News In Brief
August 6, 2020
- The Bellingham/Whatcom County area ranks as the ninth-least affordable midsized city for homebuyers in the country, according to an AdvisorSmith study released in July. With a weighted home price of $410,613 and median household income of $62,268, the report gave the Bellingham metro area a price-to-income ratio of 6.6. The study factored in average home price data from Zillow, household configurations and household income data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the report said. Using this data, the report created price-to-income ratios for 507 cities to determine their affordability. With this ratio, Bellingham is the 24th-least affordable city overall, well ahead of Seattle, with a ratio of 5.9, that ranked as the 33rd-least affordable city. Seattle also ranked as the seventh-least affordable large city. The study defined midsized areas as those with populations between 150,000 and 500,000. Small cities have less than 150,000 and large cities have more than 500,000, according to the report. Whatcom County's population is about 229,000, according to the most recent estimate from the US Census Bureau. Among Washington cities, only Bellingham made it into the top 10 least-affordable midsized cities. Oak Harbor, Washington, ranked in as the eighth-least affordable small-sized city with a price-to-income ratio of 6.7. The study ranked Santa Cruz, California, as the least affordable midsized city with a price-to-income ratio of 9.6. San Francisco ranked as the least affordable large city with a 9.7 price-to-income ratio. California cities made up half of the top 10 least-affordable midsized range and seven of the large cities. No Washington city made it into the top 10 most affordable cities for homebuyers, according to the report.
- Local economists are worried that another surge of COVID-19 cases in the fall could do severe damage to the regional economy, according to KOMO News. They are warning businesses and individuals to prepare now for a future wave of possible restrictions. UW Professor of Finance and Business Economics Thomas Gilbert expects 20 percent of restaurants and small businesses to close their doors by Dec. 31. He said an additional peak of COVID-19 cases in the fall could bring big losses to already-struggling businesses -- that is, if they even make it through the summer. While some businesses may pull through this pandemic, Professor Gilbert foresees more bankruptcies and a steady rise in unemployment in the months ahead should cases skyrocket this fall. He says low revenues could be crushing for some companies.
- Washington state has the lowest average energy costs of any state in the nation, according to a newly released report. The study, by personal finance website WalletHub, found that Washington state residents spend an average of $219 each month on energy and fuel - less than any other state. The only place in the U.S. with cheaper energy costs is Washington, D.C., where average monthly energy costs are $199, according to the report.
Washington state's low average energy costs are mainly due to the cheap electricity rates here. The average Washington resident spends $103 on electricity each month, and average electrical utility rates here are lower than any other state except Louisiana. Washington's comparatively low electrical costs more than make up for the relatively high cost of motor fuel here. Although Washington's motor fuel prices are the third-highest in the nation, residents here drive less and use more energy-efficient vehicles than most other states, bringing down the amount spent on gas and diesel. Here is the breakdown showing average monthly amounts spent on energy in Washington state: electricity, $103; natural gas, $26; motor fuel, $89; and home heating oil, $2. The WalletHub study also found that residential electrical use has increased nationwide during the pandemic, while commercial and industrial electrical use has decreased. The analysis found that the states with the highest energy costs are Connecticut ($372 per month), Massachusetts ($351), Rhode Island ($335), New Hampshire ($329) and Alaska ($325). The states with the lowest energy costs are Washington ($219 per month), Colorado ($220), Oregon ($236), New Mexico ($238) and Montana ($242).
- The housing inventory crunch has sparked a dramatic increase in the number of accessory dwelling units in the U.S., most notably in high-cost areas that have seen growing populations over the last decade, Freddie Mac reports in a new study on ADUs. Freddie's research identifies 1.4 million ADUs in the U.S., including granny flats, garage apartments, and in-law suites. These ADUs can be either attached or detached from the main residence. Freddie Mac researchers examined 600 million MLS transactions dating back to the late 1990s to study the growth of ADUs in the country. In 2019, 70,000 properties with ADUs were sold, which is 4.2% of homes sold on the MLS, the research shows. In 2000, only 8,000 properties with ADUs were listed and sold-or 1.1% of the total. ADU demand appears to be highest in the fastest-growing areas of the country, researchers note. For example, Sun Belt states like California, Florida, Texas, and Georgia have half of the 1.4 million ADUs identified. Also, cities like Portland, Ore., Dallas, Seattle, Los Angeles, and Miami have seen some of the largest upticks-with double-digit growth--in ADUs over the last five years.
- U.S. energy consumption plummeted to its lowest level in more than 30 years this spring as the nation's economy largely shut down because of the coronavirus, federal officials reported in late July. The drop was driven by less demand for coal that is burned for electricity and oil that's refined into gasoline and jet fuel, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said. The declines were in line with lower energy usage around the globe as the pandemic seized up economies. Those trends are expected to turn around as commercial activity resumes but an annual decline in U.S. and global greenhouse gas emissions is still expected. Overall U.S. energy consumption dropped 14 percent during April compared to a year earlier, the energy administration said. That's the lowest monthly level since 1989 and the largest decrease ever recorded in data that's been collected since 1973. Natural gas usage bucked the trend and increased 15 percent during the April lockdown as residential consumption increased with most of the nation under stay-at-home orders. Petroleum consumption fell to 14.7 million barrels a day in April, down almost a third compared the same period in 2019. Demand already has rebounded some after stay-at-home orders expired and large sectors of the economy started moving again. Coal companies are expected to have a tougher time than petroleum producers recovering from the pandemic, which hit as the coal sector already remained on a fairly steady downward spiral since 2007 despite President Donald Trump's attempts to prop it up. Coal consumption fell 27 percent in April compared to the same period in 2019, to 27 million tons. Most coal produced in the U.S. is used to generate electricity but many utilities have switched to to cheaper natural gas and renewable sources like wind and solar. The energy administration projects overall consumption will increase for the rest of 2020 but remain below 2019 levels.