Emerald City: Urban Planning for Seattle

Seattle-Beautiful-View_1600x1200_6029.jpgThe population of Seattle in 2010 was 608,660, up from 563,375 in 2000, and it’s still growing. According to the Seattle Department of Planning and Development, that number could increase by 70,000 over the next 20 years. Lawrence W. Cheek’s article in The Seattle Times, “Small-scale solutions to Seattle’s huge urban-housing needs,” highlights the demand for more city housing.

How do developers meet housing needs in densely populated areas? Small-scale solutions are one focal point for Seattle architects and builders. Bill Parks, a longtime developer, works to create multi-residential housing options that offer a real sense of community. His current Ballard project at 24th Avenue and 65th Street is a five-story apartment complex that feels neighborly. “Its three buildings will surround a courtyard with a fountain, and the public — the larger neighborhood — won’t be locked out of the courtyard, at least not during the day. It’s a modest and cautious gesture toward openness, but in a rapidly densifying Seattle it stakes out a principle that’s increasingly rare.”

As Seattle developers and architects work to keep pace with population growth, they might take some cues from the successful strategies used by other big cities. Brent Toderian, President of Toderian UrbanWorks in Vancouver, Canada, suggests three necessary components for density done well in Planetizen.com.

  1. Multi-modal transportation
  2. High architectural standards
  3. Amenities that support public life
Vancouver, one of the most densely populated cities in North America after New York City and San Francisco, is considered a very livable metropolitan area. The city’s urban planning has focused on high-rise residential and mixed-use development rather than urban sprawl. As a result, the city has been able to maintain both a large population and lots of open space, and these priorities certainly resonate with those who reside in and around the Emerald City.

– See more at: http://bobneal.info/2013/09/24/urban-planning-in-the-emerald-city/#sthash.3a1TIF4e.dpuf

Seattle Market Review

Seattle inventorySeattle housing prices rise as U.S. cities post solid gains:

U.S. home prices jumped 12.1 percent in April from a year ago, buoyed by strong demand and a limited supply of available homes. Strong gains in most cities measured point to a broad-based housing recovery. The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city home-price index released Tuesday also showed a 2.5 percent increase in April from March, the biggest month-over-month gain on records dating back to 2000.Source: The Seattle Times, July 2, 2013 http://seattletimes.com/html/businesstechnology/2021266046_caseshillerxml.html

New apartments in Seattle area don’t halt rise in rents:

Despite the construction of more new apartments this year than in any year in the past two decades, rent prices in King and Snohomish counties have continued to rise while vacancies remain low, according to a leading research firm. While the price bump doesn’t bode well for renters, the relatively seamless absorption of more than 2,000 new apartments indicates a healthy rental market, said Tom Cain of Apartment Insights, an industry analysis firm.Source: The Seattle Times, July 1, 2013 http://seattletimes.com/html/businesstechnology/2021308680_rentpricesxml.html

Seattle-area Realtors ‘desperate’ for more houses as market sizzles:

Low- to mid-priced houses for sale in Western Washington are getting as many as seven offers, a real estate group said Wednesday. Rising mortgage rates, tight inventory and declining unemployment are driving more buyers into what is already an “extremely competitive housing market,” said OB Jacobi of the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.Source: Puget Sound Business Journal, July 3, 2013 http://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/news/2013/07/03/seattle-area-realtors-desperate-for.html?ana=e_sea_rdup&s=newsletter&ed=2013-07-05&u=g3qEy5+PUIyH77YLguBBiC7bz23&t=1373382927

King County median home price up 12.5 percent from June 2012:

The recession may have permanently hit paychecks and the number of jobs available, but median prices for homes sold in the Seattle area are approaching the peak hit six years ago before the housing market tanked. The Northwest Multiple Listing Service reported Wednesday that the median sale price of a single-family home in King County in June was $427,500, up 12.5 percent from the same month a year ago and up 2.4 percent from May. That’s just $27,500 from the highest median price of $455,000, July 2007.Source: The Seattle Times, July 3, 2013 http://seattletimes.com/html/businesstechnology/2021322836_junehomesalesxml.html

Residential real-estate market makes recovery:

After a bumpy 2011 and a slow-starting 2012, there is no disputing the residential real-estate market this year has pulled out of the depths of the mortgage crisis. For the last 18 months, the median home price in King County has gone up each month when compared to the same month a year ago. Since January, the median price also has gone up each month from the previous month. Median means half the homes sold for more, half for less. The high-water mark was set in July 2007, when the median price of a single-family home in King County was $481,000.Source: The Seattle Times, July 13, 2013 http://seattletimes.com/html/businesstechnology/2021376857_sundaybuzz14xml.htm

The ‘State of Seattle’ Survey 2012

Weber Shandwick’s third annual “State of Seattle” survey polled 500 local residents to find out their perceptions of the city, including the economy, civility, culture and the media. Here is a snapshot of what they found.


source: www.WeberShandwickSeattle.com


Will The Mortgage Forgiveness Act Be Extended?

helpAs the year winds down, we are getting more and more inquiries about the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 and whether or not it will be extended past its original expiration date of December 31, 2012. This is important as people who are selling their home through a short sale may be faced with a tax liability if they don’t close by the aforementioned date.

