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King County NOT Running Out of Land

For those that continue to insist that home prices around Seattle are high because “supply isn’t keeping up with demand,” I would like to point out the 2007 King County Buildable Lands Report.

This is what the report has to say about building activity in King County from 2001 through 2005:

  • King County gained more than 49,000 net new housing units in the UGA during the second five-year Buildable Lands review period (2001-2005). Accounting for assumed vacancy rates, this translates into about 47,300 net new households in Urban-designated King County, which is about 31% of the 22-year Household Growth Target added in 23% of the planning period. This growth occurred despite an economic recession and significant job loss during four of the five years of the analysis period.
  • During the six years from the April 2000 US Census to April 2006, Washington State’s Office of Financial Management (OFM) estimates that King County’s population grew by 98,300 persons, from 1,737,000 to 1,835,300. This increase is nearly 32% of the 2002 OFM population projection for the planning period (2001-2022), which is the basis for the Household Growth Targets, during six years or 27% of the planning period.

Chapter IV, p. 1

Quick calculation… 98,300 people in six years is roughly 82,000 people in five years, which translates to approximately 35,650 households (assuming an average of 2.3 persons per household—2000 Census showed 2.39). 35,650 new households (county-wide) vs. 49,000 new housing units (UGA-only). Whoops. Looks like supply has actually been easily exceeding demand, just like I said it was.

Going forward, the picture looks much the same:

  • The King County UGA has capacity, based on current plans, for approximately 289,000 additional housing units accommodating an estimated 277,000 additional households—more than twice the capacity needed to accommodate the Household Growth Target of about 106,000 for the remainder of the 2000-2022 planning period.
  • At projected household sizes, the 289,000 new housing units, together with the existing housing stock in 2006, could accommodate more than 400,000 additional persons within the UGA. This is more than twice the population growth needed to meet the remaining part of the 2002 OFM projection of 2,048,000 total population for King County in 2022.

Chapter V, p. 3

Translation: the Growth Management Act and Urban Growth Boundary have not and will not result in an artificially-constrained supply of houses in King County for the foreseeable future.

Here’s a little blurb from the P-I (which is about all I expect to see, since the facts in this report don’t back up the oft-repeated “constrained supply” claim the papers love to tout):

According to the report, King County cities and towns grew slightly faster than projected from 2001 through 2005 and still had enough capacity for twice as many households as remain in the projection for growth through 2022.

In fact — thanks to rezoning, denser construction and increasing potential for redevelopment — there was more capacity at the end of the five years, despite development of 5,000 acres during that time.

Can we please stop claiming that “restricted supply” will prop up local housing prices now? I can write articles all day long about how beautiful the pretty pink sky is, but that doesn’t and won’t make it true. It just makes me annoying and ignorant.

(P-I Staff, Seattle P-I, 09.20.2007)


About The Tim

Tim Ellis is the founder of Seattle Bubble. His background in engineering and computer / internet technology, a fondness of data-based analysis of problems, and an addiction to spreadsheets all influence his perspective on the Seattle-area real estate market.

58 comments:

  1. 1
    NotaBull says:

    Dude, we’re *so* running out of land.

    Can’t wait to go backpacking this weekend off of I90 where it appears we have no land left. In fact, I’ll be camping on asphalt due to the shortage.

  2. 2
    Cynic says:

    NotaBull: I don’t think state/city/national park land qualifies as buildable land. . .

  3. 3

    GREAT POINT TIM

    MSM progessive buffoons use “doncha know” logic and verbal allegations like “its gotta be true”, its in the papers/TV and everyone’s bought the brainwashing.

    Analysts like you and your technical supporters on Seattle Bubble use math projections, actuals and common sense projections with hard evidence; then make educated predicative analyses.

    We have totally overbuilt [like your evidence clearly proves Tim], but progressives, like Mayor Nickels, figure we need higher condos at $500K each to pack 50% more folks into Seattle and this will increase the affordable housing needs for necessary population growths. He figures if we can only increase Seattle’s population, it will solve our transportation and greenhouse gas problems too. These progressives assert….blah, blah, blah…..etc

    Sometimes I think a good portion of America has totally lost its brain.

