Bellingham residents are paying more than their fair share when it comes to their rent and mortgage.
A new study from Zillow, an online marketplace that compares values of homes, estimates that Bellingham homeowners spend 32.9 percent of their monthly income on a mortgage payment, while renters pay 41.3 percent of their income. Mortgage lenders typically want your total monthly home loan payment to be at or below 28 percent of your total monthly income before taxes, according to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The general rule of thumb is that 30 percent should go toward rent.
Zillow estimates the median rent in Bellingham as $1,535 a month, and the median home value is $318,800.
32.9 percent How much of monthly income Bellingham residents are using toward mortgage payments.
23.8 percent How much of monthly income Whatcom County residents are using toward mortgage payments.
By comparison, Whatcom County residents, as a whole, paid 23.8 percent of their monthly income toward a mortgage payment and 31.1 percent toward rent. Zillow estimates the median rent in Whatcom County as $1,454 a month, and the median home value is $297,200.
While Bellingham is still affordable compared to the nearby major cities of Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., it’s probably starting to feel unaffordable to those who have lived here awhile, said Skylar Olsen, a senior economist at Zillow.
Like many other communities, rents and home prices in Bellingham rose as the national economy recovered from the 2008 recession. This area also has amenities that attract buyers and renters, including being near the water and two major metro areas, and having a university and an airport, Olsen said.
Bellingham’s numbers can also be influenced by retirees who may have wealth, but not high levels of monthly income, she said.
In addition, Bellingham has a low inventory of both rentals and homes for sale, Olsen said. The recession eight years ago put a stop to residential construction for a significant amount of time. Construction is coming back now, but is playing catch-up, she said.
Bellingham currently has a few large residential projects under construction to help ease what continues to be a tight rental market, including a 423-bed project on North Forest Street and a 648-bed apartment complex on Lincoln Street.
In a new report, the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies at the University of Washington said the apartment vacancy rate this spring in Whatcom County was 0.8 percent. That’s actually an improvement compared to September 2015, when the vacancy rate was estimated at 0.2 percent. In March 2015, the vacancy rate was 0.6 percent. The statewide rate in March was 3 percent, according to the study.
Changing home values (March 2016)