By Drew Meyers
It seems like ages ago that Expedia announced it was abandoning its downtown Bellevue skyscraper for Amgen’s former corporate campus in Interbay. Four years later, “the first of the company’s 4,500 employees” touched down in their new swanky offices this month, according to Katherine Khashimova Long at the Seattle Times. Expedia’s entire “Seattle-area workforce will be based at the new campus by February 2020,” with room to accommodate another 1,800 without breaking ground on any unplanned construction.
For employees, the 40-acre campus, which is surrounded by “a grain terminal, seafood distributors and a busy railway,” is a stark contrast from the former urban highrise. The refurbished biotechnology building was designed to mirror “a posh hotel”—filled with cappuccino machines, healthy snacks, on site wellness centers, soundproof phone booths, windows opening to spectacular Puget Sound views, and a full-service cafe.
Getting to Interbay
While the move is an upgrade on most fronts, there’s one notable downside: the commute. Employees residing on the Eastside, who previously commuted all of 10-15 minutes, could now easily spend an hour each way. With the city’s estimate of an increase of “2,900 daily car trips into the city in the near future, and up to 4,000 by 2031,” it’s obvious Seattle’s already dismal traffic (5th worst in the nation) is going to suffer.
While Expedia has put in place a range of incentives to reduce single-occupancy driving—free bus/light rail, four shuttles from the Eastside, expensed van and carpooling costs, and even paying employees $5 per day to not drive—a six-story parking garage with 2,300 spaces offers insurance if their workforce doesn’t take them up on it. For existing commuters, Mercer Street, already among the worst roads in the city, is going to shift from a crawl to a standstill. And traffic on 15th Street through Ballard to Downtown will go from bad to worse.
All of this will inevitably lead employees to reverse relocate from the Eastside suburbs to Seattle to avoid the horrendous commute and preserve their sanity.
For Expedia employees, that begs the question: Where can you move to cut down on the treacherous commute? How much bang for their buck does each potential relocation net you?
Housing and Commute Breakdown
The team at Flyhomes thinks a lot about housing and wants to help employees facing the relocation decision understand available options. We dug into the data, and below is an analysis of key aspects affecting your housing decisions, from commute times to space considerations to how enrolling your children in the best local schools will impact your new commute.
Commute Time By Neighborhood
If you dread commuting (who doesn’t?), you’ll clearly pay a premium in terms of price per square foot to cut your commute to Interbay. So, while you may still be able to find a $700,000 house, you’ll own a one- or two-bedroom townhouse, rather than a more spacious single-family home with a dog-friendly yard.
Let’s make a deeper comparative dive into what living on the Eastside offers in housing stock versus neighborhoods near the new Expedia HQ. We used the average of all homes sold in 2019 to date to breakdown characteristics of each area and compared to 2015 price per square foot.
2019 to Date Housing Statistics (vs 2015 Price)
Based on our analysis, Magnolia, already booming with activity as a not-too-far-away residential area outside the city’s inner urban core, is poised for the most growth as it affords the most square footage, bedrooms, and bathrooms for your money. If you prioritize lot size and the free-range lifestyle for your kids, however, it’s clear you’ll need to settle in Issaquah, Redmond, or Woodinville.
The Time/Money Trade Off
Every choice of neighborhood represents its own tradeoff in commute time, which impacts your earnings, quality of life, time with family, and the potential frustrations of longer commutes in the coming years as our region’s traffic worsens. Although housing stock is more affordable as you venture further from the new HQ, too often people don’t consider, or can’t quantify, the time spent in transit into dollars.
Using 11 minutes as the baseline commute time from the closest neighborhoods to Expedia HQ (Queen Anne and Magnolia) and an average salary of $100,000 (from Payscale), we calculated an annual cost above baseline for each potential area. To do this, we calculated the average total number of minutes spent commuting from each area and applied employees’ average compensation to that time. The data shows you’re going to pay an extra $13,000 in time annually if you live in Bellevue versus Queen Anne or Magnolia—and almost $19,000 if you choose Woodinville’s acreage. Meanwhile, Ballard, Fremont, and Belltown all ring in at less than $3,000.
