Kiss Single-Family Homes Goodbye if Seattle Keeps Growing

We usually talk about the whole Seattle metro area on these pages, but I’d like to take a little while to discuss an issue that is most relevant to Seattle proper: Density.

There’s no denying that Seattle has been booming lately, thanks largely to serious growth in the local tech economy—unbridled growth at Amazon, the continued growth of local Silicon Valley outposts (e.g. Facebook, Google, etc.), and even the migration of large tech employers from other cities in the metro area into Seattle proper (e.g. Expedia)… you get the idea.

All of this adds up to the fastest population growth Seattle has seen since 1900-1910.

Population-Seattle_2013

Population-Growth-Seattle_2013

If Seattle’s population keeps growing, there is a hard housing reality that we’re going to have to face: the death of the single-family home.

As of 2013, roughly 43 percent of Seattle’s housing stock is made up of detached single-family homes. That’s already a minority, but if Seattle is going to be able to continue growing, that number is going to have to go a lot lower.

With 7,776 people per square mile, Seattle is currently the tenth most dense city in the country despite being only the twenty-second most populous. However, if Seattle is going to keep adding more people into the limited space we have available, we’re going to have to kiss an awful lot of our single-family housing goodbye.

No American city with 10,000 or more people per square mile has more than 25 percent of their housing as single-family. Here’s a look at population density versus single-family housing share for the 50 most populous cities in the United States:

Density-vs-Single-Family-Pct-lg_2013

If Seattle keeps adding people at the rate we’ve seen in the last few years, by 2030 the population will shoot up to around 900,000, equating to a density of 10,727 people per square mile. Even if none of the housing built to accommodate the population growth during that period is single-family homes, today’s single-family housing stock would still equate to roughly 31 percent of the total housing we’ll have in 2030.

I contend that this is not practically possible. Either Seattle’s population growth will dramatically slow down again in the near future, or we’re going to be tearing down a lot of single-family homes to make space for more townhomes and condos. Either way, it looks like the next ten years will be a very interesting time for Seattle.


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.

68 comments:

  1. 1
    Dave0 says:

    Even if none of the housing built to accommodate the population growth during that period is single-family homes, today’s single-family housing stock would still equate to roughly 31 percent of the total housing we’ll have in 2030.

    Are you saying that the only way to drop below 31% is to upzone neighborhoods that are currently SF to low-rise, mid-rise, or high-rise?

  2. 2
    The Tim says:

    RE: Dave0 @ – I’m just saying that we’re going to have to tear down a lot of single-family homes and replace them with more dense housing if Seattle is going to grow to the 10,000+ people per square mile density of most other major US cities. I don’t know enough detail about Seattle’s current zoning to know whether rezoning will be necessary to do that.

  3. 3
    David B. says:

    Two points:

    1. When it comes to land area, Seattle is by law (i.e. zoning code) about 70% single-family exclusively:
    http://www.betterinstitutions.com/2014/01/look-at-amount-of-space-in-seattle.html

    2. Seattle is going to continue changing whether or not it is allowed to densify above 10K/square mile. If that change is not allowed to take the form of increasing density, it will take the form of increasing gentrification and economic privilege, as the cost of homes skyrockets because it is being artificially constrained by government policy in the face of increasing demand.

    Either way, the days of the city being largely middle-class single-family neighborhoods are (or soon will be) over.

  4. 4
    David B. says:

    “Kiss Single-Family Homes Goodbye” is moreover hyperbole. SFH will constitute less of the housing stock as a city densifies, but even in San Francisco SFH still constitute about 20% of housing units; that’s a lot of single-family homes. SFH may get less numerous in Seattle, but no way are they just going to outright disappear entirely.

  5. 5
    LarryB says:

    One way to increase density without changing the character of our neighborhoods is to make it easier to build backyard cottages (DADUs).

    Right now, the biggest hurdles are adding an off-street parking space, the absolute square foot limit and roof height limit, and the most limiting – maximum roof height above the roof peak of the main structure.

    Basically, if your lot slopes up, no DADU for you.

    Easing the roof height limit would make it easier to build really nice 2BR units, as would a max sf increase from 800sf to 1,000.

    I don’t think the owner-occupancy rule for at least one unit should be waived. That’s what will keep the condition of both structures better, and more in line with the neighborhoods.

  6. 6
    ronp says:

    This is sort of a stupid post. We live in a region and your data is only about the city proper — if I understand it correctly. Tons of redevelopable land exist in the region – Renton, Shoreline, Kirkland, etc.

    My favorite land is in the I-5 corridor. We should double deck 405 and push I-5 traffic onto surface streets at the city limits. Build housing, offices and industry on the space vacated by I-5. Vancouver BC did not let a city destroying highway be built in it.

    I would accept a tunnel solution for vacating I-5 as well.

    Lots of land shown in this photo — http://blogs.sos.wa.gov/FromOurCorner/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/AR-WSDOT-SeattleFreewayConst_ca1962_079-Box124.jpg

  7. 7
    redmondjp says:

    You’re not exactly correct, Tim. SFHs will be limited to the 1%.

    The rest of us will be living in mixed-used mid-to-high-rise buildings, with ground-floor retail, of course. These buildings will be clustered along mass-transit corridors. This is already happening in places like downtown Redmond, and in Overlake things are gearing up for massive redevelopment in the 520 corridor along the route of the eastside light rail line.

    This is all according to the UN Agenda 21 plan for the world. Do some google searching on this and start reading – it’s all out there for everybody to see.

    So buy your SFH now while you still can!

  8. 8
    Sam DeBord says:

    Good analysis, Tim. What would headline writing be without a little hyperbole? People need to lighten up.

    What you’re demonstrating is what we’re seeing across the core of the Seattle metro. Upzoning and concentrated growth management will be necessary to get housing density near the transit hubs and the employment centers. Growing cities change. Growth with long-term foresight is a lot better than letting housing sprawl out aimlessly and making transportation issues even worse for current residents.

