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

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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!

No Slowdown Predicted For Market During Holiday Season

As we head into the holidays, real estate experts in the area predict that the Puget Sound market will not see the typical slowdowns associated with the season. Listings often drop off during this time of year, as potential sellers are more focused on holiday events, but with sustained demand for homes in our region, the next few months are going to be a great time to sell a home. The area comprising King, Kitsap, Pierce, and Snohomish counties saw the highest number of pending sales in a decade in October, and those high sales volumes are predicted to continue.

Though median sales prices for single-family homes are down in King County on a monthly basis, from $490,250 in September to $480,000 in October, prices are up by 7 percent over the year, according to statistics from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service. Similarly, Seattle’s market saw prices dip slightly from $571,000 in September to $555,000 in October, but rose by almost 8 percent over October 2014. However, some neighborhoods within Seattle saw significant monthly gains, such as Queen Anne and Magnolia, where the median price rose from $699,950 in September to nearly $800,000 in October.

Inventory continues to slide, as there were 10 percent fewer homes on the market in King County in October than in September, and 32 percent fewer than this time last year. Since inventory historically drops anyway at this time of year, the supply of homes could become especially tight, likely prompting an increase in prices. Though well-priced homes are selling quickly, overpriced homes are seeing longer stints on the market, emphasizing the need for an experienced real estate agent who can establish a listing price that will garner your home the most attention possible.

These statistics were gathered from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service, but were not compiled or published by that organization.

Seattle Condos Appreciating Faster Than Homes

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Featured condo – 1000 1st Ave., Unit 2202, Seattle, 98104

Condominium property values were some of the hardest hit after the housing crash, with the typical condo in the U.S. losing a third of its value. But according to a recent Zillow survey, condos are finally making a long-awaited comeback and are appreciating more quickly than single-family homes in many U.S. markets, including Seattle’s.

According to statistics from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service (NWMLS), the median sales price for a condo in Seattle in October was $368,000, up 23 percent over the year, compared to an 8 percent price increase for single-family homes. Condos in many neighborhoods within the city saw much higher rates of appreciation. Prices increased by 55 percent in Southeast Seattle (Columbia City, Rainier Valley, Seward Park), and by 45 percent in both Beacon Hill and the Ballard/Green Lake/Phinney Ridge area. Prices for condos in Seattle’s most expensive market, comprising Downtown and Belltown, rose by 34 percent over the year to a median of $539,000, and Queen Anne condo prices are the highest in a decade.

The condo market may be especially attractive to first-time home buyers, who are largely being priced out of Seattle’s expensive single-family market. Condos are often more affordable and lower maintenance, and many offer the urban lifestyle that young professionals are increasingly attracted to. Seattle’s condo market is also suffering from a lack of inventory with only 1.18 months’ worth of supply available (compared to the 4-6 months’ worth that is generally considered a ‘balanced’ market) which could be another factor helping drive price increases. Currently, there are 107 condos on the market in Downtown Seattle, ranging from $209,900 for a 447-square-foot unit at Vine and Western, to $9,990,000 for the 6,758-square-foot full-floor penthouse at the Madison Tower.

Zillow’s Chief Economist Svenja Gudell wrote in the survey summary that, “Over the past few years, buying a condo hasn’t always been considered an investment on par with buying a single-family home. Clearly, the most recent data indicate that notion may be due for a second look.”

If you are curious how much your condo might be worth, please do not hesitate to contact one of our real estate agents!

Late Summer Gains For Seattle Area Housing Market

neighborhoodThe S&P/Case-Shiller Index numbers for August were released yesterday, and after a July where we saw average home prices decrease by 0.1 percent in the Seattle Metro Area (King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties), prices bounced back and increased by 0.7 percent in August. On a yearly basis, prices in the area grew by 7.6 percent, coming in at number five on the list of cities with the highest yearly gains among the top 20 metro areas in the index.

Though prices in the Seattle are are still four percent below their peak, overall prices are showing steady growth and much of it is coming from a surprising sector of the housing market: condos. Zillow’s Chief Economist Dr. Svenja Gudell said in a statement that in the national market “…a good portion of the overall home price growth we’re seeing, especially in cities, has been driven by strong growth in condominium values, which are currently appreciating more quickly than single-family homes.” He cited condos’ popularity with younger buyers, many of whom live more urban lifestyles, are looking for more affordable housing options than single-family homes. This appears to be true in the Seattle market, as according to statistics from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service, median condo prices in King County were up 19 percent this August over August 2014. The median price for a condo in Seattle was up 32 percent over the same time period to $248,500.

Overall, it appears that the U.S. market is leveling out. Zillow’s Gudell says that “Annual U.S. home value appreciation has stabilized and settled into a nice groove over the past few months, and this relative stability should continue into the foreseeable future.”

If you’re interested in speaking with a real estate expert about Seattle’s market, contact your local agent today.

Real Estate Site Ranks Seattle No. 1 Housing Market

1150 17th Ave E-33. straightened smalljpgReal estate website auction.com has ranked the Seattle area the No. 1 housing market in the country for single-family homes, according to its analysis of home prices, sales data, demand, and economic factors. They point out the combination of strong price growth, at 10.9 percent over the year, and an equally strong increase in sales over the year, at 12.6 percent, as indicators of our market’s overall strength. The Seattle area’s solid job market keeps attracting new residents, and relative affordability compared to other tech hubs such as San Francisco, San Jose, and New York has seen demand continue unabated. Coupled with the fact that it is still 13 percent less expensive to buy rather than rent in Seattle means that everyone is trying to get their piece of the Seattle real estate pie.

Rounding out the top five behind Seattle are three areas in Florida – Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, and Palm Beach County – followed by our little sister to the south, Portland, where prices grew by 9.4 percent over the year.

If you are interested in buying or selling a home in the Seattle area, contact your local real estate agent today!