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Downtown Seattle dwelling costs now cheaper than metropolis as an entire

Ten years ago, if you wanted to buy a home in downtown Seattle, it came with a steep cost. The median home price downtown was about $570,000 in 2014, around 26% higher than the citywide median of $452,000.

For a lot of folks, the downtown lifestyle was worth the expense. “Walkability” was all the rage back then, and that’s what downtown offered — you could walk to work instead of sitting in traffic. Seattle’s bustling retail core, and many of its cultural offerings and events, were right at your doorstep.

Downtown is still walkable, but you may not care as much. There’s a good chance you’re working from home and commuting simply isn’t an issue anymore. Downtown shopping isn’t what it used to be, with many empty storefronts. And perhaps since the pandemic, you’ve gotten into the habit of staying home more and are less likely to take advantage of theater, movies, museums and concerts.

That may explain, at least in part, why downtown homes no longer command a premium. While home prices have gone up downtown since 2014, the prices elsewhere in the city have increased much faster. The median home price in downtown Seattle last year was $745,000, about 12% lower than the citywide median of $845,000.

This trend is not unique to Seattle. According to a new report by real estate data firm Property Shark, the flip from a downtown that was more expensive than the city as a whole, to one that was less expensive, has happened in nine of the nation’s largest cities since 2014.

The others are Portland; Los Angeles; San Diego; Denver; Albuquerque, N.M.; Dallas; Chicago; and Kansas City, Mo.

Among these, Kansas City experienced the biggest gap in price change between downtown and the city as a whole. From 2014 to 2023, Kansas City’s downtown median home price increased by about 39%, while the citywide median price increased by 122%. That’s a difference of about 83 percentage points between the downtown and citywide price increases.

In Seattle, the downtown median home price increased by about 31%, while the citywide median increased by about 87% — that’s a gap of about 56 percentage points, which ranked seventh among the nine cities.

Even in most large cities where this flip hasn’t occurred, downtown home prices have still lagged behind citywide home prices. Among the 41 locations in the report — 39 cities plus Manhattan and Brooklyn in New York — home prices grew at a faster rate citywide than downtown in all but 10.

There were even two cities where downtown home values have declined since 2014. In Chicago, the median price downtown was $269,000, down $57,000 from 2014. In Washington, D.C., the median downtown was $620,000 last year, down $9,000 from 2014. To be clear, these dollar amounts were not adjusted for inflation.

This trend may be one sign that the “back to the city” movement of the 2010s, largely fueled by millennials and empty nesters, has lost steam.

There was only one city where the flip in prices was reversed — in other words, homes downtown were cheaper than the citywide median in 2014 but were more expensive last year. And it may be a surprise.

In San Francisco, the median home price downtown soared by 87.5% from 2014 to 2023, compared with a citywide increase of 41%. In the process, the downtown median went from $74,000 lower than the citywide median to $265,000 higher.

Among the 41 locations in the report, downtowns were still more expensive than the city as a whole in 24. Seattle was among the 17 where this was not the case in 2023.

Philadelphia had the most expensive downtown relative to the rest of the city. The median price downtown was $839,000, compared with just $210,000 citywide. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Fresno, Calif., had the cheapest downtown. The median last year was $173,000 compared with a citywide median of $360,000.

For Seattle, Property Shark defined downtown as the city’s central business district, rather than the greater downtown area.

Seattle’s downtown median home price of $745,000 last year was seventh highest, down from sixth in 2014. Seattle’s citywide median of $845,000 ranked fifth highest last year, up from sixth in 2014.

The most expensive downtown was San Francisco’s, with a median home price of $1.5 million. The cheapest was in Tulsa, Okla., at $113,000.

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