  4. 4
    uptown says:

    softwarengineer,

    Please don’t use the words “progressive” and ” Mayor Nickels” in the same sentence. Nickels is the same as any small town/city politician who sucks up to the local business folks.

  5. 5
    Ira Sacharoff says:

    Nickels has done a good job of making it easier for developers to come in and build expensive housing downtown, and to nurture the image of downtown Seattle as a hip and desirable place to live. His rhetoric was that by concentrating housing downtown, it would limit sprawl elsewhere. Doesn’t seem to have worked, but at the same time at some point there are going to be a whole lot of vacant condos downtown: you can’t sell that many expensive units to people who don’t have money, and although Seattle does have it’s share of rich folk, it also has a lot of middle class people who can’t afford to live here.

  6. 6
    wreckingbull says:

    It sure seems that SLUT has become a convenient double entendre to describe a $60 million toy streetcar and our mayor’s behavior around Paul Allen.

  7. 7
    Chris says:

    I agree with your sentiment, however, the Buildable Lands inventory is very flawed in its estimates of redevelopable lands. Take a look at how they define buildable – using a ratio of improved value to land value. Infact, many buildings that the assessor assigns low improvements values to have income producing elements – small businesses and residiential rentals, for example – that make redevelopment much less like than the improvement ratio would suggest. At least this is what I’ve found in cities for whom I’ve been hired to run numbers for rezoning analyses

  8. 8
    Cringe says:

    “This growth occurred despite an economic recession and significant job loss during four of the five years of the analysis period.”

    And y’all wonder why housing prices keep going up? Sure, there is space to build new houses, but even the “outlying areas” from Seattle like Issaquah, Snohomish and North Bend are high in price. There are still too many people with enough income to buy all these places and thus house prices continue to rise.

  9. 9
    deejayoh says:

    Let’s play this back:
    Tim –
    “here’s an article that shows more new homes were built than people moving here from 2001-2005”

    Cringe –
    “See, There are still too many people with enough income to buy all these places and thus house prices continue to rise.”

    okay….

    did we read the post?

  10. 10
    gregory wharton says:

    Zoning and other regulations dramatically restrict what can be built on open land and how. So, while the land may be available, that doesn’t mean it can be developed even to the density targets mandated by the Growth Management Act. There was a study done a couple of years ago in Seattle that showed that fewer than 95% of newly permitted multi-family residential developments were meeting the GMA density targets. The reason wasn’t that developers were simply electing not to fully develop their properties. The reason was that the vast constellation of regulations surrounding their development activity prevented them from doing so. You’ll find that a lot of vacant properties contain things like slopes and wetlands that make them difficult to develop. Those that don’t are still faced with onerous volume limits and other restrictions which make development problematic.

    And that’s entirely aside from the problematic nature of the “buildable” figures are generated. Chris is exactly right that the way the buildable lands numbers are calculated is deeply flawed.

  11. 11
    gregory wharton says:

    Oops…figure got reversed there. That should be:

    “…fewer than 5% of of newly permitted multi-family residential developments were meeting GMA density targets.”

    Sorry for any confusion.

  12. 12
    biliruben says:

    “You’ll find that a lot of vacant properties contain things like slopes and wetlands that make them difficult to develop. Those that don’t are still faced with onerous volume limits and other restrictions which make development problematic.” – GW

    Good.

    It still appears there are plenty of homes being built, too many if you take this post at face value, without paving over wetlands or building on unsafe slopes prone to erosion. I don’t find this to be a problem. Do you?

  13. 13
    Garth says:

    On page 1 it says:

    More than half of the net land supply, especially land in single-family zones, is located in South County. SeaShore contains almost half of the developable land in multifamily and mixed-use zones. Most of that land could be developed at densities well in excess of 50 dwelling units per acre under current plans and zoning.

    So am I correct that according to this report most of the land for houses is south of south center, and seattle has “buildable” land for 139,000+ condos (~3000 acres total)?

  14. 14
    JohnnyBigSpenda says:

    The article says King County has “double” the required amount of available units needed to meet demand.

    If you go to a place like Texas or Ohio, I’m sure hey have 10X or 20X. Double ain’t that much and it implies that it is not “unlimited”… therefor at some point, we do have limited supply.

