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May 2006

Want to own a piece of Seattle history?

Are you tired of the value-priced wood-frame conversion versus premium priced concrete condo debate?  Maybe you’re looking for something entirely unique like the West Queen Ann High School conversion project? Sitting on the very top of Queen Anne Hill, you can spot the building even while driving on I-5. I did a drive through during one evening, the building presence says it all: majestic, classic old world charm in a quiet location. 

Queen_anne_high_school_2Queen Anne High School has had a long history ever since it was built in 1908. The school was once attended by tens of thousands of students before it closed in 1981. Years later, the School district leased the School and it was converted to an apartment building.

Recently, the school was bought by a west coast developer who specializes in historic restoration and conversion projects. Their objective is to turn it into an upscale, one of a kind condominium but at the same time preserve the building’s historic features. Definitely a unique property!

Here are the types of homes that will be available:
One bedroom’s
Two bedroom’s
Town homes

Units feature tall ceilings and oversized windows.

This is a conversion that is worth keeping your eyes on. I contacted the Community Sales Manager, Katie Citron who has been with Miller Condominium Marketing for five years. Miller Marketing is also the marketing company for Cosmopolitan, Madison Lofts, Plaza Del Sol, Windsor Court, Harwood, and Noma Ballard.

Here are the questions I asked and her responses.  Thanks Katie!

1.) How is this conversion different from other conversions on the market right now?

Built in 1909, this Beaux Arts-styled landmark was designed by renowned local architect James Stephen, and possesses a commanding view of the ever-changing Seattle skyline. Now you can own a piece of history without giving up twenty-first century amenities in this amazing once-in-a-generation opportunity.

West_queen_anne_school_3 2.) How would you compare Queen Anne High School with West Queen Anne School which is also a historic landmark conversion?  

The Queen Anne High School is having so much work done on the exterior and the interior of the units. I think the location and views from the top of the hill are one of the most recognizable in the city.

3.) What would be the price per square foot range for your one bedroom and two bedroom units? How did you arrive at that?

We have not released pricing information. Prices will be available this July.

4.) How up to date are the amenities?

We are redoing the roof top courtyard as well as all the common hallways, front entry, and we are adding a lot of landscaping details.

5.) What would you say to buyers who are concern about living so close to the two towers?

The towers are not a part of the QAHS property and would need to be researched by the buyers.

6.) 5 years from now when the sale center is gone, what will be the one thing that is unique about this building that will continue to attract buyers to purchase a resale unit?

I think being able to own a piece of Seattle history with one of the most unique attractions to the building as well as the convenience to downtown.

This conversion will definitely come with a premium. How much more, we’ll see. Stay tuned for more info on prices.


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Meritage & Three19

Where can you find a two bedroom new condo for under $500,000?

The prices in downtown Seattle condo have gone up so much over the last 2 years that many homes buyers are beginning to find themselves priced out of the market when they are looking for a two bedroom condo.

If you love urban living and absolutely need a two bedroom for your next home and can’t compromise on a resale unit, then your more budget conscious alternative would be to look at the next closest neighborhood. You can live outside the downtown/ Belltown area but close enough that you don’t have to drive for more than 10 minutes to get to the urban core.

Meritage_3 Meritage is a new 7 story condo that is sitting on Bellevue Ave between E John St and E Loretta Place. The estimated completion date for this project is Jan 2007. For buyers who don’t have a tight purchase timeline, this project is definitely worth a look. (By the way, it may not be a bad idea to lock in your interest rate if you are interested in a project that is more than 6 months to completion.)

Meritage is on a fairly quiet street and one block away from the busy and noisy Olive Way. Great location, close to I5, restaurants, and walking distance to Broadway. You are likely to get a partial view if you are on the 4th level and above.  The nice thing about this new condo is that they have good layouts for their two bedroom units, especially their 02 and 05 series. With lots of windows, you will probably get a good amount of sunlight from all the rooms. (something that one can really appreciate during the fall and winter in Seattle). The bedrooms are also separated from the living and dinning area -- kind of nice to have more privacy when you have guests at home. The unit comes with modern finishes and hardwood floors! No white cabinets and carpet :-)

• Maple wood cabinetry
• Slab granite countertops
• Stainless steel appliances
• Hardwood floors

Studios starts at $195,000
One bedrooms $310,000 and above
Two bedrooms $450,000 and above.
Penthouse $650,000’s

Comparing Meritage and Plaza Del Sol, Plaza del sol pricing is higher for an existing building. Plaza del sol was built in 1993 and their 3rd level two bedroom unit is asking for $436,950. #302 in Meritage that is 14% bigger, is asking for only 4% more in price, and is a newer condo. If they were to add another $10,000 to Meritage #302, they would still be well within the fair market price.