  9. 9
    Mike says:

    As much as a pain as the environmental sensitivity overlays are, they largely guarantee that *some* SFH neighborhoods are going to stay that way. I can’t even get natural gas service on my street because PSE won’t take on the years and $millions of permits required to cross a stream/habitat area to run the lines.

    Regardless of how the city increases density, I don’t anticipate they’ll be up-zoning blue heron habitat and salmon streams going forward.

  10. 10
    Frank says:

    The comparison to other cities is illuminating, Tim. I love seeing a new way to approach the problem. It’s worth noting, however, that the city I believe disagrees with this assessment. According to DPD, we have enough capacity given existing zoning (i.e. even if we preserve all SF-zoned properties in amber) through 2035. There are currently 308K housing units in the city and we can grow to over 500K with existing zoning.

    To be sure, there are plenty of single-family homes currently sitting in low-rise zones that would disappear in that scenario. So it’s worth distinguishing between SF zones and actual SF houses. But it’s all still theoretical. The city, as far as I can tell, looks at housing units and not population.

  11. 11
    Azucar says:

    By ronp @ :

    I would accept a tunnel solution for vacating I-5 as well.

    Because the one replacing the viaduct has shown how easy it is to build one?

  12. 12
    ronp says:

    RE: Azucar @ – Well, being first at using the largest TBM in the world was sort of stupid. the smaller TBM’s Sound Transit have deployed have done a great job so far – tunnel and stations to UW $150 under budget and built faster than projected — http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/sound-transitrsquos-northgate-tunnel-borer-soon-to-head-south/

  13. 13
    Mike says:

    Great post.

    One follow up I would like to see is a breakdown of how all the new units in the City sort out in terms of bedrooms. The shrinking share of SFR isn’t just an issue in terms of stand alone housing, which is a lifestyle choice really, but I expect also reflects a dramatic decline in the share of family size (3br+) housing. Townhouses provide some additional units (as impractical as living on 3-4 floors with small kids can be), but it seems that almost all of the new apartment buildings are largely studios and 1br units with a handful of 2br units that cost almost as much as a mortgage.

    At some point either development is going to need to shift to more practical units (you can always use a 3br to have roommates, but a family of 4 can’t use an apodment) or the traffic situation is going to go from really bad to disastrous. All these new 20 something’s can’t start families and stay in-city with the existing housing stock and our roads can’t handle them all commuting in. Then again, this is Seattle so maybe they will all just complain about being single forever and go get small dogs….

  14. 14
    Updog says:

    By Frank @ :

    It’s worth noting, however, that the city I believe disagrees with this assessment. According to DPD, we have enough capacity given existing zoning (i.e. even if we preserve all SF-zoned properties in amber) through 2035. There are currently 308K housing units in the city and we can grow to over 500K with existing zoning.

    This report breaks out the potential for new SFH construction on page 5, and I’d say it supports Tim’s assessment. The Urban Centers + Villages are where most of the growth is allowed, and at the minimum I’d imagine these will be town homes.

    The potential for development ‘Outside Villages (SF Units)’ is the only bar at capacity. If there is a SFH zoned lot, it probably already has a house on it, and thats the maximum the zoning allows.

    I’d be interested to know if the ~10000 available units here are due to vacant lots or by subdividing oversize lots. The former are almost nonexistent in Seattle and the latter would only trickle on the market over decades.

  15. 15

    When I first moved to Seattle 37 years ago, I was astounded that a fairly large city had so many single family houses, having mostly been exposed to NYC and Philadelphia before that. I thought it really made Seattle a nice place to live.
    Increased density makes sense in a lot of ways, it just doesn’t fit my lifestyle. Crazy survivalists don’t want close neighbors.
    Population projections in the past have been wrong, so I wouldn’t necessarily count on these to be accurate either. Right now things are going gangbusters. But Seattle historically is a boom and bust city. We’re booming right now. Still, at least in the very near future, they will be continuing to rip apart perfectly fine old houses, and replace them with many townhome or apartment units.

  16. 16
    Mike says:

    RE: Ira Sacharoff @ – I’ve looked at most of the houses for sale around North Ballard. Knowing what I do about construction, engineering and energy efficiency most of the ones that have’t been retrofitted are definitely not in the category of “perfectly fine old houses”. Most of them have serious issues either with how they were maintained or how they were built in the first place. Retrofitting this old construction requires very deep pockets making it far from affordable.

    Another option is to pretend we’re back in 1925 or whenever this stuff was built. Few people who can afford it want to live like it’s 1920, and those that can’t afford it can’t afford to heat or maintain it either. Historical preservation is a hobby only the upper middle class can afford.

  17. 17

    RE: Ira Sacharoff @

    This is somewhat due to The Great Fire in Seattle in 1889. There were more “row homes” before that and a strong reluctance to rebuild attached housing afterward, until fairly recently. The first reaction to the fire was to build brick homes, mostly in Pioneer Square at the start. But brick and earthquakes presented a different issue, so brick, especially as to foundations, was not considered the best way to go in the long term.

  18. 18

    By Mike @ :

    RE: Ira Sacharoff @ – I’ve looked at most of the houses for sale around North Ballard. Knowing what I do about construction, engineering and energy efficiency most of the ones that have’t been retrofitted are definitely not in the category of “perfectly fine old houses”. Most of them have serious issues either with how they were maintained or how they were built in the first place. Retrofitting this old construction requires very deep pockets making it far from affordable.

    Another option is to pretend we’re back in 1925 or whenever this stuff was built. Few people who can afford it want to live like it’s 1920, and those that can’t afford it can’t afford to heat or maintain it either. Historical preservation is a hobby only the upper middle class can afford.

    Of course you’re right. When I referred to the older single family houses as perfectly fine, I didn’t mean they were practical, or energy efficient, or trouble free. My wife and I owned an 1899 vintage Victorian duplex in Leschi from 1986-1999, which we bought as a major fixer. It was never ending work, and I wouldn’t do it again(profitable as it was), but strictly from an aesthetic viewpoint, a lot of the newer townhomes just don’t have a lot of charm.

