Seattle Rents: High, But Not Highest In Washington State

It’s not a news flash that the real estate scene in Seattle has exploded in recent years. The Emerald City has gone from a town most people outside the state only associated with coffee and flannel, to the tech capital of the US (save for our friends in Silicon Valley). As home to some of the biggest tech names in the world and a booming job market to match, it’s fair to say there’s might not be enough housing to meet demand. Or, at least to meet demand AND your budget.

High rises, apartment buildings and condos are going up all over the city, and soon, our beloved skyline will be dotted with more and more buildings and towers, making the Seattle of just 10 years-ago look almost unfamiliar.

Seattle has recently made headlines as one of the most expensive places to live, get this, in the world. That’s right, recent data has placed Seattle’s rent rates at 5th highest in the nation and, supposedly 9th highest in the world! However, San Francisco and New York still dwarf us, tying for number one most expensive, world-wide.

Those of us who are Seattle Natives know that the average rental rate in Seattle has increased fairly dramatically in the last few years, but it’s interesting to note that, while Seattle’s rents have been on the rise, they don’t quite top the list of highest rents in the state.

According to recent data from Apartment List, Seattle ranks at number 5 in the state for highest rents, with the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment at about $1,650.

Surprisingly, Mercer Island tops the list of cities in Washington for highest rents. A one-bedroom on Mercer Island goes for an average of a whopping $1,890 per month. No one said Island living was cheap, I suppose.

Filling in the gaps between number 1 and number 5 on the list are Bellevue at number 2 with an average of $1,860 per month for a one-bedroom (not a whole lot lower than their neighboring Island), Redmond at number 3 with an average of about $1,690 monthly rent for a one bedroom and Kirkland at number 4 with an average monthly rent of $1,660 for a one-bedroom.

Seattle and the Eastside are not the only places in Washington with rising rent rates. Tacoma tops the list nation-wide for fastest growing rent with a year-over-year growth rate of 7.7 percent. Seattle comes close, but not close enough to that figure with year-over-year rental rate growth at 5.3 percent.

Staggering growth aside, Tacoma is still a bargain in the rental market compared to Seattle, with a one-bedroom in Tacoma going for an average of $1,000 per month. For those of you keeping score, that’s a savings of $650 compared to Seattle.

But, proving that some things really don’t change, the cheapest places to live in the Evergreen State are still East of the Cascade Mountains. You can get a one-bedroom for only $600 per month in Walla Walla and it’s not much pricier in the State’s second largest city, Spokane, at around $630 per month.

What a difference a mountain range makes…

Weyerhaeuser: Woodsy Urban

Weyerhaeuser’s Lobby Area.  Photo: Anthony Bolante/Puget Sound Business Journal

Weyerhaeuser’s new headquarters has moved “out of the woods” and into the urban core, to paraphrase The New York Times. A number of large, local companies decided recently to move their suburban headquarters to the Seattle core, including Weyerhaeuser, in an attempt to attract new talent who might prefer the perks of a downtown lifestyle. Another reason Weyerhaeuser decided to move is their previous location, which they occupied for 45 years, was deemed too big. Last autumn, they moved most of their office (between 700-800 employees) from a sprawling 430-acre campus in Federal Way to a single, new building in downtown Seattle. Their 166,000 square foot building is adjacent to Occidental Park, a community in transition, in the Pioneer Square area which is 3 blocks from a transit hub.

Weyerhaeuser Building in Pioneer Square.  Photo: Stuart Isett/The New York Times

Exterior of Weyerhaeuser Building.  Photo: Greg Gilbert/The Seattle Times

The exterior of the Weyerhaeuser building (220 Occidental Avenue South) is understated with quality details, and makes an effort to blend with the historic brick buildings that surround it.  An overhang and mason end walls align with the cornices of the historic buildings around the square, for an even line or flow from building-to-building. Also in keeping with its historic environment and Weyerhaeuser’s 116+ years in business, the bricks on the new building were placed by-hand, highly unusual these days, instead of a prefabricated sheet of bricks. The structure was developed by Urban Visions, who chose to work with architecture firm Mithun.