Three19 A few blocks north of Meritage is the site for Three19 condo. This is a smaller more intimate building with only 16 units in the building. Three19 will be completing in Oct (earlier than Meritage).  Most units have either a partial view of the neighborhood or the Queen Anne/ Space Needle/ Olympic Mountains view. Some of the two bedrooms in Three19 are priced higher than Meritage’s two bedrooms; the only explanation I could think of is the view. Three19 will most likely have a better view than Meritage since it is on a higher ground level than Meritage. 

If you are someone who likes a more efficient floor plan, take a look at their north unit which has a more open floor plan. However, although the south unit has a lot of less efficient space in the hallway, it gets more light than the north unit. Three19 has two options of color packages for homebuyers. You can either pick the modern finishes or go with a more traditional package.

• Limestone countertop
• Mosaic tile backsplash
• Walnut or light cherry cabinets
• Tile flooring in bathroom

One bedroom $300,000’s
Two bedroom Low $400,000’s to low $500,000’s

All in all, Meritage and Three19 have a great location, good pricing, and nice finishes. I would rate both of them a 3.75/5.0.


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Is Lumen the Canlis of sales centers?


Recently, one of my clients told me he wasn't interested in a particular  new condo project for a very interesting reason.  He said he felt the sales staff made him feel uncomfortable.  When I mentioned that the building had a lot of good resale potential due to its location as well as a few other unique attributes, he said he had a bad vibe about the place after spending only a few minutes in the sales center and wanted to look at other places.

It's interesting how the sales center is becoming an increasingly important element of the condo buying process for many of my clients even though in pure economic terms, the sales center is quite insignificant.  Once you buy the new condo, you will hardly ever deal with the sales center again.  Certainly, when it comes time to resale, the original sales center will be a distant memory and it's former offices will be most likely occupied by an antique or high end furniture store.

So why does the sales center matter more these days?  My sense is that with the explosion of new projects all over the Seattle, buyers have more and more choices that are starting to look awfully similar.  Thus, the "vibe" buyers get at a sales center can often be enough to differentiate one project from another.  Just glance at the comments on my Lumen versus Mosler post and you'll see what I mean.  Much like the plethora of restaurants in Belltown, if you can get your pan seared halibut in a place where the staff are courteous make you feel welcome, that can make all the difference.  Similarly, when faced with so many concrete and steel, extra large windows, granite counter topped projects, the sales center experience is one of the things buyers are paying more attention to these days.

So what should buyers expect from a condo sales center?  That's pretty subjective but as a Realtor who spends a lot of time working on behalf of my clients doing research, putting in offers, and evaluating units, here's my two cents:

  • You should be treated with warm, sincere, professional service the moment you walk in the door.  Good sales centers feel like Canlis, super high quality and high service without high attitude.
  • You should be given straight, comprehensive, fact-based answers to your questions.  Especially for first-time home buyers, you should feel comfortable to ask basic questions and not made to feel like you're asking for a favor by asking a question.
  • All the data you need to make your decision should be readily available: floor plans, prices, known future changes around adjoining areas, upgrade costs, etc.

Those are the bare minimums.  Clearly, every sales center has its own feel and personality -- much like all the restaurants in Belltown.   Some people even go so far as to think the sales center impacts the type of buyers which ultimately affects the vibe of the condo community years later.  E.g., if a sales center has a really warm, laid back feel, it might attract that kind of buyer who will be your future neighbors in the building.   

What places give a great buyer experience?  Some sales centers which I think have done a really great job of providing a warm and welcoming buyers experience are Lumen, Trio, and Parc.  Lumen, in particular, does a fine job of giving you a very positive vibe and at the moment, might be the Canlis of condo sales centers :-)


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JLS latest search technology

John_l_scott Just when I thought only TV comes in high definition, JLS’s home search function is going high definition as well.  John L. Scott has just launched a new search function powered by Microsoft Virtual Earth. It allows you to search directly on roads and aerial maps.

If you are only interested in homes within a few blocks of a specific neighborhood, narrow your map and you will see them according to the price range that you have selected. The Bird’s eye imagery features a unique 45 degree view of home for sale and it can be adjusted to view the property from different direction. You can set up a custom home search here using the high definition home search functions.

The home search function also allows homeowner to get sale data of homes sold in their neighborhood. The data include the final sale price, address, property detail and a photo.

Very cool features!


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Seattle market remains strong

The Wall Street Journal reported that Seattle was "one coastal market that remains strong."  Using data from multiple sources, the Journal examined inventories, pricing trends and projections of job creation.

