Public Service Announcement: Seattle vs. San Diego

Seattle, WA
King County SFH median price: $363,850
King County SFH new construction median: $465,900
King County SFH + condo median: $335,000
March ’09 Seattle metro area unemployment rate: 8.9%

San Diego, CA
Central San Diego County SFH resale median: $300,000
Central San Diego County SFH new construction median: $355,000
Central San Diego County SFH + condo median: $270,000
March ’09 San Diego metro area unemployment rate: 9.3%

Notes: All King County home price info via NWMLS, San Diego home price info via DQNews. All home price info for March 2009. Unemployment data for Seattle via Workforce Explorer, San Diego via Workforce Partnership. No, I don’t want to move to San Diego—I personally like the rain. This post is an attempt at humor, intended to lighten up the mood on a rainy day.

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About The Tim

Tim Ellis is the founder of Seattle Bubble. His background in engineering and computer / internet technology, a fondness of data-based analysis of problems, and an addiction to spreadsheets all influence his perspective on the Seattle-area real estate market. Tim also hosts the weekly improv comedy sci-fi podcast Dispatches from the Multiverse.


  1. 1
    Scott Weitz says:

    Tim-These are great analogies. I remember when you used to post that San Diego and Seattle were on a par…these numbers don’t seem possible!

    If this holds….my family will be in San Diego in a few years.

  2. 2
    Acerun says:

    Seattle is a lame!

  3. 3
    fwiw says:

    San Diego has some water issues that we don’t currently have here either …. not sayin’ it justifies anything price-wise but it is going to be a pretty big issue down that way not too too long from now I think.

  4. 4
    biliruben says:

    Also, if you aren’t on the west side of the highway getting some wind and moderation in temp from the ocean, you are in the f’in desert, baking you, your loved ones and all your plants to a nice, crispy-brown, dried stump.

    Some people like that sort thing. Like my wife. And geriatrics with emphysema.

  5. 5
    mukoh says:

    If you like speaking spanish then SD is the best place for you.

  6. 6
    SeattleMoose says:

    Seattle is more expensive than SD because it is “special”. That alone justifies the significantly higher average home prices. Besides, who wants to live in a place with a climate LIKE THAT!!!!

  7. 7
    dancingeek says:

    RE: biliruben @ 4 – Heh, which “highway” 5, 805…15? I would guess 15 since that is the furthest east and 805 is relatively short.

  8. 8
    patient says:

    Hahaha, awesome! This will bring out the usual comments on how shallow the people are in SoCal which will be countered by the passive-aggressive Seattle feeze comments which will finally escalate to “if you don’t like it here why are you still here”. I thouroughly enjoy the Seattle – SD comparison posts since it gets people all railed up and defensive to the point that they almost demand that no more such comparisons are made, so I’m glad to see that you keep’m coming. SD is cheaper than Seattle unbelievable.

  9. 9
    pfft says:

    if you guys are correct about water and speaking spanish does that still justify the $50,000-$100,000 spread?

  10. 10
    biliruben says:

    I meant I-5, though perhaps that is a touch extreme. But just a touch.

    Compare sound-view Seattle to Ocean-view SD, and your price comparison is reversed.

    If you are comparing Kent to Escondito or El Cajon, then, well, maybe SD is cheaper. But if I were going to live in SD, then I wouldn’t have any interest in living in El Cajon.

  11. 11
    One Eyed Man says:

    San Diego’s peak over the 2000 baseline of 100 was 250 in Nov. 2005 according to CS. San Diego was at 147 for February 2009. Seattle’s peak was 192 in the summer of 2007 and is currently at about 152. San Diego’s peak percentage increase over the baseline of 100 in 2000 was about 1.6 times Seattle’s peak percentage increase over the 2000 baseline. All other things being equal, Seattle’s peaks are generally lower than California’s major cities and Seattle’s valley’s are generally higher. We may follow California but generally not as high up and not as far down. I’m not saying we can’t forecast from San Diego’s experience, but I think it’s unreasonable to do so without adjustment to take into account, among other things, the greater extremes of their cycles. That is of course unless you’re Scotsman, in which case all economic forecasts converge at zero.;-)

  12. 12
    The Tim says:

    It’s also worth noting that the SD numbers are only for “central San Diego” not the whole county. Most of the barren desert wasteland is excluded.

