One of the most common internet searches that brings people to our blog is "how expensive is it to live in Seattle?" We've talked about this before, but figured we could do some deeper analysis than what we've offered before.
The short answer to the question is: go to Sperling's BestPlaces Cost Of Living Comparison, enter your current salary, and compare your current city to Seattle to see how much your salary would need to increase to maintain the same lifestyle. Overall, the cost of living in Seattle is 32% more than the national average. We've found the difference to be less, but we've also made adjustments in our lifestyle to minimize the higher cost of living here. Keep reading for a more detailed analysis of how expensive it is to live here.
The first thing many people interested in moving here would want to know is how the economy is doing. Seattle has a strong, diverse economy, compared to the national average, with major area employers including Boeing, Port of Seattle, Alaska Airlines, and Microsoft. The unemployment rate in Seattle was 6.3% in December 2008, compared to the national unemployment rate of 7.2%. Seattle is one of the most-educated cities in the US, with industries including aerospace, computer science, and biotechnology.
The median home price in Seattle is $591,000, which is 172% higher than the national average of $217,200. Trulia has a real estate overview of the city. As a compliment to the city, some people would say you get what you pay for. Seattle hasn't been hit as hard by the housing bubble as other cities, though home prices have still fallen some. Speaking from experience, the high cost for renting here impacted us more than any other increased expense. Also, based on my observations, while houses here are more expensive than in other places, they're also more modestly sized on smaller lots.
Also, from what I've observed, most condos start at around $300,000, though some start in the mid $200,000s. Also, apartments in the inner city without income restrictions start at around $1,000/month + parking costs. I'm sure rates start lower farther from the center of the city. To get a better idea of what you'd have to pay for housing, you'd have to do a more specific search.
Food here costs 11% more than the national average. There is also more tasty, local produce here than in many other parts of the country. Still, since we've moved here, we've been paying a lot more for groceries than we did in Texas, partially because they're more expensive here and partially because we've been buying more groceries instead of eating out because eating out costs more here too. As we mention here, there just aren't as many places to eat for cheap, and it seems like the places here that are labeled as "$" cost as much as the places labeled as "$$" in Dallas/Fort Worth.
The WhiteFence Index has details on utility costs in 21 major cities and the costs for utilities in Seattle are below the median of these cities. It estimates an average utilities bill of $274 and even breaks down costs by categories - phone, electricity, natural gas, etc.
From an anecdotal perspective, electricity costs here are lower than what we paid in Texas. We're paying a quarter of what we were paying in Texas per kilowatt and we're actually paying much less than that - like $10/month - because we don't have to run air conditioning (in fact, we don't have it). However, water costs are higher at about 35 hundredths of a cent per gallon. The two of us pay around $65 per month for water. Cable TV seems to cost more here, too, with basic cable costing $55/month through Comcast. We pay about $40/month for DSL internet, which also seems like a lot. Of course different companies offer different levels of service so utility costs will vary.
The price for gasoline in Seattle tends to be about 10% above the national average with gas prices in the area being among the higher gas prices in the nation. However, due to higher density than many cities and a well-used public transportation system, I would estimate that people in Seattle drive less than people in many other cities, so the monthly cost of gas here is possibly lower on average than in other parts of the country.
Different places assess different taxes in different ways, but overall I'd say the tax burden here doesn't seem too bad, since Washington is one of the seven states that doesn't have personal income tax. Sales tax in Seattle is a bit high, ranging from 9% - 9.5%. Property Tax $10.17 per $1,000 of home value, which is 23% below the US average of $13.28 per $1,000 of home value. Overall, taxes here don't seem bad to me.
There is no single answer to the question "How expensive is it to live in Seattle?" because expenses are different for everyone. Many things do cost more in Seattle than in other parts of the country, but how much more depends on you and the choices you make. The higher cost for housing will be the most immediately noticeable for many people, but other things like food and gas cost more as well. To get a better idea of what it would cost for you to live here, you might want to start by looking for a home you might want and see how much it costs. For us, the cost increases were minimized because moving to Seattle allowed us to make lifestyle changes (selling a car and driving less) to save money. If anyone has any more questions, we'd be happy to answer in the comments or by email.