and affordability is highly personal), housing is difficult to afford, but more difficult in the south. In 2015, the Income-to-Value ratio was almost eight-to-one, compared to almost five-to-one in the north, and the entire area exceeds the Washington State ration of just over four-to-one.

Enough factual differences? Enough for now. Apologies to that fly-over or drive-through area that is Central Whidbey. While North and South are different, Central is too; but Central also has to put up with two neighbors that don’t always agree – except maybe on the idea that Coupeville has a nice selection of restaurants and shellfish.

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