  19. 19
    scaredy cat says:

    RE: Ira Sacharoff @

    Ira, I remember being struck by the exact same thing when I moved here 25 years ago and trying to explain it to my friends back east. (Baltimore and Boston) “You don’t understand” I kept saying ‘there are lots of houses in the city’

  20. 20

    By Mike @ :

    RE: Ira Sacharoff @ – I’ve looked at most of the houses for sale around North Ballard. Knowing what I do about construction, engineering and energy efficiency most of the ones that have’t been retrofitted are definitely not in the category of “perfectly fine old houses”. Most of them have serious issues either with how they were maintained or how they were built in the first place. Retrofitting this old construction requires very deep pockets making it far from affordable. .

    About 15 years ago at our old late 40s house we removed about 95% of the sheetrock on the walls, installed new wiring, supply plumbing and insulation, and insulated the attic for something in the neighborhood of $20,000-25,000. We did not insulate the crawlspace or do earthquake retrofits, we we did do other things for that cost which would probably cost more than what those would have cost.

  21. 21
    Bob says:

    High housing costs are not just a problem for people, they are a problem for corporations. When housing costs rise, corporations have to increase wages or risk not being able to attract qualified employees. At some point, they’d rather set up new offices in lower cost areas than pay continually higher wages. Amazon has been somewhat sheltered by this so far because they’ve been able to “fund” higher wagers with stock grants. Employees have accepted this because the stock has performed well over the past decade. The problem ahead is that Amazon’s stock price appreciation cannot continue at the current pace. The law of large numbers starts to take over. What will Amazon do then to keep employees in their $600k 900 square foot condos?

  22. 22
    ESS says:

    Most people living in the “Seattle area” don’t actually reside in Seattle, they reside in the cities adjacent to or near Seattle. Many of those individual reside in single family houses, often with large lots. Thus those who wish to encompass the single family housing experience will be able to do so in the area, if not in Seattle itself as the single family housing stock in Seattle continues to shrink with new multi family construction.

    Years ago, my wife and I had the choice of residing in Seattle in a UW area duplex that we had partial interest that we were selling but we had first rights to buy, or continuing to reside in South Snohomish County. After some thought we chose to continue to reside in South Snohomish County as we both enjoyed the lower density lifestyle, the lower prices for housing and the lower taxes. As a bonus we used the proceeds of the sale of the duplex to purchase two additional rental houses in the area. Do we miss certain aspects of urban Seattle lifestyle? Sure we do, but a quick drive into town takes care of the required urban experience. Furthermore, it is often a faster commute from South Snohomish County into many areas of Seattle than those who reside in one part of Seattle that travel to another part of town. And with light rail coming — it will be but a few more stops on the train to get into town.

    Furthermore, there is great pressure to construct high density living quarters near those soon to be constructed light rail stations in North Seattle. Those single family houses located in those areas are the sacrificial lambs for much higher density that is surely coming. Those developments will provide much needed housing for many who wish to reside in Seattle. These issues are also being debated in North King County and South Snohomish County as the area moves forward in developing light rail.

    Some of the loudest critics of all this density are those are migrants themselves who arrived some years ago, and are currently observing changes that they don’t appreciate because they often moved away from high density urban areas. They mourn the loss of their environment but newcomers also requre places to reside. The old migrants can’t keep out the new migrants, because they too contributed to the increased population increases.

    Thus all of this is a balancing act — providing for the newcomers while not destroying the quality of life. Will Seattle successfully pull it off? It remains to be seen.

    Many of you are familiar with Vancouver BC. Having lived and worked in that city in the late 1970s, and having family in that area that I visited on a regular basis, I have observed how increased density can radically change the character of a city. Vancouver’s land area is half the size of Seattle, but presently has about the same number of residents. Vancouver with it’s much higher population density than Seattle, expensive housing, impossible traffic, is rated one of the best cities in the world to reside in. Hopefully if Seattle does it right — it too will be highly rated as a great city to reside in.

  23. 23
    SaffyThePook says:

    Ballard is the future of Seattle. The rise of the condo buildings and the teardown of SFHs to be rebuilt as multi-unit homes has been going gangbusters for about 10 years now, even without light rail thanks to our proximity by road to downtown. I haven’t been keeping tabs on Capitol Hill but with light rail, the U district will be next.

  24. 24
    redmondjp says:

    RE: ESS @ – I concur with you on Vancouver – I remember taking the Sky Train to attend Expo ’86 (we went up there twice) and it was a quick and efficient way to get into the city. And here we are in Seattle, some 30 years later, and we don’t have anything like it (I’m sorry, but a train that takes people from the airport to downtown via a lot of the bad parts of town and doesn’t even connect with Southcenter just doesn’t cut it).

    I don’t have such high hopes for Seattle, however. Our politicians have proven time and again that they have no vision and no leadership (unless you think more bus-only and bike lanes is going to fix anything).

    And our existing mass-transit providers are political-payback funds-distribution machines primarily, which just happen to roll a bus or a train once in awhile, or provide annual cost of living increases to workers whose union dues that fund the democratic party are a percentage of their salary.

    The downtown tunnel proves without a doubt that the rich property developers are really in charge. Same is true with the light rail corridors – Wright-Runstad (you know, the company that make a bunch of money on the old Amazon HQ and then defaulted on their lease leaving the building needing a lot of repairs) is going to make buku bucks over in Bellevue in the Overlake district when they force out a significant portion of the existing businesses to remake their Agenda 21 dream of high-density living and office complexes. Screw those existing businesses – they don’t matter. Big Seattle Developers FTW!

    And still, with the OBVIOUS solution being to run a mass-transit corridor along 405, we instead get a train that goes from Redmond (well, in 2027 or something, if not later) to Seattle via I-90. Still does diddly squat for my commute from Redmond to Renton, which takes close to 1.5 hours one way if I choose to take a number of buses.

    Like I said, I’m not optimistic. Come to downtown Redmond sometime and see what they’ve done to it (my prediction: in 10-15 years, it will be ground zero on the Eastside for Section 8 housing).