  15. 15
    JohnnyBigSpenda says:

    And if what greg w is saying is correct, that “double” may be more like 1.5X the required supply. Not a huge margin in the big scheme of things.

  16. 16
    b says:

    JohnnyBigSpenda –

    1.5x – 2x+ is a HUGE margin when you are talking about population growth, estimates of which almost are always extremely rosy in their predictions anyway. I think if we end up with more than double the amount of predicted growth over the next 15 years we will have a lot more problems than having enough condos downtown for people to live in.

  17. 17
    Peckhammer says:

    “Not a huge margin in the big scheme of things.”

    Unless they increase the height limit. Nah, they wouldn’t do that. You’re right, we’re almost full to the brim.

  18. 18
    bitterowner says:

    But I could’ve sworn they weren’t making any more land.

  19. 19
    Mark L says:

    The can make more land. Have you seen how they manufactured the land for the new Hong Kong airport? They could do the Denny Regrade treatment on Queen Anne, Capitol Hill and Beacon Hill, using the material to fill in Elliott Bay.

  20. 20
    Obvious says:

    Draw a rectangle. There is a LIMIT to the area contained within. Draw it anywhere on the world. There is a limit in that rectangle. Draw it in the year 2000, 1900, 0r 1776…there is a limit. How is this news?

  21. 21
    Ira Sacharoff says:

    It’s not exactly “making more land”, but either rezoning or tearing down perfectly good houses and building too many houses on one lot is the equivalent…and this is where I’m the reluctant real estate agent:
    What if I got the listing of a ticky tacky ugly house on a zero lot line on the site of where a cool old restorable house used to be? Could I bring myself to extol it’s virtues?

  22. 22
    JohnnyBigSpenda says:

    i agree there is beaucoup land available… BUT you have to admit that a lot of that land would be (overly?) expensive to develop… most are substantially more expensive to develop that the typical $20,000 per lot (developer’s cost) to get a piece of land ready and subdivided like Texas would have for example. There is definitely a land premium in Seattle… even in Isaquah for that matter.

  23. 23
    Old Ballard says:

    There is more than enough land to build on. All you have to do is tare down a house and build four to eight townhouses depending on the size of the lot. Then you sell each town house for 450 k. So, that’s between 1.8 and 3.6 million to cover the 20,000 cost of demolition. And now you have a neighborhoor that has lost is character, but profit is really what counts isn’t it.

  24. 24
    Bitterrenter says:

    Yeah, we hear this a lot in Portland too. That and the mistaken idea that “everyone’s moving to Portland, increasing demand!”, often spoken breathlessly.

    That must be why another overpriced condo tower has decided to “go apartment”. They’re not selling. And the SFHs are languishing on the market forever.

  25. 25
    SteveH says:

    Completely off topic but …. I live in New Zealand now, where I am a winemaker. Grew up and lived in Seattle most of my life. Used to own 1047 NE 98th, in Maple Leaf. Just looked at Zillow and it estimates $570,000!!!!!! I know this house, lived there 15 years and no way. This is f**king nuts. What are you people doing over there? Have you all gone insane? $350/sq.ft. for that place? WTF? I was in Seattle in July and drove past the old place. It still has the same roof it had when I bought it in 1975. You can’t sit on the toilet without your knees hitting the tub. The kitchen was a nightmare. To get a bed upstairs you have to hoist it through the window. Has the US lost sight of reality? How can ANYONE afford a house? Good luck, you’ll need it, this is NOT sustainable.

  26. 26
    david losh says:

