In Island County
The charm of island living, a mild climate, natural beauties and a small-town lifestyle coupled with easy ferry access to the vital city of Seattle contribute to a high quality of life not often found elsewhere. In 2015, an estimated 80,593 people called Island County home, the Census said, with just under 377 residents per square mile.
In 2016, Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, in Island County, had a base population of approximately 7,500 military personnel, 1,200 civilian employees and 1,200 contractors for a total of 9,900, most of whom live off base in surrounding communities. The Census counted 12,634 veterans residing in the area in 2014. It’s the largest naval aviation installation in the Pacific Northwest as well as one of the four naval installations forming Navy Region Northwest.
The counties’ communities give newcomers plenty of choices when selecting a home. Enlist the help of a reputable real estate agent to help you sort through the area’s home options. The Washington Association of Realtors is a central source of local real estate information and services. Visit http://warealtor.org to find expertise and professional services for those interested in purchasing a new home.
Washington’s Island County, which was a county before the state became a state (1852 vs. 1889), has become increasingly popular with artists and retirees looking for pleasant, supportive surroundings in a stunning setting, but the secret is out as well with mainland city dwellers looking to build summer homes, and with tourists. The farming, timber and fishing that were early mainstays still contribute flavor to the economy, and the military has underwritten the financial base since January 1941, when the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations ordered the 13th Naval District to develop a new Puget Sound seaplane base, then a new airfield for land-based aircraft. Naval Air Station Whidbey Island was officially commissioned in September 1942. Nine islands make up Island County, with Whidbey and Camano being the most populous; the other seven — Baby, Ben Ure, Deception, Kalamut, Minor, Smith and Strawberry islands — are small, mostly uninhabited, timbered bumps surrounded by saltwater but crucial to the region’s bird life and as seal haul-outs.
1 N.E. Seventh St.
Coupeville, WA 98239
The largest island in Washington state, Whidbey Island is about 55 miles long and from a mile and a half to 12 miles wide, though its meandering shape makes precise measurements near-impossible; Coupeville, the county seat, is the county’s oldest town (and the second-oldest in the state), and much of its historic architecture has been meticulously preserved. In addition to high saltwater bluffs, beaches and rolling hills crowned by madrone, fir, spruce, hemlock, cedar and alder, oak and pine, there are four lakes: Cranberry (Deception Pass State Park); Deer (Deer Lake Park); and Goss and Lone lakes near Langley, on the island’s south end. Three fertile prairies — Ebey, Smith and Crockett — have drawn farmers since the 1850s, and as to seawater farming, high-end restaurants worldwide vie for the mussels, clams and oysters from Coupeville’s Penn Cove Shellfish, the oldest and largest commercial mussel farm in the U.S. Outdoor activity is easy; hiking, for instance, is year-round, and it requires little specialized equipment to walk an old-growth forest trail, a beach or a prairie. Sailing, kayaking and fishing are popular and accessible. The Deception Pass Bridge, on State Route 20, links Whidbey Island to the mainland by way of Fidalgo Island. Washington State Ferries runs the Coupeville to Port Townsend route off SR 20, and the Clinton to Mukilteo ferry, on the island’s southeast edge, off SR 525. Major communities include Coupeville, Oak Harbor, Langley and Freeland.
City of Coupeville
4 N.E. Seventh St.
Coupeville, WA 98239
Known to islanders as the heart of the Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, Coupeville is responsible for much of the antiquarian preservation on Whidbey Island, starting with its historic waterfront district and wharf on Penn Cove.
Pay a visit to the Island County Historical Society Museum, which chronicles the island’s rich heritage (www.islandhistory.org). Since 1963, the museum’s address has changed several times, beginning with its occupancy of the former General Telephone Co. exchange building. Then from 1968 to 1991, it was in the Coupeville Fire Hall. In 1991, construction of the new museum was completed on the site of the former Blockhouse Inn, a new location that offers dazzling views of Penn Cove and the Coupeville waterfront.
Coupeville, population 1,887, also boasts the famed Penn Cove Shellfish farm and an ingeniously designed main street of false-front stores filled with antiques, crafts and other specialty items.
For more than 20 years, Coupeville has hosted the annual Penn Cove MusselFest, “Bold, Briny and Blue,” with its multiple musical performances, children’s activities, chowder-tasting and a chowder-eating contest, as well as tours of the historic shellfish farm.