  25. 25
    wreckingbull says:

    RE: ESS @ – Fantastic post. I think a big overlooked point is that the ‘old Seattle’ quality of life can still be found in many smaller cities around our region. I still work for a downtown company but have negotiated a flexible work arrangement so very little time is spent commuting. What time I do spend commuting, I am riding on the Sounder.

    Does not work for everyone, but with a little planning, you can have the best of all worlds.

  26. 26
    Rudolfo says:

    These are terrific posts.
    The telecommuting thing is interesting. If it is more widely adopted (big if), commutes matter less. Selecting a home for lifestyle becomes more important. It is interesting to think about how that could shape the demographics of a metropolis.

  27. 27
    redmondjp says:

    By Rudolfo @ :

    These are terrific posts.
    The telecommuting thing is interesting. If it is more widely adopted (big if), commutes matter less. Selecting a home for lifestyle becomes more important. It is interesting to think about how that could shape the demographics of a metropolis.

    Yes, it would be difficult to telecommute to a Broadway play.

    Telecommuting could definitely be a game-changer, IF enough companies agree to allow it. But for some work situations, it doesn’t work. I’ve been working full-time for over 25 years now, and usually when I was working with a customer (esp. if at their workplace), I could get more done with them in a 2-hour meeting than in 6-months of back-and-forth emailing and teleconferences – that always amazed me, but there is something about the face-to-face interaction that cannot be replicated via a remote connection.

  28. 28
    ronp says:

    RE: redmondjp @ – Wow — I am sorry about your car commute (it is a terrible one), but I disagree with your analysis on transit and housing in the region. There has been a ton of technical analysis on the most effective rail and bus solutions and they match land use plans pretty well. There are a lot of missed opportunities too, but overall progress has been made. People don’t want more highways and sprawl.

  29. 29
    David B. says:

    RE: SaffyThePook @ – That part of Ballard is one of the few significant areas that single-family zoning has been changed to allow multi-family construction in recent decades. Given the general lack non-compromised (e.g. not right up against a busy street) land available for multi-family construction in Seattle, it’s not surprising that the few areas where it *is* possible to construct such housing in more desirable surroundings are having a *lot* of it constructed.

  30. 30
    David B. says:

    RE: ESS @ – “The old migrants can’t keep out the new migrants, because they too contributed to the increased population increases.”

    What they can do is advocate legislation that makes adding new housing increasingly difficult.
    It’s hypocritical, but it happens. It’s a big part of how California (which prior to the 1970s had housing costs below nationwide norms, believe it or not) got so expensive. One of the bad things about home ownership is that it actually rewards existing residents (with appreciating property values) for pursuing policies that make housing scarce and thus less affordable for new residents.

    And there’s actually case law — at the US Supreme Court level, I believe — that basically says those who are priced out by such policies lack standing to seek redress in the courts.

    There’s provisions in Washington’s growth management act designed to rein in such things (cities basically have to plan to accommodate growth by law, they can’t just plan to keep growth out of their boundaries), but it still happens; witness the recent overreaction on the part of the Seattle City Council to builders starting to take advantage of a few small lots here and there. (Admittedly, some of those houses went too far — but only some. Many were on lots that would be considered standard-sized in say San Francisco, and not everyone wants a large yard and the yard work that comes with it. What was needed were some commonsense standards, not the outright ban that actually resulted.)

  31. 31
    Scotsman says:

    Great post, Tim. It begs the question will Seattle indeed continue to grow at an accelerated pace, and why? At what point does housing and hence employee costs make Seattle less desirable for continued future growth in the eyes of employers? After all, it isn’t just housing that get more expensive with density- it’s also office space, warehousing, etc. Unlike the bay area Seattle is very linear geographically and expansion potential more limited. But in the context of Seattle Bubble we can probably agree housing prices won’t be softening significantly any time soon.

  32. 32
    Rudolfo says:

    By Scotsman @ :

    … At what point does housing and hence employee costs make Seattle less desirable for continued future growth in the eyes of employers?

    If you use SF as a representation of our future (which is arguably the best we have) it will be quite some time.

  33. 33

    RE: ronp @

    LOL: Make One Clogged !-405 Freeway Two “Super Clogged Freeways”? Reminds me of the 2nd Kitsap bridge, just have all 2-3 lanes of the new bridge converge on one I-5 lane to converge and the roads won’t turn into a horrifying parking lot trying to mesh on to I-5. Try driving past the Tacoma dome at rush hour, or should I say, try moving [period] past the Tacoma Dome at rush hour…LOL

    Your idea is the same brainless mess; all the I-5 traffic trying to get on the upper level of I-405 to converge on one lane. Its like the car pool lanes that end and then form a parking lot of clogged cars. Oh, I know, you want to eliminate cars. Ask Japan and Europe if they want the American automobile use terminated….then ask your fellow citizens in the current Detroit bankrupt mess the same question. I see, you can work, but manufacturing can’t? In the name of your blessed transformation of Seattle into Hong Kong?

    They sure have you brainwashed IMO. No wonder Boeing wants TOTALLY out of this “high tax” overpopulation Seattle mess you envision and brainlessly plan anyway; eliminating Middle Class and jobs for the Millenials. Have you ever thought of just incorporating prudent population limitations to the existing freeways; like real liberals did when they were environmental?

  34. 34

    RE: redmondjp @
    How About the rest of Us Will Be Living in Our Cars or Returning Back to Like Mexico; Where a Job Gets You a Roof Too

    Or living in dilapidated poor folk shacks; trying to make our P/T $15/min wage at least feed us; when 1 bdrm apartments are all $2000+/mo….your overpopulated Seattle utopia? Or Hades Hole?