    Holy crap!
    In the 1980s down town Seattle was coming into it’s own. Then we had the CAP initiative pushed by the Seattle City Council and Peter Steinbruck (sp?) in particular. His campaign slogan was targeted towards the Columbia Tower and seeing it from Couger Mountain or some such crap.
    Heighth restrictions on in city development drove developers out of Seattle. No large scale big time developer needs to put up with this. They can go elsewhere and build. Enter Paul Schell (sp?) as the greasey little monkey he is and Dave Sabey.
    These guys saw down town Seattle as a play pen for thier college kid fraternity brothers. Seattle has been a back water of small time thinking ever since. You would have to be brain dead to want to go there. There are after all real cities in the world to live and work.
    We could have thousands of down town units by now to help keep pricing low which in turn would attract dollars to in city living. We don’t do that because our mayor and city council can get more campaign cotributions for nickle and dime developers than large corporate conglomorates.
    Absolutely there is enough dirt to build on. You guys are getting your wish about driving prices down. A player in financial circles does not want to live in a McMansion anywhere. They would prefer to live in a Luxury condo down town. If you do business in a world market place you want a nice place close to your club, world class restuarants, cocktail lounges, night life, and entertainment. Seattle doesn’t provide that. We give ’em a night at the ball game and beer in a sports bar.
    Ballard and Fremont built those creepy town house things that also need to be bull dozed to make way for development. So you guys get your wish for those crappy housing units for the price of the dirt they sit on. There is no reason right now for the prices being charged for new construction units here in the Seattle area except we have no down town core. People are forced to live in Fremont or Ballard to have some taste for in city living. I think that’s what you guys are missing.

  27. 27
    Ira Sacharoff says:

    Steve H,
    I was recently in a Real Estate Investment class where we were debating the direction of the local housing market, and I was the only one in the class who thought that Seattle prices would drop. Most of the other folks in the class were real estate agents and lenders who seemed to have blinders on and had drunk the kool-aid the industry is handing out, how we’re economically stronger and will be immune from this downturn. I may be a real estate agent, but maybe not as willing to tout the gospel of “it’s always a good time to buy.”

  28. 28
    bigdollardog says:

    I think some here are missing the point, the cost to develop the land is so high in the Seattle area, the builders have to pass it on to the consumer, they have no choice, lets say break down the formula this way $50,000 per lot to pay the lawyer to fight city hall and the growth management act, $25,000 LID per lot, $10,000 per lot to bring in utilities, $25,000 for permits and engineering and get growth management act’s stamp of approval (yes it is expensive)and now ad the price of the land $200000 (cheap) now the cost of the pile of lumber make a house $75,000 (cheap) site development ($50,000) we are at $435K this is at cost with no profit, this is America so can we say a profit of $65,000 that’s not even including realtor fees and tax! That comes to **** $500,000**** per house! Now let’s say the cost of the lot is cut in half from $200,000 to $100,000 because this is a buyers market, now we are talking $400,000 per house, so the point is — there could be a million lots out there!!! It does not mater the government in seattle always adds on $200,000 to the home (lot) that the buyer must pay! Has anybody been watching the news about soundbuilts fight with the city of Tacoma to build homes there at north shore, BIG BIG lawyer bucks and YOU WILL PAY -but i could be wrong am i??

  29. 29
    deejayoh says:

    but i could be wrong am i

    yes…
    I have friends who build townhomes in the seattle area. Their cost per door for permitting and construction? $125k. Their cost for land and prep? less than $250k. They don’t start on a project unless they can pencil in AT LEAST 25% profit.

    so….. unless you have some facts based on personal experience building more than one house, yeah, I think you’re wrong.

  30. 30
    just_checking says:

    Ira –

    As a real estate agent do you think this is a good time to buy ? Where do you think the eastside market is headed ?

    Just checking :)

  31. 31
    george says:

    You also heard the “no more land” canard in Portland Oregon, with its version of the growth management act.

    Not anymore. In Portland the inventory of available homes is up to 6.2 months. Twice as much as in 2006. A true buyers market poised to drop.

  32. 32
    Lionel says:

    Steve H, I was in New Zealand this last April, and every day I opened the Wellington newspaper there was a front-page article on how unaffordable New Zealand has become. Auckland required 110% of one’s income to buy a house at present rates. Wellington was not much farther behind. Honestly, it didn’t sound any different from here.

  33. 33
    Ira Sacharoff says:

    just_checking:
    No, I don’t think it’s a good time to buy, unless you’re looking to keep the property for an extended period ( maybe 10 years?). I believe that home prices in the Seattle area are bound to fall, including the Eastside. Houses are taking longer to sell, and there are more houses on the market than there were a year ago, so what’s the obvious next step? Well, if you’re trying to sell a house and it’s not selling, there’s only so much beautifying you can do. A reduced price commands attention, and I’m seeing reduced prices all over the place. Maybe not reduced (yet) from a year ago’s prices, but some sellers and their agents have gotten greedy and still believe things are booming..they are refusing to lower prices, and the houses are just sitting there unsold. I’m a contrarian, I think this is a good thing. Prices have become unaffordable, and a drop in prices will make things a little more sane. It’ll probably result in fewer agents, which will be good for me personally if I can hang in there.
    About the East Side in particular, maybe it’s a little healthier than some of the rest of the area. Lots of job growth in Issaquah, Bellevue, and Redmond means there will be demand for houses, but at the prices they’re asking? I’d steer clear of expensive stuff unless you were prepared to wait 5-10 years, and you’d be safer buying the crappiest house on a nice block.

