Dang, my inbox has been flooded with stories lately. Here’s a recap of some of the more interesting ones related to the local housing market. Click below to read tales of rising rents, flaming hot office markets, expensive and stale listings, virtual property tours, disappearing mortgage options, booming condos, and more!
This one’s pretty long, so here’s a table of contents so you can jump straight to any of the stories that particularly interest you.
- Rental rates on rise
- Investors Lining Up for Pieces of Seattle’s Comeback
- Seattle returns to an era of mattress-filled garages
- Dream homes, few takers
- Real $3.1M mansion causes a virtual stir
- Options for mortgages narrow in South Sound
- Can Kitsap’s Condo Boom Continue?
- an amusing pair of headlines
First up, it’s the usual scare-mongering from the Times about the coming renter-pocalypse. Only this time, it’s Snohomish that the renters will be priced out of. Because, you know, rental rates will just keep on skyrocketing, beyond anyone’s ability to pay. That’s how rent works.
Kirsten Orsini-Meinhard, Rental rates on rise:
Snohomish County apartment hunters, get ready to clean out your wallets.
Rents are ballooning in many cities, even surpassing increases in some areas of Seattle.
Lynnwood, South Everett, Edmonds and Mukilteo are leading the pack, with rents jumping by as much as almost 14 percent in the past year and reaching an average of almost $900 a month in some cities.
The New York Times has picked up on the fact that Seattle’s lateness to the economic recovery party, and lateness to the housing market slowdown have made it a great place to invest those commercial dollars—for now.
Kristina Shevory, Investors Lining Up for Pieces of Seattle’s Comeback:
The Seattle office market has made a spectacular recovery in the last few years. As a result many real estate investors want to park their money there.
Seattle is now on every investor’s shopping list. This year, the city was deemed the best place in the country to buy and sell office buildings in the Urban Land Institute’s annual survey of real estate professionals. Office vacancies are at a six-year low of 7.7 percent, and downtown landlords are getting as much as $50 a square foot annually, according to Grubb & Ellis, a real estate brokerage firm.
It is a big change from a few years ago. Seattle’s economy, hammered by the tech bust and a drop-off in jet orders after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, was on life support. Computer programmers, who had fielded multiple job offers only a year before, were suddenly out of work. Tens of thousands of people were laid off. Vacancy rates for offices topped out at 18 percent, rents sank to $26.30 a square foot and new construction ground to a halt.
Then, three years ago, Seattle emerged from its economic deep freeze. Companies resumed hiring, developers started building and the port handled record cargo shipments. The recession, which hit Seattle harder and lasted longer there than elsewhere in the country, was finally over.
The current construction surge might eclipse the last one. There are now 31 projects, with more than 7.5 million square feet of space, on the books in the city. In a previous construction boom that ended in 2001, more than four million square feet of office space was built.
I thought this one was interesting, because the columnist actually spent a few minutes to do some actual research and discovered the reason that all those trendy new townhomes have nearly unusable garages.
Bruce Ramsey, Seattle returns to an era of mattress-filled garages:
The newest trend in Seattle housing — the townhouse — has led to the rebirth of an old architectural form: the unusable garage.
An architectural form newly popular, the townhouse offers homeownership at less than the price of a comparable new house. This one sold last year for about $375,000. It is in a cluster of four, which is the most common package: two buildings, one behind the other.
One building is along a quiet street and the other on an alley. Each building has two townhouses and two garages. The right way to do the garages would be two facing the street and two facing the alley — the right way, that is, if the owners were expected to put cars in them. But this project has all four garages facing inward, into a constricted “auto court” between the buildings.
The unit I visited was next to the driveway connecting the auto court to the alley. To use its garage, the owner would have to drive from the alley and back into a narrow, one-car opening with a turn as if parallel parking. Exiting would require a similar maneuver.
The owners don’t do this. They park on the street.
Why build unfriendly garages? The builders say the city makes them do it. The city allows a townhouse project to have only one driveway to the street, and if the property abuts an alley, they have to use that.
