Every place is the same. Every place is different. Supply and demand affect prices. But every place has its supply issues and a demand for that supply. Saturday, May 4th, was the fourth in my series of talks about real estate and affordability on Whidbey Island. My work as a real estate broker is a great opportunity to dive into data, and my time as an engineer means data is a comfort zone for me. Put the two together and find a good reason to talk about data on topics that are frequently defined by anecdotes. This time the talk was at the library in Coupeville with an audience mostly from central Whidbey. It is a place in demand, with some supply issues, and plenty of stories.
Data is objective. Data can also include biases, but data about houses that were sold is data based on people making commitments measured in hundreds of thousands of dollars, at least. One bias is that this is a self-selected set. Anecdotes are enlightening and entertaining, but data about houses that sold is data about actions taken – not just talked about.
I’m familiar with central Whidbey. Besides visiting it almost weekly for dances, friends, or work I’ve also produced two photo essays of the area:
Penn Cove is a protected saltwater harbor that includes the tourist town of Coupeville, a mussel farm, a wide wrap of waterfront properties and yet is off the highway. It can be quiet. Admiralty Head is the forgotten, overlooked center of the island. Take the average of the latitudes of the tips at Deception Pass and Possession Point and get a line that passes through the area around Admiralty Head, Driftwood Park, Crockett Lake, and Fort Casey. That broad swing of park-like properties are neighbors to Ebey’s Landing and Ebey’s Prairie, yet more protected turf. The area is so appealing that movies are made here. The area is also known for the controversial practice airfield bureaucratically named Out-Lying Field (OLF). Around OLF converted fighters practice carrier landings over the relatively safety of land. Great for training and certification, great for folks who enjoy jet noise. Not so great for people who prefer quiet.
It is far too easy to dive into those anecdotes about nature, tourism, movies, and the military. That made it particularly interesting to compile the data about what people are willing to pay to be in the vicinity, though it includes a bias by not including those who wouldn’t pay to be there. Valuing such a non-event is difficult.
My apologies if you’re looking for definitive conclusions. All I have to show are the data.
Overly simply, in some ways central Whidbey fits nicely between the high prices of south Whidbey’s tourist and retirement neighborhoods, and the urban area that is Oak Harbor and the Naval Air Station. If anything, that trend suggests that prices go down as the search moves north, and that central Whidbey gets caught in the middle. Couple that with the trend for lower prices for inland versus waterfront and it is easy to assume the more affordable housing is in the north and between the shores.
Moderating effects don’t necessarily affect those who are particularly sensitive to a particular topic. People who moved to the area decades ago to avoid noise are justifiably upset about low-flying jets designed for performance instead of acoustics. People who moved to the area for the migratory wildlife and panoramic views may care more about the birds and the mountains than the sounds. Every place has its own balancing act. Teasing out the difference can be difficult, especially in an area with so few data points (house sales) to be statistically significant.
The title of the talk is and was “Is Whidbey Changing”. The answer is ‘Yes’, of course. The entire Puget Sound was overlooked until Microsoft and Frasier made it popular. When there were far fewer people each issue had more negotiable room around it. Now, the area’s popularity has attracted a significant increase in population. Land and housing shortages around Seattle made Seattle’s housing situation headline news. The rest of the mainland is feeling similar effects. The island, however, have natural resource limits to growth, limits that restricted population density on the island. Technology and economic pressures are creating incentives for change. Those changes are being negotiated, possibly from perspectives that were valid years ago when there were fewer people and planes. The resolution isn’t obvious.
I grew up in Pittsburgh during the last of its dirty image era. We were told to accept the smog that was “The Smell of Progress.” Within a few decades, steel was no longer as dominant an industry. It was possible to watch steel mills be sliced up and recycled leaving tortured earth. We never expected them to leave, but they were trucked away. What they revealed was waterfront property that welcomed any clean development. Local industries shifted to robotics and biomed. The image remains but the lifestyles dramatically shifted.
Military base re-arrangements and needs shifted encouraging the Navy to post more people and planes to Whidbey. The flights are increasing. The personnel are filling the vacant properties. The neighbors are feeling the pressures in the environment, housing, and traffic. Maybe that situation will remain. And yet, maybe it will change. Imagine a seaside town with a westward view, dramatic geography, and a very capable airport. The potential value of that is impressive, but theoretical. Imagine the continued progression as the military switches from pilots to drones. Pilots need to be continually trained. Train one drone and the rest learn. Rhetorical: At what point does the best use of the land switch from military to commercial? Will it ever?
I don’t have the answers, and currently there’s an oversupply of questions (and declarations!!!).
Here’s the good news. You get to make up your own mind. That’s one of the benefits of being an adult in a democracy. Whether it is about real estate, affordability, national security, community, or any of those questions in that oversupply, I feel it helps to pick your topic, research it, dive into the objective and subjective perspectives, and decide for yourself.
For those who want a few more details than will fit in this blog post, or want to review the material, here are some links to the video, this presentation, and the previous presentations.
- Video – Is Whidbey Changing – Spring 2019 – Coupeville
- Presentation Slides – Is Whidbey Changing – Spring 2019 Coupeville
- Previous summary posts (which include details of many of the slides)
Why are there so many? Two reasons: every place is different, and time changes everything. The answer for a different time and place will necessarily be different – and a good reason to stay tuned.
Thanks to the various Sno-Isle Libraries and their librarians for hosting the presentations.
I’m happy to help.