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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Good News / Bad News For Seattle Condos

More news on downtown Seattle condos comes today via the Seattle P-I, and it's a good news / bad news sort of thing.

All signs point to go in the completion of downtown Seattle's recovery from the last economic downturn — but if developers aren't careful, they could overbuild and be left in the lurch.

Builders also should be careful not to dogpile too much on the luxury market, which has been the focus of a spate of condominiums proposed in downtown, with nearly 20 buildings in the pipeline.
...
"Affordability has basically nose-dived," said Hessam Nadji, a senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Investment Brokerage Co. "And that is going to be a hindrance, limiting growth, because it will prevent companies from moving here."
...
"Some of these prices are pretty hefty," said Kate Joncas, Downtown Seattle Association president, referring to local condo market prices. "Who are these people?"

Market analysts say the answer is twofold: baby boomers, who are becoming empty-nesters and jettisoning their suburban homes; and their children — members of the "echo boomer" generation born between 1979 and 1995 — some of whom are fattening their down payment with their parents' wealth.
That question (who are these people) has been on mind a lot lately, too, with regard to the overall housing craziness around here lately. I'm a pretty reasonable guy that makes an above-average salary, and who is smart with money. Why is it then that there's no way I can afford a house, or even a condo really? Something just doesn't add up.

(Kristen Millares Bolt, Seattle P-I, 01.25.2006)

25 comments:

Dukes said...

I hope they keep building and building. At this point over capacity is our best friend.

The more they build the more prices will drop, patience folks, patience.

Anonymous said...

When you say you can't afford a house, you mean you don't want to pay too much or live in neighborhoods you don't want. There are houses/townhouses below $350k that are decent and close to Seattle.

The Tim said...

No, I mean I can't afford a house.

Given that the generally accepted definition of "affordable" when it comes to mortgage/rent is 30% of gross income, I cannot by definition afford a house.

Let me give you some numbers.

Monthly payments on a $250,000 loan with 20% down: ~$1,200
Property Taxes / month: ~$250
Total housing costs / month (excluding home upkeep and insurance): ~$1,450.

30% of my gross income: ~$1,500
Amount available for down payment: ~$3,000-$5,000

Considering that I don't have anywhere near a 20% down payment on even a low-end loan of $250,000, and considering that I'd be lucky to even find a place that cheap around here any more: no—I can't afford a house. And you're right, I'm not willing to move to Index and commute an hour and a half to work each way, either. I guess I'm stuck up like that.

And if you're wondering why I don't have any money saved up in spite of an above-average income, I would also add that my wife and I just got done paying ~$40,000 in loans (mostly from college) in just over four years (as in, we are debt-free), and furthermore she is currently enrolled in a night class program for which we pay over $1,000 per month out of pocket, no loans. You may disagree with my priorities in paying off low-interest school loans instead of saving for a down payment, but I wouldn't really have wanted to get in at the top of what I see as a bubble right now, anyway.

And now I'm just rambling, so I'll close with this: Don't presume to know what I mean when you in fact have no idea.

Anonymous said...

Bravo! Tim!

For spelling out clearly the difference between the 2 different schools of thought on "affordability".

The one camp (to which you clearly belong):

Affordability means keeping the fundamentals of overall financial situation in mind and acting accordingly- Keeping it real! With NO DEBT (outside of a REASONABLE mortgage that can be paid off quickly and PAINLESSLY). Everything besides the home is paid for and owned outright.

The other camp (those who caused this bubble in the first place):

Overwhelm yourself with debt, to hell with the future. "Buy" a house for 350,00 and end up REALLY PAYING upwards of 700,000 by the time you've paid off the loan.

When RE tanks and sanity is once again restored to the market, there are plenty of fiscal conservatives out there wating in the wings, chomping at the bit to buy a home.

A home they will pay off QUICKLY and EASILY!!!

Anonymous said...

You may disagree with my priorities in paying off low-interest school loans instead of saving for a down payment, but I wouldn't really have wanted to get in at the top of what I see as a bubble right now, anyway.
+

Was there a decade when everyone making median pay could buy a home exactly where they wanted to and remain debt free at the same time? Are we talking 50s?

I remember in mid-nineties new homes were selling for about $200,000 (say 1,800 to 2,000 sqf.) in the northern parts of Seattle and about $150,000 on the South end. Mercer Island's were at $300,000 to $350,000. Rates were about 8% at that time. Could you afford it then with 20% down and 8% interest?

