Navigating the North: How to Buy a House in Anchorage, Alaska

With a land mass of 663,000 square miles and a statewide population that’s smaller than most major cities, Alaska has always been a place where people can get away from it all. But Alaska also has a surprisingly urban vibe to complement the wilderness, and the city of Anchorage combines the best of all worlds.

Housing options here are as diverse as the city itself, so when you buy a home in Anchorage, it’s important to know statistics on market values, which neighborhoods might offer you the best bang for your buck, and just when the best time of year might be to make that purchase.

There are also some specific considerations that go along with buying a home in a northern city like Anchorage that might not be part of a home purchase elsewhere.

We’ve investigated all the ins and outs of buying a home in Anchorage, from in-depth interviews with veteran real estate agents to researching state statistics on home purchases.

We’ve talked to experienced home inspectors who’ve seen just about every possible home issue and have advised us on what Anchorage homebuyers need to be aware of, as well as researching neighborhoods, exploring recent home sales, and evaluating which areas are considered hotter markets than others.

This guide will not only help you decide where in Anchorage you might want to live, but also how you want to live, and what’s really important to you in a home purchase. Buying a home in Anchorage doesn’t have to be overwhelming, and along with your trusted Anchorage real estate agents, we’re here to help you navigate the process.

A house you can buy in Anchorage, Alaska.
Source: (Wil Stewart/ Unsplash)

How much do homes in Anchorage typically cost?

Living in Anchorage means you can enjoy everything from world-class cross country ski and bike trails, to premiere entertainment that includes concerts, Broadway-caliber shows and fine dining.

Each year, the city hosts the annual Fur Rendezvous Festival, a 12-day celebration that includes dog mushing, parades, and the annual Running of the Reindeer, and summer months bring outdoor markets, concerts, and Summer Solstice events.

Anchorage also shares space with plenty of urban wildlife, from moose wandering neighborhood streets, eagles, and even the occasional bear passing through town.

The wilderness-and-city combination means that Anchorage is one of the most desirable places to live in Alaska, and home prices reflect this reality.

The state of Alaska’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development listed the average sales price of a single-family home in Anchorage at $337,063 for the second quarter of 2019, which is slightly higher than the national average.

That price range can dip as low as the mid-$100,000s for condominiums, or rise up past the million-dollar mark for bigger homes in sought-after neighborhoods.

You’ll also want to keep in mind that utilities can be quite expensive during Alaska’s cold winters — but Anchorage’s mild summers mean that very few (if any) homes in Anchorage have air conditioning.

Alaska’s cost of living tends to run high, with everything from groceries to gas costing more than you might expect. The good news is, Anchorage has no sales tax, which helps offset the higher prices on consumer goods.

A house you can buy in Anchorage, Alaska.
Source: (Wonderlane/ Unsplash)

Where to buy a house in Anchorage, and what to expect from the housing stock

Because Anchorage started as a tent city in a boom town, the layout can seem a bit eclectic. Overall, neighborhoods are designated to East, West, North and South quadrants. The Municipality of Anchorage also includes the towns of Eagle River and Chugiak, located approximately 15 miles from the city center.

Generally speaking, you’ll find bigger and more expensive homes in the southern parts of town, as well as some areas of West Anchorage.

The more northerly neighborhoods, such as Mountain View, have a higher density and more multi-unit rental properties, and the downtown areas are a mix of older homes built in the 1950s and ’60s, apartment complexes, and condominiums. If you head out to Eagle River or Chugiak, you’ll find bigger lots and bigger homes to go with them.

Most of Anchorage’s homes are wood structures built on concrete foundations. Older homes, such as those in the downtown and Turnagain neighborhoods, often have fully finished basements, and you’ll also find a lot of split-level homes and raised ranches. While homes built in the 1950s may have small attics, you’re more likely to see crawl spaces in homes built after 1970 or so. New construction has slowed due to lack of usable land, but when you do see new homes here, they tend toward open floor plans and lots of windows to enjoy those mountain views.