  13. 13
    prudy says:


    go ahead and move to San Diego – good luck finding a place for that price anywhere near the water. San Diego County is HUGE and most of these places are 20 – 30 miles from the Pacific where the day-time temps are 100 +.

    I lived in San Diego for years – great place to live if you are in a very specific area and don’t have to drive much. You think Seattle traffic is bad…

  14. 14
    prudy says:

    Oh, and Tim – ‘central San Diego’ still includes the desert areas, just not the most barren ones.

    Ever been out around SDSU?


    After about a mile or so inland from the water the temp rises dramatically and so does the amount of concrete, traffic and infrastructure – 64 degrees is only near the water – 2 miles in and your talking 100 degrees on the same day.

    If you’ve never been to San Diego take this ‘comparison’ with a very big grain of salt, IMO.

  15. 15
    fwiw says:

    RE: pfft @ 9

    As I said in my post about water, not saying it means anything price-wise …but …. it is a reason (and probably close to the main reason) I won’t move there.

  16. 16
    wreckingbull says:

    RE: fwiw @ 15 – I could never live there, but let’s not throw stones in our glass houses here. We are way overdue for our once in a millennium subduction zone quake – the kind that put a forest on the bottom of Lake Washington. When it hits, we are cooked. Recent research is suggesting that our modern downtown skyscrapers may not survive such a quake.

  17. 17
    Drone says:

    RE: wreckingbull @ 16 – That’s perfect! What better way to remove excess supply from the system?

  18. 18
    Scotsman says:

    An amusing comparison, but it’s really apples and oranges. The long term issue is water, with San Diego and the aquifers that supply it experiencing a downward trend for some 30+ years now. Unless climate change turns that around, water will become scarce and expensive. But think of the taxes CA will be able to collect on each gallon! Ahrnold will approve.

  19. 19
    patient says:

    RE: Scotsman @ 18 – Is water really such and issue? I haven’t dug into the subject but I lived for a while on an island where all fresh water was made from salt water and I also have friends that have fresh water makers on their yachts. It makes water good enough to make baby formula from ocean water pumped up from the harbour according to them. It sure tastes alright. As i said i haven’t studied the costs and possibility of large scale operations to support major cities so there might be caveats. I think it’s some sort of osmosis process.

  20. 20
    patient says:

    A quick google search yielded among others this result:

    “There is broad agreement that extensive use of desalination will be
    required to meet the needs of a growing world population. Energy costs
    are the principal barrier to its greater use. Worldwide, more than
    15,000 units are producing over 32 million cubic meters of fresh water
    per day. 52% of this capacity is in the Middle East, largely in Saudi
    Arabia where 30 desalination plants meet 70% of the Kingdom?s present
    drinking water needs and several new plants are under construction.
    North America has 16%, Asia 12%, Europe 13%, Africa 4%, Central
    America 3%, and Australia 0.3%. The two most widely used desalination
    technologies are reverse osmosis (RO; 44%) and multi-stage flash
    distillation (MSF; 40%)”

  21. 21
    patient says:

    RE: patient @ 20 – And as biliruben mentioned you got all of that baking desert to the east ready for solar cells to plug into the osmosis plants. Problem solved.

  22. 22
    boomer says:

    If you break down the median price SFH of Seattle which is $399k (which includes the most desirable neighborhoods) and the Eastside of $485k (which includes the most expensive real estate in the PNW) it’s still cheaper than the best areas of San Diego.

    The best areas of San Diego like La Jolla ($1.5m) , Coronado ($1.6m), Mission Beach/Pacific Beach ($725k) still command higher median prices than the best neighborhoods in Seattle.

    There are about 6-7 bad areas in Central San Diego County that really skew the median prices lower.

  23. 23
    One Eyed Man says:

    The law firm I was with in Orange Co in the 1980’s has a developer client with 6300 lots under development in San Diego Co. They mothballed the project a couple of years ago and are financially capable of waiting forever to restart. Given what I know about them, I don’t think they would have bought the land unless they had tied up rights to the necessary water.

