WHILE THE HOUSING MARKET tumbles in the rest of the country, Seattle’s holding its ground. Home prices are softer, but not plummeting, and that’s good news for a market gone crazy in the last few years. Condos and townhomes keep popping up in new neighborhoods, suburbs are revitalizing their aging downtowns with new master plans and mixed-use developments, and for-sale signs are springing up like dandelions in a vacant lot. Prices have—gasp!—fallen for the first time in years (3.3 percent from a year ago in March). In short, it’s a buyer’s market. So what should you do right now if you’re a seller, a buyer, or just a concerned home owner?

Whether you want to buy, sell, or hold, our comprehensive guide to the entire metropolitan area will help you scout new neighborhoods or size up the one you’re in—it’ll even tell you what kinds of cars and pets your neighbors prefer. Still unsure? We highlight 15 great places to live, so read on to find out who’s shaping these neighborhoods and cities, what changes the coming years will bring, and why your future neighbors fell in love with these places before you did.

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The Hot Hoods

The area’s hottest neighborhoods aren’t immune to the prevailing downturns, but the wind has hardly left their sails, either. Here are five top spots where cared-for properties sell quickly and growth and new construction flourish. The resulting buzz has buyers clamoring to get in on the action.

 

Ballard
Median Price $445,000
Number of Housing Units 5,643
What You Get Affordable, close-in housing
What You Don’tQuick, easy access to I-5 and the Eastside

The Scene This former lumber and fishing town, once named the “Shingle Capital of the World,” continues to embrace its Scandinavian roots in old Ballard. Residents enjoy the small-town feel that the year-round farmers market and Golden Gardens park provide, even as buyers in their 20s and 30s move in to take advantage of downtown Ballard’s vibrant mix of bars, restaurants, and shops. New single-family homes and townhomes have replaced older houses, especially near arterial roads, while condo conversions and new mid-rise condo projects line Leary Way Northwest and Northwest Market Street, near Ballard’s new library and skate park.

The Love Story After looking at residences in Greenlake and Queen Anne, 26-year-old Brina Chaney discovered a one-bedroom condo at Ballard Place Condominiums that fit her budget. “I knew Ballard was an up-and-coming neighborhood, and since it was still growing, I could get more for my money.” Chaney, a business development manager at the Washington Athletic Club, sees her condo as an investment and a testament to Ballard’s potential. “What sealed the deal for me were the location and resale value,” she says. “I know that over the course of three to four years, my condo will appreciate a fair amount.”

The Transformers Founded in 1988, the Ballard District Council acts as the primary voice of the area and works to build political equity and accountability at city hall. The 27 member organizations range from the Ballard Historical Society to local PTA groups and neighborhood associations. The council holds monthly town hall meetings to work with policymakers and establish positions for the community on such issues as viaduct replacement, transit services, and parks and open-space priorities. Most recently, it successfully opposed service changes to Metro routes that would have dramatically reduced Ballard’s access to public transportation.

The Future Younger residents, attracted to Ballard’s growing reputation as a hip locale and relatively affordable new construction, will continue to reshape the area’s demographics. In the past two years, four major condominiums have sprung up, including the 79-unit, mixed-use Hjärta development, set to be Ballard’s tallest building. Larger, three-bedroom townhomes will continue to mix with older single-family residences throughout the neighborhood. Ballard’s modestly priced new townhomes often sell for well under $500,000, a big selling point, but one that won’t last if the area’s popularity continues to grow.

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Greenlake
Median Price $572,500
Number of Housing Units 6,545
What You Get A bustling neighborhood center, quiet residential streets
What You Don’t Low prices

The Scene You can’t call Greenlake undiscovered. Just try weaving through the maze of bicycles, strollers, joggers, bird-watchers, and skaters circling the lake on a sunny day, weekday, or weekend—or stopping into the Starbucks across the street from the lake. Heck, former President Bill Clinton once jogged here. A block back from the lake, though, the Greenlake area offers quiet, tree-lined streets and vintage Craftsman homes.

The Love Story Fran Davis went for a jog around Green Lake on one of her first visits to Seattle. If she ever moved here, she told herself, she’d live in Greenlake. When romance lured her from the San Francisco Bay Area at the end of 2006, she fulfilled her promise to herself and bought a house there. She hasn’t regretted it (Greenlake or the ongoing romance), not even through two Seattle winters. “I can walk to Whole Foods, to the shops on 65th Street. Everything is within walking distance,” she says, “and yet it’s quiet and peaceful.”

The Transformers If you swim in the lake that defines the area, thank the Friends of Green Lake. Back in 2002, Karen Schurr took her grandson to the lake to wade, but just as he was jumping in, the lifeguard ordered everyone out of the water. The health department closed the lake due to toxic algae. A year later, Schurr helped create a group to study the problem and press the city for funds. Despite a tight city budget, the group’s petitions and lobbying won funding for treatment of the algae.

The Future Those enormous holes in the ground sprinkled around the neighborhood will soon be filled with apartments and mixed-use developments, augmenting a few multiunit residences being built or already in place and adding density to an area of single-family homes. Greenlake can also expect athletic buyers to migrate into the neighborhood—Greenlake has become a mecca of athletic businesses, from Gregg’s Cycles to Anderson’s Nautilus to the Yogalife studio and not one but two running stores. Thanks to the lake and the paths and the retailers, physically active buyers just can’t resist.

