Wednesday Links: October 18

Comments are open for proposed zoning changes that would allow ADU (Accessory Dwelling Units) and backyard cottages in Seattle.  It’s a tiny step toward fixing a large housing problem, but enough tiny steps add up.  I suspect permitting ADUs is a much more palatable route to the city’s single-family home dire hards than some of the other density proposals out there, including abolishing single-family-zoning entirely.

We finally have approved building designs for the Capitol Hill station, the development to go above the light rail station that opened last year.  The station opened early, but breaking ground on the accompanying development has taken its own sweet time, and we aren’t there yet.  This will add inventory to the apartment market in Capitol Hill, which is a good thing, and create community space with extremely easy access from outside the neighborhood, which is also good; having people in Capitol Hill for something other than the night life is always a good thing.

And in case you were wondering why people are concerned about wanting more inventory on the market, or whether it’s had any effect, it looks like the cost of living in Seattle is up to $75,000 per year, and a lot of that is due to the cost of housing.

Wednesday Links: June 14

This week’s news is all about MHA.  MHA is the Mandatory Housing Affordability program that’s part of a city-wide rezoning project to increase density while requiring developers who take advantage of the new zoning to contribute to Seattle’s supply of affordable housing either by including units in their development project, or paying an equivalent fee into a city fund to do the same.  Reviews of the zoning changes have been going on neighborhood by neighborhood over the last year, with East Lake, Downtown, and the University District already getting easy approval.  Things slowed down a bit when the Council began looking at the International District and Central areas.

Related, the draft Environmental Impact Study on different strategies for implementing zoning changes has been released and the public comment period is open on it.  Earlier today I attended (the first?) public presentation of the findings, which focused on comparing to different MHA approaches to projections where no MHA programs take effect.  One of the strategies focused on a neighborhood’s displacement risk and it’s accessibility to opportunity in making its decisions.  While both programs have very similar net effects across the city, the differences at the neighborhood level are stark.  If you’d like to get a look at the reports, data, and places for you to leave your official comments (which will be answered in the final report) this is the page for you to watch.  I’ll probably be talking about this more as the process continues since this is going to have a huge impact on the local housing market.

Wednesday Links: May 10

The sun has been making regular appearances and the mercury is rising, so check out this map of Washington State’s depressing place names and the stories behind them.  My favorite is #4, Desolation Peak, but I do have a literary bias so it was cheating by getting Jack Kerouac involved.

Rent prices are continuing to do interesting things, by which I mean, they’re still going up, but not uniformly and not at the rates we’ve been seeing.  (Rents showing a slight drop in Capitol Hill? I’m wondering if that’s a data blip, or a settling out now that the light rail has been open for a while.)  We’re still ranking in the top 10 nationally across a variety of sources.  Rent prices in the region are a very important metric to watch for assessing the state of the housing market as a whole.  We have a lot of outside investors, but not enough to power the entire market, and rents are a good indicator for where the locals are going to stand when they assess their relationship to the market.

That’s important because this year may or may not be the year that kicks off a genuine housing bubble.  The housing stats since November have been an ambivalent will-we-won’t-we mix, and that’s continuing.  So far we’ve been leaning more toward the won’t-we side, but March showed signs of a shift.  April doesn’t appear to have supported that.  Inventory is still low, but the number of sales finally dropped, and there are some indications that prices are starting to plateau.  Those are both really good signs that the market isn’t getting frothy and the growth we’ve seen in the last few years have been a natural correction in response to the recession.  It’s not definitive, though, and we’ll have to keep watching the numbers as the year continues.  If sales continue to fall and prices hit a definitive plateau, we’ll be in good shape.  Give us a couple years for inventory to correct toward something reasonable, and we might even see a sane market again.

Wednesday Links: April 26

Transportation is this week’s theme, with SDOT announcing a new pilot program that will allow shuttles for private companies to use regular bus stops for their pick ups and drop offs.  This is pitched as an effort to more efficiently use public curb space.  The shuttle stops are currently available only to Microsoft and Children’s Hospital shuttles, and the shared stops are concentrated mostly in the dense neighborhoods near downtown and the canal, but there’s also a pilot stop in West Seattle.  It’ll be interesting to see how sharing the space will work out.

