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Washington's Rental Housing Market Is Looking Better, Still Tight In Rural Areas

Ted S. Warren/AP
File photo. Seattle's rental housing market shows more availability than other areas of Washington, like Kittitas and Yakima counties, where new construction hasn't kept up with demand.

Two months into this year, researchers are looking back at what changed on the housing front in 2018.  


According to the latest numbers from the Washington Center for Real Estate Research at the University of Washington, the statewide vacancy rate for all apartments is 4.26 percent. That’s better than it was last fall, but not by much.


A market is generally considered full at a 5 percent vacancy rate. And while it is getting better for renters looking for an apartment, it’s still not easier in terms of affordability.


Rural areas like Kittitas County continue to face one of the worst vacancy rates in the state, with less than half of one percent of rental stock available. Counties like Walla Walla and Whatcom are in similar situations. Yakima is slightly better at 1.3 percent.


James Young, director of the UW Center for Real Estate Research, says that “Yakima is playing a game of catch up at the moment,” as it’s in need of more housing. But he says the Yakima area has some of the cheaper rent in the state at around $770 per month.


Compare that to the steep price tags in the Puget Sound region: The highest average rent in the state comes in at $1,800 a month in King County. One the flip side, while Seattle-area renters have to pay out more, the silver lining is there are more units available in terms of vacancy rates.


Young points to slow development as a problem statewide.


“Unfortunately you can't build apartments that quickly,” Young said. “It's just the way real estate markets work in general. It’s hard to keep the supply and demand in balance.”


As for home buying, the median price in Washington is around $370,000. The highest median home prices in the state are also in King County, while the lowest are in Lincoln County, in eastern Washington’s wheat-growing region.


Data for the last quarter of 2018 was supposed to be finalized this month. But the recent partial government shutdown meant researchers didn’t get data on time, as it comes from the Census Bureau.


The next housing report will be available in early March.