Weyerhaeuser lunch room with Elizabeth MacPherson, Mithun principal. Photo: Greg Gilbert/The Seattle Times

Photo: Greg Gilbert/The Seattle Times

Weyerhaeuser produces wood products + land-related endeavors, and these materials are highlighted in their interior space, with the occasional burst of color (such as furniture). In the lobby, an employee’s photo of trees in a woods has been converted into a large digital wall mural. The ceilings, walls, tables, desks and other elements are often made from their own sustainable timber or made of natural materials. There’s quite a few windows for natural light. A rooftop garden. Studio SC’s large black and white wayfinding illustration of tree branches begins from an upper landing in the stairwell and works down floor-by-floor, ending with tree roots on a lower level. Even though this is a new building, a sense of history has been infused.

With the new building bordering the east side, Occidental Park is now enclosed on four sides and resembles a small, urban European plaza or Early American town square, especially during the summer. There’s seating available at the park, surrounded by hanging flowering baskets, older trees, and totem poles. Crime has dropped at the park by 2/3rds as of late July 2016, due to a very successful partnership between the Downtown Seattle Association and Seattle Parks & Recreation. As a result, a larger variety of people frequent the park because family-friendly events/activities, food trucks, games, and live music are now more commonplace. The re-invigoration of several downtown parks usually means an eventual rise in real estate values and a renewal of businesses in the vicinity. Weyerhaeuser, steeped in a long history with sustainable endeavors, is no stranger to renewal.

Occidental Park outside Weyerhaeuser headquarters.  Photo: Stuart Isett/The New York Times

Seattle Just Keeps Growing

In spite of the building boom in downtown Seattle, there have been very limited options for buying a home, versus renting. Resembling giant glass Rubik’s cubes stacked 41 floors high, the Nexus Seattle condominiums will be taking ground at 1200 Howell Street in the Denny Triangle. The building will feature 382 units, varying in size and price, ranging from $300,000 to $3.5 million. Sections of the building are twisted to face different directions, views will vary depending which floor the home is located on.

According to the Nexus website, 80% of the units have already been reserved as of this past November (2016). Underscoring the market’s desire for permanent housing and the influx of people for high-paying tech jobs downtown, hundreds of buyers lined up to pay a $5,000 refundable deposit to be guaranteed a spot at a priority presales event on June 4th last year. Some people even camped out overnight to be first in line.

Burrand Group, the Canadian company that owns the site, plans to break ground this month to begin construction. The Nexus building will be within walking distance of at least two large-tech work campuses in the South Lake Union area. An article with Puget Sound Business Journal states a fitness center, common co-working space, the option of renting a guest room, and a rooftop terrace will be some of the amenities available.

As of October 2016, the median price for a downtown Seattle condo was $650,000. The median price for a 1-bedroom rental is currently $1,820 per month, reflecting the 40% hike in rent over the past 5 years. Seattle is now in the top ten of most expensive apartment markets in the United States, as of April 2016.

Pioneer Square “Ruin” to Become Seattle’s Newest Boutique Hotel

metropole

Commonly dated to 1892, the Metropole Building in Pioneer Square is about to be transformed in the city’s newest boutique hotel.  The building’s finely proportioned façade, articulated in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, has been boarded up since a fire extensively damaged its interior in 2007.  While some restoration work was carried out inside the building following the fire, today, the Metropole resembles a ruin.

In 2015 Seneca ventures purchased the Metropole building for $4 million, planning to turn the dilapidated historical building into a boutique hotel with dining and retail space on its first floor. BuildingWork, a Seattle-based firm, has been hired to undertake the transformation. Matt Aalfs, the owner and principal of BuidlingWork, told the Daily Journal of Commerce that the hotel will have 36 guest rooms, about half of which will be “micro private rooms” geared towards single travelers and those on a budget. The micro rooms will be 120 square feet, but will have private, ensuite bathrooms.  Standard rooms at the hotel will be 220 square feet.

If the permitting process runs smoothly, construction could begin on the Metropole as early as September.  Before any work can begin though, the development team is seeking approval from the National Park Service in order to procure federal historic preservation tax credits, which will provie vital in the financing of the project.

City Proposes Code Changes to Promote the Construction of Back Yard Cottages

cast_architecture_backyard_cottage_2

Seattle is seeking new and innovative ways to preserve affordability as housing costs continue to soar. Along with programs like the Affordable Housing Impact Mitigation Program and the Mandatory Housing Affordability Program, the city of Seattle is proposing to ease land use restrictions that hinder the building of backyard cottages, or in official parlance “accessory dwelling units.”

