Seattle-area millennials are buying homes — just not in King County

Remember all those stories from the 2010s predicting millennials might become “perma-renters,” forever shut out of the housing market?

Compared with previous generations, a far higher share of millennials — the generation born between 1981 and 1996 — were still renting in their 20s and early 30s. And this was especially true in places with sky-high home prices like Seattle.

But millennials aren’t quite so young any more — the oldest of the generation have entered their forties — and things are starting to change, even in the Seattle area.

Census data shows that in pricey King County, home-owning millennials remain very much in the minority. But it’s a different picture if we look to more affordable neighboring counties, Snohomish and Pierce: Here, millennial homeowners are now the majority.

In King County, there were about 322,000 households in 2021 headed by millennials, who were then between the ages of 25 and 40. Of these households, around 199,000, or 62%, rented. Only 122,000, or 38%, were homeowners.

That’s very different from adults of previous generations who often moved into homeownership at a younger age. For example, if we go back to 1980, 57% of King County households headed by a 25-to-40 year old were owned, and just 43% were rented.

But unlike King, in Snohomish and Pierce counties, most homes headed by a millennial are now owned.

In the two counties combined, there were 193,000 households headed by a millennial in 2021. Of these, about 102,000, or 53%, were owner-occupied, while 91,000, or 47%, were rented.

Snohomish County in particular had a high percentage of millennial homeowners, at 56.5%. In Pierce County, it was a 50/50 split between owners and renters.

This represents a dramatic change from just five years earlier. In 2016, when millennials were 20-35 years old, only 39.5% were homeowners in Snohomish, and 31% in Pierce.

Of course, high home prices in King County have been a major stumbling block for millennials, and it explains why many have gone either north or south.

Many millennials in the Seattle area work in professional occupations with high salaries, and may not have too much trouble entering the housing market. But with Zillow estimating the average King County home value at more than $800,000, buying a first home can be challenging, even for those with high-paying jobs.

It’s still expensive to buy a home outside of King County, but less so. The average home value in Snohomish County is around $690,000 and in Pierce, around $525,000.

So it’s not surprising to see that within the Seattle area, there’s a big difference in millennial homeownership between King County and its more affordable neighboring counties.

But there are also some demographic factors that have contributed to millennials’ delayed entry into the housing market.

For example, people typically buy a home once they’ve gotten married, and millennials started tying the knot at a relatively late age compared with earlier generations.

The median age at first marriage has been rising for many years, and in Washington, it was 30.2 years for men and 27.4 years for women in 2021, according to census data.

Millennials also tend to have more debt at a young age than previous generations, making it harder to save for a down payment or get a home loan.

While millennial homeowners are now in the majority in Snohomish County, and at 50% in Pierce County, there is still a big difference when compared with previous generations, just as in King.

For example, in 1980, among households headed by someone 25-to-40 years old, 69.5% owned their homes in Snohomish County, and in Pierce, 58% were owners.

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