Here is the way the IRS explains the tax liability:

“If you borrow money from a commercial lender and the lender later cancels or forgives the debt, you may have to include the cancelled amount in income for tax purposes, depending on the circumstances. When you borrowed the money you were not required to include the loan proceeds in income because you had an obligation to repay the lender. When that obligation is subsequently forgiven, the amount you received as loan proceeds is normally reportable as income because you no longer have an obligation to repay the lender. The lender is usually required to report the amount of the canceled debt to you and the IRS on a Form 1099-C, Cancellation of Debt.

Here’s a very simplified example. You borrow $10,000 and default on the loan after paying back $2,000. If the lender is unable to collect the remaining debt from you, there is a cancellation of debt of $8,000, which generally is taxable income to you.”

What does the Act accomplish?

Let’s go back to the IRS for the explanation:

“Normally, debt that is forgiven or cancelled by a lender must be included as income on your tax return and is taxable. But the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act allows you to exclude certain cancelled debt on your principal residence from income. Debt reduced through mortgage restructuring, as well as mortgage debt forgiven in connection with a foreclosure, qualifies for the relief.”

(For more information on the ACT from the IRS, click here)

This relief also applies to most short sales. Therefore, the question of whether or not the Act will be extended is crucial for anyone considering selling their house through the short sale process.

Will the Act be extended past the end of the year?

No one knows for certain. Diana Olick of CNBC recently reported on the issue:

“So what is the possibility of congress extending the tax relief? One Hill-watcher puts it at 60-40. The Senate Finance Committee passed a package of tax extenders right before the recess, including a one year mortgage relief extension, but leadership in the House of Representatives has not figured out how it wants to handle these extenders. With the looming ‘fiscal cliff,’ tax cuts are an increasingly tough sell. This particular extension does have bipartisan support, but that doesn’t always mean passage in Congress, especially around a presidential election.”

Without knowing whether the Act will be extended, we suggest anyone considering selling via the short sale process do it now.

Source: KCM

Housing Market Lifts Off From the ‘Bottom’

off the bottomRecent housing indexes have shown single-family home prices are on the rise, providing more evidence that the “bottom” of the market is already behind.

"We’re wiping out just about all of the decline,” Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors, told NBC.com about recent housing data showing home prices inching up. “It indicates the market has turned the corner on the pricing side.”

Some recent housing indexes suggest that the “bottom” of the market was reached in January 2012. Since that time, housing prices have been picking up in many housing markets.

But "the turnaround in home prices was unexpected," says Patrick Newport, an economist with IHS Global Insight. "The conventional wisdom in February, following that landmark agreement [of the $26 billion mortgage settlement with the nation’s five largest banks], was that we would see a surge in foreclosures of some size that would lead to lower home prices. This surge never materialized and home prices have turned.”

Newport points to several signs of a housing market on the mend. For one, housing starts are up, after reaching a low in the fourth quarter of 2011. Also, he says the FHFA monthly House Price Index shows a 3.7 percent increase in May year-over-year, which he notes is higher than inflation and “means that real housing wealth, a consumer spending driver, was also up.”

The increase in home prices is also leading to a fewer number of home owners who are underwater on their mortgages, owing more on their mortgage than their home is currently worth. The number of underwater home owners fell from 12.1 million at the end of 2011 to 11.4 million at the end of the first quarter this year, according to CoreLogic data.

Source: “Evidence Mounts that Home Prices Hit Bottom Last Winter,” NBC News

Where Homes Are Selling the Fastest – Seattle # 4!


Since the Olympics start today, and we’ll be hearing about and watching very fast people, this seems appropriate.

The average number of days homes are spending on the market has dropped by nearly 10 percent nationwide in the last year, according to June housing data from REALTOR.com. The average U.S. home now spends 84 days on the market.

But in some housing markets, homes are selling even faster, spending an average of 45 days or less on the market before they sell. What’s more, many of these housing markets are having not only some of the speediest home sales but also some of the largest increases in median home prices compared to a year ago.

Here are seven metro areas that saw homes on the market for the fewest number of days in June, according to Realtor.com data:

  • Oakland, Calif.

Median days on the market: 24

  • Denver

Median days on the market: 33

  • Anchorage, Alaska

Median days on the market: 43

  • Fresno, Calif.

Median days on the market: 43

  • Bakersfield, Calif.

