When Loren Betts and partner Quita St. John were house hunting after renting on Beacon Hill, they had a few goals: easy workplace access, racially and economically diverse communities, a place close to their friends and affordability. They were focusing on South Seattle and Burien, but their real estate agent suggested a place in White Center, an unincorporated area of King County bordering South Seattle that friends had raved about. It didn’t take the couple long to understand why.
“White Center feels like an urban small town,” says St. John, an attorney. With one day to consider whether to put in an offer on a house they liked, the couple made a 24-hour study of the place: St. John drove by the house and met neighbors who had lived there for 17 years. At a local coffee shop, she ran into a barista she knew, and later she was invited to local community meetings by the cashier at Bartell Drugs.
“We drove by the house at all times of day, and we were stunned by the calm and quiet nature of the street and the deep and open friendliness of everyone we met,” says Betts. Their first night in the house, their neighbors stopped by bearing gifts of homemade ribs, sauces, rice and salad.
“Since we have moved in a month ago, we now know by name 15 of our neighbors—most of whom have lived there more than 20 years—the letter carrier and the waste management person.”
White Center’s downtown area, centered south of Roxbury Street and along 16th Avenue SW, can still feel gritty—Ballard or Bellevue it isn’t—but that’s a bonus for many residents. It’s also being quickly overtaken by a variety of well-regarded food establishments. Longtime residents such as Full Tilt Ice Cream, Proletariat Pizza and Zippy’s Giant Burgers have been joined by Noble Barton, Bok a Bok Fried Chicken and Beer Star. It’s one of the most diverse areas in King County and part of the Highline School District (which includes Burien, SeaTac and Des Moines), which has a goal of all students graduating bilingual and biliterate by 2026. Many of the homes here are smaller, WWII-era housing stock; there are also attractive new mixed-income homes for rent or purchase in Greenbridge and Seola Gardens.
Median home price: $385,300
Appreciation: 13.2 percent
School rank: Highline School District, no. 157 in state
Public transportation: King County Metro bus service, Sound Transit
Commute to Seattle: 8.1 miles, typically 22–45 minutes
This city at the north end of Seattle has been city residents’ go-to suburb for years—and it’s still going strong, according to Zillow economist Skylar Olsen. One huge factor is the highly rated schools. Other amenities include a RapidRide bus that will deliver you to downtown Seattle, easy access to gorgeous Richmond Beach Park and a downtown that has all the necessities. Home buyers will find spacious contemporary (1980s and newer) homes here.
Median home price: $563,400
Appreciation: 15.4 percent
School rank: Shoreline School District, no. 15 in state
Public transportation: King County Metro bus service
Commute to Seattle: 11.3 miles, typically 20–40 minutes
Sammamish, between Lake Sammamish and Snoqualmie Valley, is among the rural Eastside places that are growing fairly quickly. It’s just behind Kent in population growth since 2010, at 36 percent. Bothell has been undergoing a transformation via a downtown plan that has brought hotel/theater/pub McMenamins Anderson School, a new city hall and a number of mixed-use apartment-and-retail projects to town, including The Village at Beardslee Crossing. The burg has grown 32 percent since 2010. Nearby Kenmore features 326-acre Saint Edward State Park, where Daniels Real Estate is converting an imposing 1930s-era building, formerly a seminary, into an 80- to 100-room lodge, with a conference center, meeting rooms and a spa.