Best Exurbs Around Seattle: Why Some Locals Are Heading Way, Way Out of Town

In search of affordable housing, some are trading a longer commute time for a quality of life that’s worth the drive.
Port Orchard’s waterfront is part of the town’s appeal

This article appears in print in the March 2018 issue, as part of the "Best of the Burbs" cover story. Click here for the rest of the story.

Mount Vernon

Buyers priced out of King and Snohomish counties are increasingly looking for properties in rural Skagit County, says Rodney Helgeson, a real estate agent with John L. Scott. Others relocating to this area north of Seattle are homeowners who have seen rapid appreciation in their home values; they’re selling and using the proceeds for a large down payment or a cash purchase for a home in Skagit County. “Being able to substantially reduce or eliminate a mortgage payment is pretty enticing,” Helgeson says.

One of the places to which they’re locating Mount Vernon. “It’s a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of the larger cities, yet there is plenty here,” says Helgeson, who points to the area’s restaurants, wineries, golf courses, outdoor activities and the famous Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. Mount Vernon is also home to the popular Skagit Valley Food Co-op, and nearby are picturesque La Conner, historic Anacortes and ferries to the San Juan Islands and Whidbey Island. Housing options include older or historic homes in downtown Mount Vernon and a plethora of newer, family-oriented developments, as well condos, senior living and new construction.

Neighborhood Snapshot
: 34,590
Median home price: $302,800
Appreciation: 10.7 percent
School rank: Mount Vernon School District, no. 161 in state
Public transportation: Skagit Transit, Island Transit, Whatcom Transportation Authority
Commute to Seattle: 61.6 miles, typically from 70 minutes to 1 hour, 50 minutes via I-5 

Port Orchard

This Kitsap Peninsula town has an island-time vibe and a strong sense of community. Bay Street and the downtown waterfront feature antique shops, restaurants, walking paths and a playground and community park for family-friendly activities. Nearby are five public golf courses and easy access to the Olympic Peninsula. 

Housing options here include smaller, older, well-maintained homes in town and nearby; new, family-oriented developments; condos; and waterfront and view properties. Those who move here have easy access to an outdoor recreational paradise, says Sandi Nelson, a real estate agent with Mike and Sandi Real Estate, but can connect to Seattle via several ferry routes across Puget Sound that link Kitsap Peninsula communities to Seattle, including the new Kitsap fast ferry, which travels from Bremerton (about a 20-minute drive from Port Orchard) to downtown Seattle in 30 minutes. 

Neighborhood Snapshot
Population: 13,945
Median home price: $317,500 
Appreciation: 7.4 percent
School rank: South Kitsap School District, no. 56 in state
Public transportation: Kitsap Transit 
Commute to Seattle: Mileage and time varies depending on car/ferry mix, 22–60 miles; from 1 hour, 30 minutes to 2 hours, 30 minutes

Cle Elum/Roslyn

Just a stone’s throw from each other (in reality, 3.4 miles), these two rural towns in the eastern Cascades both feature Western-themed architecture that is consistent with the area’s frontier history. Roslyn is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as are nearly 20 buildings in Cle Elum where the downtown has restaurants, shops and coffeehouses. Fans of the TV show Northern Exposure, which was filmed in Roslyn, will recognize some of the buildings in that town, including the Brick Tavern. 

“We are seeing a lot of buyers from the Puget Sound area and have been experiencing that for quite a few years now,” says Kandie Baker, a John L. Scott real estate agent. “We’ve become a pretty appealing option for second-home buyers as well as those looking to get out of the city on a full-time basis.”

Homes available in this area range from rustic cabins to family homes in neighborhoods and new construction. The area’s rural location and attractive home prices are only part of the appeal. Baker also points to the weather—the region gets more sunshine than Seattle—and access to outdoor activities. Both Snoqualmie Pass and the backcountry of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area of the Central Cascades are nearby. For commuters to Seattle, it’s an 80-mile drive on a good highway, I-90. “We are seeing a lot of people who are able to telecommute and work from home part of the time,” Baker says. 

Neighborhood Snapshot
Population: 2,876
Median home price: $294,000
Appreciation: 9.9 percent
School rank: Cle Elum–Roslyn School District, no. 78 in state
Commute to Seattle: 83.1 miles, typically from 80 minutes to more than 2 hours

Also consider:

Auburn, a suburb with a lively downtown, offers extensive shopping, dining and entertainment options, and commuter rail access to Seattle. South Whidbey Island has easy access to the town of Langley, with its restaurants and shops; ferry commuters can link with the Sounder and bus service on arrival in Mukilteo for commutes to Seattle. Bremerton, on the Kitsap Peninsula, recently added a fast ferry to Seattle, which has cut down the commute time to a half hour.

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