WCRER Apartment Market Survey                                                 Fall 1999
The Fall 1999 Apartment Market Survey conducted by WCRER covered market rate (non-subsidized) apartments (5 or more unit structures) in seven markets (nine counties) outside the immediate Puget Sound region. Based on our 1998 estimates of multifamily housing inventory, those counties contained roughly 70,123 apartment units, including condominiums, subsidized, senior citizen, nursing homes, etc. The following table illustrates the coverage of the apartment market surveys.
WCRER Apartment Market Survey
Market Coverage
County 1990 Apartments 1990-98 Apartment Construction 1998 Apartments Survey Responses Response Rate
Benton/Franklin (Tri-Cities) 7,383 1,980 9,363 5,596 67.3%
Chelan/Douglas (Wenatchee) 2,453 444 2,897 941 32.5%
Clark      (Vancouver) 10,435 7,351 17,786 10,650 59.5%
Kittitas (Ellensburg) 1,416 745 2,161 1,486 69.8%
Spokane 19,817 7,500 27,317 8,141 29.8%
Whitman (Pullman) 3,183 915 4,098 3,370 82.2%
Yakima 5,362 1,139 6,501 1,773 27.3%

The wide variations in response rates are due to differences in the occurrence of low-income and condominium apartments coupled with the reluctance of some apartment managers to participate in the research effort, or the difficulty to successfully reach the owner/manager of smaller developments, especially in Spokane. Also the estimation of 1998 apartments assumes no demolitions of units which were in place in 1990 and that all building permits issued were actually constructed.

In Fall 1999 overall market vacancy rates ranged from 3.31 percent in Benton/Franklin counties to 8.01 percent in Spokane county. At a time when the national apartment vacancy rate is hovering around 8.2 percent (the highest level of apartment vacancy since 1965), thankfully none of our markets are higher than national. Moreover, the highest vacancy rate this fall in Western Washington reported by Dupre + Scott was 5.9 percent, and four of their seven counties reported fewer than 4.0 percent of units vacant. Average rents ranged from $441 per month in Yakima to $598 per month in Clark county. Dupre + Scott reported a range in their markets from $556 to $782, indicating the markets covered by WCRER are somewhat less costly. In general these rental costs are consistent with prevailing home purchase prices, and with the typical sizes of apartment units. The average apartment sizes ranged from 667 square feet in student-dominated Kittitas county (Central Washington University in Ellensburg) to 894 square feet in rapidly growing, mostly suburban, Clark county.

Rental Apartment Market Summary
Selected Washington Counties
September 1999
Average Size Average Rent Number of Units Number Vacant Vacancy Rate
Benton/Franklin     (Tri-Cities) 782 sq. ft. $489 5,596 185 3.31%
Chelan/Douglas (Wenatchee) 846 sq. ft. $529 941 38 4.04%
Clark       (Vancouver) 894 sq. ft. $598 10,650 547 5.14%
Kittitas    (Ellensburg) 667 sq. ft. $465 1,486 81 5.45%
Spokane 802 sq. ft. $478 8,141 653 8.01%
Whitman      (Pullman) 781 sq. ft. $515 3,370 188 5.58%
Yakima 711 sq. ft. $441 1,773 104 5.87%


Averages alone, however, tell only part of the story. Comparing similar units across markets, and comparing timetrends are also important. To select the types of units to compare, the Center aggregated the number of units of different types across the seven markets. Since 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom/1-bath units each account for over 30 percent of the apartment units across the nine counties covered by our survey, the comparisons will be limited to those two types.

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It needs to be pointed out, however, that there are significant variations across the markets in terms of the ages of the properties, which will affect the exact comparability of even these comparisons.

1-Bedroom Apartments

Vacancy rates for 1-bedroom apartments ranged from 2.66 percent in Pullman to 7.75 percent in Ellensburg, demonstrating sharp contrasts between the two college communities. Among the more urban communities, Spokane and Yakima had higher average vacancy rates for these smaller units than prevailed in Vancouver or Tri-Cities. The largest 1-bedroom units were found in Vancouver, while the smallest were in Ellensburg. The lowest prevailing rents for 1-bedroom units was in Pullman, while Clark County, reflecting the surge of recent construction and the larger unit sizes, recorded the highest average rent.

Apartment Summary Statistics ­ September 1999
One-Bedroom Units
County Average Size (Sq. Ft.) Average Rent Vacancy Rate
Benton/Franklin 634 $415 3.55%
Chelan/Douglas 641 $453 4.13%
Clark 701 $497 3.70%
Kittitas 558 $421 7.75%
Spokane 653 $404 7.65%
Whitman 539 $362 2.66%
Yakima 576 $403 7.69%

2-Bedroom/1-Bath Apartments

The largest group of apartments, accounting for over 35 percent of the units covered by the survey had two bedrooms and one bath. This was the most common configuration encountered in Tri-Cities, Wenatchee, Vancouver and Pullman. Vacancy rates ranged from an exceptionally tight 2.67 percent in Benton/Franklin counties to a surplus of available units in Spokane, reaching 8.75 percent vacant. Rents averaged $483 in Spokane and reached $586 in Clark county. Average sizes of these units ranged from 702 square feet in Ellensburg to 892 square feet in Vancouver ­ a difference of over one-quarter.

Apartment Summary Statistics ­ September 1999
Two-Bedroom/One-Bath Units
County Average Size (Sq. Ft.) Average Rent Vacancy Rate
Benton/Franklin 836 $507 2.67%
Chelan/Douglas 855 $541 4.49%
Clark 892 $586 6.79%
Kittitas 702 $488 4.48%
Spokane 837 $483 8.75%
Whitman 800 $489 4.56%
Yakima 825 $491 3.76%

Time Trends

To date, the Washington Center for Real Estate Research has managed to conduct this apartment research on an irregular schedule, making comparisons between surveys very difficult to interpret. Just as the home sales market is highly seasonal, the apartment market has distinct seasonal components. For example, the Yakima market in particular sees clear patterns in apartment vacancies based on the jobs available for farm workers. Similarly, the college markets have a very busy period in late summer, and units which are not rented by September will likely remain vacant for the remainder of the semester, if not the academic year. For most of these communities, WCRER conducted surveys in September 1997, June 1998 as well as September 1999. To avoid seasonal comparison problems, only the two September surveys are compared.

WCRER Apartment Market Surveys
September 1997 and September 1999
  September 1997 September 1999
  Vacancy Rate Average Rent Vacancy Rate Average Rent
Benton/Franklin 10.51% $513 3.31% $489
Chelan/Douglas 7.39% $533 4.04% $529
Clark 2.98% $556 5.14% $598
Kittitas n/a n/a 5.45% $465
Spokane n/a n/a 8.01% $478
Whitman 8.68% $498 5.58% $515
Yakima 5.38% $491 5.87% $441

In general excess vacancies which existed two years ago have been absorbed in these markets, and extreme shortages have also been addressed. Similarly, Dupre + Scott are reporting modest increases in vacancy in most of their markets, moving away from extreme shortages a couple of years ago.


Washington Center for Real Estate Research Center

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