    I also keep track of property in San Luis Obispo Co because I like the central coast south of Big Sur. The town of Cambria near Hearst Castle has had a building moratorium for years due to lack of water. I think they’re putting in a desalination plant to meet the towns needs and end the moratorium. Homes in that area go for about 400/sq ft on average so expensive water is probably something they’re willing to live with. But then again, it’s about 6,000 people, not 1.2 million like San Diego.

  24. 24
    Hessian says:

    I moved to San Diego in late 2001. A year later I was kicking myself for not buying a house. The next 2 years were insane. One of the last things I remember before moving back up here in late 2004 was the picture on the cover of the San Diego News Tribune of a 1920 2-bedroom 900 square foot house in North Park for $515,000. Young people were going in with their friends (now probably ex-friends) to buy $500k homes. Then I move back up here thinking that I would still be able to buy an affordable house like my Seattle area friends had. Of course Seattle proceded to blow up, and I figured I was “priced out forever”. I sure like the direction the market is going now! By the way, seems like I remember there being a desalination plant in Carlsbad.

  25. 25
    Manav says:

    Whatever you guys say, but you can’t find such deals around seattle anywhere. That is freakin 40% less that the 2004 price. Where as in seattle you can’t find more than 20% discount and that too rarely. Most people around redmond/bellevue/kirkland are still trying to sell with significant premium over the 2004 price, which is ridiculous. No wonder they are not selling.

    I so wanna go to socal.

  26. 26
    dancingeek says:

    RE: One Eyed Man @ 23 – That’s an interesting area. Not much building on the coast from San Luis north through Morro Bay on up through Cayucos, Cambria, and San Simeon. South and Southeast of San Luis, however, has been exploding with housing.

    This thread is kind of interesting to me since I grew up in San Diego then spent 10 years in San Luis going to school and working until making the upgrade and moving to Seattle =)

  27. 27
    magnolia44 says:

    wow looks like a great time to move to SD. Tim why not do so, you bring it up quite a bit maybe it would be a good move for you.

    As for me being a SO Cal transplant, I prefer it here.

  28. 28
    The Tim says:

    By magnolia44 @ 27:

    wow looks like a great time to move to SD. Tim why not do so, you bring it up quite a bit maybe it would be a good move for you.

    Looks like you didn’t actually read the whole post.

  29. 29
    magnolia44 says:

    By The Tim @ 28:

    By magnolia44 @ 27:

    wow looks like a great time to move to SD. Tim why not do so, you bring it up quite a bit maybe it would be a good move for you.

    Looks like you didn’t actually read the whole post.

    Oh i see the fine print in different font now, Yes like much of what is posted here I find most of it unreadable, with some good points here and there. If i missed the main point i apologize, just thought i would throw out that comment.

  30. 30
    rose-colored-coolaid says:

    Do these numbers hold up if we use median price per sq ft? That would be the more shocking number. Also, it should probably include median incomes, which I believe are higher in SD.

  31. 31
    Kary L. Krismer says:

    This is more of a question than a statement, but what are real estate taxes in San Diego if you buy in 2009? I know they have their goofy tax system down there where people who have owned for a long time pay less. That means people buying recently pay more.

    Up here the real estate tax on a median $365,000 house would probably max out around $4,500. If the tax on a median $300,000 house down there was maybe $8,000, that would be roughly another $300 a month to live in a median house down there. That would make the total payments about the same. Again though, I don’t know what real estate taxes are in CA.

  32. 32
    shawn says:

    What would be interesting is numbers on how many folks really leave WA for CA and vise versus. I think sunshine is great, but it can be had in places other than CA. The two places that I think are really comparable are SF (lived there from ’90-’94) for an urban comparison, and Austin (lived there ’94-’95) for its civility and coolness. SD (never lived there just visited) seems more like Dallas (lived there ’95-’00), a soulless suburban wasteland.

  33. 33
    b says:

    KLK – I believe its 1.2% of purchase price.

