One of the nutty things about HGTV is that they tend to shoot their various renovation and house hunter shows all over the world. To that end, I'm always amazed at what constitutes a million dollar house in some areas. The least surprising are those near New York City or Boston, but then you have places like Vancouver, BC that are insane. This shouldn't be entirely surprising, given Seattle's housing market.
On the other hand, when they do shows in Central Florida, from Tampa on the gulf coast, across to Brevard County on the Atlantic, it's definitely a different scene. The cost per square foot is often close to $100, easily a fifth the cost of places on Long Island, for example. So if you're the type of person that would brag about having a million dollar house (which would be kind of douchey), I suppose that's only a big deal relative to where you are.
I think Seattle definitely messed with our sense of housing costs. Coming from the Cleveland area, where during the recession you couldn't really sell without taking a bath, while seeing rising costs and an uptick in construction where we were (Snoqualmie, WA), our ideas about home ownership were all over the place. Had I been able to sell my Cleveland house, and if we stayed in Seattle, it would probably have taken two more years of saving and not spending bonuses to buy a house, and it definitely would have been a more conservative place under 2k square feet. Now, in suburban Orlando with a hot market, we can buy twice the house at less than the same cost, or the same house for less than half the cost.
This line of thinking may have lured me into a sense that a house can be something of an investment, which my previous experience completely invalidates, but this time around we're expecting it to be a 14-year commitment unless something really compelling moves us again. Our current house has appreciated about 5% a year, which is hardly a recent 401k return, but it's not a negative number. At the end of the day, it's still a lifestyle choice.
Housing, to me, is one of the most interesting factors in socioeconomic opportunity, because it varies so wildly by location. Of all of the cost of living variables, it seems the most erratic. It's also not linear in terms of income requirements. I mean, housing may cost twice as much in Seattle, but I wouldn't have to make twice as much to live there. (About eight grand a year would cover the difference for equivalent property, interestingly enough, if you don't consider the amount you need to put 20% down on a house.) The bigger variable is where the jobs are, which should matter less and less for white collar jobs, but traditional blue collar and service work varies a ton.
Also, the views are better in Seattle.