South Anchorage neighborhoods

Bayshore

The Bayshore subdivision is a 45-acre tract of single-family homes near shopping, schools, and parks. Bayshore is one of the few Anchorage neighborhoods that has an active HOA, and while you do have to pay monthly dues, you also get amenities such as use of their community clubhouse.

Hillside

Anchorage’s Hillside neighborhood encompasses most of the homes on the southern edge of town, just before you hit the highway that takes you to the ski town of Girdwood or the coastal town of Homer.

This area is primarily single-family homes, with bigger houses, larger lots, and a higher overall price point. Schools are good and crime is low, but you’ll find that the neighborhood is aptly named, as the winding, hilly streets can be treacherous, requiring four-wheel-drive vehicles for most of the winter months.

East Anchorage neighborhoods

Mountain View

Located in Anchorage’s northeast quadrant, Mountain View is an older neighborhood with single-family homes, multi-unit apartments, mobile homes, and condominiums.

This is a working-class area with a small shopping district, and it’s close to major highways, making for an easy commute. It is a higher-crime area; however, you’ll also find some real bargains in home prices, and the people who live in this neighborhood claim a strong sense of community.

Airport Heights

Also located in northeast Anchorage, Airport Heights is an established neighborhood that is located near shopping, hospitals, and Anchorage’s Merrill Field Airport (hence the name!) There are many older homes here, built in the 1950s and ‘60s, which can be both good and bad.  Some homes in this area may have issues that come with age, but home prices are also lower.

North Anchorage neighborhoods

Muldoon

Muldoon is the last neighborhood before you head north toward JBER military base and the towns of Eagle River and Chugiak. Like most of the city, it’s a mix of single-family homes, multi-unit apartments, condominiums, and mobile homes.

Muldoon sits near Tikahtnu Commons, a major shopping zone that has shops, restaurants, and a movie theater, and there are schools, churches, and grocery stores all nearby. This is a dense area, but you’ll find pockets with established neighborhoods, and many of the single-family homes are on bigger lots.

Eagle River/Chugiak

Located about 15 miles from downtown Anchorage, Eagle River and Chugiak are their own towns, but they are still considered part of the Municipality of Anchorage. Homes in this area are often built on larger lots and are also bigger, with prices to match. Eagle River is a low-crime area, with plenty of shopping and restaurants, as well as hiking and biking trails, parks, and the river it is named for running through it.

West Anchorage Neighborhoods

Turnagain

Tucked away in a quiet corner of West Anchorage, Turnagain is an older neighborhood with most homes built in the 1950s. This is considered one of Anchorage’s premiere neighborhoods, and pride of ownership is evident here.

Anchorage’s Coastal Trail is nearby, with paved bike paths that can take you all over the city, and there are parks, shopping, and restaurants within walking distance. Despite the fact that many of the homes are older, prices run a bit higher here, but residents are quick to say the quality of life in this neighborhood makes the higher price point well worth it.

Downtown

Anchorage’s downtown district includes condominiums and apartments, as well as a small assortment of historic homes. There is no shortage of restaurants and shopping here, and people who live downtown enjoy the walkability and convenience. Denali Park strip sits nearby, with tennis courts and wide grassy expanses. In the summer, the Park Strip has community events such as weekly yoga, PrideFest, and food and drink expos.

All of Anchorage’s neighborhoods have pros and cons, so you’ll want to research and see what part of town works best for you.

If schools are important, check out the ratings for individual neighborhood schools. Anchorage also has a wealth of charter schools that operate on a lottery system and allow waivers for students to attend outside of their immediate neighborhood. And if its outdoor activities you’re seeking, there are several neighborhoods in Anchorage that are close to hiking, biking, and ski trails.

Land near a house you can buy in Anchorage, Alaska.
Source: (Bryan Goff/ Unsplash)

The lay of the land for homebuyers in Alaska

Lifetime Alaskan Savanna Wiita is a top real estate agent with the high-producing Dan Wolf Team in Anchorage. She’s been part of the Anchorage housing market for upwards of 14 years, starting as an investor and house flipper before getting her real estate license.

According to Wiita, one of the biggest problems she sees with new homebuyers is that although they want to purchase a home, they aren’t necessarily ready to do so. “It’s important to make sure you’ve saved for a down payment and know what you can afford,” she says.