  34. 34
    stephen says:

    Tim I think you have done what you acuse the RE cheerleaders of doing. Your using countywide stats to condradict the aurguement generally put forward for close in prices. Prices went flat or started down 6-7 months ago in the commute areas. Once you remove condo’s (really not much associated to land avail) demand versus supply is still propping up prices. Not questioning your numbers they just seem to miss the mark of what your aurguing.

  35. 35
    SteveH says:

    Yes you’re right, housing prices have climbed here too. The difference is that we don’t have the toxic liar loans like the US. The government here also controls interest rates pretty closely, and recently raised them to cool the market. Rates for mortgages are at about 9%. They also do things a bit differently with the mortgage. For a fixed rate you can only lock the rate for 3 years. After the lock period, you have to chose another rate, but not re-negotiate the loan. That means there is no such thing as a 30 year fixed. Deposit rates are as a consequence much higher than in the US. I have a 6 month deposit with the bank at 8.4%, almost the same as mortgage rates. Affordability is an issue, I agree, but at least there is not the poised axe of the no doc mess. Except for a few markets (Wellington in particular, which is the capitol) house prices have been steady or falling for the last year. I live in Napier, on the East coast of the North Island. Prices have fallen about 3% in the last year. I also have to thank the Fed for lowering rates, as that jumped the NZ dollar 4 cents this week. Thanks Ben!

  36. 36
    SG says:

    I have been following seattlebubble for sometime now and I believe that it gives a very insightful perspective of the housing market in Seattle. One area that I haven’t seen being discussed here is if the housing market is artificially inflated, will it be a reasonable thinking to consider the option of buying a piece of land and have a house built on it? Are there enough resources available for this and have people explored these options in Seattle?

  37. 37
    BanteringBear says:

    Cinge posted:

    “There are still too many people with enough income to buy all these places and thus house prices continue to rise.”

    Umm, Cringe, look into stated income, Alt-A loans, and the like and then get back to us. It has ZERO to do with what people can actually afford.

  38. 38
    just_checking says:

    Thanks IRA, It is refreshing to see atleast one RE agent say
    “not a good time” to buy without atleast thinking twice.

    While I personally do not believe that the 15-20% declines will happen, prices are more likely to fall in the 5-10% range in my opinion over a period of 1-2 years. Again this is just my opinion and has no scientific backing because frankly no one knows the future :)

  39. 39
    Bitterrenter says:

    Prices in Portland are falling at a faster rate than 5-10% over 2 years. Go look at CL ads. See all the vacant houses and condos for sale. See the reductions already and we just got started. Seattle won’t be any better off.

  40. 40
    Ira Sacharoff says:

    As a RE agent, if someone were to come up to me and say they wanted to buy here and wanted me to be their agent, I’d be a fool to refuse. But I will never, at this point, encourage people to buy here because “it’s a good time to buy.”
    If you see buying a house as purchasing a place to live and not as an investment, something you may want to hold onto for 10 years or forever, then sure, why not buy a house? But I just think that at the moment things have gotten out of hand price-wise, that they’re cooling off, and you’ll likely get a better price a few months down the road.
    How low will prices drop? I think it depends on the global economy/national economy as much as the local economy. I don’t think the sub prime mess is going to get better any time soon, andIi think local foreclosures will increase, which will put pressure on home prices.

  41. 41
    John says:

    SteveH, it is funny you mention New Zealand dollar. I know of a retired couple in Asia who has a lot of money in AUS and NZ currencies. They love how high the rates are and since they started putting money there a few years ago, they are loving the 50-80% appreciation too. I don’t know why putting retirement money in foreign currencies is not as popular here in America. Most people just do USD denominted CDs and that’s it.

