Home Economics

Is the Suburban Boom Bad for the Environment?

More Seattle renters sought space in the burbs. What did that do for their emissions?

By Angela Cabotaje June 28, 2022

If you've been tracking anything about the pandemic-era housing market, you already know that rents are bananas—like "22 percent up year over year" bananas. Seattle city dwellers, working from home in their cramped apartments, ditched the urban core for more space and amenities out in the burbs. Prices went up accordingly, and so did something else: emissions.

According to a recent climate impact report, the average carbon footprint for suburban or "fringe" county households in the United States is 18 percent higher than counties in the urban core. After all, life in the sprawled-out suburbs tends to mean more driving, plus more heat, electricity, and water for all that extra space.

In the greater Seattle area specifically, which includes Tacoma and Bellevue, the average suburban renters drive 3,366 more miles than a city apartment dweller. And during the pandemic, the suburban population grew by 1.9 percent, while the urban core stayed about the same. Seems like the delayed expansion of light rail to the Eastside can't come soon enough.

And elsewhere in real estate news...

What's driving those sky-high rent increases?

According to rental listing site Dwellsy, you can blame single-family home rentals. Median rents were up 22.8 percent year over year in May, with single-family rentals costing 43 percent more in rent than apartments.   

Cash is still king

A new report from Orchard reveals all-cash offers on single-family homes accounted for 16 percent of winning bids between January and May this year. That's up from 14 percent during those same months in 2019. The number is even more dramatic in Austin, Charlotte, and Atlanta, where all-cash offers account for as much as 26 percent of winning offers.

Vacancy rates were at historic lows—now what?

From January 2017 to February 2020, national apartment vacancy rates remained stable, hovering between 6.3 percent and 7 percent. Then came the pandemic. In September of 2021, vacancy rates in King County plunged to 3.85 percent driving a surge in rent. Those vacancy rates have slowly crept back up since then, but with the recent hike in interest rates, more would-be buyers are likely to stay put, continuing the pinch on available apartments.

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