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Even at $85K a year, it takes 12 years to save for a Seattle-area down payment

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Saving for a home can be a daunting—and out of reach

Lucy Autrey Wilson/Shutterstock

While Seattle’s hot housing market is starting to cool a little bit, a few years of skyrocketing costs have already gated many out of homeownership. Case in point: A new report by real estate group Zillow found that in the Seattle metro, which includes Bellevue, Everett, and Tacoma, a median-income household would have to save 11.7 years to save for a 20 percent down payment on a median-value home. Those findings were based on a $84,369-a-year salary and a $492,700 home price, and assumed the household would be saving 10 percent of its income.

Of course, there are ways to buy a home with less than 20 percent down—but it’s a trade-off, since it typically increases overall costs. It can mean a less affordable monthly mortgage, extra insurance requirements, and higher interest rates.

Still, a 20 percent down payment on a $500,000 home is $100,000, and a six-figure savings account could seem astronomically out of reach for many. And that number only goes up in higher-priced areas: In Seattle proper, home values are, naturally, a whole lot higher. By Zillow’s most current calculations, the median value of a home within the city limits is $739,600. In Bellevue, per Zillow’s number, the median income is stretching closer to $1 million, at $929,200.

And while median income in the Seattle area is nearly $85,000, clearly, not everyone’s earning that. While census data reported by the Seattle Times shows that Seattle families—households with two or more people related by blood, marriage, or adoption—are earning a median income of $121,000, the median income for single moms is just $36,000. Half of Seattle-area tax filers, the Times also reported, reported less than $50,000 a year in earnings.

Meanwhile, in Tacoma and Everett, less than 10 percent of families make the median income of Seattle families, even while shouldering some of the fastest-rising housing costs in the metro.

By contrast, in 1998, it took fewer than eight years to save for a 20 percent down payment on a median-value home with a median household income in the Seattle metro. In the past 20 years, according to Zillow’s report, home values have increased 177.3 percent—but incomes have grown 76.2 percent.