Devona Wells, Dream homes, few takers:
Known for having some of the biggest houses and miles of shoreline, the Gig Harbor area holds another, less desirable distinction: Pierce County’s largest supply of for-sale homes.
Gig Harbor’s inventory of such houses and condominiums stood at 9.7 months in July, according to statistics compiled by Northwest Multiple Listing Service director Dick Beeson. The number measures how long it would take to sell every home that’s listed, putting Gig Harbor deep into a buyer’s market.
And hundreds more homes are planned.
Developers and real estate agents point to several factors that contribute to today’s depth of supply beyond a general market malaise, including prior buyer hesitation over construction of the second Narrows bridge and a tucked-away location that makes it difficult to commute beyond Tacoma.
CNN Money makes a big deal about this $3.1 million home and all the “interest from prospective buyers” in an online world that I highly doubt people with that kind of money spend their time in. In any case, it should be interesting to keep an eye on the house in question, to see how long it sits on the market, and how much it eventually sells for.
Jessica Dickler, Real $3.1M mansion causes a virtual stir:
Gone are the days of browsing through the newspaper in search of houses on the market. Now, most potential buyers look online and and view slide shows. But soon they’ll be walking virtually through homes and even sneaking a look at what’s in the refrigerator.
That’s what Coldwell Banker is banking on. The real estate firm has created a brightly colored, three-dimensional reproduction of a $3.1 million property on Mercer Island, Wash. in Second Life.
The newly constructed house Mercer Island, currently listed for sale by one of Coldwell Banker’s Seattle outposts, is attracting a lot of interest from prospective buyers within the virtual community, despite its hefty price tag.
Rolf Boone, Options for mortgages narrow in South Sound:
Nate and Lee Szczublewski of Olympia experienced firsthand the rapidly changing requirements of qualifying for a home loan when they bought their first house in May.
The Szczublewskis, who used to rent an apartment in Hattiesburg, Miss., moved to South Sound to be closer to Lee Szczublewski’s parents.
They moved here in October and soon found their first home with real estate agent Ted Leland of Abbey Realty.
Qualifying for a home loan, however, wasn’t easy for the Szczublewskis because of increasingly tighter lending standards, or the outright elimination of certain riskier mortgage products.
“It felt like it changed a million times in three months,” Lee Szczublewski said about their mortgage.
The Szczublewskis, who have good credit, first qualified for a mortgage that didn’t require a down payment, Leland said.
But that didn’t last long, he said. Suddenly, the Szczublewskis needed to come up with a down payment of five percent, he said.
“Another week and they would’ve had to put 10 percent down,” Leland said.
Josh Farley, Can Kitsap’s Condo Boom Continue?:
The numbers affirm what those frequenting downtown waterfronts on Bainbridge Island and in Bremerton already know: Condos in Kitsap, like everywhere else in Washington, are real estate’s hottest ticket.
The median condominium price in Kitsap County jumped from $186,450 a year ago to $320,075 in July, a 72 percent increase, according to Northwest Multiple Listing Service numbers released last week.
Of course, those numbers are helped by projects like the 180-unit Harbor Square on Bainbridge and the 78-unit Harborside in Bremerton, which put plush, upscale dwellings a short walk from Seattle ferry runs.
Be careful what you wish for. A true “correction” and “return to normal” would shave at least 25% off of today’s home prices in King County.
(Kirsten Orsini-Meinhard, Seattle Times, 08.08.2007)
(Kristina Shevory, New York Times, 08.08.2007)
(Bruce Ramsey, Seattle Times, 08.08.2007)
(Devona Wells, Tacoma News Tribune, 08.05.2007)
(Jessica Dickler, CNN Money, 08.09.2007)
(Rolf Boone, The Olympian, 08.12.2007)
(Josh Farley, Kitsap Sun, 08.12.2007)
(Jack Guttentag, Seattle Times, 08.11.2007)
(Dan Seymour, Seattle Times, 08.11.2007)