During the summer, Town Park is the spot for “Concerts on the Cove” (www.concertsonthecove.org), and the park’s short waterfront footpath leads to shopping areas and the town boat launch. The winter concerts are held at South Whidbey High School.
If adrenaline is your muse, many of Coupeville’s parks offer kayaking, biking and rewarding hiking trails, spanning forests and seaside vistas.
For a blend of history and action, visitors can scuba dive at Fort Casey State Park or the adjacent Keystone State Park, both underwater parks, where they can discover indigenous jellyfish, porpoises, otters, sea lions and maybe even a gray whale or an orca. The Admiralty Head Lighthouse offers sweeping views of the Whidbey Island shoreline and the Olympic Pennisula.
Every October, kids and adults gather at Cook’s Corner Park for the Halloween Torchlight Parade then proceed along Front Street through the heart of downtown Coupeville.
Homes in the Coupeville area range from well-established neighborhoods to new construction. Median rent in 2014 was $900, selected monthly owner costs of housing units with a mortgage were $1,713 and mean travel time to work for those living in Coupeville was a little under 21 minutes. Overall, the cost of living is 27 percent higher than the national average.
City of Oak Harbor
865 S.E. Barrington Drive
Oak Harbor, WA 98277
Picturesque Oak Harbor’s modern culture is steeped in history. Settled in 1849 by seafarers who established a trade port on Puget Sound, the community is now nearly 9 miles wide. The town was given its name by a pioneer physician, Dr. Richard Lansdale, because of its abundance of Garry oak trees, a relatively rare species.
The township enjoyed both a financial and population boom in the 1890s when Dutch settlers from the Midwest and Canada took up prosperous farms on its rich soil. Today, windmills, Dutch architecture and tulips still bear witness to that heritage. Many of the town’s oldest structures were built near the harbor, since the water trade was the main initial source of income.
One of the city’s major employers, the Navy, moved in just 6 miles to the northwest of Oak Harbor in 1941 to bolster the war effort and continues to be a principal benefactor. Oak Harbor remains the closest town to the base.
Today, Oak Harbor’s hub, Old Town, continues to buzz with activity. Pioneer Way, Old Town’s main thoroughfare, offers dining, art galleries, antique dealers and other laid-back shopping experiences, perfect for a weekend stroll.
Hopeful Oak Harbor home-shoppers have plenty of condos, townhouses, single-family dwellings and land for new construction to choose from. The median selected owner costs for a home with a mortgage was $1,661, median rent was $1,084, and mean travel time to work was 17.5 minutes for the estimated 22,693 residents. The overall cost of living was 18 percent higher than the U.S. average.
City of Langley
112 Second St.
Langley, WA 98260
Some say that Langley has the best of both worlds: a sweeping bluff overlooking the channel of Saratoga Passage, as well as a breathtaking 180-degree view of the Cascade Mountains.
Langley is also known for its high density of cottages, bed-and-breakfasts and inns, top-notch artists and craftspeople, delicious food and huge numbers of feral rabbits, love-bunny progeny from a reputed break-out at the Whidbey Island Fair’s 2001 rabbit competition. By 2015 the loose lapins had become so numerous that they were digging up school sports fields, undermining buildings and clear-cutting prized gardens, and the town split between rabbit-stew and cherish-the-bunnies factions. The situation remains unresolved but did furnish dramatic material for Langley’s 2016 Mystery Weekend, an annual event when the whole community takes part in a frisky murder-mystery play.
In addition to its natural beauty, Langley’s Seawall Park also shelters endangered species and local flora. Bald eagles, herons and sea lions dwell there, orcas visit and gray whales migrate past the park’s shoreline in spring, prompting Langley to start a new tradition: Welcome the Whales Day. A small pod of gray whales has been sighted every year around early March and lingered through May. Visit http://whidbeycamanoislands.com/welcome-the-whales-day-april-16 for more information.
If entertainment is your focus, the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts (www.wicaonline.com), a 246-seat theater, hosts performances, workshops and lectures.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, you’ll find five-star restaurants, family dining, specialty bakeries, classic sandwich shops and several wineries, among them the Whidbey Island Winery, Spoiled Dog Winery, Ott and Murphy, and for liquors, the Whidbey Island Distillery.
As to shopping, Langley has numerous specialty, craft and clothing shops, with items created by local artists.
