The Pacific Northwest is one of the fastest-growing regions in the United States, and Washington ranks fifth on the list of states with the most significant population growth. In fact, the Evergreen State is growing at more than twice the national rate.
There are plenty of reasons behind this population boom, from the incredible natural scenery and endless recreational opportunities to a growing job market and friendly, laid-back vibe. Of course, all this growth can make it challenging to find the right home to buy. Luckily, the South Puget Sound area has a wealth of opportunities for home buyers—particularly those looking to build a custom home.
The South Puget Sound region ranges from the coast all the way to Mount Rainier National Park. It hugs the southern end of Puget Sound and includes a wide variety of cities and towns. Home buyers have their choice of picturesque oceanfront communities, large bustling cities, quaint, tight-knit towns or peaceful country properties in the remote foothills.
Today, we’ll dive deeper into the six counties that make up South Puget Sound, so you can find the area that best fits your needs:
Grays Harbor County
Grays Harbor is one of Washington’s westernmost counties. It encompasses the oceanfront cities of Taholah, Moclips, Ocean City, Grayland, and others. To the north, it runs into Olympic National Forest, while the western county line meets Capitol State Forest. The population is approximately 73,000, with about 17,000 residents living in its largest city, Aberdeen, which is known for being the home of the late musician Kurt Cobain.
This sparsely populated county is all about nature. It includes dozens of beautiful lakes and waterways, world-class state and national parks, and stunning beaches.
The economy here is growing at a slower rate than in other areas; however, that may be good news for home buyers looking to find well-priced land. The county has a lower cost of living than the rest of Washington State and the nation in general. In fact, the median home cost in Grays Harbor County is about half that in the rest of the state, making it a great place to invest in a new home.
The leading industries here include healthcare and social assistance, retail, manufacturing, tourism, and food services. The county includes 45 public schools with about 10,500 students, giving children a small-town educational experience.
To the southeast of Grays Harbor is Lewis County, which offers a comparable population density. Of the 78,000 residents, more than 16,000 live in the largest city of Centralia. Lewis County is located nearly equidistant between Portland and Seattle, and it sits right between the mountains and the ocean. Its primary cities and towns are located along Interstate 5 and Highway 12, but there are plenty of welcoming little towns spread throughout its more remote lands.
Much like its neighboring counties, Lewis includes world-class recreational opportunities in the Cascade Mountains, on Cowlitz River or Riffe Lake, at Walupt Creek Falls, and more. The county also includes parts of Mount Rainier National Park, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, and other nationally protected lands.
The economy of Lewis County is similar to that of Grays Harbor—on average, it has a lower cost of living than the rest of the Pacific Northwest and the nation. The median home price is in the low $200,000s, which indicates that you can probably find affordable land there. Home appreciation in the last decade has exceeded 18 percent, so building there would likely be a great investment.
Much like the surrounding counties, Lewis has a variety of small public school districts, plus a few private schools and a local college in Centralia. For job seekers, the county offers solid opportunities in manufacturing, retail, and visitor services, all of which are growing.
Mason County encompasses the southwestern end of Puget Sound. This sparsely populated area has about 61,000 residents and only one incorporated city: Shelton. The hallmark of Mason County is its connection to nature. From the stark, breathtaking peaks of the Olympic Mountains to the restful inlets and islands of the sound, Mason offers respite from the hectic pace of life, plus endless outdoor adventure.
The cost of living here is a bit higher than in Lewis and Grays Harbor counties, but it’s still lower than in other parts of Washington. The median home price is around $250,000, but that number is trending upward as the population grows. In fact, the county has more than doubled in size since 2000, so now is likely a good time to buy here and start building equity.
The leading job sectors in Mason County are manufacturing, retail, agriculture/forestry, fishing/hunting, and healthcare and social assistance, which shows that the strength of the economy is balanced between residents and visitors. And although the county includes just a few relatively small school districts, they are growing as more people move to the area. In fact, two districts are currently in talks to build a new cooperative high school to try to stay ahead of student growth.