Wiita also notes that shopping for the right lender is crucial.

“When seeking a lender, they will often discount fees to get your business if they know they’re competing with another bank, so be sure to shop around.”

Anchorage is still considered a young city by most standards, and the housing market tends to reflect that.

Wiita says that a good portion of the homes in Anchorage were built in the 1970s and ’80s, which coincides with the oil boom and subsequent bust that occurred during that time period. “There isn’t a lot of usable land in Anchorage for new construction,” she says. Buyers seeking newer developments should look in South Anchorage by Kincaid Park, Wiita suggests, and “there are also some mixed-use developments downtown, condos with businesses built beneath or next to them.”

Popular neighborhoods include South Anchorage and the Hillside, Turnagain, which is located in West Anchorage, and downtown. “Homes don’t go up for sale very often in downtown Anchorage, and when one does, it tends to fly off the market pretty quickly,” adds Wiita.

When is the right time to buy a home in Anchorage?

Anchorage’s housing market tends to peak in spring, with most home sales happening in March and April. Late summer and early fall run a close second, and January is the slowest.

“The market usually starts to pick up around the beginning of February,” says Wiita, who also noted that in October 2019, listings were on the market for an average of 50 days, and closings took anywhere from 17 to 35 days. “While we’ve seen a slight decrease in active listings in the last year, the market is holding steady,” she adds.

Wiita notes that while the $200,000-to-$400,000 price ranges tend to be the “hottest” for buyers, there are still higher-end homes being sold every day.

“We get a lot of first-time homebuyers, families who are outgrowing their homes, and retirees looking to downsize,” she says, “and while there’s been a lot of talk about oil companies moving out of Alaska, we also have large oil companies moving in, so homes in the $500,000-to-$1-million price ranges are still selling.”

A room in a house you can buy in Anchorage, Alaska.
Source: (Cater Yang/ Unsplash)

Potential pitfalls when buying a home in Anchorage

There are some unique considerations when it comes to buying a home in Anchorage that you might not encounter in other parts of the country, which means one of the most important things you can do during the homebuying process is getting a home inspection.

Home inspectors, hired by the buyers prior to closing, do a visual inspection of the property. A good inspector doesn’t just look at the house, but also looks at things like grading levels around the property and makes use of tools such as infrared cameras and moisture meters to gauge damage or potential safety issues.

David Mortensen has been an inspector in Alaska for 14 years. A resident since 1976, he started out as a contractor, doing remodels and commercial projects in Alaska for 25 years before moving into home inspections. Mortensen is also the president of the Anchorage division of the American Society of Home Inspectors.

He says that the biggest thing Anchorage homebuyers should be on the lookout for when house hunting is signs of water damage. “Water problems are one of the biggest and costliest issues homebuyers can face,” he says. “Water entry of any kind, mildew, or water stains should be a red flag.”

Mortensen also says that the earthquake that hit Alaska in 2018 caused serious damage to homes and buildings in some areas, and that buyers should make sure their inspector looks closely for foundation cracks or other earthquake-related damage.

In a northern climate like Alaska, insulation and heating are big issues, and older homes built in the ’50s and ’60s can have problems with weatherization.

While an older home isn’t always something to be concerned about, Mortensen does point out that homes built in the mid-’70s would have had to meet specific municipal criteria. “We have a building safety service area within the city,” he says “Most homes built from the mid-’70s and up would have been inspected by the municipality during construction, and received a Certificate of Occupancy.”

How a top agent can help in your Anchorage home purchase

While it might be tempting to try to go it alone, using a reputable agent when purchasing your home in Anchorage can help make for a smooth and easy transition, and having someone who understands your needs as a buyer can be helpful.

A top agent in Anchorage can save you $22,294 on your dream home compared to an average Anchorage agent — money you can spend on the increased cost of living in Alaska!

Says Wiita: “I always make sure I know my client’s priorities, from neighborhood schools to outdoor activities to location. I want them to know the ins and outs of any house I show them, whether or not it needs work, and help them decide on their offering price. And ultimately, I want to see people in a house they love.”

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