Many people would like to add to Langley’s population of 1,077, so housing can be tight and expensive. Selected monthly owner costs for homes with a mortgage were $1,884, median rent was $1,041 and average travel time to work was a little over 34 minutes. The cost of living was 36 percent higher than the U.S. average, largely because Langley housing costs were 97 percent more.
Greater Freeland Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Information Center
5575 Harbor Ave.
Freeland, WA 98249
Three Seattle socialist idealists founded Freeland in 1900 as a utopian community, the idea being that all residents would get free land in return for working for the common good. The group effort broke apart in squabbles and bankruptcy in 1920, but the individuals who stayed created a pleasant, rural beach-front village. Visitors can spend the night at one of the many inns, cottages and bed-and-breakfasts, and in the morning, take a leisurely stroll down Double Bluff Beach. In addition to its amazing panoramic views of Mount Rainier and Seattle, the beach is dotted with places to picnic, leash-free dog areas and collection sites for driftwood aficionados.
At nearby Freeland Park, you can host a picnic at one of its many waterfront tables, dig for clams or simply watch windsurfers and boaters. And what waterfront park would be complete without a playground? Freeland Park has a quaint playground next to the picnic areas, ideal for family get-togethers.
The most recent count showed 1,486 residents of Freeland, where selected monthly owner costs for a house with a mortgage ran $1,667, average rent was $1,098, and travel time to get to work averaged 31.3 minutes. Overall, Freeland living expenses were 33 percent higher than the U.S. average.
Planning Your Move
Relocating to a new home can be one of the most stressful situations in life. Whether moving across town or across the nation, preparation and organization can make all the difference. First, decide whether to use a professional moving company or make it a do-it-yourself (DIY) operation.
For a DIY move, consider distance, labor help and the costs to rent the moving van, gas, lodging during the move and insurance. A transportable storage unit can bridge a professional and DIY move. When the unit is delivered to your residence, you load and secure it for transport and then unload it at your new residence.
Whatever the method, be sure to obtain as many quotes as possible from professional movers, as well as cost estimates for a DIY move. Next, compare the costs for each type of move, factoring in the stress and physical exertion involved. Ask any company you are interested in for references and use them to inquire about reliability and customer service.
Regardless of which method you choose, the first step should be to inventory your personal belongings. The list, with photographs of any valuables, will be important for both insurance purposes and to help keep you organized during transit.
Plan for one full day to pack each room — though the kitchen and garage may take longer. Make a rough estimate of your packing schedule and then add 50 percent more time. It always takes longer than predicted to pack. Toss or donate unused items to lighten your load. Visit www.goodwill.org, www.salvationarmyusa.org or www.clothingdonations.org for locations near you or to arrange a pickup.
Pack for success:
- Consider what you’re packing and control box weight. Books should go in small boxes while bedding can easily fill a larger box.
- Wrap fragile items with cardboard dividers, tissue paper or air bubble wrapping.
- Use bright colors when wrapping small items so they don’t get thrown out accidentally.
- Use crumpled paper or newspaper to line the top and bottom of boxes.
- Tape a copy of your inventory list to boxes to identify what’s inside and where it should go.
Buying Versus Renting
The decision to buy or rent is the most important step in your relocation process. Purchasing a home entails a long-term financial and emotional commitment with various pluses and minuses. Advantages include the possibility of building equity and the freedom to design and decorate your property or landscape. And don’t forget the tax benefits. Disadvantages include upkeep, property taxes and fluctuating property values.
Renting, on the other hand, makes moving easier and someone else maintains the property. Amenities such as laundry rooms, exercise rooms, swimming pools and tennis courts vary from one rental complex to another. The main disadvantage is loss of control over the residence. Some complexes, for example, restrict or prohibit pets and personal touches such as painting. And the landlord or property managers can also raise the rent with proper notice.
Before determining your best option, account for all of your needs, review your financial situation and research your options thoroughly.
Finding an Apartment
Find local apartments listed in chamber of commerce membership directories, local newspaper classifieds, online or through referrals from family or friends. “Your Rights as a Tenant in Washington State” by the Northwest Justice Project can be downloaded at www.washingtonlawhelp.org/resource/your-rights-as-a-tenant-in-washington.
Be prepared when you meet with the leasing agent, property manager or owner. Bring a list of what you are looking for in a rental; it is important to be clear about your needs and to get all of your questions answered. You will also need to provide information and verification about your job, your income and your past rental history. Dress to make a good impression and treat the meeting like a job interview — be polite and arrive on time.
