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Monday, June 19, 2006

The Case For Condo Mania

In the interest of being even-handed, I present to you the case for downtown condo mania, courtesy of the Seattle Times.

The more housing we build downtown, the more desirable downtown becomes for all — residents, workers, visitors and tourists. Many people who live downtown invest in downtown. They donate their time and resources to social services and nonprofits, they care about their neighborhood and they shop and dine downtown.

Unlike other dense cities, Seattle is not a downtown comprised of real-estate investors. During its 1990s building boom, Vancouver, B.C., overbuilt housing, selling half of it to out-of-town investors who weren't interested in developing a community. In Seattle, the vast majority of the local demand for housing is being filled by people who choose to live here, thereby ensuring that our growth will be smart growth. And this benefits us all.
...
The new code will also help reverse a prolonged trend toward urban sprawl. In the past few decades, baby boomers have created urban sprawl by moving ever farther into the suburbs to raise families. That trend is reversing. As their children grow up and move out, many of these "empty nesters" are moving back to the cities and into the downtown neighborhoods to free themselves from traffic commutes, to be closer to urban cultural amenities and to shed some of the responsibility that comes with maintaining a house and a yard. In turn, more young families can now "recycle" these suburban homes rather than build new ones and extend suburban sprawl.

In my 29 years of downtown living, I've lived close to the Pike Place Market, Pioneer Square and Westlake Park — and not once have I regretted living in any of these wonderful downtown neighborhoods. Each has its own distinct flavor: Pike Place with its quiet evenings, Pioneer Square with its special historic buildings and scale, and Westlake with its shopping, its theaters and its people-filled streets.
Considering that Seattle is one of the most childless cities in the country, downtown condos should be a no-brainer, right? Obviously there are a lot of people like the author of this editorial that really do prefer the downtown condo lifestyle. However, like many of the commenters on my previous post on this topic, I'm wondering whether all of these grand plans for tall slender condo towers will actually materialize when (if?) the real estate slowdown finally becomes a reality in Seattle.

(William Justen, Seattle Times , 06.16.2006)

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Again another condo-promoting article based on crap non-existent statistics. There's no polls, no demographics data, nothing to prove these wild assumption, e.g....

"In Seattle, the vast majority of the local demand for housing is being filled by people who choose to live here, thereby ensuring that our growth will be smart growth"

vast majority? what does this mean? This seems dubious considering one condo tower pre-sold via an internet auction. Is the Times going door-to-door on finished condo projects and polling the residence?

""empty nesters" are moving back to the cities and into the downtown neighborhoods to free themselves from traffic commutes"

Again, a wag at any substantial data, where does this come from? 'Empty nesters' pre-retirees I know are looking to move the hell out of the rain and overcrowded Seattle-metro, not into it... this is bunk.

Christina said...

" So, eventually I got up to Seattle, which is trying to be a city, like a real twentieth century city -- did I say twentieth? Well, there's the problem, right there. They're lining the avenues with condo skyscrapers. Big mistake. Skyscrapers are not going to be cool in the twenty-first century as we run into problems with the electricity supply. Oh, well. "
-- James Howard Kunstler
Link

seattle price drop said...

Like the first Anon above, I too am interested in seeing some actual numbers on how many of these condos were bought by specuvestors.

Until I know otherwise, I'm gong on the assumption that it's a fair amount, just like every other city in the US.

PepeDaniels said...

As anonymous points out, this is nothing more than a fluff piece.

A few beauties need only lite deconstruction:

The more housing we build downtown, the more desirable downtown becomes for all — residents, workers, visitors and tourists.

Really? Obviously they've never been to downtown area's like Fort Lauderdale, Miami, DC or dozens of other cities where there's plenty of density already. One of the major issues facing cities like Ft. Lauderdale is exactly what they're referring to - just more and more building in the downtown area. Possibly great planning with great public transportation can avoid some of the problems but it's hardly proof of anything let alone what's "desireable".


Many people who live downtown invest in downtown. They donate their time and resources to social services and nonprofits, they care about their neighborhood and they shop and dine downtown.

This is, of course, different than hundreds of other cities around the country?

In Seattle, the vast majority of the local demand for housing is being filled by people who choose to live here, thereby ensuring that our growth will be smart growth. And this benefits us all.

This is of course different than people who live in Detroit, Pittburgh, Amarillo etc....people there are bused in against their will and forced to make their residences there whether they like it or not.
...
In the past few decades, baby boomers have created urban sprawl by moving ever farther into the suburbs to raise families. That trend is reversing. As their children grow up and move out, many of these "empty nesters" are moving back to the cities and into the downtown neighborhoods to free themselves from traffic commutes.....

As anonymous says...nothing here more than conjecture really....


In my 29 years of downtown living, I've lived close to the Pike Place Market, Pioneer Square and Westlake Park — and not once have I regretted living in any of these wonderful downtown neighborhoods.