  35. 35

    RE: Scotsman @

    Yes Scotsman

    At least LA has affordable land east of LA. See Map:

    https://search.yahoo.com/search;_ylt=AwrTHQ99Qj5VHwwAGN9XNyoA;_ylc=X1MDMjc2NjY3OQRfcgMyBGZyA3lmcC10LTQxNARncHJpZANqb2Q2T3Z4Z1JDbTVnblp0N3JtNTRBBG5fcnNsdAMwBG5fc3VnZwMxMARvcmlnaW4Dc2VhcmNoLnlhaG9vLmNvbQRwb3MDMARwcXN0cgMEcHFzdHJsAwRxc3RybAMyNgRxdWVyeQNtYXAgb2YgTm9ydGhlcm4gQ2FsaWZvcm5pYQR0X3N0bXADMTQzMDE0MzY3MA–?p=map+of+Northern+California&fr2=sb-top-search&fr=yfp-t-414&fp=1

    Seattle doesn’t sport east land suburbs vastness….just mountains you can’t build on…..comparing Seattle to San Francisco for overpopulation incorporation is apples and oranges. The only thing we have more of is water, certainly not building space for manufacturing or more population density.

  36. 36

    RE: Mike @

    Or the Oxygen Free Dead-zone in Puget Sound from Overpopulation Pouring Fertilizer Into Our Once Beautiful Sound

    Let alone the heavy metals making even the few fish and Orcas that are still barely alive; completely uneatable.

  37. 37

    RE: David B. @
    The Main Growth Seattle Liberals Outlaw Now

    Is homelessness. Not in my neighborhood.

  38. 38
    Erik's Step Dad says:

    Software engineer, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

  39. 39

    Software Engineer said “Let alone the heavy metals making even the few fish and Orcas that are still barely alive; completely uneatable.”
    You’ve given up eating Orcas? I hear they’re quite delicious served on a whole grain bun with aioli and arugula.

  40. 40
    redmondjp says:

    By ronp @ :

    RE: redmondjp @ – Wow — I am sorry about your car commute (it is a terrible one), but I disagree with your analysis on transit and housing in the region. There has been a ton of technical analysis on the most effective rail and bus solutions and they match land use plans pretty well. There are a lot of missed opportunities too, but overall progress has been made. People don’t want more highways and sprawl.

    So you’re banking on technical analysis, eh? Like they did on the downtown tunnel?

    What do you mean by progress? Like when Metro entirely cancels very busy east-west bus routes from the Eastside into Seattle as punishment for people not voting in more funding for them? Like when Metro is driving empty, high-PM-emitting dirty diesel buses around every hour until after midnight in the far-flung suburbs, just so those drivers can get paid?

    You are confused about what people want. They want to buy an affordable home, and are willing to drive all the way to Orting to buy one (as it’s never going to happen in Seattle). So how do you fix that? I don’t see light-rail going into Orting, well, ever.

  41. 41

    RE: Ira Sacharoff @ RE: Erik’s Step Dad @
    OK, Ira, Stomp on My Liberal Environmentalist Neck for a Blog Administrative Error

    Orcas are on the endangered species list and they weren’t there a couple decades ago.

    Where do the fish come from that you gobble MASS down at the Seattle Waterfront Crab Pot eating paper tables? God forbid they’re from the Puget Sound. They’re probably Mercury free though….all the restaurants allege it’s all Alaskan wild seafood [when most of it’s toxic farmed or Chinese type tub fish with antibiotics]…the good news, the tub fish and Alaskan wild taste about the same…you’ll be easily fooled :-)

    Erik’s Step Dad….I bet you religiously recycle and ride a bike only? No? Are you a liberal for the environment and depopulation? You can’t be one or the other, otherwise you’re phony as a 3 dollar bill.

  42. 42

    RE: redmondjp @
    Exactly Redmondjp

    The Seattle area and King County are supposed to be run by the majority tax payers and voters; ask them if they want Seattle freeways shutdown or another property tax to pay for mass transit they don’t get.

    We have a minority of “so-called” liberals in Seattle that are just a small percentage of selfish fascists; that speak for 90% of the rest of us. They even wanted to put their sewage treatment plant in Covington, so they wouldn’t have to smell it….

  43. 43
    Weasel says:

    By Mike @ :

    As much as a pain as the environmental sensitivity overlays are, they largely guarantee that *some* SFH neighborhoods are going to stay that way. I can’t even get natural gas service on my street because PSE won’t take on the years and $millions of permits required to cross a stream/habitat area to run the lines.

    Regardless of how the city increases density, I don’t anticipate they’ll be up-zoning blue heron habitat and salmon streams going forward.

    Burning hydrocarbons on a small single use scale. e.g. to heat a single home is an inefficient use of the resource.

    I live on a street that was developed around 1980, every house was built with-in about 2 years. For reasons I dont yet know, the street is orphaned from natural gas, sewer, sidewalk and street lights.

    The latter two I dont care about, last thing I want is bright street lights blasting in my windows at night, quiet dead end street, so sidewalk is no real loss. Also all the cable and power lines are underground, another plus.

    Not having to pay sewer fees offsets the cost of having the tank pumped every 5 to 10 years, so I dont care about that. Just think twice about what you flush. Looking at sewer maps, the sewers run in every street around ours, just not ours.

    Lastly the natural gas.. So no gas furnace, but an electric one that guzzles about 1500-2000kWh per month over colder winter months. Unlike gas furnace’s the electric one doesn’t wear out, one moving part – the blower, it’s 35 years old and still works as good as the day it was installed.

    Comparing my electric and gas bills from the much older house we used to rent in Seattle, the all electric system in the “newer” better insulated house costs about the same per month ~ $270-$300. If I bit the bullet and replaced it with a heat pump, it would take about 5 years to pay for it self with energy savings. Even if I had gas, a heat pump is still a cheaper solution in the long run.

  44. 44

    Money Magazine States 70% of the Restaurants Lie When They State They Serve Alaskan Wild Seafood

    Snippet:

    “….Each of us eats, on average, almost 4 pounds per year, making shrimp more popular than tuna. Once considered a special-occasion treat, shrimp has become so ubiquitous that we now expect to find it on the menu whether we’re at a pricey restaurant or a fast-food joint.

    In fact, Americans eat about three times more shrimp than we did 35 years ago. To satisfy our insatiable appetite, the U.S. has become a massive importer: About 94 percent of our shrimp supply comes from abroad, from countries such as India, Indonesia, and Thailand.

