McMansions, Condo Conversions, Delays, & Sunny Ballard

Time again already for another inbox-clearing story roundup.

First up, the Seattle City Council is apparently in a development-regulating mood lately. Not only are they tackling the ugly townhome issue, now they’re going after “megahomes” as well.

After years of complaints about suburban-sized homes that devour lawns and encroach on neighbors, the Seattle City Council plans next month to consider limiting the size of some larger homes in single-family neighborhoods.

But changes that politically are palatable enough to pass may not quiet neighbors’ objections entirely.

With roughly 65 percent of Seattle zoned for single families, politicians historically have been wary of changes affecting so many homeowners.

A proposal crafted by City Council President Richard Conlin, which the council is expected to discuss next month, may be a starting point.

On smaller single-family lots, his proposal would reduce a home’s maximum footprint to provide larger buffers and more green space between properties.

With energy prices shooting through the roof lately, and the prevailing winds blowing in the “green” direction, this seems to be a case of “to little, too late.” I think that like the SUV, the days of dominance for the McMansion are fading.

But that’s not the only new housing issue the Seattle City Council is taking up. They also took a vote on Monday regarding relocation assistance for condo conversions.

Developers who convert apartments into condos would have to pay some moderate- and low-income Seattleites considerably more in moving expenses under a measure approved Mondy by the City Council.

The council voted 8-0 to increase the amount of relocation assistance that developers pay from $500 to three times the monthly rent, for tenants making 80 percent of local median income or less.

The measure would also require developers to pay more in relocation help to some elderly tenants or others with special needs. The legislation goes to Mayor Greg Nickels.

The council also gave developers a break Monday: They would more easily qualify for an affordable housing tax break by including condos or apartments affordable to moderate-income residents under another measure approved by the council.

Because you know the condo-conversion wave is just getting started, after all. Developers are just going crazy, building as much as they possibly can…

or maybe not.

Kemper Development has pushed back the timetable for its proposed Lincoln Square expansion in downtown Bellevue by at least 15 months.

The company had planned to break ground on the high-rise, mixed-use project by next spring. But Chairman and Chief Executive Kemper Freeman Jr. said Monday that construction won’t start until summer 2010 at the earliest.

He attributed the delay to the slowdown in the local condo market and to logistic complications the company would have encountered if it had expanded Lincoln Square while it was building a major addition to its Bellevue Square mall across Bellevue Way Northeast.

“We thought we could do it all at once,” Freeman said. “We finally said, ‘That’s nuts.'”

But hey, let’s end this post on a positive note. I bet you didn’t know that Ballard is still totally immune to the housing bust. Well, it is.

Despite the constant drumbeat of housing doom and gloom reported nationally, Ballard’s single-family home market is still rosy but has a few faded blooms.

Nationwide, home values have dropped nearly15 percent in one year. Florida’s market is swamped with listings and Las Vegas real estate investors lost their shirts.

However, according to Multiple Listing Service statistics in the Ballard zip codes 98107 and 98117, the average selling price is only down about 8 percent.

Inventory of single-family homes and townhouses for May and June is 222, nearly double that of last year’s listings, and average time on the market is now two months, twice last year’s. Still, area realtors and lenders say the market is relatively strong.

“The best stuff, like a sweetheart of a house on a pretty street in a nice neighborhood is getting full price, sometimes higher,” said Michael Busacca, a realtor with Skyline Properties’ Northgate office.

“The media beats us up,” complained realtor Kevin Isaminger of Re/Max in Bellevue, who has listings in Ballard, and West Seattle where he lives. He said potential buyers lack confidence in the local market due to pessimistic news reports of troubled markets in other regions.

That darn media.

(Jennifer Langston, Seattle P-I, 06.30.2008)
(Angela Galloway, Seattle P-I, 06.30.2008)
(Eric Pryne, Seattle Times, 07.01.2008)
(Steve Shay, Ballard News-Tribune, 06.30.2008)

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.


  1. 1
    David McManus says:

    Yep, as one real estate professional told me, it’s all media hype!

  2. 2
    B&W Nikes says:

    “On smaller single-family lots, his (Conlin’s) proposal would reduce a home’s maximum footprint to provide larger buffers and more green space between properties.”

    Oh goody, we’ll get even weirder townhome configurations courtesy of weaving more byzantine city requirements densely together. Don’t they realize that we have so many fugly townhomes now largely due to this same reasoning deficit? And they’ll be guided into producing even smaller units to allow for more empty space between lots? Yet more undistilled genius.

    The council needs to be sent on long field trips to study working urban communities and then quickly re-deposited in their chambers with pens in hand before the moss grows back over their eyelids. Jeez.

  3. 3
    B&W Nikes says:

    maybe i didn’t read it correctly. somebody hit me with some reality or nuke that post…

  4. 4
    David McManus says:

    And in other breaking news….

  5. 5
    obelus says:

    And the CEO says, “Starbucks says the aggregate pretax charges for the store closures will range from $328 million to $348 million.”

    Now I for great the reason RE cheerleaders will give for the resilient Seattle economy that never goes awry….

  6. 6
    jon says:

    “Now I for great the reason RE cheerleaders will give for the resilient Seattle economy that never goes awry….”

    Umm, because when you close money losing stores you end up with more money?

  7. 7
    Tsuru says:

    Umm, because when you close money losing stores you end up with more money?

    “More” money? That’s a good trick. Spend a pile of money opening new stores, close them because they’re not making money, suddenly, MORE money. Wow! That’s quite the business plan.

  8. 8
    deejayoh says:

    apparently 3/4 of the stores were opened 2006 or later. that’s going to be expensive to shut them down.

  9. 9
    b says:

    B&W –

    Townhomes are always fugly, restrictions or not.

  10. 10
    Everett_Tom says:

    In honor of Starbucks’ decision, Antagonistic Ink has done a comic.

  11. 11
    WestSideBilly says:

    I think that’s the most typos ever in a post by The_Tim.

  12. 12
    The Tim says:

    WSB, typos?

  13. 13
    Joel says:

    Maybe this: “Because you the condo-conversion wave is just getting started…”

  14. 14
    The Tim says:

    Ah, there does appear to be a missing word there. Fixed.

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