Washington Apartment Market                                                  Spring 2002

            Since 1996 the Washington Center for Real Estate Research (WCRER) at Washington State University has been providing valuable apartment market statistics for communities throughout the state of Washington.  The main goal of the surveys has been to estimate the vacancy rate for each county in addition to determining the average rent charged to the individuals who occupy these properties.  The WCRER has become the largest apartment market researcher in Eastern Washington along with conducting research in two Western Washington counties.  With permission and encouragement from Dupre + Scott (D+S), the Seattle-area research firm which conducts apartment research around the Puget Sound, WCRER has positioned itself to facilitate development of consistent, statewide apartment market data – at least in those areas representing a vast majority of the state’s apartments.

Market Coverage/Response Rates

            The size of the overall apartment market was re-estimated for this report using data from Census 2000 along with building permit data collected by the U.S. Bureau of the Census for the last two years.  Once the total number of apartment units was tallied for each county, the rental share of those units was calculated.  The rental share of apartments still uses 1990 Census proportions since the Census 2000 data on this topic is not yet available. 

The number of apartment units represented by the responses to the survey is compared to the total number of rental apartments in each market to produce a response rate. Response rates for both the D+S market research and the research conducted by the WCRER are combined to give an overall response rate for all the major counties in the State of Washington.  The resulting statistic for the combined surveys was 46.3%, basically the same as the Fall 2001 estimate, which was still based on 1990 Census data.  However, individual local market response rates changed more significantly.  Even though a 46.3% response rate may sound low, there are many contributing factors. Reasons for apartment managers not responding range from their complex not having enough units (D+S surveys are limited to projects with at least 20 units),  to the apartments manager’s unwillingness to give out private information for the survey.  Neither the D+S survey nor the WCRER survey includes government-assisted housing.  Collectively, these reasons make it difficult for the response rate to exceed 50 percent of the rental units in many local markets. 

WCRER and Dupre + Scott Apartment Market Surveys

Market Coverage  

 

County

2000 Apartments (5+ units)

2000-2001 Apartment Construction

2002 Rental Apartments

Survey Responses

Response Rate

Benton/Franklin

(Tri-Cities)

10,435

234

10,290

5,930

57.6%

Chelan/Douglas

(Wenatchee)

3,525

47

3,423

1,148

33.5%

Clark

(Vancouver)

20,500

841

20,893

12,186

58.3%

Cowlitz

(Longview/Kelso)

4,808

267

4,946

1,167

23.6%

Grant

(Moses Lake)

1,976

--

1,936

595

30.7%

King

(Seattle/Bellevue)

227,735

11,643

217,842

108,201

49.7%

Kitsap

(Bremerton)

12,242

10

11,626

6,203

53.4%

Kittitas

(Ellensburg)

2,538

--

2,512

1,772

70.5%

Pierce

(Tacoma)

48,509

1,840

49,160

28,081

57.1%

Skagit (Mt. Vernon/Anacortes)

4,065

200

4,117

811

19.7%

Snohomish

(Everett)

47,359

3,328

47,363

29,871

63.1%

Spokane

21,683

1,291

29,873

10,428

34.9%

Thurston

(Olympia)

11,289

114

11,140

7,141

64.1%

Whatcom

(Bellingham)

11,919

836

11,981

1,719

14.3%

Whitman

(Pullman)

4,270

203

4,345

3,556

81.8%

Yakima

7,441

65

7,218

2,350

32.6%

STATEWIDE

465,838

21,082

455,926

211,159

46.3%

Market Summary

            The statewide vacancy rate for the spring was 6.6%, a jump of 2.5% from last spring, and 1.5% above the fall measure.  Comparison to the year-ago statistic is most meaningful since the seasonal differences should not be present.  Snohomish County saw the largest increase in the vacancy rate.  Snohomish vacancies more than doubled, reaching 8.6%, the highest recorded vacancy among the 17 counties studied.  King County’s vacancy also doubled, reaching 8.0%.  In both of those Central Puget Sound communities, the surge in vacancies can be attributed to new construction entering the effective inventory, reduced levels of job creation and continued pressure from renters taking advantage of low interest rates to become homeowners.  At the other extreme, vacancy was lowest in neighboring Kitsap County, across the Puget Sound from Seattle, where only 3.1 percent of surveyed units were unrented.  Other communities with low apartment vacancies included the Tri-Cities, where real estate markets in general have been very strong for the last year, and the college towns of Pullman (WSU), Ellensburg (Central Washington) and Bellingham (Western Washington).  All three of those communities had fewer than 4% of their rental units vacant. 