Before you decide to rent, inspect the apartment with the landlord. Look for the following problems:
- Cracks, holes or damage in the floor, walls or ceiling.
- Signs of leaking water, leaky fixtures or water damage.
- Any signs of mold or pests.
- Lack of hot water.
- Inadequate heating or air conditioning.
Use a written checklist with the landlord to document the condition of the rental before you move in, and keep a copy of the completed checklist to use when you move out.
Buying a Home
Buying a home is a complex process and, as the recent housing crisis demonstrated, requires a thorough education on the part of the buyer. First, fully understand your financial position — credit score, available savings, monthly income and expenditures. Subtracting your expenditures from your income, for instance, will yield the amount you can afford for housing.
Be sure to account for all insurance costs associated with owning a home, possible homeowner association fees and property taxes in your monthly expenditures. Overall, loan rules changed in 2015, but according to www.ginniemae.gov (Government National Mortgage Association) and www.homebuyinginstitute.com (the Home Buying Institute) loan programs continue to vary on the percentage of your income that can be used for housing-related expenses. Lenders balance debt against income to decide if an applicant will be able to repay a loan. Most conventional loans require borrowers to have no more than 43 percent total monthly debt versus their total monthly income, though there are exceptions, such as for those with significant savings. The Federal Housing Administration has a two-tier qualifying system: FHA sets its top thresholds at 31 percent front-end debt (housing expenses as a percentage of income) and 43 percent back-end debt (all debt as a percentage of income) for a 31/43 qualifying ratio. Like commercial lenders, Veterans Affairs combines front-end and back-end debt for a 41 percent limit against income.
Next, research the different types of home loans to determine the right fit for your financial situation and discuss your options with a lending professional. Lenders are diverse today, and not all homebuyers obtain their mortgage loans through their banks and credit unions. For example, you may choose to work with an internet lender, a mortgage broker, a homebuilder or a real estate agency lender. To determine which lender is best for you, get recommendations from friends and family members and check credentials as well as Better Business Bureau ratings.
A preapproved loan before starting your search for a home can determine your spending limits and signal any potential issues in the way of receiving a loan. For any home loan application, the mortgage company will order a credit report, so it may be good to get a free report in advance to determine your credit status and make sure the report contains no erroneous information.
There are three ways to order your free annual report from one or all of the national consumer reporting companies: Visit www.annualcreditreport.com and complete and submit the request form online; call toll free 877-322-8228; or download and complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. For more information, visit www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/credit-and-loans.
Knowing your monthly budget and the amount of your loan are invaluable during the next phase, but you also need to answer several other important questions before your hunt for a home begins.
First, determine your home preferences. Does a single-family house, condo, town house or duplex best fit your needs and budget? Do you prefer a new home, an existing home or to build one? Though new homes generally cost more, existing homes may come with maintenance issues and renovation costs. How many bedrooms and bathrooms would you like? Do you want an attached garage? Will you live in the city, a suburb or in the country? How close to work, school, shopping or public transportation do you want to be? Answers to these questions will greatly assist your search and the next stage — hiring a real estate agent.
The ideal agent will help find your ideal home and guide you through the purchase process. First, interview potential candidates to ensure they understand your needs, know your homebuying and neighborhood preferences, and are readily accessible.
Good luck and happy hunting!
Island County Housing Programs
The Island County Housing Authority has several housing programs to help residents keep a roof over their heads, especially senior citizens and those with low incomes. For more information, visit http://affordablehousingonline.com/housing-search/Washington/Island-County or call 360-678-4181.
Potentially helpful state agencies include the Washington State Housing Finance Commission (www.wshfc.org/buyers), the Washington Homeownership Resource Center (www.homeownership-wa.org) and The Foreclosure Fairness Program (www.commerce.wa.gov/building-infrastructure/housing/foreclosure-fairness).
The federal government’s Housing and Urban Development Department’s housing assistance includes help with rent, heating and electric bills, mortgages and other areas of need, though available funding may at times limit some specific missions. Go to www.needhelppayingbills.com/html/housing_and_urban_development_.html.
Washington provides housing programs and incentives to help residents with home ownership. For more information, visit http://portal.hud.gov and select “Washington” from the “State Info” drop-down menu.