Sharing space is part of what helped the new 520 bridge bag the prestigious ACEC award for engineering on an infrastructure project.  Not only does the bridge float, but it has capacity to support pedestrian and bike traffic and, someday, will support the light rail’s expansion across Lake Washington.  That is, in fact, pretty nifty, and it’s great to see our bridge get that level of recognition.

Speaking of congestion and increased capacity…okay this is a stretch, but the Seattle Bubble has a good analysis of the new Case-Shiller numbers for February.  We’re still growing faster than we were before.  Yay!  (This is going to be a long, long summer market.)

Wednesday Links: April 5

If you’re a data nerd at all, you should probably be reading the Seattle Bubble on your own regularly, because their analysis is great.  For example, they dug into the January data from the Case-Shiller index and look at more than just price growth in Seattle, but give good context for how it compares to other rapidly growing metropolitan areas including, important to the Seattle market, San Francisco.  With as much interest as we get from Bay Area investors, a softening in the market there is likely to have an impact on the Seattle market (though probably not a huge one unless it was part of something bigger) so it’s something worth keeping an eye on.

There’s more evidence that trends in rent prices from the last several years might be shifting.  A slow down in increases isn’t remotely the same as rents going down, but it’s still good news as far as I’m concerned.  With upzoning approvals around the city already rolling in, and plenty more in the pipeline, hopefully the next few years will bring a slow down in rent hikes across the city.  We’re at a place where rents are high enough to keep the market happy to build new inventory for quite a while; stabilizing things will let buyers be more thoughtful about their choices in jumping ship to buy, hopefully easing some of the inventory trouble we’re having and shoring up against the kind of frenzy that would tilt us toward a burst-ready bubble.  (I started in the industry right after the last bubble burst.  It was fun to be a buyer’s agent then, but I’m not eager to go back to it.)  In summary: Yay, less exorbitant rent hikes!

Speaking of pipelines: Bertha made it!  Yo go, you tardy, over budget girl.  I must confess, I was one of those, “That’s never actually getting done,” doubters.  It got done.  Finally.  Being a doubter doesn’t make me less proud of that giant drill that eventually could.

Wednesday Links: March 15

The news this week is a little more focused on community than markets.  WSDOT released a very neat video of the SR 99 tunnel in progress and Bertha, the ginormous (that’s a technical term) drill digging the tunnel.

Pike/Pine is getting a little bit tastier, but not how you’d expect. A culinary student is setting up a center to bring chefs and gardeners together for everyone’s improved yumminess. There may have been a more serious point about understanding ingredient origins and incubating variety, but I got distracted.

The Seattle Renters Commission made it a step closer to becoming a real thing and is up for final approval on Monday.  This is looking like a very good thing to me; a lot of investors want rental properties that will be attractive, and the commission is poised to improve community amenities to increase that attractiveness in a large swath of areas.

Bussing Broker: Week 31

Super busy this week, but I made it out for a quick tour today.  I snagged a ride on the 49 to take a look at some properties at the north end of the neighborhood.  Today was a great day for properties with a view – lots of dramatic clouds over the water with piercing sunlight.

One of the upsides, for me, of touring Capitol Hill is that at this point, I know a lot of the other brokers who work the area.  Touring means we can swap stories about how the market is doing, and check in on transactions and clients we wouldn’t otherwise hear about.  One the tour properties I visited today was being held open by an agent who very generously shared a ton of information about co-ops and how they work, way back when I first moved to the Seattle market.  I had virtually zero chance of bringing a buyer to her, but she spent time with me anyway.  That was an area where I didn’t even know there was information for me to look into – co-ops in Seattle aren’t like co-ops elsewhere.  It was a big kindness and very welcoming experience to have early on.  Today I got to see another of her listings and pay that back a bit with feedback based on what I’m seeing with my buyers.  That’s a good day.