Exactly what decade houses were affordable by your standards? May be early 90s?

Anonymous said...

Good news everybody who believes Seattle RE will tank:

Lawrence Yun has just written an article for the NAR wherein he predicts that Seattle prices will go higher and higher.

This is the same man who in May predicted that Wash DC prices would go higher and higher HA HA HA ha hahahah!!!!

Lawrence Yun is the anti-oracle for RE.

Anonymous said...

Tim, we all have to choose whether to carry some kind of debt or not. Not all debts are bad. But since you made the decision to pay off your college loans instead of owning a home, there is really no need for you to be frustrated about the situation.

Being upside down on your mortgage is not that big of a deal if you aren't a speculator. You didn't buy at a good price, Boo-Hoo, but that's about it.

inseattle said...

Wow!

"Being upside down on your mortgage is not that big of a deal" (!!!!)

Looks like you may be one of the "second camp" mentioned by Anon 7:23 above.

Well, good luck in the coming storm.

Seriously, can't wait til the gov't and individual Americans get back to a bit of fiscal responsibilty.

We've got a LONG way to go on that front.

The Tim said...

Was there a decade when everyone making median pay could buy a home exactly where they wanted to and remain debt free at the same time? Are we talking 50s?

Here's some historical data. I've cited the sources. Also I'm not going to use the median house price, since the current King County median is nearly $400,000, but we've been talking about the $250-$300k range. I'm making the assumption that a decent house could have been found for ~75% of the median price, but I'll even spot you a large margin and use 90% of the median price.

Using figures from 1999
Median KC Household Income: ~$53,000
30% of income monthly: $1,325
Median KC Home Price: ~$220,000
90% of that: $198,000
1999 Mortgage Rate: ~7.75%
Monthly mortgage payment: ~$1,150
Monthly tax: ~$165
Total Monthly Cost: $1,315

It would appear that even as recently as 1999 houses were affordable in King County, even to a family earning the median income.

Tim, we all have to choose whether to carry some kind of debt or not. Not all debts are bad. But since you made the decision to pay off your college loans instead of owning a home, there is really no need for you to be frustrated about the situation.

I agree that we all have to choose. And I don't think it is an unreasonable choice to make to not want to have $40,000 in debt plus an over-priced home loan hanging over my head for the next ten to fifteen years. In fact, I think it was a downright solid choice. Besides, even if I had saved every penny that I put into loans, $40,000 is still only 20% of $200,000. I'd like to see you find a decent house (i.e. - not a mobile home, not a condo, not a falling-over shack) in any neighborhood in the Seattle area for $200,000.

So yes, I do still think that I am justified in being frustrated.

Dukes said...

I really do have to agree with and empathize with Tim.

Real estate has become a sort of mind set, a sort of game to people which has no basis in economic reality.

Yes, prudence and patience was punished by Greenspan and his profligate ways, but it amounts to burning the furniture to heat the house - you are warm for the time being, than you have nothing to sit or sleep on.

This will all end, as all manias do, but it IS frustrating watching it happen and reading about idiots who continue to drive this thing.

The Tim said...

By the way, worth noting is that the median household income in King County increased just 4% from 1999 to 2004 ($53,000 to $55,114), while over that same time period the median price of a home increased 50%, from $220,000 to $330,000.

Don't try to tell me that homes are just as affordable now as they've ever been.

biliruben said...

Besides, even if I had saved every penny that I put into loans, $40,000 is still only 20% of $200,000. I'd like to see you find a decent house (i.e. - not a mobile home, not a condo, not a falling-over shack) in any neighborhood in the Seattle area for $200,000.

I don't know if you can find one now, but I was in almost the exact situation as you less than 2 years ago, got a 200K loan, 20% down (house was 247K), and decided to keep paying off the 50K in very low interest student loans.

Maybe you would consider our house in Shoreline a shack, but I don't. Small, but nice. big 10K sq ft yard. Quiet street. Solid starter that didn't need any fixing at all.

I don't feel oppressed by debt, though we now have 2 incomes, which makes it much easier.

That's not to say you made the wrong choice, I'm just saying it wasn't as completely hopeless to buy a house in King County without over-extending yourself as you suggest, in the fairly recent past.

The Tim said...

True enough, that a year and a half ago, such deals could be found. The trouble is, a year and a half ago the most we could have had saved would have been about $20,000, so we still would have come up short. That, and prices have risen nearly 20% in just the last 18 months, so where there were still deals to be had a year and a half ago they're as common today as a pro-Bush rally in downtown Seattle.

biliruben said...

