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Lyft leaders ring the opening Nasdaq bell. (Lyft Photo)

Ride-hailing company Lyft’s debut as a $24 billion public company on Friday kicked off an IPO frenzy that could echo across the technology landscape and alter housing markets well beyond the San Francisco Bay Area — and Seattle is at the top of the list of areas that could feel the impact.

Looking ahead to what could be the biggest IPO bonanza since the dot-com era, experts expect a wealth shock that could jolt the San Francisco Bay Area’s already high-priced housing market. With little available housing supply in the Bay Area, some of that new wealth is expected to trickle out to other parts of the country, as freshly minted millionaires look for greener, and possibly cheaper, pastures, while others are displaced due to the rising cost of living.

As the other major West Coast tech hub, Seattle could be in a unique position to feel any ripple effects, for better or worse.

  • Most of the companies expected to go public in the coming months have engineering centers in the Seattle region, including Airbnb, Uber and others. Companies taking part in the IPO boom employ between 1,000 and 2,000 people in the region, GeekWire estimates, based on past reports and new numbers from the companies.
  • Seattle has long been a popular destination for price-fatigued San Francisco residents who want a lower cost of living in a city with its own thriving tech industry. Redfin reports that roughly a third of all people looking to move to Seattle from out of state are coming from the San Francisco Bay Area.

“Increased wealth caused by the tech boom has been the primary factor in Seattle’s housing market for a while, and this is going to make that even more so in the next couple years, or at least while this wealth is being created,” said Daryl Fairweather, chief economist for tech-powered Seattle-based real estate brokerage Redfin, which itself went public in 2017.

Roughly a third of all out-of-state searches for Seattle houses on Redfin come from San Francisco. (Redfin Graphic)

High housing prices are a primary driver of people leaving the Bay Area, with even well-paid tech workers unable to afford homes in the region. At the same time, the economies of Seattle and the Bay Area have become more closely aligned, Fairweather said.

“When a big event like this happens in the Bay Area, there will be a ripple effect to Seattle,” she said.

Redfin Chief Economist Daryl Fairweather. (Redfin Photo)

Consistently ranked among the fastest-growing cities in the nation, Seattle previously held the title of the country’s hottest housing market for close to two years. But the region is already facing its own homelessness crisis, and any impact from the IPOs could make homes in the region less affordable.

Lyft is just the beginning of the expected IPO boom — one of a handful of billion-dollar companies that could go public in the next year or so. Lyft’s rival Uber, as well as Airbnb, Slack, Pinterest, Postmates, Instacart and Palantir are all candidates to join the public markets sooner rather than later.

The broader economic implications are significant.

  • In an interview with Yahoo Finance, Compass big data realtor Deniz Kahramaner estimates that the IPOs could create $250 billion in additional valuation and mint as many as 5,000 new millionaires, most of them living in the San Francisco area.
  • Redfin reported last week that Lyft’s IPO alone could create so much wealth in stock options that employees could cash them out and buy every single home in San Francisco and still have $100 million left over.

But economists and real estate insiders differ in their assessment of the potential impact of the IPOs on the Seattle region.

While some envision a big jolt, others expect a small blip, at most, with any impact from the IPO boom dwarfed by the ongoing growth of the homegrown Seattle companies that attract thousands of new people to the region every year. Amazon and Microsoft combined employ nearly 100,000 people in the region.

Zillow economist Jeff Tucker. (Zillow Photo)

“The IPOs are just an additional cherry on top of the larger employment growth of your huge headquarters of Amazon and Microsoft, anchoring the entire Seattle economy,” said Peng Tea, a real estate broker with John L. Scott in Redmond, Wash., who also worked at Amazon for nearly 11 years.

Zillow economist Jeff Tucker, who recently analyzed the impact of Facebook’s 2012 IPO on the nearby housing markets, says the most immediate side-effect of these IPOs comes from renters leveling up to become buyers, but said he believes the impact will be relatively limited.

“That gives you that one-time nest egg of money for the down payment on a house, so if you wanted to make that jump from renting to owning that is a perfect opportunity for that fraction of those early employees,” Tucker said.

In addition, engineering center workers aren’t likely to be early employees, reducing the financial windfall, says Matthew Gardner, chief economist at Seattle-based Windermere Real Estate.

Some said that any bump in Seattle home prices from these big IPOs — whether through migration of Bay Area residents or new wealth among engineering center employees — is likely to be a modest one. Zillow’s Tucker said he could envision an increase in demand, but it would be “so small that in Seattle it would be hard to distinguish it from just a random fluctuation in the market.”

New apartments rise in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Seattle has experienced an IPO impact before, and it came from Microsoft’s entrance to the public market in 1986. The so-called Microsoft Millionaire effect was in full force, and while historical data is limited, it suggests that home prices did rise slightly, although the impact was blunted by an increase in the number of homes built.

Tucker found that when Facebook went public, housing prices did tend to rise in areas where employees clustered. For every 10 Facebook employees living in a given census tract at the time of the 2012 IPO, those areas experienced an additional 1.6 percentage points of home value increase over that year.

Windermere’s Gardner cited an analysis that found that home prices within a 10-mile radius of the headquarters of a freshly minted public company rose by 1 percent after the filing of the IPO, and saw an additional bump of 0.8 percent after the company went public.

“The upshot of this is that it is possible that there will be a very modest bump in home prices, but markets like Seattle will not benefit as much as the cities that headquarter these companies,” Gardner said.

FlyHomes Co-Founder Tushar Garg. (FlyHomes Photo)

The Northwest Multiple Listing Service reported 11,275 active listings throughout the Seattle region in February, up 42 percent over a year ago. That suggests a lot more homes are on the market than there was a year ago, though pending sales were down 14 percent over the previous year as well.

Tushar Garg, co-founder and COO of Seattle real estate startup FlyHomes said the IPOs could open up some options for first-time buyers as techies move up to more expensive homes. But in the short-term, Garg expects some sellers to hold onto their homes for a while, waiting for these IPOs to happen. Then, when those companies hit the public markets, some sellers might pull the trigger, upping the number of available homes for sale.

“Eventually, I believe that the inventory should grow because the sellers who are waiting to sell their houses would like to cash in on this,” Garg said.

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