           Average rents ranged from a low of $480 in Grant County to a high of $869 in King County.  Since the largest share of apartments are located in the more expensive urban communities, it comes as no surprise that the statewide average rent of $759 is closer to the prevailing level in Seattle than it is to Moses Lake’s average rent.

Summary Apartment Market Statistics – March 2002

Market (County)

Average Size

Average Rent

Number of Units

Number Vacant

Vacancy Rate

Benton/Franklin

(Tri-Cities)

798 sq. ft.

$589

5,930

196

3.3%

Chelan/Douglas

(Wenatchee)

808 sq. ft.

$540

1,148

65

5.7%

Clark

(Vancouver)

905 sq. ft.

$645

12,186

584

4.8%

Cowlitz

(Longview/Kelso)

802 sq. ft.

$501

1,167

56

4.8%

Grant

(Moses Lake)

792 sq. ft.

$480

595

38

6.4%

King

(Seattle/Bellevue)

N/A

$869

108,201

8,656

8.0%

Kitsap

(Bremerton)

N/A

$659

6,203

192

3.1%

Kittitas

(Ellensburg)

717 sq. ft.

$512

1,772

69

3.9%

Pierce

(Tacoma)

N/A

$630

28,081

1,601

5.7%

Skagit (Mt. Vernon/Anacortes)

N/A

$640

811

51

6.3%

Snohomish

(Everett)

N/A

$793

29,871

1,882

8.6%

Spokane

815 sq. ft.

$528

10,428

626

6.0%

Thurston

(Olympia)

N/A

$615

7,141

292

4.1%

Whatcom

(Bellingham)

N/A

$633

1,719

62

3.6%

Whitman

(Pullman)

798 sq. ft.

$554

3,556

128

3.6%

Yakima

761 sq. ft.

$486

2,350

120

5.1%

STATEWIDE

N/A

$759

221,159

14,618

6.6%

           The WCRER survey includes the average size of units within each apartment complex.  The smallest apartment units are found in Kittitas County where the average size is 717 sq. ft.  The largest apartments are found in Clark County where the average apartment is a significantly larger 905 sq. ft.  While these aggregate statistics are interesting, it is important to compare similar types of properties across the markets.  Since most apartments are either 1-bedroom or 2-bedroom, 1-bath units, as illustrated in the accompanying graphic, those unit types will be analyzed in more detail in the concluding pages of this article.

Composition of Apartment Market

Selected Washington Communities, March 2002

          The graphic also clearly illustrates the differences in the composition of the apartment market from community to community.  Studio apartments are most prevalent in Cowlitz and King counties, while 2-bedroom, 2-bath units are most frequently encountered in the more suburban Clark and Snohomish County areas.  One-bedroom units are especially dominant in Yakima County, while units with three or more bedrooms are most significant in Whitman County.

1-Bedroom Apartments

      One-bedroom apartments are the most popular type of apartment unit in the state, accounting for 37.7% of all the units in the WCRER and D+S surveys.  The statewide vacancy rate for 1-bedroom units rose from 3.9% last spring to 6.8% for the current survey.  The average rent for 1-bedroom units climbed from $645 last spring to $660 in March, 2002, an increase of 2.3%.  Vacancy rates varied from county to county throughout the state, with Benton/Franklin Counties having the lowest rate at 2.1%, basically unchanged from a year ago.  The highest vacancy rate for these small units was 9.0% in Snohomish County.  Average rent also ranged widely from a low of $303 in Grant County to $763 in urban King County.  The average size for a 1-bedroom unit was 653 sq. ft.  The largest 1-bedroom apartments were found in Snohomish and Cowlitz counties where the average size was 714 and 713 sq. ft, respectively, while in Grant County the average size 1-bedroom unit was a miniscule 405 sq. ft. 

Apartment Summary Characteristics – March 2002

One-Bedroom Units

 

County

Average Size (Sq. Ft.)