Now that I'm on the other side of the ownership fence, I don't relish the thought, but I have a feeling we will be back in 2002 era house price/income price/rent ranges a couple years from now, and you will be able to find a shack all your own!

Just keep saving, because I have a feeling lending rules will be significantly tighter, and that 20% down may just be mandatory.

Anonymous said...

Using figures from 1999
Median KC Household Income: ~$53,000
30% of income monthly: $1,325
Median KC Home Price: ~$220,000
90% of that: $198,000
1999 Mortgage Rate: ~7.75%
Monthly mortgage payment: ~$1,150
Monthly tax: ~$165
Total Monthly Cost: $1,315
+

Your numbers do not add up. Montly payment on loan of $198,000 at 7.75% comes to $1,418.50. And you forgot PMI (since your downpayment is less than 20%), of about $100/mo.

So, the 1999 would not work either.

The Tim said...

Your numbers do not add up. Montly payment on loan of $198,000 at 7.75% comes to $1,418.50. And you forgot PMI (since your downpayment is less than 20%), of about $100/mo.

No, I didn't forget it, and my numbers weren't wrong. I was assuming 20% down on the $198,000 house. Even if I had 20% down on a house for 90% of today's median ($393,000), the monthly mortgage payment alone would be $1,650, which even before adding in property taxes is already unaffordable for someone (like me) who makes above the median income.

I still contend that as recently as 1999, someone in King County earning the median income could afford to buy a decent house in King County, wheras that is most definitely not the case today. You're not seriously trying to argue that buying a home in King County (or just about anywhere) is just as affordable today as it was in 1999, are you?

Anonymous said...

Tim, you like to quote those median income numbers to death. But I would think most families have two incomes to pay the bills. I mean, how many single men and women can afford to buy a home? Same thing with one family with one income. I didn't understand you situation before but it is clearer now.

The Tim said...

The numbers I'm quoting are median household income. And yes, I am referring to my single income, which is still greater than the median household income.

Anonymous said...

You're not seriously trying to argue that buying a home in King County (or just about anywhere) is just as affordable today as it was in 1999, are you?

Fri Jan 27, 04:37:12 PM PST

+

The house you could buy in 1999 for $198,000 would be about 1,200 to 1,300 at the most and would probably require another $10,000 of immediate upgrades and $6,000 in closing costs. That, assuming you could swing $39,000 and change down payment at the time, and had a good credit rating. It would not be easy even then.

Anonymous said...

Come on anonymous svengali, we see through your siren call. Sure it was hard in 1999, but times have changed apples to oranges. Bottom line, wages have not kept up with inflating housing prices. The situation is completely insane right now. The smart ones are those who do not play along. Patience is a virtue in a shifting market.

Anonymous said...

Come on anonymous svengali, we see through your siren call. Sure it was hard in 1999, but times have changed apples to oranges. Bottom line, wages have not kept up with inflating housing prices. The situation is completely insane right now.
+

It is not a good situation for many people, but with globalization the standard of living will continue to decline.
If you are waiting for better times, I am afraid they are not coming.

Anonymous said...

Yes it is a shame that things are going to get pretty grim for many people who have overextended themselves in search of the corporate advertiser's dreamlife. For those of us living comfortably within our means, flush with cash and in no hurry, best advice is to wait and see how things shake out.

inseattle said...

It is not at all a shame that things will get bad for those who over-extended.

They are precisely the morons who helped drive RE prices up to unprecedented levels and hurt EVERYONE (themselves included) in the bargain.

I refuse to feel sorry for these people when the sh*#t hits the fan.

I am looking forward to the day when so many have gotten so badly burned by their participation in the RE frenzy/mania that RE looks like the worst possible place to put ones' money.

It is interesting to peruse the MLS lists and see with your own eyes that these homes look more and more pitiful and less and less worth it the longer they sit on the market.

Anonymous said...

am looking forward to the day when so many have gotten so badly burned by their participation in the RE frenzy/mania that RE looks like the worst possible place to put ones' money.

+

You are one sad dude.

inseattle said...

Yes. Watching Americans completely disconnect from what's important in this lifetime (the one life you've GOT people!!) and completely involve in over consumption has made me very very sad.

If a major economic shake-up is the ONLY thing that will bring them back to basics then so be it.

And it looks like that's what it's gonna take.