People are moving to Whatcom County again, amid a booming Northwest real estate market and an uptick in the national economy.
Whatcom County had an estimated population of 212,540 in April, according to data released last week by the Washington State Office of Financial Management. That’s up 1.31 percent compared to a year ago, but below the state increase of 1.73 percent. The state increase was the biggest since 2007.
Net migration accounted for 71 percent of the state’s population growth.
Locally, 2,032 people moved into Whatcom County from April 2015 to April 2016, accounting for 74 percent of the population growth. In the previous five years combined, incoming migration totaled 4,791.
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Sumas, Ferndale and Lynden had the biggest percentage increases, while Bellingham came in fourth with a 1.5 percent rise year-over-year. Bellingham’s population on April 1, 2016, was estimated to be 84,850.
The one-year bump in migration is something local real estate firms have noticed. Darin Stenvers, manager at the John L. Scott office in Bellingham, said he has noticed more people coming here from more expensive real estate markets who are willing to commute to their jobs in the Seattle area or to telecommute. That’s a trend in Skagit County, too.
Whatcom is also getting an influx of homebuyers from British Columbia, Stenvers said.
“Right now, we’re in the middle of two really hot markets and people are willing to commute in order to buy a less expensive house,” he said.
Stenvers said he and the agents at his office also have seen more Whatcom homebuyers coming from other West Coast cities, as well as people moving here from hotter climates. They’re looking across a range of home prices, from first-time homebuyers to high-end purchasers.
For the first-time homebuyers, many he has talked to work at Boeing or in the Everett area and can’t afford their first home in that area.
“I expect this trend to continue, even though inventory remains very low,” Stenvers said.
Real estate sales remain strong in Whatcom County. In June, local agents sold 398 homes and condominiums, according to a new report from Northwest Multiple Listing Service. The last time this area sold that many houses and condos in a month was August 2007.
The June sales total took place even though agents are working with 2.5 months of inventory. Typically, a balanced market has about six months of inventory.
The number of people living in Whatcom County who commute to work out of the county has risen 12 percent in four years, up to 22,922 in 2014, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census.
The increase in the number of people moving here is an indication that people in other parts of the country are feeling more confident and have been able to sell a house at an acceptable price, said Hart Hodges, director of Western Washington University’s Center for Economic and Business Research. People are also finding work, whether locally or outside the area.
“All those things are positives from an economic perspective,” Hodges said.
Much of Washington’s population increase took place in major metro counties. According to the report, 78 percent of the state’s population increase was in Snohomish, King, Pierce, Clark and Spokane counties.