SULTAN, Wash. — Even with news that the housing market may be cooling down, small towns are facing growing pains from buyers looking further out to try and afford a home.
They face a double threat of sky-high prices and rising interest rates.
Seattle home prices in March were up 21% year over year, with the median-priced home in King County costing nearly a million dollars. Meanwhile, mortgage rates are rising at the fastest rate in decades.
Less than a year ago, Casey and Angela Cline and their two kids found a home in Sultan, Washington, which sits along Highway 2 in Snohomish County.
“We love the mountains, love the area,” Casey Cline said.
The housing market came as a shock when they moved from Maryland to Washington for work.
“If you're looking at the same price range, like $500,000 - $600,000 here versus down in Issaquah, you're not getting near the same size and square footage in Issaquah that you get here,” explained Casey Cline.
“Small towns like this have kind of been the overflow valve for the Seattle metro area,” said Sultan Community Development Director Andy Galuska.
Sultan sat around a 2% growth rate for years. But in recent years, that number has jumped to 10%, with hundreds of new homes being built.
“I think the growth is a good thing in that it's a providing additional housing in a region that's starved for it,” Galuska said.
With population growth comes a push for economic development.
“Three years ago, if you were on Main Street, where we are now, there were a lot of empty storefronts, and I was doing kind of some economic development work, and there just weren't interested parties,” Galuska explained. "Now, three years later, we don't have the space. We have people asking us looking for space, and we don't have it."
Candice Blair owns JB Fitness on Main Street in Sultan. She opened her newly expanded gym in early 2022 to meet the needs of the growing community.
“We’ve gone from 2,500 square feet to 5,800 square feet,” Blair said. “We've had plans of remodeling and with the new growth in the city, we've decided that it was the right timing.”
But a big issue for Sultan is congestion on Highway 2, which was a problem long before the housing boom.
“The city is working with WSDOT, and we've also been applying for grants,” said Galuska. “We started the US 2 corridor study where we've looked at a plan for the entire corridor through town.”
For a small town like Sultan, the growth may come with some hesitation.
“It's a big stress on the city staff, but also on the community because it's a big change,” said Galuska.
But a new beginning for an old small town isn’t all bad.
"Things are kind of out of the beaten path," Angela Cline said. "We really connected with each other out here."
“They've come out here, and they love the feel, and we're welcoming them, and they're welcoming us too into their lives,” Blair said.
Even with signs that the market may be cooling, Sultan officials are still confident the growth rate will stay high.
“I think there's a lot of additional capacity that we need to build to keep things affordable for everybody,” Galuska said. "There's still a lot of work to be done, and I think that we'll still see, you know, pretty strong demand for new housing even if things slow down.”