    But our love affair with shrimp does have a downside. Most of the shrimp we import is “farmed”—grown in huge industrial tanks or shallow, man-made ponds that can stretch for acres. In some cases 150 shrimp can occupy a single square meter (roughly the size of a 60-inch flat-screen television) where they’re fed commercial pellets, sometimes containing antibiotics to ward off disease. If ponds aren’t carefully managed, a sludge of fecal matter, chemicals, and excess food can build up and decay. Wastewater can be periodically discharged into nearby waterways. “Bacteria and algae can begin to grow and disease can set in, prompting farmers to use drugs and other chemicals that can remain on the shrimp and seep into the surrounding environment,” says Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., executive director of the Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability Center….”

    https://www.yahoo.com/health/how-safe-is-your-shrimp-117531175347.html

    Enjoy your Seattle Waterfront seafood. They’re having a delicious “all you can eat” lobster buffet at EQC for Mother’s Day [I can tell if the shelled fish is contaminated foreign tub fish, there’s no brown hairs on the shells].

  45. 45
    Tired of SWE Rantings says:

    softwarengineer… Seriously stop ranting about random stuff. Now you are ranting about seafood. This is a realestate blog…. For the love of everything that is good and Holy. Shut up or stay on topic. Tim this guy really detracts form your blog with his stupid comments that have nothing to do with anything.

  46. 46
    Deerhawke says:

    In fact, we are *not* going to actually kiss single family homes goodbye if Seattle keeps growing.

    There are very vocal community and neighborhood groups that will make sure that does not happen. Their members show up at city council meetings. They are the folks who volunteer to staff the city council members’ campaigns. This is one big reason why we have not had any significant upzoning of single family areas in this city since the early 70’s.

    But if the single family neighborhoods are not going away, we will see a lot of change in who lives there. The imbalance between supply and demand will mean that the price mechanism will allocate those single family homes to people with money. And this has already happened in a fairly dramatic way.

    Within the last 9 months, the cost of a new 3000 sf home in Seattle’s central corridor has gone up by $300,000 on average.

    In late summer of 2014, I ran comps on new homes in Ballard and everything was in the range of $830,000 – $900,000. Now? Try $1.2 million to $1.3 million. The same is true of Greenlake and Wallingford, but at a level $100,000 higher.

    For those willing to add an extra 20-30 minutes to their daily commutes , you can get a lot more value up north in Shoreline, Edmonds or down south in Delridge, White Center or Burien. No they are not particularly picturesque communities, but how long will that last?

    At a certain point, demographic change builds its own momentum. Who could imagine that when things got so ridiculously expensive in Manhattan that Brooklyn would become the cool place to live the artisanal hipster lifestyle? When I lived in Manhattan in the 80’s, Brooklyn was so far from being cool that it was inconceivable. Brooklyn is where the doormen and their big-haired girlfriends lived. How could that ever be cool?

    I have friends who live on a half-acre lot in Burien who get downtown faster than I do from Greenlake. At some point when the Gen-X ers and millenials decide they are tired of living in a 120sf apodment on Capitol Hill, maybe that will be the new Brooklyn.

  47. 47
    redmondjp says:

    RE: Deerhawke @ – You nailed it. The smart money bought places in up-and-coming neighborhoods while everybody looked at them and said: “You bought WHERE???”

  48. 48

    By Deerhawke @ :

    In fact, we are *not* going to actually kiss single family homes goodbye if Seattle keeps growing.

    There are very vocal community and neighborhood groups that will make sure that does not happen. Their members show up at city council meetings. They are the folks who volunteer to staff the city council members’ campaigns. This is one big reason why we have not had any significant upzoning of single family areas in this city since the early 70’s.

    But if the single family neighborhoods are not going away, we will see a lot of change in who lives there. The imbalance between supply and demand will mean that the price mechanism will allocate those single family homes to people with money. And this has already happened in a fairly dramatic way.

    Within the last 9 months, the cost of a new 3000 sf home in Seattle’s central corridor has gone up by $300,000 on average.

    In late summer of 2014, I ran comps on new homes in Ballard and everything was in the range of $830,000 – $900,000. Now? Try $1.2 million to $1.3 million. The same is true of Greenlake and Wallingford, but at a level $100,000 higher.

    For those willing to add an extra 20-30 minutes to their daily commutes , you can get a lot more value up north in Shoreline, Edmonds or down south in Delridge, White Center or Burien. No they are not particularly picturesque communities, but how long will that last?

    At a certain point, demographic change builds its own momentum. Who could imagine that when things got so ridiculously expensive in Manhattan that Brooklyn would become the cool place to live the artisanal hipster lifestyle? When I lived in Manhattan in the 80’s, Brooklyn was so far from being cool that it was inconceivable. Brooklyn is where the doormen and their big-haired girlfriends lived. How could that ever be cool?

    I have friends who live on a half-acre lot in Burien who get downtown faster than I do from Greenlake. At some point when the Gen-X ers and millenials decide they are tired of living in a 120sf apodment on Capitol Hill, maybe that will be the new Brooklyn.

    I’ve been preaching for years that Burien was the next Ballard, but maybe it’s the next Brooklyn. Like Brooklyn, there are still “bad” parts. But Burien has a hip, artsy, cool downtown area. A good bakery, an independent movie house attached to a bar. It’s got Puget Sound. It’s got the best Mexican food in the Seattle area. And you can be in DT Seattle in 15-20 minutes.

  49. 49
    ronp says:

    RE: Ira Sacharoff @ – Burien, Normandy Park, Des Moines, all very interesting places, with some classic single family housing stock. Airport is a lot quieter and has no room to expand. Plenty of jobs in the Kent Valley, at the airport, light rail to downtown. Too bad the county never required sidewalks to be built along with the single family subdivisions (let alone surface water management infrastructure, protection of critical and sensitive areas, etc). Residents are civic minded and engaged and have a good basis to improve their communities.

