Is the Key Peninsula population growing? Ask anyone driving on the Purdy Spit during the morning or evening rush hour, and the answer is an unequivocal yes.
Home sales are also booming as prices are rising. “If it doesn’t sell, it’s priced wrong or there are problems with the building or the site,” said Windermere Realtor Donna Dilger.
She and fellow Realtor Penny Jones said home-sale patterns in rural areas tend to lag behind urban areas by several years. When housing prices and availability are prohibitive in more central locations, buyers begin to look farther afield. They said that lower prices on the Key Peninsula have attracted both retirees and younger first-time buyers, though commute distances for workers are still a consideration.
In 2012, the number of homes sold on the KP was 163. That more than doubled in 2017, with 346 sales. The average sales price rose from $200,000 to $295,000 in the same period, an increase of 50 percent. Price per square foot showed similar growth, from $126 in 2012 to $203 in 2017.
Jones said these are signs of a seller’s market, with fewer than half as many listings per month than five years ago—38 to 80 listings per month in 2016 compared to 116 to 158 per month in 2017.
Data on land sales are harder to compare, but of 104 active listings, three-quarters of the properties listed have either sold or are in contract—a high proportion of sold listings, according to Jones.
Prices of undeveloped lots have risen as well, although the prices are highly variable, depending on size, location, the presence of timber, and water and septic availability. The number of small parcels sold in 2012 and 2017 was similar, but prices rose significantly. In 2012, 10 1-acre parcels sold for well under $20,000. Last year, eight 1-acre parcels sold for between $32,000 and $65,000.
The number of larger parcels (2 to 6 acres) sold nearly quadrupled in the last five years. In 2012, 16 parcels of 2 to 6 acres sold and the most expensive one, with water and septic, was priced at $85,000. Last year, 60 parcels of that size sold. The most expensive one on the north end of the peninsula sold for $153,700, and at the south end, the best price was $110,000.
Jones said that building lots in Gig Harbor are rare, relatively small compared to Key Peninsula lots and can cost as much as $160,000.
Sean Gaffney, planning manager for Pierce County Planning and Public Works, said the number of building permits approved for new single-family homes on the Key Peninsula between 2010 and 2012 remained constant at about 25, then grew to about 40 a year until 2016. Sixty-one permits were approved in 2016 and 75 in 2017.
The Pierce County population, according to U.S. census data, grew from 795,000 in 2010 to 834,000 in 2016. The estimated population by the end of 2017 was 877,000.
Data for 2017 was not available for the Key Peninsula, but the population in 2010 and 2016 held steady at about 17,350. School enrollment in the last five years has not grown significantly. Evergreen Elementary School enrollment has increased from 220 to 265 and Minter Creek Elementary expanded from 353 to 387, but Vaughn Elementary, Key Peninsula Middle School and Peninsula High were unchanged.
The Food Market in Key Center has seen an increase in business, though owner Don Stoltz was reluctant to credit those changes simply to growth on the KP. The Food Market remodel, completed in November 2012, was part of a business plan to grow. “That plan has stayed on track,” he said.