Since 2010 backyard cottages have been permitted in Seattle, but they are rarely built by homeowners. Only 159 were built in Seattle between 2012 and 2014.  Advocates for backyard cottages lament that the reason so few have been built in Seattle is due to the stringent regulations placed on them in the city’s land use codes. Under current city code, backyard cottages are subject to height limits, footprint, and square footage limits, and require off-street parking.  Along with these restrictions, the city has recently mandated that backyard cottages are subject to King County’s sewer connection charge, which cost one homeowner $10,000.

Portland, which is facing similar affordability issues as Seattle, has softened restrictions placed on backyard cottages. The city, which has allowed backyard cottages since 1981, removed requirements that each cottage must have dedicated off-street parking and a mandate that owners must live on the property, in either the main house or cottage. What made the largest difference to builders, however, was when the city waved the System Development Charges. These charges, which are a set of one-time fees for new or increased use of property, can run up to $12,000 and were a sizable deterrent to potential builders.  Since the city waived these charges, the number of accessory unit permits has drastically increased.  In 2015, there was approximately one permit filed per day.

In Seattle, the changes that the Office of Planning and Community Development are proposing will remove certain barriers that have kept homeowners from building backyard cottages. The most significant changes are an increase in allowable size for detached accessory dwelling units from 800 sq. ft. to 1,000 sq. ft. and decoupling the garage area from the allowable size.  An increase in height limit will also make a big difference in some situations. Under the proposal, owner occupancy would be required for only one year, rather than being abandoned altogether, in an attempt to limit speculative development interests. In making these changes, the Office of Planning and Community Development hope to increase the stock of moderately-priced housing options in Seattle’s low-density neighborhoods.

Tour the Bloxom Residence with Historic Seattle

Bloxom

On Saturday, May 21st, join Historic Seattle on a tour of the Bloxom Residence.  The home was designed by Arthur Loveless and completed in 1928.  Loveless was a local architect who moved to Seattle in 1907 after dropping out of Columbia University, where he had studied architecture. During the 1920s, Loveless became highly regarded locally for a series of impressive residential commissions he completed in a distinctive Tudor Revival style. With its half-timbering, hanging tiles, projecting gables, massive chimney blocks, and asymmetry, the Bloxom residence fits tidily within Loveless’ oeuvre.

The Bloxom Residence was built in a planned community developed by David Whitcomb, Sr., which is today known as Woodway.  Whitcomb’s vision was of a woodland residential community with easy access to the city along Pacific Highway. The sales of lots came with setback requirements, a prohibition on subdividing lots to less than two acres, and a prohibition on building more than one home on each two-acre lot. The intent was to maintain breathing space and the country-like atmosphere in perpetuity, preventing the kind of development that inevitably destroyed that peacefulness in city homes.

Whitcomb’s original vision can still be seen today in the Bloxom Residence and its grounds. Despite changes subsequent owners have made to the property, the house retains its original English-manorial character and still sits in a landscape of ponds, formal and cutting gardens, and a great lawn that spreads out to a bluff overlooking Puget Sound. Lindsey and Carolyn Echelbarger, present owners, have enlarged the kitchen, relocated the dining room and repurposed the original dining room into a den, added custom oak paneling and built-ins and made other improvements both indoors and out. The walls showcase an outstanding collection of work by early 20th century Pacific Northwest regional artists.

For more information about this event – http://historicseattle.org/event/bloxom-residence/

Sell Your Home This Spring With These Seven Tips

Spring has sprung in beautiful Seattle, and if you’re looking to sell your home, there may be no better time to do so. Think about it, what a lovely time to showcase your home and really put its best foot forward, so to speak? Here are some tips to get your home looking picture perfect for a Springtime sale.

