I have noticed that Washington State has the appearance of falling out of 'favor' among the many magazines and blogs that write up all those best places to retire lists we are bludgeoned with on a routine basis.
So what happened? I'll tell you what happened, Seattle happened. Washington State has a population of roughly 7.5 million people. King County is one of 39 counties in Washington. It has 2.2 million residents. One county that has more than a quarter of the states residents. The metropolitan Seattle Area has over half the state's population. Housing in Seattle is now among the highest in the united state. In fact of California's 58 counties, only seven have a median home price higher than King County. The primary reason California has been nearly eliminated from those retire to list has been the combination of high housing costs and high taxes, the "deadly duo" if you will.
One might expect that Washington State has approached California overall in housing costs, yet that is simply not the case. According to Zillow's latest reports, the state wide median for Washington is $359,100 against $535,100 in California. Washington State is very high on real estate costs when compared to the nation as a whole, but falls well under California once you get out of Greater Seattle. Seattle suffers from the "deadly duo" as well with high taxes and high housing costs. But King County has a lot of heavy local taxes that are simply not applied elsewhere in the state.
Let's take sales tax for a moment. The sales tax rate in Seattle is 9.6%. Let's contrast that with the sales tax rate in White Salmon, WA in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge and it's only 7.5% That's a big difference! Wenatchee, WA recently landed on Forbes list of best retirement cities, it has a sales tax rate of 8.4% which is equal to our area here in Clark County Washington and well below the rate paid in Seattle. But unlike Seattle, Wenatchee has a very cool and reasonable median home price of just, $267,200.
When retiring to Washington State, one has to contrast where they live now against the costs in the place they choose to retire. People coming from say Iowa where the median home price is $132,600 will have sticker shock in any of Washington State's 39 counties. People coming from California and not moving to King County, will likely find the property values manageable in Washington.
Washington State has two distinct sides, the wet side and the dry side. On the dry side rainfall totals are in the arid range with cities like Goldendale, Yakima, the Tri-Cities area and Wenatchee seeing well under 20 inches of precipitation annually. These areas tend to be much more sunny and have warm bordering on hot summers and cold winters with significantly more snow than Western Washington cities. The wet side has very mild temperatures year round. Wenatchee is on the dry side so that may have played a role in Forbes ranking.
Locally here in Clark County Washington, the median home price sits just under the statewide average at $334,300. We have close proximity to Portland, OR that borders Clark County and Vancouver, WA. This is a solid choice for retirees as the housing costs are still manageable, services are excellent including health care, shopping, proximity to Oregon's no sales tax and devoid of any state income tax. Rainfall is moderate with Vancouver seeing on average 40 inches a year of rain. We do have extended cloudy periods as does most of the "wet side" of Washington. But we enjoy warm and dry summers that are to die for and lush greenery year round. The mountains are spectacular, the Columbia Gorge is right next door and the famous Oregon Coast is as accessible to us as it is to Portland.
Yes friends, Washington may not be the "best place to retire" list darlings like we were a couple years back, but that is more about metrics and magazine sales as it is about actual retirement living. Southwest Washington remains a great place to retire.