The PI’s Article on Seattle’s Townhome Market

I was reading an article in the Seattle PI online last week, entitled “Townhouse Market Slows.”   

This topic of the main article wasn’t really news to me, as one of our sister companies (Real Property Development Company, LLC) develops zero lotline townhomes and we’ve seen a slowdown that is beyond just “seasonal” since late September.  We’re a little builder, a few projects a year, but as brokers and property managers we also sell and manage a number of these somewhat unique properties in greater Seattle.  So we’re definitely in that market — in fact one of our agents who lists much of our inventory, Doug Holman, has his Zillow profile set as “Townhome Guru.”

So while the article itself wasn’t newsworthy to us or anyone else in the biz, the comments were quite revealing.  It started off as a discussion of townhome pricing, then moved into talk about the relative quality of the townhomes themselves, and finally into a discussion of whether townhomes are the “right” infill product.  A few contributors bashed them, then some townhome owners piped in saying how much they love them.  A few nuggets: 

Yeah, …the “forest” of townhomes built north of 85th Street, from I-5 to Aurora are just atrocious. I don’t know why anyone would purchase there, either. I can just imagine driving home in my SUV, trying to squeeze into those tiny little driveways and jamming myself into my microscopic parking space, just to go upstairs and watch TV. There’s no where to walk to from that area of town, no sense of wanting to be a part of the community. Yuch. You might as well live in Mont Lake (sic) Terrace.

And in response:

…the new townhomes in North (85th and up), West (Delridge), and the Lake City areas of Seattle provide a great opportunity for first time buyers and lower income buyers. These residences can be purchased starting in the low $300’s, they are energy efficient, often have forced air and radiant heating, brand new everything, a warranty, the insurance and taxes are less than a regular (older) house and there are no association dues. If one was to attempt to purchase a single family house in these same neighborhoods…. they’d be looking at a house built in the 1920’s,30’s,40s; that could need a new roof; rewiring; plumbing; has uneven/slanted flooring that makes you feel like you are walking in a fun house; a “mildewy” interior odor; a crack in the foundation; asbestos based siding; single paned windows; an oil tank buried in the yard; etc


I love my townhouse! And I’m not a first-time buyer either. My husband and I sold our quarter acre lot with its 1929 farmhouse to move to a less demanding home and property…

So there are some mixed feelings on this type of property, but clearly for those who are buying them, it’s working out.  These units are still selling, even in this changed market, and at prices per square foot that are much lower than nearly any other housing option (<$300 as compared to most conversion or new condos at > $375).  They’re not nearly as cool as San Francisco’s row houses (here’s one “blue collar neighborhood” where a good friend bought in ’96, for $400,000 — look at the east birdseye view), but I think it’s a huge upgrade, in most cases, from the dilapidated rental stock that they replace.  And it works in the spirit of meeting Seattle’s density goal, which I think is good too.

Our office manager bought one of our units early last year, at 92nd and Stone, in the north part of the “forest” noted above.  She cut 45 minutes each way off her commute to our Maple Leaf office (she was in Mill Creek prior) with this $330,000 unit, and she also picked up two extra bedrooms and two baths over her prior apartment (total of 4 br, 2.5 bth).  Which works well, as since her purchase she’s gotten been married, and her second child is due in two weeks!  So she loves it.  Here’s her site’s before and after: 

It wasn’t as nice as it looks here; rented for thirty+ years, two huge dogs, truckloads of debris:

And during demo:  1157-2.jpg




And now:

I’ll blog soon and talk about a typical site that we purchase for townhome development; why we purchase it; and how it fits into Seattle’s zoning.   It will be a chance to share some of the packet of photos I just received from the King County Archives — pictures of homes that we’ve bought and are preparing to demolish.  They tell a good story about how these sites have evolved over the past 100 years. 


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