  1. Spring Cleaning
    Nothing says Spring more than a good old fashioned Spring cleaning, and that may be just what your home needs (probably, even if you’re not going to sell it) to get it in tip top shape. Go through those boxes of STILL unpacked home goods, linens and clothes that have sat in a closet or attic since move-in day and get rid of whatever you don’t need or use anymore (trust me, charitable organizations are just as grateful for the donation this time of year as they are in winter).  Get the windows washed, floors scrubbed and everything looking clean and clutter-free. Plus, you’ll have the added bonus of a much easier move after you sell, if there’s less stuff to pack!
  2. Get Your Garden On
    Spring is an excellent time to make your yard look its absolute best. Slip on some gardener’s gloves and pull a few weeds, plant new flowers, prune trees and bushes and make sure any leftover leaves from winter are raked up and the grass is mowed. Potential buyers are definitely going to check out your yard, and just like a delicious meal, presentation is everything. Do your best to seed patchy grass, lay down beauty bark or simply add rock edging to flower beds. Adding more colorful flowers can make a big difference in how appealing your home looks too. It’s the little touches that can make a big difference.

  3. Create A Patio Worth ‘Sitting A Spell’ On
    Once the yard is looking good, it’s time to turn your attention to any outdoor living space your home offers. Simple improvements like clean, well-kept patio furniture with bright and colorful pillows and a few nicely potted plants can create a lovely and inviting outdoor space as well as help to evoke images of enjoying the Summertime there, in a home-buyer’s mind. That’s the kind of image that may just get you an offer. Also, it’s a good idea to stage the patio area with a pitcher and glasses of a refreshing beverage on the patio table when showing the home, especially on a nice sunny day.
  4. De-Gunk the Driveway
    A very simple yet often overlooked way to add extra curb appeal and freshen your homes appearance is with a good power wash to the driveway and any sidewalks outside. Moss, oil stains and other undesirable things can collect on paved surfaces outside of your home and make it look neglected or just plain grungy. A nice power wash should do the trick and rid those surfaces of any ‘blemishes’, instantly boosting the overall ‘put-together’ look of your home.
  5. Let There Be Light
    We are blessed this time of year with much more abundant sunlight than just about any other time of year (save for summer, of course). Why not take advantage of it by opening your house up to more light? Weather permitting, open windows and patio doors to let in plenty of light, fresh air, and maybe even the oh-so-Springy scent of freshly cut grass and flowers.  Use light the way ladies use lipstick for a night out, as an easy finishing touch that adds immense appeal, quickly and easily.
  6. Make Sure Things Are Up to Snuff
    Hiring an inspector to give your place the old once over is usually a good idea, no matter how well maintained it may be. If you have even a tiny inclination that something may need to be fixed before it hits the market, you should have a pro take a peek. Plus, getting things fixed and in great condition can significantly drive up the selling price of your home, which is generally a good thing. Your realtor (or a potential realtor) should be able to help you find a professional in your area to conduct an inspection.

7. All The Home’s A Stage
Staging can play a BIG part in attracting a buyer. Just as garden improvements and      landscaping are hugely important for the outside of your home, staging is key for the inside of your home. Regardless of whether you’re currently living in the home, or moved into your new abode, you want to create a space that’s warm, inviting and, well, homey. People need to be able to picture themselves living their daily lives there, so making it feel like home is important. Add a vase of fresh flowers to the dining table, a basket of fresh apples to the kitchen counter, have art on the walls (but not too much, and try to minimize the presence of personal or family photos) and fun throw pillows/blankets on the couches. You can even add the scent of fresh laundry or freshly baked cookies (a scented candle should do the trick) to get an extra edge, as our sense of smell is most directly tied to memory and scents like that can ‘take you home’ in an instant.

With these tips, the task of readying your home for sale should be a little bit easier. Remember to take it easy though. Don’t try to bite off more than you can chew and do it all in one weekend. Home buying and selling can take time, and you should take the time needed to get all your ducks in a row before you put that sign out in the yard. Preparing your home for the market can be a breeze if you just take it one step at a time to get your home looking it’s best, and, with any luck, it will be someone else’s home in no time!

Washington State Home Sales Soar Past Previous Highs

sold-sign2015 may have been an interesting year for many reasons, but in the world of Washington real estate, it sure felt like the good old days.

Not since the way-back-when of 2007 had so many homes and condominiums sold in the Evergreen State. According to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service, 2015 saw a whopping 88,331 homes changed hands last year, about  14% more sales than in the previous year. Those who have done the math say that works out to about 75,975 single family homes and 12,356 condominiums, valued at  approximately $34 billion, about 23% more than the dollar volume sold the year before. Those impressive figures make 2015 one of the best years for Washington State real estate in recent memory.