Qualitatively, imagine the impact an extra hour or two per day with your family could have on your overall happiness. Personally, that’s all the motivation I would need to jump ship across Lake Washington.
Commuting from the Best Schools
Of course, there are other factors impacting relocation decisions. For employees with school-aged kids, we assessed the best ranked elementary, middle, and high schools in relation to the new HQ in terms of commute time—we used data from GreatSchools, which is just one of many possible ways to evaluate school quality.
Filtering for only public schools (district and charter), and then ranking schools based on both rating and commute time provides a clearer picture of choice schooling options for Expedia employees. Note that commute times are estimated using Google Maps, based on a 9am arrival time at Expedia HQ on a Monday morning.
- Six high schools ranked above a 6 on a 10-point scale.
- Three middle schools received an 8 (there were no ratings above 8).
- Six elementary schools received a 9 (there were no 10 ratings).
- Queen Anne, a longtime favorite neighborhood for Seattle area residents, is poised to become even more popular with its top-tier elementary and high schools.
Corporate Moves Ripple Down
Expedia is not the only company making impactful office decisions. Virtually every tech giant has a large presence in Seattle. Airbnb’s office holds 300 employees. Facebook’s location in South Lake Union off Dexter Ave has breached the 5,000 employee mark. Google’s new office, with “607,000 square feet of office space and 149 apartments,” means an increasing number of Amazonians and Googlers will mingle in SLU. And Google’s not done—the tech giant has plans for a third block in SLU, which will bring its total office space to nearly 930,000 square feet.
Every corporate relocation asserts pressure on the housing inventory serving the existing population in that neighborhood. As millennial engineers trade cash for convenience, subdivisions closest to new offices instantly rise in demand. While house prices are headed up and to the right for now, Seattle is not immune to the whims of the tech companies propping the economy: Corporations can leave just as easily as they arrive.
Winning Requires Superpowers
For homeowners and landlords, increased demand for housing offers certain boons—increased home values result in additional equity and higher rents. Of course, these benefits also come with an uptick in new developments, and the corresponding construction noise that disturbs the peaceful ambience.
While Redfin shows Bellevue and Seattle are similar in competitiveness for homebuyers, among Flyhomes’ clients in 2019 (YTD), the Bellevue area is now more competitive. According to our data, 59% of homes for sale in Seattle neighborhoods (limited to Queen Anne, Magnolia, Ballard, Belltown, and Fremont) received 2+ offers. In the Eastside’s primary cities (Bellevue, Kirkland, and Redmond), 74% of homes received 2+ offers.
Given the impact big tech companies have on the city’s real estate landscape, these shifts indicate that it just might be a good time to sell and relocate to Seattle. If you could wave a magic wand, you’d likely just slap a nice new unit a five minute walk from your office. However, with the city’s landlocked nature, the hot hoods and subdivisions available aren’t going to magically increase in size. And competing in those increasingly desirable areas may require buying superpowers. There’s a Seattle-based real estate brokerage that can add those superpowers to your repertoire—whether it’s a Trade Up, guaranteed offer, or cash offer.
Meanwhile, as Amazon slowly retreats to Bellevue and takes over Expedia’s former Bellevue HQ, this presents an intriguing opportunity for the entrepreneurially inclined: Who’s game for an Expedia-Amazon home swap service?
Curious about what’s for sale?
Drew Meyers is a product strategist, writer and community builder with 12+ years of cross-functional experience in the sharing economy, real estate, and travel industries.
He is the founder of Geek Estate Blog and Geek Estate Mastermind, a private real estate tech think-tank comprised of over 200 execs, founders, vcs and practitioners. Former Zillowite. Holds a Business Administration degree from the University of Washington. Resides in Queen Anne.