Median days on the market: 44

  • Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, Wash.

Median days on the market: 45

  • San Francisco, Calif.

Median days on the market: 45

Find out what other markets are seeing speedy sales at 24/7 Wall St.

Source: “American Cities Where Homes Sell Fastest,” 24/7 Wall St. (July 25, 2012

Good News: Interest Rates Will Remain Low

trends pics3.5 % Down Payments and Jumbo Loans Available

This is a great time to be looking for a new home. Historically low mortgage interest rates will remain low for the near future. Those low interest rates keep home purchases affordable, which is good news for buyers and sellers.

With the August United States’ debt ceiling crisis behind us, many people are starting to become more confident about buying or selling their homes.

Interest Rates

In early August, the Federal Reserve pledged to maintain historical low interest rates for another one to two years. Most likely, when the Fed’s pledge ends, interest rates will have to increase. However, we don’t anticipate a significant increase in interest rates until 2013 or later.

Down Payments

Even though underwriting for home loans has tightened up over the past several years and buyers are now required to put down larger down payments and have higher credit scores, the Federal Housing Administration, or FHA, still offers mortgages with a 3.5 percent down payment.

Expiring High Mortgage Balance Loan Limits

As a result of the 2008 mortgage crisis, loan limits were increased to allow more borrowers to secure conforming loans. On the first of October 2011, these temporary limits expired, and more buyers in higher-priced markets will need jumbo loans that will carry tighter qualifying requirements (i.e. credit scores) and slightly higher interest rates.

Although many banks stopped or significantly tightened lending underwriting for jumbo loan products when the housing crisis hit, they are now back in the market and filling the void created by the expiration of the higher loans balance. That’s good news for buyers needing jumbo loans and sellers of higher-priced properties.


The days of reckless lending and then the market’s pendulum swing to overly conservative lending practices are gone. The good news is that we are now back to sensible underwriting. Even though we have tougher qualifying requirements – larger down payments and higher credit scores – banks still want to provide mortgages, even at historically low interest rates. Call your broker for more information when planning to buy, sell or refinance your home.

Source: Trendgraphix, NWMLS

National Headlines and Local Real Estate Markets

Do National Real Estate Headlines Actually Influence Local Markets?

This is a question we are frequently asked. Local real estate professionals know the best information for either buyers or sellers is local market data. However, we must realize that what happens in the national real estate market dramatically impacts regional and local markets. For example:

Are 30 year mortgage interest rates in North Dakota under 4% because of what happened in the their market over the last few years?

Of course not. They benefit from lower rates because of what happened in the national economy (if not the world economy).

Buyers all over the country are concerned about the reports of distressed properties about to come to market and what impact they will have on house values. The truth is only a handful of states will be adversely affected. However, if overall consumer confidence is shaken, every market is impacted. This is why it is important that you work with a real estate professional that understands three things:

  1. What the national headlines are saying and why they are saying it

  2. What effect the issue may or MAY NOT have on your local market

  3. How to simply and effectively explain both of the above to you

Agents who just ignore national headlines are hiding their heads in the sand. Agents who use the headlines as scare tactics to unfairly influence the actions of their customers are engaging in unethical behavior. Agents who take the time to keep abreast of the national real estate issues and are patient in explaining how these issues will impact you in the local market are true professionals.

The first two types of agents could cost you dearly. The last group will maximize the outcome of your real estate transaction – both personally and financially.


4 Reasons Why Our Seattle Real Estate Market Is In Good Shape

71dfvlgou0xgnej_400I was in a conversation with someone today asking about the future of real estate. There is so many horror stories that it is easy to get lost in the negative emotions, and miss the fundamentals of what constitutes a healthy real estate market.

Here’s what is going on in the greater Seattle area as it pertains to real estate. 4 reasons to have a positive outlook on our market.

  1. Inventory levels are as low as they have been in 7 years. Though there are a variety of reasons for this, the amount of homes impacts prices and consumer action.

  2. Due to the recession, there has been very little new construction over the past 5 years. Thought builders are coming back into the market, it takes time for the homes to be built. In the areas with quality new construction, builders are raising prices.

  3. Local economy is healthy and improving. Jobs (tech and others – Boeing has 32 years worth of planes to build) and migration (Washington is #5 in the Nation in migration rates) point to a pent-up demand and lack of inventory.

  4. There’s been a lot of talk about “Shadow Inventory” (homes that haven’t been foreclosed yet but will eventually be sold at auction). Lenders aren’t going to hurt their own best interests by “flooding the market”, it’s not going to happen. In most cases, the investors who purchase foreclosed properties are holding the properties as rentals. There will always be foreclosures; the smart money is on a balanced drip of homes into the marketplace.

A graph of Seattle for the past 7 years (by quarter).