Posted by: Timothy Ellis (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.

32 responses to “Local Development Roundup: Take One”

  1. wreckingbull

    I like the post idea, but the content is quite depressing. These new developments make me feel like I am on the set of “The Decalogue”. Maybe we can make a game out of it:

    “Eastern Bloc housing complex or Seattle development?”

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  2. KKyle

    I like the idea — some thoughts on how to expand upon it:
    -Add notes on things that are good or bad about each of the buildings / perhaps a discussion on multi family design. Hopefully start a discussion about what makes good multi family buildings and good urban spaces.
    -Maybe a drawing vs. reality aspect? Here is what the building actually looks like… I know design review POV drawings are littered with trees that never quite make it into the real world somehow.
    -Notes about what drives higher $/sq foot on multi family properties
    -Notes about what drives condo association fees and to what extent (or not) they are a rip off vs maintaining your own property.

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  3. whatsmyname

    The one I like best is the two block cycle track. It combines the best Seattle commuter option traditions of incompatibility, not going very far, and never leaving downtown to go where filthy, car driving “commuters” live. By going from the cycle track to the streetcar, and then changing to the monorail for connections with the bus tunnel, I believe one could navigate two miles of business district in under 1.5 hours. If only one could get to the train station.

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  4. David Losh

    This is a great post, and the direction that housing may take for a while as apartment building catches up with the number of residential housing units that have been sold in the past ten years.

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  5. mike

    Taking a few bits from Matt Goyer’s blog and putting them in a different context would be interesting, to me anyway.

    My big Real Estate question over the last year has been around the absorption rates on the amazing amount of apartments completed this year. Seattle reported more housing unit permits in 2012 than 2007 (or any recent year) by a good margin. I’m not seeing a switch back to condo conversions yet, but it’s starting in SF…

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  6. Blurtman

    It would be helpful in these idealized cartoons of development nirvana, if they would show a few homeless people, perhaps a police beating or shooting, a drunk driving crash, a bit more realism.

    I would like to suggest to the watercolor artist: a dude peeing on the corner of the buidling, and a taxi striking the bicyclist.

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  7. redmondjp

    RE: Blurtman @ 6 – I was about to post something similar last night, but my idea is to produce an age-progressed view of the building in 20 years: overgrown and/or badly-trimmed trees (blocked views, cracked sidewalks, etc), fogged windows, mildewed, faded exterior walls, and so on. Oh, and add rusty BBQs and unused bicycles on the tiny decks too.

    When I look at most of the new development in our area (take any generic ground-floor-retail-with-apartments/condos-above building), IMO these buildings just don’t have any architecturally-redeeming qualities about them, not to mention that their quality of construction makes me suspect that these buildings will not last nearly as long as similar-purpose buildings built a century ago.

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  8. KKyle

    I hear a lot of complaining about the design of new multi family buildings but almost no discussion about:
    #1: What would be better.
    #2: What the driving forces are that cause the buildings to be what they are instead of something better.

    So, I’ll start it:

    Regarding #1: I would prefer to see developers give in to the fact they are building something modern rather than do faux period touches. There are a few minor period touches on #1 that enhance its butt-ugly stance.

    Regarding #2: Parking requirements kill urban building design. The retail in a lot of the mixed use building that have been built in the last 5 years is nearly unusably shallow due to the 1st floor space dedicated to parking. Building underground parking is so expensive that it forces rents up — even in parts of town where there is no good reason to build more parking (there is existing market rate parking in every single developed neighborhood for those willing to pay for it.)

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  9. Ira Sacharoff

    RE: redmondjp @ 7
    Agree completely. Not only are these buildings lacking character, they also look like every other new building. But when they get promoted, they always talk about how innovative they are.

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  10. ARDELL

    RE: redmondjp @ 7

    Has always been true of modern architectural styling. It just gets old…and never looks good old. Some “quaint” buildings with “character” actually do look better with age. Modern? Never.

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  11. Sarah

    RE: ARDELL @ 10 – Modern architectures are the best, especially energy efficient new modern houses.

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  12. redmondjp

    By Sarah @ 11:

    RE: ARDELL @ 10 – Modern architectures are the best, especially energy efficient new modern houses.