The last time this state saw real estate figures like that was in 2007, before the bubble burst and sent the country into what is not-so-affectionately known as The Great Recession. Even in 2007, the figures only added up to about 82,197 sales valued at $32.3 billion, according to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.

Furthermore, despite a ‘lower inventory’, so to speak, prices and number of sales continue to grow. In King County, the median home price was $480,000 and more than 26,600 homes sold. Compare that to a median price of  $440,000 and 26,600 homes sold, in 2014 and you’ll notice a jump of close to 10%. Snohomish and Pierce counties can top those figures with growth figures for both median home price and number of homes sold over last year at nearly 16.80% ($355,000, up from $326,360 with 11,303 homes sold) and 17.39% ($249,950, up from 230,000 with more than 13,200 homes sold) respectively.

Overall, region-wide, the growth was about 8.8% from 2014, with a median price for single family homes and condominiums at about  $310,000, up from $285,000  last year.

Numbers like this are a positive and encouraging sign for the state of the  real estate market and the country’s economy as a whole. Let’s just hope nothing comes along and tries to ‘burst our bubble’ this time.

Dramatic Growth In Seattle-Area Luxury Homes Market

Luxury home available on Mercer Island

Luxury Mercer Island home available for $10,998,000

It’s no secret that Seattle’s housing market is one of the strongest in the nation, but what is a little surprising is the growth in the luxury homes sector. According to a recent story by the Puget Sound Business Journal, 537 homes sold for more than $1 million in just four Bellevue ZIP codes alone over the past year, 108 more than 2014 and an increase of 25 percent. 60 homes sold for over $3 million in those areas, up 43 percent over last year.

In Seattle as a whole, 901 homes have sold for $1 million or more so far in 2015, compared to 689 in 2014, according to statistics from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service. Of those sales, more than a quarter (241) occurred in the Central Seattle area comprising the neighborhoods south of the ship canal, north of I-90, and east of downtown. Most were clustered on North Capitol Hill and in the neighborhoods bordering Lake Washington, such as Madison Park, Washington Park, and Leschi. The most expensive sale of the year (so far) was a 9,820-square-foot estate on McGilvra Boulevard in Washington Park that fetched $5.75 million, followed by a lakefront Cape Cod-style home in Washington Park, which sold for $5.195 million. The PSBJ article states that sales of homes priced $1 million or higher in Ballard and Green Lake are up a whopping 200 percent.

The Seattle area’s growing job market is cited as one of the main drivers of the luxury home sales market, as is strong interest from international buyers, especially from China. With tech companies flocking to Seattle and Eastside job centers, they bring with them highly paid executives who may seek out luxury homes. The PSBJ article states that “Luxury homes are bellwethers of a thriving economy and growing job market. They are the ultimate proof of a prosperous and strong residential real estate sector.”

If you’re interested in Seattle’s luxury homes market, please contact one of our residential agents today.

Larger Homes Changing Faces of Many Neighborhoods

3804 E Blaine St.According to a new report by The Seattle Times’ “FYI Guy” Gene Balk, construction trends continue to point to a ‘bigger is better’ mentality in much of the Seattle area. Balk’s data shows that between 2012 and 2014, 1,500 houses were demolished and replaced with much larger homes, 450 of which were approximately triple the square footage of the previous dwelling. Many of Seattle’s predominately residential neighborhoods consist of modestly sized Craftsmans or bungalow-style homes, but home buyers seem to be increasingly buying houses with the intent of tearing them down and starting from scratch or adding significant square footage. The average 1,546-square-foot teardown was replaced by a 3,219-square-foot home. According to Balk’s data, Eastside neighborhoods such as Kirkland, West Bellevue, and Beaux Arts; and the Seattle neighborhoods of Ballard, Phinney Ridge, and West Seattle saw the highest number of teardowns between 2012 and 2014.

Many residents see these newer homes as out of scale with the existing homes in the neighborhood, especially when they encroach ever closer to property lines and their increased height blocks the amount of sunlight reaching neighboring homes and yards. In 2014, plans for a proposed rowhouse development in Ballard made the news because it was sited so close to the house next door that it would impede the owners’ access for maintenance (the rowhouses were completed in 2015). The Seattle Times article includes before-and-after photos of some dramatic transformations of homes in the Seattle area.

If you are interested in buying or selling a home in Seattle, or if you would like more information on the housing market in general, please contact one of our agents today!