Location: Capitol Hill
Time: 1 hour
Transit modes: Bus, foot
Cost: $2.25
Cats petted: 0
Tea consumed: Hot cider
Properties Viewed: 3

Bussing Broker: Week 25

We’re back!

Happy autumn.  I really should have expected that the entire summer would go by before I had time to make a habit of property tour again, but here we are.  I did get back in with enthusiasm.

Yesterday I hopped onto my bike and took a look at two properties, a house in Wallingford and a condo in Fremont.  Round trip was two hours, but most of that was time on the bike.

Today I hit four condos in Capitol Hill (and returned a stack of books to the library).  There were a lot more buyers out doing the open house tour than I’m used to seeing which was fun for me.

How was your summer?

Location: Fremont, Wallingford, Capitol Hill
Time: 3
Transit modes: Bike, feet
Cost: $0
Cats petted: 0
Tea consumed: Early Gray
Properties Viewed: 6

Bussing Broker: Week 23

The business continues, so it’s another sneaking out on Thursday lunch break for tour week.  I originally intended to see only three properties for a fairly quick tour, but the weather was so nice that a tossed in a fourth that wasn’t that much further away.  Also, it was a penthouse with a view, and it’s rarely a mistake to spend a little time taking a look at those.

This is definitely another week where I’d have skipped tour if not for my dedication to science.  Even if I’d had a car I probably would have walked; parking in Capitol Hill is not fun and things were close enough that they’d have likely had overlapping parking spots.

Location: Capitol Hill / East Lake
Time: 1.5 hours
Transit modes: Foot
Cost: $0
Cats petted: 1
Tea consumed: Strawberry milk tea
Properties Viewed: 4

Bussing Broker: Week 22

This week has been so busy and it was insufferably hot until yesterday.  I want to hug today’s weather and invite it to stay all summer.

I ducked out for a walk and hit three properties on tour today.  I wouldn’t have bothered except I wanted to have something to report here.  I’d been to three counties and on five kinds of transportation by the end of the day Tuesday. So instead of rambling about today’s tour, which happened but isn’t terribly, interesting, I’m going to share a story from Monday.

In the last two years I’ve been doing a lot more work on vacant land deals than I had in my career before.  Vacant land is just making a lot more sense for buyers than it used to.  They can’t live on it, but frequently they can’t afford to buy something they can live on right now, anyway.  At the same time, they have some resources at their disposal.  At the rate the market is growing, and with the rents keeping up with that growth, a lot of buyers are in a position where they won’t be ready to buy in today’s market for a year or two, by which time the market will be out of reach again.  So they buy land, and that gets those resources tied into the market at large.  Eventually they’ll save enough to build, or they’ll be able to sell it and have a down payment that has grown with the market.  Since transactions on vacant land aren’t moving as quickly has transactions on houses, it also means those buyers have time to think about the purchase and make sure it’s a good idea for them in a way they don’t buying a house or condo.  It’s not a path I’d recommend for everybody, but there’s a significant portion of my clients where this is a really viable option in a market that would, otherwise, block them out.

Showing vacant land, however, does not work the way showing houses does.  A point illustrated very elaborately for me on Monday.

I had a client who wanted to see a lot in a gated community outside Seattle.  I’d contacted the listing broker ahead of time to arrange access; there was a box we could put a code in to open the gate and go into the community.  Great!  Except, not so much.  The box was dead and completely unresponsive when we got there.  So I called the listing agent for advice.

And that, gentle reader, is what led to me scaling the fence to a gated community, in broad daylight, during rush hour on a busy street, then flailing my arms like a mad woman to trigger a motion sensor so the gate would open.  Nobody called the police or stopped to ask me what I was doing.

I can now say that I’ve professionally broken into a gated community.  Credentials like that are just one small part of why I love my job!

Location: Capitol Hill
Time: 1.25 hours
Transit modes: Foot
Cost: $0
Cats petted: 0
Tea consumed: Iced basil-infused oolong with honey
Properties Viewed: 3