It sounds like your timing will be very nice for moving back to Seattle and buying.
I have expressed the opinion a few times that the best time to buy a home is to look for a top and wait 4-7 years after the top.
Seattle's prices are down from earlier in the year.
Demographia.com has an affordability survey. Seattle is showing 5.8.
My estimate is that Seattle housing prices come down about 25% off their highs. Coming down less than 20% would surprise me, but coming down 35% down would not surprise me.
I am in the process of moving out of a 2500 sq ft home that I will no longer own in about 10 days. I suppose when we got it I thought we still might have children, but as it is, it is only two of us.
We have lived here for 4.5 years but I would say as much as I love this home, and I would describe it as my dream home, I have had some regrets due to the carrying costs. Our previous home was 1800 sq ft, a town house like what we have is a town house, but we had neighbours on both sides. Our heating and utilities essentially doubled with the increase in size and losing more heat from only having one shared wall instead of two (and there are so many more lights in this place) and I guess also from energy costs increasing. Property tax is 50% more. Our maintenance fees are more, but I also know the cost of replacing the roof on this place has not been priced into the maintenance fees at all and I suspect that will be a $25k per owner assessment in the next 2-10 years. We've got wood shingle roofing which from my research is one of the more expensive and least durable, and when you consider the fire risk, you have to ask yourself who comes up with these choices? Have they any ability for an ounce of foresight? Our shingle roof is written into municipal bylaw regulations. I have gotten off topic here, but these regulations have been written to supposedly protect home value but I personally do not see how straddling home owners with a $25k roof replacement bill every 15-25 years, and high fire risk, (praise the rain we get) protects value.
So, what I am finding is having more home than you need is very costly to maintain and to own. I also suspect that if you consider the aging population and the lack of resources to pay for the social programs they expect, there will be far greater pressure for tax dollars from home owners. The more home you own the bigger share of paying the way for others you end up assuming, at least that's my longer term prediction. Just look at the trouble municipalities find themselves in trying to balance their budgets already.
I suppose I am directing my comment to your "It will be interesting to see how big a house we can afford in Seattle if we decide to move back in 2-3 years' time," comment.
My experience in housing has led me to carefully consider how much home I want to for lifestyle and comfort and to consider how much I utilize my housing space now and for longer term because I suspect whereas in the past the carrying costs of home size relative to income were simply fairly manageable in household budgets, I suspect those costs will increase out of proportion to wages.
The executive homes of 3000 to 5000 sq ft will cost this generation of executives far greater carrying costs relative to what has been in the past. Actually, I think the carrying costs of all home ownership will be increasing relative to the past, and I mean carrying costs to exclude mortgage or capital costs.
I agree with you 100% in everything you have just said. It is also ridiculous, that these high costs of living are going on in our country and still just keep getting higher and higher but yet we have had some of the most damaging weather and catastrophic things happen to out land and homes in the USA and somehow, i.e., Katrina and New Orleans, as stated in an interview with Brad Pitt he could not believe Americans were actually being forced to live under those conditions and he himself wrote them a $1 million check and went to work himself the very next to help with habitat for humanity. I bet there weren't any insurance adjusters out there with hammers in their hands.
Very true that you probably had more house than you needed. Our house is just about right at 2700 sq. ft. But we also have 4 children and "only" 4 bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms. I say "only", because my parents raised us in a house with 4 kids that was about 1200 sq. ft. (3 bedroom) and only 1 bathroom ... perish the thought :)
MM, good luck with your move back to Seattle in a few years if that's what is in your future.