Bordering the ocean and the state line of Oregon, Pacific County is a small and secluded corner of Washington. With just 21,000 residents, Pacific County is not very densely populated, meaning there are more opportunities to find land. Its largest city, Raymond, includes about 3,000 people. Throughout the rest of the county, you have your pick of quiet towns with a laid-back lifestyle and friendly people.
With a lower cost of living than northern Washington, Pacific County has a median home price of just $163,000. However, be aware that this area is growing slowly. In fact, future job growth is expected to be lower here than in the rest of the country.
Pacific County wraps around Willapa Bay, which provides 25 percent of the nation’s oyster harvest. Other leading industries here are tourism, forestry, and fishing. Not surprisingly, the public school system is small, with just 20 schools serving 3,000 students—a good environment for families seeking a low student-to-teacher ratio.
Tucked between the southern end of Puget Sound and Mount Rainier National Park is Pierce County, one of the nation’s fastest-growing counties. It includes dense cities and suburbs around Tacoma and less populous rural areas near the mountains.
The population of Pierce County is roughly 876,000, with more than 210,000 of its residents living in Tacoma. Pierce offers many of the same perks as its neighbors, including incredible water sports, birding, snow skiing, hiking, camping, and more. Meanwhile, Tacoma is building a name for itself as an arts, nightlife, and culture center.
The leading industries in Pierce County are trade, transportation and utilities, government, and educational health services. Farmland has been significantly reduced in the last several decades, but the county still proudly produces about 50 percent of the nation’s rhubarb. Pierce includes a wide variety of public school districts and private schools, offering K-12 students everything from the large, dynamic Tacoma district to the small but highly ranked Sumner School District. It also boasts several universities and colleges, including the University of Puget Sound and Clover Park Technical College.
The cost of living in Pierce County is comparable to that of the rest of the Pacific Northwest, although it’s a bit higher than in Grays Harbor and Lewis counties. Median home values sit at around $322,000 and are trending upward. Prebuilt homes are getting snapped up quickly, especially as the county experiences a boom in new residents.
Nestled at the southern tip of Puget Sound, Thurston County has more than 250,000 residents. Its largest city is Olympia, the state capital, with about 47,000 people.
Thurston is bordered on the west by Capitol State Forest. Its less densely populated southern and western edges butt up against the Cascade foothills. Throughout the county, dozens of sparkling lakes and rivers, inviting forests, and enchanting inlets offer some of the area’s best recreation. Olympia in particular has a growing nightlife, arts, and culture scene. And with a central location 100 miles north of Portland and 60 miles south of Seattle, it’s no wonder this county is experiencing serious growth.
Most Thurston County residents live in the more urban northern areas near Olympia, Tumwater, and Lacey. But the smaller towns of Bucoda, Rainier, and Yelm offer a peaceful, inviting pace of life. The cost of living is on the higher end for South Puget Sound, but it’s still lower than average for the Pacific Northwest. The median home price is just over $300,000, and home values are rising as more people move to the area.
The State of Washington is one of the top employers in the county, followed by retail, healthcare, tourism, education, and construction. With an influx of new residents, the job market is expected to grow steadily over the next decade, and the rate should even exceed the national average.
Schools in Thurston County range from the 9,000-student Olympia School District to small, local districts with fewer than a thousand students. The area is also home to several colleges and universities, especially in and around Olympia. These include Evergreen State College, Saint Martin’s University, and South Puget Sound Community College.
For home buyers looking for land within the beautiful Pacific Northwest, South Puget Sound may be exactly what you were hoping to find. The area offers lively mid-sized cities, quaint oceanside towns, and remote mountain properties, all surrounded by more parks and waterways than you could ever fully explore. Best of all, South Puget Sound is still affordable, making it a wonderful place to find land and build a custom home.
If you’re interested in finding land in South Puget Sound, now is a fantastic time to build with Adair Homes. Since the housing market is a bit slower here than in other areas of the Pacific Northwest, you’ll have a lot of property options to choose from at a wide range of price points - not to mention that one of the biggest advantages to building with Adair is that you’re not limited to home that are currently for sale. Plus, a custom-built Adair home lets you build equity throughout the construction process, which can help you get more home for less money.
To learn more about finding land in South Puget Sound, or about the custom homebuilding process, call us or visit us at our office in Olympia.