Seattle was one of only five areas with a "very strong" employment outlook, and one of only five areas with upward trending prices. It was the only area with both a gain in inventory and prices combined with expectations of "very strong" job growth.

Good news for the Seattle market!


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Picking and working with a Realtor

In my previous post here, I described why it's in a buyer's best interest to work with a Realtor.  Now, I will offer some tips on picking and managing your Realtor relationship.  This isn't an exhaustive list but should be useful nonetheless.

Picking a Realtor:

  • Check references, better yet, ask friends and family if they know of an outstanding Realtor
  • Ask for examples of specific value-added services they provided previous buyers
  • Ask about what they expect from their buyers
  • Ask what makes them different from other Realtors

Using a Realtor:

  • Work with one Realtor, if you don't like him or her, tell him and stop working with him and change Realtors.  Working with more than one Realtor at a time -- especially on the sly -- can often backfire and result in lower quality service and sometimes legal problems.
  • Be crystal clear about your expectations, if you're not happy, tell them and be prepared to change Realtors.
  • Be realistic and be prepared to make tradeoff's.  You will rarely find a property that meets 100% of your criteria.  Furthermore, your Realtor's time is not limitless so if you're looking for a $300k condo and he or she has taken you to see 30 or more units, they're definitely gonna lose money on the deal.  Moreover, you risk them suddenly dropping you as a client and needing to find and build momentum with another Realtor from scratch.  (One way to mitigate this is to go to lots of open houses on your own.) 

Hope this helps!


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New Conversion Reviews- Urban Terrace, Residences at 5th Ave N, Plaza Del Sol, Bolero

Need to move to a new home but don’t want to wait for new construction to be completed? You may be like many people who are looking at buying within the next few months and prefer new construction but cannot afford to wait till the new development projects are ready to move in (which usually takes about 18 months). If this sounds familiar, there may be an alternative for you: "almost ‘new’ construction."

They are actually called “conversions.” Instead of starting from scratch digging a big hole in the ground, some developer prefers to buy a rental apartment complex, convert it to a condominium, and refurbish the building.

Conversions comes in all types, some are lightly refurbished with a new coat of paint and carpet while some go very extensively remodeling the bathrooms and kitchens with new appliances and finishes and sometimes even updating the exterior with new siding, windows, paint and sealant.

Here are four conversions on the market right now that are worth considering.

Queen Anne

Urban_terrace_1Urban Terrrace on 15th Ave West

23 one bedroom units overlooking Magnolia neighborhood with views of Salmon bay. A little tricky to get there but with the help of mapquest you should have no problems. Beautifully landscaped patios, repainted exterior, solid wood cabinets, stainless steel appliances, tile counter top and new carpet. Most of the units have an open floor plan and come with a view. Amenities include fitness center and a community outdoor patio. If you use their preferred lender, there will be a $2,500 buyer bonus.

Location        3.0/5.0

Interior         3.5/5.0

Exterior        3.0/5.0

Price            3.5/5.0

View            3.5/5.0

Overall        3.25/5.0

1 Bedroom low- Mid $200,000s

Residence_2Residences at 5th Ave North

Newest conversion among the four conversions reviewed in this post, this rental apartment was built in 2003.

So far Residence condo has sold 31 units out of the 62 units in the building. Most of the units come with new carpet and new paint. Buyer has the option of upgrading the entire unit which will cost around $30,000-$50,000. You may be better off renovating the unit yourself than opting for the upgrade.

Location      3.5/5.0

Interior       3.5/5.0

Exterior       3.5/5.0

Price           3.5/5.0

View           3.0/5.0

Overall        3.5/5.0

Studio                        starts at  $170,000’s
One bedroom               high $200,000’s
Two bedroom              Mid $300,000’s and above
Town home                 Mid $400,000’s and above

Capitol Hill

Plaza_del_sol_3Plaza del Sol on E Olive Way

This one has the nicest interior finishes compared to the other 3. The unit features rich hardwood floors in the living area and slab granite countertops with stainless steel appliances. Their 1& 2 bedroom units come with a fireplace. Most units have a partial view of the neighborhood and the top level has an expansive view of downtown, Puget Sound and Queen Anne.

Location       4.0/5.0

Interior        4.0/5.0

Exterior       3.5/5.0

Price           3.5/5.0

View           4.0/5.0

Overall       4.0/5.0

Studio                    Low $200,000’s and above
One bedroom           High $200,000’s to high $300,000’s
Two bedroom          Mid $300,000’s to high $400,000’s

Bolero_exterior_3 Bolero on Boren Ave

Bolero has a mix of studios, one bedrooms and two bedrooms. This apartment was built in 2001 and amenities include outdoor deck, fireplace lounge and fitness center. The unit features new carpet, built in closets, and Silestone countertops in the kitchen and bathroom.