    When new. Virtually all new houses are constructed with OSB (look it up if you don’t know what it is), which tends to absorb moisture over time and weaken. Exterior-grade plywood is vastly better in multiple ways (but more expensive, so most builders don’t use it unless the code requires it), and I recently saw some brand-new homes going up north of Redmond that were completely sheathed with plywood instead of OSB. The only other place I know that they use plywood for home sheathing is in Hawaii, due to the harsh environmental conditions there.

    One advantage of having a 1977-built home is that I have no particle-board or OSB anywhere in the structure. YMMV

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  13. ARDELL

    RE: Sarah @ 11

    Have you ever seen a modern house that is 20 years old or older? Almost never does it look as good or better than when it was new.

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  14. Sarah

    RE: ARDELL @ 13RE: redmondjp @ 12 – I am talking about custom built modern houses that are designed by architects to maximize the usability and brightness of the lot. I have talked to a few architects, the cost is not that bad, and it’s way cheaper than the ugly new houses in Redmond.

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  15. ARDELL

    RE: Sarah @ 14

    Reminds me of the old saying “Everything’s nice when it’s new and shiney”. I am a fan of mid-century modern homes. But some of the boxy styles look pretty bad when they get old.

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  16. redmondjp

    RE: Sarah @ 14 – Does that include the feng shui analysis?

    Your idea of what is not a bad cost is, I suspect, significantly different from mine. I didn’t win the Microsoft employment lottery 20-30 years ago like a lot of my neighbors did . . .

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  17. David Losh

    RE: redmondjp @ 12

    I see no one responded to this, and the reasoning behind OSB is the wrap of the exterior. The exterior siding is in addition to what is supposed to be an impervious membrane.

    New construction has come a long way since the bad old days of the 1980s. In my opinion you could view many of these houses as being just a frame on a lot. You can change out most things on a new house as new technology comes along.

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  18. Sarah

    RE: redmondjp @ 16 – I just gave you a thumb up because you are quite funny :). I am surprised that people would pay so much for a new construction, especially ugly craftsman style cookie cutter houses that are built around here, ie, Issaquah Highlands. If there are builders reading this blog,please build more stylish energy efficient modern houses in the Eastside, it will be great for everyone and our future generations! Features like solar panels and rain harvesting system will be awesome!
    Losh, do you think there is a market for this type of houses? Or do you think it is too expensive to build them? Thanks!

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  19. redmondjp

    Getting this thread back on track a bit, on tonight’s Komo 4 TV news (yes, that does date me – I actually do watch the 11 o’clock news) they had a story about the hi-rise condo building at 2200 Westlake (no OSB that I know of). It has a number of defects, there was a $26M settlement with the builder, and now everybody will have to be inconvenienced while they erect exterior scaffolding around the entire building to repair and retrofit a bunch of stuff (they will be working inside people’s units as well).

    Now if we could develop software that could predict this kind of thing, that would be great – no wait, in honor of Ballmer’s retirement announcement today, let’s use one of his favorite terms: ‘epic.’

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  20. redmondjp

    RE: David Losh @ 17 – I get what you are saying, but wood buildings must breathe – excessive moisture from inside the building has to be allowed a way out – the wrap is designed to allow this moisture vapor to pass from the inside out, while blocking liquid from getting in. Therefore the OSB will be exposed to moisture, wrap or not.

    I have a number of scrap OSB pieces (window cutouts from sheathing of nearby new homes) that I use in my yard for various purposes. I keep them covered from the rain but they are stored outside. It’s amazing how quickly the material degrades. And strength? Heh . . . I had a fully-assembled shed delivered to my back yard via flatbed tow truck, and I had large casters bolted to the bottom so I could roll it into place. The pieces of OSB I had layed out on the lawn to roll over, well, let’s just say that the casters punched right through them immediately. Plywood of the same thickness handled the load just fine without any damage. That really opened my eyes to how weak OSB really is.

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  21. Sarah

    RE: redmondjp @ 19 – WOW! You have an excellent idea! You should build it and become the next Bill Gates! I don’t understand why people think that they have epic ideas, but they don’t do anything about it.

    By the way, Steve Ballmer usually says”blah blah blah!” it’s one of his favorite phrases.

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  22. wreckingbull

    RE: redmondjp @ 19 – Sometimes I wonder if many of the developers that put these up, many from out of state, just don’t understand our PNW environment. I just redid my wrap-around porch, and every step of the way, I was forced to think about how to manage the water (gentle slope, drip edges, drip grooves, lead post shims, etc…..)