  50. 50
    Mike says:

    By Ira Sacharoff @ :

    Software Engineer said “Let alone the heavy metals making even the few fish and Orcas that are still barely alive; completely uneatable.”
    You’ve given up eating Orcas? I hear they’re quite delicious served on a whole grain bun with aioli and arugula.

    There are tons of warnings about eating sushi but the quality of the Orca meat is totally unregulated and none of the pregnancy books even address the issue.

  51. 51
    ess says:

    There are still reasonably priced single family homes in Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace. Both have nice park systems, rec centers as well as a good library. Edmonds is a bit more expensive, but deals can still be had. It is easier to access most major retailers and grocery stores in that area than from most areas of Seattle. And with light rail coming, it will be easier to get to places such as downtown Seattle and the U District than from many neighborhoods in Seattle.

  52. 52
    Blurtman says:

    If trends continue, the execution of citizens by police may change the friendly dynamic of parts of Burien.

  53. 53
    m-s says:

    What about Lake City/NE Seattle? If everybody goes “Ewww!”, it’s probably the place to be.

  54. 54
    Mike says:

    RE: m-s @ – Same goes for the CSO’s. Most people say ‘ew, gross, I wouldn’t want to live in a sewage overflow pipe’ but some of them are actually located in quite nice neighborhoods – both Magnolia and Blue Ridge have them, and the elementary schools in those neighborhoods are better than Lake City. So before you pack up and move to Lake City based on the fact that a lot of people turn their noses up to it, consider some of the other alternatives, like living in the sewers.

  55. 55

    RE: Mike @
    I talked to a Puget Sound Marine Biologist about 10 Years Ago About the Health of Our Puget Sound Orcas

    They were just about to be put on the endangered species list at that time and yes, their bodies and their off spring were full of heavy elements [like mercury]. Its worse now.

  56. 56
    Deerhawke says:

    Some of the spread of development will occur as light rail makes an area more accessible.

    Each time a new station opens, you will see a lot of development around that new station and the activation of a whole transportation network around it. When the Northgate Station opens in a few years, I think it is going to make north Seattle, Shoreline, Lake City and Lake Forest Park look less “Ewww” and more like an attractive place to live.

    But some of the change in demographic patterns will be driven by demographics.

    The aging of the baby boom will have real consequences. We have friends who sold their place in Bellevue when they retired 5 years ago and bought a place for less than half the price in Normandy Park. They can drive to Tukwila and hop on light rail to go to downtown for a Seahawks/Mariners/Sounders game. In a year or two, they will be able take light rail to see the Huskies games. Ten minutes to the airport for jetting off to see their kids who are spread around the country. Smaller house, bigger garden, less noise, less congestion, lower taxes. What is not to like?

    The millenials are eventually going to age, settle down, have kids and find they need more space. We know a young couple who had a cute (read “tiny”) apartment in Wallingford who found it claustrophobic after the birth of their first child. With the second on the way, they found a place in North Mapleleaf between Northgate and Lake City.

    The central core single-family neighborhoods will remain. The question is who lives there.

    Below 85th St, these days a teardown is $450-600K, a serious fixer is $600-700K, a light fixer is $700-800K and an OK but still too small house that you will start to think about remodeling immediately is $800-850K. Above $850K, you will find a nicely remodeled older house that is move-in ready, but it might have its share of quirks. Above $1.2 million — new construction. At those prices, you can see why most of the people leaving the area are middle class people moving away (or relocating outside the core) and being replaced by very well paid tech types in their prime earning years.

  57. 57
    David B. says:

    RE: Deerhawke @ – “For those willing to add an extra 20-30 minutes to their daily commutes , you can get a lot more value up north in Shoreline, Edmonds or down south in Delridge, White Center or Burien. No they are not particularly picturesque communities, but how long will that last?”

    I disagree about Edmonds not being picturesque. The “bowl” containing the older part of town (downtown and immediate surroundings) near the waterfront certainly qualifies as such in my book.

  58. 58
    ronp says:

    RE: softwarengineer @ – Another reason not to eat Orca whales.

  59. 59
    Blue-Eyed Green-Horn Developer says:

    RE: ronp @

    “…and push I-5 traffic onto surface streets at the city limits…”

    I’m a gung-ho freeway fan and I would get behind building more and adding lanes to existing ones.

    At first I thought this as a crazy idea, but the I started to think about how that stretch of I-5 slows to a crawl much of the day – probably to even slower than the speed of travel on surface streets. So perhaps it wouldn’t be much of a loss?

    Regarding increasing density by tearing down SFH, that’s exactly what I’m hoping to do with my home. My 12000 sq ft lot is zoned L2 as is the adjacent 15000 sq ft vacant lot. Terrain is indeed tricky with steep slopes down from the street. Am pretty centrally located, in North Beacon only a couple blocks from the light rail station.

    I see in the area so many tear-down conversions to townhomes but I was thinking that apartments would yield maximum utilization of the parcel and a sustained cash flow for the future instead of a one time transaction.

    Anybody have experience with builders or developers who could help me turn my land and capital into an apartment building? Probably I’m concerned about getting in way over my head with the details of the project and execution. It might be interesting to learn the ins and outs of real estate development with an “internship” in the industry. Perhaps it’s worth
    considering a career transition if it’s interesting.

    Any tips or referrals would be appreciated.

  60. 60
    Matt the Engineer says:

    RE: Frank @ – Don’t be fooled by the “zoned capacity” argument. Zoned capacity isn’t like a bucket of housing capacity that you can fill up. It’s more like trying to drill for the last drops of oil – the closer you get to running out the more expensive it is to get to the next drop.

    Think of the types of projects being built today. They’re taking parking lots, warehouses, and very short and small buildings and building tall buildings on them (as tall as they’re allowed, whatever the local restriction). After that round is over, there will be fewer parking lots to dig in (the lot owners know this, and will price their land accordingly), fewer shorter buildings. This means prices will have to rise higher before it makes financial sense to build. And the round after that we’ll need to start tearing down buildings that are a significant portion of their allowed height – that’s serious money. The truth is that we’ll never approach this zoned capacity, and the closer we get the higher the cost of construction (and rents, and sales prices).

