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Spokane’s affordable housing, pace of life attract people priced out of other West Coast cities

Looking to move from congested and high-priced Seattle, CarliAnn Forthun and Casey Bruner are in the process of looking for a home in the Spokane area. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Looking to move from congested and high-priced Seattle, CarliAnn Forthun and Casey Bruner are in the process of looking for a home in the Spokane area. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Casey Bruner and CarliAnn Forthun moved to Seattle for professional opportunities. Last year, they decided it was time to leave.

As the couple pondered relocation choices, they drew up a list of traits they wanted in their new hometown.

The city had to support both of their careers – litigation law for Bruner, 30, and professional dance for Forthun, 29.

Sunshine would be nice, the Yakima Valley natives decided. Affordable housing was a must.

“We wanted something smaller than Seattle, with a little bit of space, that was large enough to support the arts and lawyers,” Bruner said. “Housing was a big part of it.”

Bruner recently accepted a job with a Spokane law firm. Forthun has been going back and forth between Spokane and West Seattle, getting the couple’s house ready to put on the market.

After they sell their 1,100-square-foot house –which Forthun bought with financial help from her family before they married –the couple plans to buy in Spokane.

Bruner and Forthun figure they can afford twice the house here. In the long term, their real estate dreams include a bit of land, similar to the acreage where Forthun grew up, with room for dogs.

Spokane’s housing prices are attracting people to the area. In a recent article, Realtor.com put Spokane at the top of the list of “10 Affordable, Midsize Cities” for buyers.

In March, the median home price for houses and condos in Spokane County was $219,000. In the city of Seattle, prices were more than $800,000 for a single-family home.

Chelsea McFarland, a broker for Prime Real Estate Group in Spokane, said the Realtor.com article captures what she’s seeing. Most of her clients are from out of state.

“I’m not just selling houses, but Spokane in general,” said McFarland, herself a Los Angeles transplant.

Her clients include young couples priced out of other West Coast markets and people nearing retirement who don’t want to deplete their savings paying for housing. They’re looking for a slower pace of life, but they also want urban attributes, McFarland said.

“For those people facing that price pressure, Spokane’s affordable housing component is huge,” said Jennifer Valerien, the owner/broker of Re/Max Inland Empire and a Spokane Association of Realtors’ board member. “That’s what they see here.”

For Spokane-area residents trying to sell a home, the influx of new residents is welcome. The new residents are often flush from selling a house in a higher-priced market, able to pay cash for the home or make a large down payment.

But those sales also mean more competition in the local market.

“For those of us wanting to buy, now we’re needing to spend more, too,” Valerien said. “We don’t see the Spokane market as affordable as it used to be.

“Spokane is a great place to live,” she said. “Obviously, a lot of other people think so, too.”

After a dozen years in Seattle, Kate and Mario Quintana, both 36, moved to a house in Spokane’s Perry District in October. Their house in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood was appreciating rapidly in value, but they were ready for a change.

“I loved Seattle when I didn’t have a child,” Kate Quintana said. But navigating the congested city with their 2-year-old son, Luca, wasn’t ideal, she said. “We were on a busy street. I wanted to have a yard and a slower pace of life.”

Kate Quintana grew up in Spokane, and living near her parents was a draw. McFarland, their real estate agent, alerted the couple when a four-bedroom house on a roomy, 1-acre lot was listed.

“I wanted Old World charm around the South Hill,” Kate Quintana said. “This house came on the market, and we couldn’t say no.”

The couple are self-employed, which gives them flexibility on where they live. Mario shoots and edits videos for commercial clients. Kate is an illustrator and portrait artist.

They paid about $370,000 for 3,000-square-foot house. The couple get deer in their yard but live within a short walk of the Perry District’s commercial area.

“We feel like we haven’t lost that city life,” Kate Quintana said. “It’s the best of all worlds.”

Amana Nova researched housing prices in Portland, Seattle and several Northern California cities before moving to Spokane in late 2016.

“It was all very expensive,” the former Laguna Beach, California, resident said of the other West Coast locations. “It wasn’t going to be affordable.”

Nova, 61, is semiretired. She found a two-bedroom house on the lower South Hill near Huckleberry’s Natural Market for $214,000. The 1930s cottage has wood floors, a fireplace and a studio, where she makes fused glass artwork.

“I think I got a good deal,” Nova said. “In Southern California, you can’t even look at a house for less than $500,000. … I was able to buy up here for half of what my rental payment was.”

Spokane’s natural beauty impressed Nova, but she also wanted urban experiences. A strong arts community, live concerts and yoga classes were on her list of must-haves.

“I wasn’t going to live in the middle of nowhere,” she said. “I literally went online to make sure there was a Trader Joe’s.”

Nova feels at home in Spokane, where she finds people friendly and open to getting to know new residents.

“It’s not snobby,” she said. “There’s not an ‘Oh, you’re from California’ ” reaction.