Average Rent

Vacancy Rate

Benton/Franklin

644

$493

2.1%

Chelan/Douglas

609

$452

5.9%

Clark

683

$540

5.0%

Cowlitz

713

$447

4.0%

Grant

405

$303

6.7%

King

662

$763

7.7%

Kitsap

681

$576

2.8%

Kittitas

582

$398

6.0%

Pierce

668

$524

5.5%

Skagit

639

$557

3.6%

Snohomish

714

$678

9.0%

Spokane

659

$450

5.7%

Thurston

645

$536

4.0%

Whatcom

659

$548

3.9%

Whitman

544

$387

3.9%

Yakima

585

$422

4.7%

STATEWIDE

653

$660

6.8%

 

 

2-Bedroom/1-Bath Apartments

          The second most popular unit type in the state was the 2-bedroom/1bath apartment, which accounted for 26.9% of all the units responding to the survey.  Average rent for a 2-bedroom/1-bath apartment was $704, a $17 increase from the survey conducted last spring (2.5%).  Benton/Franklin counties had the highest average rent for this type apartment in Eastern Washington at $581, while King county had the highest rent in Western Washington with an average of $839.  The vacancy rate for 2-bedroom/1-bath units throughout the state rose to 6.6% compared to 4.3% last spring.  Vacancy rates ranged from a high of 8.2% in Snohomish County to a low of 3.2% in Kitsap and Whatcom counties.  In terms of unit size, Yakima had the largest average size in Eastern Washington (847 sq. ft.) while the largest average size 2 bedroom/1-bath apartment in Western Washington is found in Clark County (883 sq. ft.).   The smallest 2-bedroom/1-bath apartments were in Kittitas and Skagit counties (723 and 739 sq. ft., respectively).

Apartment Summary Statistics – March 2002

Two-Bedroom/One Bath Units

 

County

Average Size (Sq. Ft.)

Average Rent

Vacancy Rate

Benton/Franklin

843

$581

3.7%

Chelan/Douglas

830

$543

5.4%

Clark

883

$604

4.6%

Cowlitz

850

$523

3.8%

Grant

812

$446

6.1%

King

808

$839

8.0%

Kitsap

837

$615

3.2%

Kittitas

723

$544

3.7%

Pierce

868

$624

6.1%

Skagit

739

$641

5.2%

Snohomish

876

$745

8.2%

Spokane

840

$539

6.9%

Thurston

826

$601

4.1%

Whatcom

859

$625

3.2%

Whitman

804

$506

3.5%

Yakima

847

$524

4.8%

STATEWIDE

833

$704

6.6%

Time Trends  

         Consistency is the key to a more complete understanding of the time trends associated with different apartment markets.  For example, seasonal patterns vary from community to community  (e.g. academic year in Whitman and Kittitas counties; agricultural cycle in Yakima and Chelan/Douglas counties).  Both WCRER and D+S conduct surveys in March and September – months which are less subject to seasonal variables.  Results from the March 2001 and March 2002 surveys are shown in the following table.  The statewide vacancy rate over the last year has gone up 2.8% while the average rent of apartment units increased 2.8%.  Benton/Franklin counties had the largest increase in rent over the last year with a $40 increase  (7.3%), while the average rent in Skagit County declined one dollar (-0.2%) over the past year.  The largest increase in the overall vacancy rate was in Snohomish County where the rate jumped from 3.8% to 8.6% over the past year, while Kitsap County exhibited the biggest decline in vacant units. Grant County is excluded from this table since the survey has not yet been conducted there for an entire year.  

Vacancy Rate and Average Rent Comparisons – March Surveys

 

March 2001

March 2002

Counties

Vacancy Rate

Average Rent

Vacancy Rate

Average Rent

Benton/Franklin

4.9%

$549

3.3%

$589

Chelan/Douglas

5.1%

$535

5.7%

$540

Clark

3.5%

$630

4.8%

$645

Cowlitz

5.0%

$486

4.8%

$501

King

3.9%

$840

8.0%

$869

Kitsap

4.4%

$644

3.1%

$659

Kittitas

4.6%

$487

3.9%

$512

Pierce

3.9%

$603

5.7%

$630

Skagit

2.6%

$641

6.3%

$640

Snohomish

3.8%

$782

8.6%

$793

Spokane

6.6%

$523

6.0%

$528

Thurston

3.4%

$590

4.1%

$615

Whatcom

2.6%

$608

3.6%

$633

Whitman

4.7%

$546

3.6%

$554

Yakima

5.3%

$465

5.1%

$486

Statewide

4.1%

$737

6.9%

$758

 

Washington Center for Real Estate Research Center

Copyright© 2002 WCRER All Rights Reserved