  34. 34
    deejayoh says:

    By b @ 33:

    KLK – I believe its 1.2% of purchase price.

    yes, 1.2% of the original purchase price with a maximum increase of the basis of 2% a year.

    property taxes are much lower in California than they are in washington… Prop 13.

  35. 35
    deejayoh says:

    By shawn @ 32:

    What would be interesting is numbers on how many folks really leave WA for CA and vise versus..

    You can see this from drivers license data:

    also some excel tables that will tell you all the back and forth

  36. 36
    EconE says:

    By deejayoh @ 34:

    By b @ 33:

    KLK – I believe its 1.2% of purchase price.

    yes, 1.2% of the original purchase price with a maximum increase of the basis of 2% a year.

    property taxes are much lower in California than they are in washington… Prop 13.

    Yeah…it’s amazing the difference that people will pay due to prop 13. I feel sorry for the ones that bought a high end property at the top however (and can afford to keep it) because those 2% increases are 2% of a super bubble price.

    One Eyed Man & Dancingeek…

    Agree on SLO….lived there for 4 years. Sure do miss the mountainbiking and hiking up Bishops Peak.

    It was a much nicer area however before they voted in state water and were able to have a strict growth moratorium. The water tasted like sh*t however.

    I’ll bet I wouldn’t even recognize it today.

  37. 37
    fwiw says:

    Regarding the posts about desalination, it could potentially be a long term mitigation for the water situation in the SD area but it is no panacea. Desalination requires gobs and gobs of energy which is why you’ll often see it used in places like Saudi Arabia with basically unlimited access to energy. US aircraft carriers use desalination as well; the power source for that desalination effort is nuclear. They have been trying to build an additional desalination plant in Carlsbad since about 2006 and still haven’t been able to break ground. Additionally, trying to build desalination plants on a large scale (or any scale really) in southern California will certainly encounter all types of objections from environmental groups. (I’m not implying a value judgment to those objections just offering an observation) Further, for what it is worth, the current state of solar energy efficiency just can’t support the energy needed to power the desalination plants. (Well, technically it probably can but not in any cost effective way). Is it possible that it could it in 20 or 30 years? Sure. I also wonder, and really don’t know, if the current state of the credit markets will support the company building the currently planned desalination plant borrowing the money to do so. Though I suppose the way things work today the FED will find a way to ‘loan’ that money under TARP or TALF or some other acronym.

    The real issue though is that the lack of water is going to become a problem in the SD region long before we can build enough desalination plants or provide enough energy to power them. San Diego imports 90 percent of its water from the Colorado River and from Sierra Nevada runoff via a pipeline that transports water from the Sacramento River Delta to Southern California. Late in 2007 a federal judge protected a fish species called the ‘delta smelt’ by imposing limits on water flows caused by pumps at San Joaquin-Sacramento River delta from December to June. This is cutting into the SD water supply NOW. Mandatory water restrictions are being imposed and the current water supply is being cut. Agricultural use is being significantly reduced and the water authority has just announced an additional 8% cut in supplies. SD, and truthfully I suspect much of SoCal, will have a serious water crisis before 2012. In fact, if I were a betting man I’d be inclined to bet that we’ll see a giant upsurge in ‘water rights’ controversies in the west in the next few years and the outcome of those is uncertain.
    Now … maybe it will rain for the next 40 days and 40 nights in SoCal and fix the problem … living in Seattle I believe it can rain that much … ;-)

  38. 38
    what goes up must come down says:

    why do some of the responses on this thread not surprise me — Seattle great — every other place has problems…. it surprises me that people actually live somewhere besides Seattle

  39. 39
    Bits_of_Real_Panther says:

    I’ve spent many years in both places, it’s a fair point that there is a big difference in quality of living conditions between a median house in San Diego and a median house in Seattle. There are only a handful of nice neighborhoods in the SD area, mostly west of I5 as has been mentioned. As for wages, living in SD carries a “Sun Tax” as they say down there so I’d be surprised if Seattleites don’t make about the same $$ for the same work and you don’t have the state income tax in WA. On the other hand if constant sunshine is important to you and you can stomach the social scene in Socal, SD is a great option, and they have to be a lot closer to pricing stability.