  42. 42
    just_checking says:

    Because we think the world is between sfo and nyc :)

    I believe getting a foreign CD is a little complicated and most
    people just don’t bother (including me). Also the same 50 %
    up can go down 50% as well ;)

  43. 43
    notabull says:

    “I don’t know why putting retirement money in foreign currencies is not as popular here in America. Most people just do USD denominted CDs and that’s it.”

    It’s a little more complication to do this, and certainly more risky. After all, most workers in the US will retire in the US. Regardless of where the dollar stands in the world, the retiree will be saving in dollars and spending in dollars.

  44. 44
    Chris says:

    How about FX ETF’s? …

  45. 45
    Mark L says:

    SG –

    In Seattle, there little or no vacant land. If you want to build, you buy a tiny lot after a subdivide, or you buy a house and tear it down.

    Along with housing demand, the prices of materials and labor have risen in lockstep.

    That is the whole concept of a free market. If there was a way around the high housing prices, everyone will flock to that option until the price to do so rises to be consistent with the current new-construction market.

  46. 46
    bigdollordog says:

    yes…
    I have friends who build townhomes in the seattle area. Their cost per door for permitting and construction? $125k. Their cost for land and prep? less than $250k. They don’t start on a project unless they can pencil in AT LEAST 25% profit.
    *******************************

    your right on about 25% min profit.
    your talking about town homes I’m talking about single family Res. home, about 2-3 town homes can fit on one lot, so if you take your numbers and times it by X2 – 3 our figures are about the same, I was just guestimating, but my point was places like the midwest dont have Growth M G or Zoning laws so price can just drop fast, but here the GMG and Zoning laws keep priced artifically high. I guess the gov could always lower the fees, and that could lower prices. but i dont see that happinin soon

  47. 47
    Mike2 says:

    In Seattle, there little or no vacant land.

    Same is true for pretty much every major city. Seattle has been built out since the 50’s. How many cities can you name with a population of 500K where there is a large supply of vacant land within or adjacent to the city limits?

    And those cities that do have lots of land, has their price growth been dissimilar to Seattle?

  48. 48
    Cringe says:

    BanteringBear said,

    “Umm, Cringe, look into stated income, Alt-A loans, and the like and then get back to us. It has ZERO to do with what people can actually afford.”

    Are houses worth more in Seattle now then 80 years ago? Houses have steadily and consistently appreciated in Seattle for the last several decades. This is much before stated income, Option ARMs and all the “sub-prime” loans.

    Has the rate of appreciation been a bit higher the last few years due to the open lending standards? Probably, although in general not to the ridiculous levels that many cities around the country got to.

    Somehow people have managed to buy homes here during all that time. Do you have any other theories?

  49. 49
    Cringe says:

    Mike2 said,

    “Seattle has been built out since the 50’s.”

    Umm, try the early 1900’s. My friend’s house in Ballard was built in 1906.

  50. 50
    deejayoh says:

    Mark L said,
    Along with housing demand, the prices of materials and labor have risen in lockstep.

    Mark – do you have a source for that? This is an issue that Shiller dealt with extensively in “Irrational Exuberance” and the data shows exactly the opposite of your statement: Real construction costs growth has been essentially flat

    http://www.irrationalexuberance.com/Fig2.1Shiller.xls

  51. 51
    gregory wharton says:

    Deejayoh,

    The Seattle area experienced more than a 14% rise in construction costs last year. About the same the year before that. A little less the year before that. These figures come from local construction industry and have been verified by both our in-house cost estimators and third-party consultants. Construction costs in Seattle have been anything BUT flat since the late 1990s.

    While home price appreciation has outpaced that, it hasn’t done so by much.

  52. 52
    redmondjp says:

    Hey Greg,

    Does the cost of the land factor into construction costs?

  53. 53
    gregory wharton says:

    redmondjp,

    No. That’s escalation in construction hard costs only, not counting land or soft costs. Land has been escalating too, of course, and soft costs are linearly proportional to hard costs (typically twenty percent).

  54. 54
  55. 55

    […] also plays the “running out of land” card (which has been refuted on this site here and here, among other places): “That bubble never breaks. I mean… Because, it—we have too many […]

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