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Seattle condos compared to other cities

By November 20, 2007


Sometimes you folks leave great comments and I worry that not everyone knows about them. Here’s one such comment that I thought deserved a post of its own.

Commentary By Downtown Guy

The line of business I am in dictates I travel the country reviewing the latest and greatest in downtown condominium developments. I agree with many of the comments stated so far within the blog, but at the same time I see tremendous potential in the Seattle market for prices (and product offering) to soar even higher. Here’s why.

Seattle’s current product offering is incredibly lacking when it comes to vision and being a leader in cutting-edge design. Developers and marketing firms in Seattle have certainly pushed prices to a maximum with the medium quality they present to the public in way of new condo presales. Cities such as NYC, Dallas, and Chicago all offer similar products, but at prices that are far more in tune with the markets they serve, meaning the prices correlate to the salaries earned. Should you WANT to pay even higher prices in those cities, the sky is the limit, but so is the offering. In Seattle, its as if the developers and marketers are doing you a favor when they mention “stainless steal” appliances. This is no longer a “gourmet” finish option. Stainless steal is simply an expected standard. How about offering us something like Baulthaup, Neff, Arclinia, Poliform, or Pedini kitchen cabinetry as a STANDARD finish? As for appliances? Well, Miele, Sub Zero, Gaggenau, and Electrolux are STANDARD in the other markets I’ve mentioned.

I too understand that prices have certainly increased to develop these communities over the past 3 years. In fact, I know EXACTLY what its increased. Care to know the number? Its rougly 18% higher today in Seattle than it was three years ago. That is a significant increase, however the prices developers and marketers are now charging are roughly 40%-70% higher, depending on the community. Its robbery, and frankly, I feel buyers are tired of hearing the excuses in THIS market as to why the prices have incresed at such an alarming rate. Yes, I say THIS market, Seattle, because that is simply not the case in other major, cutting-edge cities.

I feel that Seattle is a very provincial community, meaning people around here do not often “get out” enough to understand the scope of what kinds of developments are going on in other cities. In a nutshell, we are very much so behind the curve, and it is embarrassing. Having said that, it means Seattle is naive to what we SHOULD be offered as opposed to what we ARE being offered. Developers understand this concept, and they are taking advantage of the situation. The solution? GET EDUCATED and begin demanding better design, better architecture, amenities, and finish options for your interiors.

Seattle’s downtown presale prices are now on par with that of downtown San Francisco. This, in a city lacking vast public transportation options, downtown schools, downtown conveniences, world-class shopping, and other basic infrastructure that typically goes along with a first-rate city. Prices in San Francisco, for example, can be as high as they are because SF simply has more to offer in way of a truly complete lifestyle. Chicago? Well, Chicago is another first-rate downtown, yet prices there are actually 35% LESS than Seattle’s price per square foot, and the finish grades are much higher. Dallas? I know what comes to mind when one thinks of Dallas, but I encourage you to view their new towers for yourself. I assure you that you simply will be amazed at not only the beauty of their new condo towers, but the prices are, dare I say, disgustingly low (also, Dallas is over twice the size of Seattle). NYC? Well, we all know NYC, so not much needs to be said here. I can include NYC because some of our new developments start at prices of $1000/sq ft and can excel to over $2300/square foot. That IS high-end in NYC. If Seattle wants to continue charging $750/square foot for downtown “affordable” condos, then Seattle needs to get with the times.

That’s the bad news. Here’s the good news. Seattle has potential unlike any other U.S. city. The beauty that resides around us is astounding, and developers need to take full advantage of this element of our lives. Instead of throwing up as many towers as possible with mid-range finishes at top-tier prices, they should be looking to provide an offering of diverse products to suite ALL lifestyles – not just people under 40 as DINKS. That doesn’t create for a dynamic or exciting living environment. Should developers realize that Seattle IS the most educated city in the U.S., they should partner with city planners to build the infrastructure needed to sustain schools, excellent public transportation, more grocery stores, and other conveniences. This will, in turn, actually provide developers with the advantage of charging even much higher prices that what is seen today in the long-term while creating even higher demand in a truly livable city. There really is only ONE city in the U.S. with the edginess and smarts to become a truly unique living experience that all will envy to join, and that city is Seattle. Economy, technology, education, health, environment, arts and politics all have a significant stronghold within our community as it exists. Now, I say, capitalize on that and we can become an unstoppable force by which other markets envy and want to model.

So, what I’m saying is we’re at a price point that could EASILY be demanded, but if only in 3-5 years from now, contingent we build the infrastructure. Build it, and they will come – and gladly pay $1000+/square foot with their fair-trade coffee in hand.

I own and manage Urban Living, a boutique Seattle and Bellevue real estate brokerage. I love lofts, floating homes, new construction, and mid-century moderns, but I will help you buy or sell just about anything!

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