    The reason I bring this up is that I always ask “how could this happen?” when I see big developments with moisture intrusion problems. Of course another reason is haste, but I don’t think haste explains it all.

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  23. Blurtman

    Over here in Sammamish, developers clear cut nice pieces of land, plop down McMansions with postage stamp sized yards, and plant a few vestigial trees from Lowes, thereby destroying the natural beauty that people claim they seek when they move here.

    “Money it’s a hit
    Don’t give me that do goody good bullchocolate
    I’m in the hi-fidelity first class traveling set
    And I think I need a Lear jet”

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  24. Sarah

    RE: Blurtman @ 23 – I agree with you! That’s why small modern houses are so much better than McMansions. A 1500 to 2000 sq ft house is big enough for most families as long as the floor plan is well designed.

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  25. mike

    By ARDELL @ 13:

    RE: Sarah @ 11

    Have you ever seen a modern house that is 20 years old or older? Almost never does it look as good or better than when it was new.

    That’s true of pretty much any home regardless of style unless it was fairly high end to begin with.

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  26. David Losh

    RE: wreckingbull @ 22RE: Sarah @ 18

    There are also International Building Codes the developers follow.

    From my perspective you are buying a lot with a wood frame.

    Kitchen remodels aren’t what they used to be. You can buy a complete kitchen, or bath, from Ikea. All you need to do is tear out the old, level everything, and replace it. Go to Home Dopey to get floor plan.

    It’s the same with the exterior. You don’t like it? Tear off the siding, which now can be installed with screws, replace the sheathing, and do the next exterior finish that is in vogue.

    I came to the conclusion in about 1998, or 2000 that after all the preservation, renovation, and repairs we had done to older properties that tearing down, and rebuilding would be cheaper in the long run.

    Now that really impacts property values. If most houses are tear downs, and only worth land value, then the prices being paid are ridiculous.

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  27. Ira Sacharoff

    RE: Sarah @ 18
    Issaquah Highlands may be ugly, but it gets worse. Some of the higher end stuff on the eastside, built on tiny lots, just screams pretentious. They’re named things like “Green Valley”, because there used to be a beautiful green valley there before it got bulldozed to build these uglyass houses.
    As far as stylish, energy efficient homes and the market for it: You’d think there would be a huge potential market both in Seattle and on the eastside. People are buying 700,000 dollar homes anyway, how much more expensive is it going to cost to include things like the rainwater harvesting system and the solar panels. The builder would probably be eligible for all kinds of subsidies to put these things in, wouldn’t you hope?
    I’m aware of a Seattle builder that both builds new ,and essentially guts old houses and puts in a very energy efficient design. They’re doing well.

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  28. FWIW

    RE: wreckingbull @ 22 – I do not think it is anything other than money. Time = money when building. Builders, no matter where, have to deal with weather. PNW has it’s wet moments as does Miami, Atlanta, Denver, Chicago.
    I think it is the shortcuts and the race to the deliverable date which makes the problems later. In a boom time, it is always about the money. How much can we make, how quick can we turn it over.

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  29. Ira Sacharoff

    RE: wreckingbull @ 22
    Quadrant Homes is local. And they’re notorious for having mold/mildew/moisture intrusion problems. I don’t think it’s ignorance because non local developers don’t understand our climate. I think they just want to spend as little as possible on these places and slap them together as quickly as possible. I’d love to believe that we here in the Pacific Northwest, developers n’all , are more ethical and sensitive to our environment. I’m just not convinced that’s the case.

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  30. Erik

    RE: Ira Sacharoff @ 29
    “I don’t think it’s ignorance because non local developers don’t understand our climate.”

    Definition of Ignorance:
    incomprehension of, unawareness of, unconsciousness of, unfamiliarity with, inexperience with, lack of knowledge about, lack of information about

    If they make a mistake because they don’t understand, that is the definition of ignorance
    Please clarify…

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  31. Ira Sacharoff

    RE: Erik @ 30
    Wreckingbull in post 22 was suggesting that out of state developers were building homes that had mold/mildew/water intrusion issues because we have different weather here and the buildings need to be built differently in order to avoid this. He was suggesting ignorance on the developers part, not me. What I was suggesting was that the developers didn’t really care whether or not the buildings had these problems. All they wanted to do was build them and sell them.

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  32. News Roundup: It Doesn’t Count

    […] Bubble’s new “Local Development Roundup” feature may save me some […]

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