Location        3.5/5.0

Interior         3.5/5.0

Exterior         3.5/5.0

Price            3.5/5.0

View            3.0/5.0

Overall        3.5/5.0

Studio                $170,000 to low $200,000
One bedroom       Low $200,000 to high $200,000
Two bedroom      Mid $300,000’s to Low $400,000

Overwhelmed with conversion choices?  It all comes down to what’s more important to you. A unit with a view, open floor plan and affordable price? Urban Terrace may be a good match. Or something with a better location and higher quality finishes and you are willing to pay more? Plaza Del Sol will probably fit all your requirements.


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Veer Lofts

Many of you have asked me about Veer Lofts, the amount of information I have is the same as what is available on the website. I visited the sales center again last week, the sales representative was tight lipped about giving out any information on the prices but word on the grapevine is units will start in the mid 200's. We will be able to hear more about it in June. So, stay tuned : )

Construction starts Summer 2006

94 homes - mix mezzanine and full height lofts

Features: High ceilings, sleeping platforms, lofted bedrooms, exposed wood ceilings and concrete floors.


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Cars and Condos

Sedan_ext_4_main_1Since every condo project has its own personality and positioning in the market. I thought it would be fun to describe buying a condo like buying a car. Both are big purchases and can be highly emotional. Price, reliability, interior comfort and brand (image) are just some of the things that most people will look at before making their final purchase. If you are in the middle of a condo search, here is a list of cars that can be described as close to the condos in Belltown/ downtown/ Queen Anne in Seattle. Keep in mind this is largely subjective and nothing beats seeing the condos yourself or having a good dialogue with a realtor who knows the area (hint, hint) but this should get you started.

Bentley-ultra high end

Four Seasons

Mercedes S Class- Luxury condo with Hotel amenities

1 Hotel
Madison Tower
Olive 8

Mercedes E Class

2200 Westlake

BMW 3-Sporty and small


BMW 5-Bigger, not sporty but more upscale

5th and Madison

Mercedes M Class-Good, solid all around and high end

One Pacific Tower

2006 A4- Entry level luxury

The Parc
Avenue One
Mosler Loft

2004 Model Audi A4

The Vine

2002 Saab


Land Rover- Niche audience with very strong advocates but often overlooked in favor of mainstream choices

Austin Bell
Seattle Heights

2000 Saab- Not on top of people’s list but still have a lot to offer for the price

Arbor Place
Harbor Heights
Bay Vista
Royal Crest
98 Union
The Klee

2006 Honda Accord


2001 Honda Accord (getting new paint job)

Belltown Court

Volkwagen Jetta - fun, entry level Belltown condos

Moda Condo
Belltown Loft
Site 17


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Do you really need a buyer's agent?

It seems like there are a few people who are buying new condos "naked" (without an agent to represent them) direct from the project's salespeople.  Many people do this successfully -- especially agents themselves who are investing in property or professional real estate investors.

For most people however, using a buyer's agent makes a lot of sense.  Full disclosure: I am a full time Realtor so obviously, I'm a big fan of people using agents :-) 

That said, there are a number of good reasons to use a buyer's agent; here are some of them:

  • First and foremost, it doesn't cost you anything.  The prices you pay at the sales center are the same if you are buying a place with or without agent representation.  Many people think that they can get a better price without an agent -- this is almost never the case since most sellers want to create a win-win relationship with the thousands of Realtors and their clients.
  • Second, having an independent buyer's agent protects you from being pressured into any one particular condominium project.  Remember, the sales center staff are employed by that project's developer and are compensated for selling through that project's inventory.  Your buyer's agent, on the other hand, gets paid regardless of which development you buy so advice and analysis of comparables and other buildings will be much more objective.
  • Thirdly, a buyer's agent can do a lot of the heavy analytical work before you make your decision.  Buyer's agents answer questions like what's a fair price per square foot, what are the comparables in the market now, what new listings are on the horizon, is this a building all the agents are talking about as investments for themselves, how would this specific unit and layout appeal to future buyers, etc.
  • Lastly, a buyer's agent is also a project manager.  When it comes time to iron out the inevitable wrinkles with the upgrades, managing the closing process, or negotiating for incentives, your agent can be a real life saver -- especially since most buyers have day jobs and don't have time for chasing down the details ;-)

These are some of the reasons a buyer's agent can help you make the right decision and manage the entire home buying process.  Here's a post on what to look for in an agent if you haven't picked your representative yet.


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