For years, Charlene Graham drove State Route 302 en route to Shelton from Kent and admired the “special feeling” of the Key Peninsula. “As soon as I got across the (Purdy) spit, I envied the people who lived there,” she said.

In the last few months, Graham’s greeneyed monster has been squelched: After taking a day to canvass the Key Peninsula, she found the perfect spot for a retirement home, on nine beautiful acres overlooking Glen Cove.

After endless paperwork and permits, she and her husband, Terry, were expecting to start construction any day and to move in this summer. Although Terry Graham, who works at Boeing, will change his commute from roughly 20 minutes to over an hour, Charlene said “he has absolutely no complaints about it.” After years of living in the bustle, noise and crowdedness of Kent and King County, the couple is looking forward to a slower pace.

“People are discovering the rural setting for escaping the hustle and bustle is worth a little extra driving,” said Dale Harrison, Key Peninsula resident and custom home builder with Harrison Homes LLC. “We are finding that a lot of our customers who have looked at Gig Harbor go to the Key Peninsula.”

Real estate agents say the area is slowly being noticed, as Gig Harbor North brought shopping closer and the prices of homes are more affordable than other parts of Pierce County. Even so, the real estate market on the Key Pen last year reflected the rest of the region: The buyers and agents had to be ready to move fast on offers, and there was a shortage of homes on the market.

“The market has been fueled by interest rates, it’s been 30 or 40 years since they’ve been that low,” said Joyce Tovey of Windermere Real Estate/Key Realty. “We have lots of young people and lots of retired people (buying).”

For families, the Key Peninsula is the right place to raise children; for retirees, it’s the place to slow down. Anybody looking for a cheap mobile home on some acreage, for a million-dollar home on the waterfront, or any price range in between could be appeased by the Key Pen’s unique variety of real estate. Of the 22 $1 millionplus homes sold in Pierce County last year, three were local — including the most expensive one in the county, a $4.1 million, 8,100-square-feet estate with several hundred feet of beach in Lakebay.

“We are really enjoying it up here. I love the quiet and the peace,” said Don Eskew, who moved with his wife, Betty, to Taylor Bay from California. The country setting reminded them of their days in Alabama and Georgia, and being close to the water is a bonus for the former Navy sailor.

After their son moved to Federal Way last July, he helped them find a new home, and they have since fixed it up with new paint, carpets, and other touches. The grandkids love to visit and play, they said.

“We thought about Gig Harbor, but when we came out here, this is what we liked. We didn’t go look at Gig Harbor after that and we could have,” Betty Eskew said.

For those looking at affordability, Gig Harbor is not as attractive either. In 2004, it had the highest median price in the county, $245,000. KP’s median price was $168,050.

“I wanted to stay in Gig Harbor but what I could afford wouldn’t allow me to be there,” said longtime Gig Harbor resident Nancy Mazza, who settled on the Key Pen after looking to buy a new home. “I was able to find something in my price range in Palmer Lake. It was exactly what I wanted…When I saw it would add 15 minutes to my commute, it was something I was still willing to do.” Besides, that brought the new grandmother closer to her two adult daughters’ KP homes.

The home Mazza purchased was on the market for less than a month when she saw it online. According to Windermere/Key Realty data, the average home on the Peninsula was on the market for 73 days.

“We have to keep right on top of the market,” Tovey said.

The construction of the second Tacoma Narrows Bridge has brought much speculation to what it will do to the real estate market. While some believe it will make Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula more attractive because of the improved traffic, others see it as a way to skew the area toward a more high-end lifestyle since some people will not be able to afford the toll.

But there is much less speculation about the impact of the planned hospital, making the area even more attractive for retirees. “The hospital will have a huge impact,” Tovey said. Top that off with the booming development of Gig Harbor North, which brought shopping conveniences closer to home, and it’s easy to see why more and more people don’t mind the little extra driving.

“We feel this is where we wanted to be,” said Betty Eskew. “People around us are wonderful.”

Tovey says the Key Peninsula prices will pick up but are not likely to catch up to Gig Harbor. In the meantime, it will keep attracting people on both sides of the pricing spectrum. But not everyone.

“It’s perfect for me,” said Fred Angus, Key Peninsula resident and agent with Keller Williams in Gig Harbor who says the Key Pen is attractive not only for homeowners but also for investors. “It’s secluded, you can know your neighbors, it has a sense of community, and that’s very attractive to people. But it’s not for everybody.”

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