  40. 40
    Kary L. Krismer says:

    By deejayoh @ 34:

    By b @ 33:

    KLK – I believe its 1.2% of purchase price.

    yes, 1.2% of the original purchase price with a maximum increase of the basis of 2% a year.

    property taxes are much lower in California than they are in washington… Prop 13.

    Thanks, although I wouldn’t call that much lower for new owners. Washington is actually limited to 1% for everyone, but then you add on local levies and such and it will push it higher. Does CA have the local stuff on top too?

    What brought this topic up was someone recently told me about real estate taxes in TX, claiming they were very high. And I know I’ve seen people from other states reference obscene real property tax amounts. Considering WA doesn’t have an income tax, our real estate taxes are relatively low.

  41. 41

    We moved up here from NorCal because Concord (east of Berkeley) was too damn hot and dry for us. We loooove having *all-natural water* in abundance up here. Desalination? Solar cells? Mmmmaybe… and you know how expensive that water would be? Or how fragile the water infrastructure would be when the big one hits? No thanks!

  42. 42
    Kary L. Krismer says:

    On the topic of water, Phoenix always amazes me. Virtually no rain, a population that is huge in comparison to Seattle, and a ton of grass in a lot of places.

  43. 43
    Civil Servant says:

    In the Snapshots Of Economies Past department, years ago I knew a guy who was getting a degree in life coaching, and he wanted to specialize in helping people improve the mental side of their golf games. Yes, for real on all counts. He was planning to move to Phoenix because of all the golf courses down there and all the hobbyist golfers with lots of money to spend on a life coach.

  44. 44

    RE: Civil Servant @ 43

    Makes perfect sense; you hire one coach to help with your golf technique, and another “life coach” to help you analyze why you stink at golf and to work through your feelings so you can feel good about hitting a little ball with a stick.

  45. 45
    patient says:

    RE: Rob Jellinghaus @ 41 – There are also wave and wind options, SD has it all in abundance and the gov. is all for it. And costly? Compared to what? If you enable business and poulation growth by supplying ample water the growth could possibly offset the more expensive water with additional state revenues and the state could sponsor the renewable energy plants and the desalination plants. Think positive, this is not an unsolvable problem.

    Then again with greedy bankers and real estate speculators having bankrupt both the state and the gov…

  46. 46
    Walt says:

    RE: Kary L. Krismer @ 40
    Real estate taxes in TX are outrageously high (also no income tax) mostly with local taxes making a huge part of it. I end up paying in the middle of Austin around 4% a year of the appraised value on taxes… on a small condo that makes the taxes nearly equal the mortgage…

    Also… I’d like to see a comparison with San Francisco county… essentially King county should be significantly cheaper than SF county… (given the density [not alot new being built in SF], appeal [ at least just as many “water” views], and San Francisco still has a banking community (bye bye WAMU) both have ports, tech, and biotech….

  47. 47
    Esol Esek says:

    SD near the water is great, maybe for a few weeks a year, but where is the work? Plus, enjoy the crime of Socal and all the gangbangers running around acting like they own the place with that brutish catholico borg mindset…as far as high end property, look at Santa Barbara burning down, so much for that high-end. At this rate, there sure is an argument to be made for a cheap home/base of operations, and resort living here and there. You can visit SD just like Hawaii, Utah, Phoenix during spring training, or Tahitit for that matter…why bother owning?

  48. 48
    Sep says:

    While your RE taxes in CA are based on purchase price you do have the ability to appeal for a reduction in your taxes if the market falls below what you paid. It is a simple form that you are asked to provide your estimation of the worth of your home as of January 1 plus three supporting comps. In my experience as long as you give a reasonable number it’s likely to be granted as the assessor is so overwhelmed with appeals right now.

    Not that this is scientific at all but it’s my opinion that RE taxes are higher in WA than in CA when you are making the comparison between people who purchased property in a specific time frame. I’m not a fan of Prop 13 because of how it leaves schools underfunded but having your property taxes unable to increase by more than 2% a year does make it easier to budget.

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