    To go through a very basic example, let’s say you have a 4-story apartment complex containing 40 homes. Let’s say rents are $2k per unit. To build up you’d lose $960,000 in rent for every year you’re in construction. Amortized over 30 years this building+land is costing you $28.8M more than building on a dirt patch, plus the cost of tearing down a 4 story building.

    In other words, this just doesn’t happen in the current market. It will eventually if we let prices get high enough, but that seems a little crazy when we’re artificially limiting our multifamily zoning to 13% of our land area (compared to 60% for single family homes).

  61. 61
    Azucar says:

    By redmondjp @ :

    By Rudolfo @ :

    These are terrific posts.
    The telecommuting thing is interesting. If it is more widely adopted (big if), commutes matter less. Selecting a home for lifestyle becomes more important. It is interesting to think about how that could shape the demographics of a metropolis.

    Yes, it would be difficult to telecommute to a Broadway play.

    Telecommuting could definitely be a game-changer, IF enough companies agree to allow it. But for some work situations, it doesn’t work. I’ve been working full-time for over 25 years now, and usually when I was working with a customer (esp. if at their workplace), I could get more done with them in a 2-hour meeting than in 6-months of back-and-forth emailing and teleconferences – that always amazed me, but there is something about the face-to-face interaction that cannot be replicated via a remote connection.

    I think that as technology gets better and better the need for face to face interaction becomes less and less…

    It’s getting easier and easier to telecommute… even to a broadway play

    http://www.playbill.com/news/article/schedule-of-upcoming-live-theatre-broadcasts-in-movie-theatres-and-on-telev-322823

    or the Opera

    http://www.metopera.org/metopera/liveinhd/live-in-hd-2014-15-season

  62. 62
    fred says:

    RE: Tired of SWE Rantings @

    Software Engineer is well-informed: there are increasing numbers of harmful bacteria in the Sound resulting from loss of permeable land surface due to development. Seems quite relevant. Refreshing to see that at least one person’s thinking goes beyond monetization of everything.

  63. 63

    RE: Deerhawke @ – I knew things had gotten bad, but THAT bad?

    (Below 85th St:

    Teardown, $450-600K
    Serious fixer, $600-700K
    Light fixer, $700-800K
    OK but still too small house that you will start to think about remodeling immediately, $800-850K.
    Nicely remodeled older house that is move-in ready, but it might have its share of quirks above, $850K )

    Thoughts:

    1. Below 85th and above…… where, would you say?
    2. According to this, in the summer of 2012 I paid “serious fixer” prices for what would now cost north of $850K. I find that hard to believe, even given that I live in Magnolia (we’re near Magnolia Manor, so definitely not the most expensive part of the neighborhood).
    3. Then again, the duplex next to the one I own in Hawthorne Hills just sold for $700K. And it probably does fall somewhere in the current “light fixer” category. Makes me wonder what I could get for mine…

  64. 64
    Deerhawke says:

    The market really turned around at the beginning of 2012 although perceptions took a while longer to come around to the fact that the recovery was real. I would be more than glad to buy anything now at 2012 prices.

  65. 65

    RE: Deerhawke @ – It sounds like I bought at the one time doing so made financial sense. Lucky me, I guess!

  66. 66
    herrbrahms says:

    @43 “Burning hydrocarbons on a small single use scale. e.g. to heat a single home is an inefficient use of the resource.”

    You’re absolutely right. Every SFH should be equipped with a small 24kW nuclear reactor. Being residentially sized, fueling would only have to occur once every 25 years, and it’s not that big a deal for the family and pets to schedule a 2 week vacation so that the men in lead coats can tear down the reactor. Overhaul only takes two days, but the 12 day buffer is provided in case any cesium-137 or iodine-131 are released and have some time to decay.

    Oh wait, you’re talking about electrically heating a home using grid power? That already doesn’t pencil out, even with a 200% efficient heat pump. With Seattle City Light raising rates at over 2x inflation for the foreseeable future, a gas furnace, gas water heater, and perhaps gas clothes dryer have never made better sense than they do right now.

  67. 67
    LarryB says:

    By herrbrahms @ :

    Every SFH should be equipped with a small 24kW nuclear reactor.

    That’ll bring new meaning to older folks letting their homes melt around them.

  68. 68
    Iskra says:

    In conversations about density the backyard cottage idea is given short shrift. Done well, with a modest footprint and careful landscaping it can provide an enormous amount of increased density without sacrificing charm or the green canopy that makes Seattle still livable for not just humans but nature. I do not support ADU’s bigger than 1,000 square feet, because at that scale I think the impact on neighbors’ light and privacy as well as the existing natural environment tips to the negative.

    I have just written about the benefits of the cottage solution, and the ecological benefits of the single family dwelling with a yard on my blog at http://iskrafineart.com/in-defense-of-the-back-yard-urban-density-and-urban-eden/. I have created a cottage situation on my own property, and now have double the density of both humans AND birds. We may think that the Northwest will be drought-free and temperate forever, but if we build unlimited density based on that assumption I predict it will be only a matter of time until we face the crisis of cities like Brazil’s biggest city, São Paulo, where density and deforestation have created an urban hotspot and increased drought, in a vicious cycle. That city is quite literally OUT OF WATER. We cannot continue to build cities without keeping the other citizens of the region, the birds, the bees, the insects, the worms, in mind. Extinguish the wild, and we extinguish our relationship to the wild, and eventually ourselves. Ignore the ecosystem and it will come back to bite us, big time.

    We need new building codes that foster green space everywhere, not just in “parks.” The current requirement for ADU’s that they come with parking spaces on the property just leads to unnecessary pavement, runoff, and expense –when in many of the single family neighborhoods where ADU’s make sense on-street parking is plentiful. (Thank you @LarryB for bringing this up.) There is a lot more to this issue –I hope you will click through to read the full article I have posted and will pass it along for discussion.

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