Wow, some guy who lives downtown really likes it....that's a demographic trend ya' can't argue with can ya?

Really, it's hard to believe that passes as journalism or a news article...it's more like a chamber of commerce piece if anything.

Christina - Kunstler's one of my favorite writers...people in the NW should read more hard asses like Kunstler to offset the emerald city effect that goes on here!

The Tim said...

Really, it's hard to believe that passes as journalism or a news article...it's more like a chamber of commerce piece if anything.

For the record, it is (appropriately) in the "Opinion / Editorial" section.

Anonymous said...

As pepedaniels points out, this article reeks with a Seattle smugness that's almost unbelieavable.

Really? Is Seattle some magical city, unlike every other condo-boom city in the U.S.? Is Seattle just THAT much more desirable than the white sun-drenched beached of tropical Florida? Or the cultural amenities of cosmopolitan D.C.? Or the SoCal fun-in-the-sun environs of sunny San Diego? or the fun-filled adult playground that is Vegas? or the... etcetera and so on ....

I'm sure if you sift through the news clippings of 'said' cities at the height of their pipe-dream boom years, you'll find the same 'empty nester', 'desirability of downtown' type excuses being parroted by proponents of cheap-money induced development.

Just because Seattle's unfashionably late to the national RE boom/bubble/bust, does not make us somehow magically invulnerable to a downturn, in fact, I think we'll find it the opposite.

Anonymous said...

The whole condo thing in Seattle reminds me of the office glut in Bellevue during the dot bomb era. If the builders don't haven't started their permitting yet I predict they won't build. And if they do they'll end up like that large hole Kemper Freeman bought for pennies on the dollar.

PepeDaniels said...

The Tim said...
Really, it's hard to believe that passes as journalism or a news article...it's more like a chamber of commerce piece if anything.
For the record, it is (appropriately) in the "Opinion / Editorial" section.


Gotcha. I'm somewhat relieved to see this isn't news "analysis"!!!

Anonymous said...

This is one of the condo developers who wrote this article. Justen. So go ahead an pounce on his lack of objectivity. I live downtown too, and it is pretty good... I agree with the author's assertion that more people make it a better environment... eyes on the street... grocery stores are coming (for real, and not just whole foods)... and the more vibrant it gets, the safer it will be. But the question that was raised here about the depth of the market is a good one... no one knows how much demand there is and whether or not there will be too many towers built... I'd bet yes, and likely too many high-end units.

Anonymous said...

Build and they will come.

Anonymous said...

For condo info, see this site-

http://www.urbnlivn.com

this blogger seems to be pretty up on the Seattle condo scene.

Anonymous said...

The whole condo thing in Seattle reminds me of the office glut in Bellevue during the dot bomb era

That office glut is now completely gone, less than 5 years after it looked really dire. And now there's an office shortage again. Downtown Seattle even had a couple of new office buildings come up, WaMu moving out of 1 million sq. ft. of space, and there's still a low vacancy rate. Not a bad situation for commercial developers.

Sure, a couple of office developers went bankrupt, and prices flattened and then decreased for a couple of years, but a 5-year turnaround is no big deal for most major developers. Seattle & Bellevue are still places where people work - there's little danger of them being ghost-towns in the relevant future.

I'm totally with you that all this condo building is sure to create a glut of "luxury" condos on the market and we'll have the same situation as the office market during the dot-com bust (some buildings not built, some stopped mid-way, some sold at lower-than-ideal prices). I would not buy a luxury condo right now unless I was sure I wasn't moving for 10 years (even longer than my horizon for a house), given all that's coming on the market that I'd have to "compete with" if I tried to sell.

But, in the long run, having people living downtown is good, and the big developers will weather the storm. Buildings will get delayed, and then started again. 5-years out from any crash it will be hard to remember how bad it was. All the downtown living creates a lively city. Vancouver recovered from their overbuilding pretty well and is now one of my favorite places to visit, especially downtown. That's where we're headed.

On a related note - one would hope more reasonably priced condos are in someone's plan.

Anonymous said...

If they overbuild enough, those luxury condos could become cheap in the future.

Don't think we're there yet though.

There's room for more condos in the PNW. I'm glad they're building for density.

Anonymous said...

Like San Franscisco, another relatively childless city, there is a large gay population. And there seems to be a strong desire for it to cluster around/in the city.

Young couples I know who have their first baby are now considering moving to the Eastside because they can't find doctors, good schools, and other services in the city, but are available in the suburbs.

Not bashing, but an important factor in Seattles "childless" demographic.

Anonymous said...

Like San Franscisco, another relatively childless city, there is a large gay population. And there seems to be a strong desire for it to cluster around/in the city.

Young couples I know who have their first baby are now considering moving to the Eastside because they can't find doctors, good schools, and other services in the city, but are available in the suburbs.

Not bashing, but an important factor in Seattles "childless" demographic.