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Kirkland
Median Price $496,000
Number of Housing Units 21,831
What You Get A walkable, affluent town
What You Don’tAffordable housing

The Scene Blessed with an eclectic collection of housing options, Kirkland offers everything from waterfront and downtown condos to suburban ranch and Craftsman homes, Tuscan-style estates to planned cottage communities. Throughout the area, city planners have created centralized parks and gathering places to bring residents together. Peter Kirk Park is the city’s crown jewel, featuring a senior center, teen center, baseball park, outdoor pool, and playground. The city’s waterfront downtown bustles with activity during the day (including Kirkland’s Wednesday farmers market from May through October), and shoppers and restaurant-goers after hours.

The Love Story Dave and Barbara Rumppe loved Kirkland so much, they couldn’t leave. After residing in a spacious home with a big yard in Kirkland’s Houghton neighborhood, the couple was ready to downsize. They looked in Shoreline, Bothell, and Bellevue, but in the end Kirkland’s amenities and close community compelled them to stay. They purchased a 1,423-square-foot, one-bedroom condo near downtown in the Villas at Carillon Point and have been rediscovering Kirkland ever since. They take long walks along Lake Washington, shop downtown, and eat at their favorite restaurants—Beach Café, Lai Thai, Lucia, and Rikki Rikki—without ever getting into their car. Dave doesn’t miss all the yard work, and Barb enjoys the waterfront view.

The Transformers Kirkland’s 11 neighborhood associations have upheld its small-town, family-friendly atmosphere for years, updating parks with new playground equipment and adding streetlights for safety. Serving as a bridge between residents and the city, the associations also organize regular meetings to identify and prioritize civic issues. When Kirklanders wanted a more pedestrian-friendly layout, the associations funded new and improved walkways to connect schools and commercial areas to neighborhoods.

The Future Outside of the downtown core, the city is making changes to increase the appeal of surrounding neighborhoods. Developers have rebuilt the 11.2-acre Juanita Village in the South Juanita neighborhood to incorporate hundreds of apartments and street-level retail. Nearby, Juanita Beach is undergoing a city-sponsored $15 million refurbishment that will include a community plaza and amphitheater, a waterfront promenade, and a skate park.

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Lake Forest Park
Median Price
$460,000
Number of Housing Units 5,168
What You Get Large yards and lots
What You Don’t Varied retail

The Scene This pocket-size community on the north shore of Lake Washington takes care to protect its natural beauty. Many of the homes look out over the lake and the cyclists and pedestrians plying the Burke-Gilman Trail. Lake Forest Park was one of first planned communities in Seattle, and many of the traditional and midcentury modern homes date back to the area’s boom years of the 1950s and ’60s. A few condo developments have been built on Bothell and Ballinger Ways, but by and large residents live in single-family homes.

The Love Story Alexandra and John Stimson’s friends in Lake Forest Park wouldn’t stop telling them how great the area was for raising a family. So when a Cape Cod–style waterfront house went on the market, the couple ditched their Tudor in North Matthews Beach and made their move. “It’s really great for families,” Alex says. “This is a very tight-knit neighborhood with good schools, and everyone supports each other.” Now, their kids have more outdoor space and friends to play with, John has an easier commute to downtown, and they can look out on the lake from the back deck.

The Transformers Ron Sher, the owner of Third Place Commons in Towne Center, has been nurturing a strong community focus in Lake Forest Park since 1999. His nonprofit meeting room hosts more than 1,200 events each year and serves as a place for residents to gather and exchange ideas on topics from rain gardens to child rearing. In 2005, after listening to residents’ pleas for a neighborhood farmers market, the organization brought the resources and volunteers together to make it a reality.

The Future Because residents wish to keep the character of the neighborhood intact, large development projects are rare in this area. Its lack of commercial space will foster change, however. Lake Forest Park is considering transforming the existing town center into the city’s first mixed-use development. The current design plans call for remodeling current retail space and adding three to four floors of new residential units.

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Normandy Park
Median Price
$550,000
Number of Housing Units 2,825
What You Get Beach access, half-hour commute
What You Don’t A bustling downtown

The Scene Just a few miles west of Sea-Tac airport lies the leafy, secluded enclave of Normandy Park. Many of its homes include views of Puget Sound and the Olympics, and residents enjoy access to a private beach next to the community center that sports spectacular views of its own. Normandy Park is also home to multimillion dollar homes overlooking emerald lawns, stretches of beach, and sparkling water.

The Love Story Nancy Fulton hated to see the horse farm where her children rode replaced by cul-de-sacs brought in by the Normandy Province and Normandy Sunset developments in the 1990s. But she still loves the town where she has lived for the last 25 years and where her family has run a heating business for three generations. Her son flourished at the well-regarded Marvista Elementary, the lone public school in Normandy Park, and she and her neighbors enjoy living in a place where everyone knows their names.

The Transformers Doug Osterman came to Normandy Park from Bellevue 16 years ago and has no intentions of going back. “I spend more time in my garden than I do in traffic,” says the newly elected City Council member. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.” The watershed coordinator for the Green River, Duwamish River, and Central Puget Sound Salmon Habitat Recovery Team spearheads (not surprisingly) the city’s Stewards of the Cove, which organizes volunteers once a month to clear away invasive plants and weeds and restore Normandy Park’s 18-acre private park, one of King County’s only remaining estuaries for Chinook salmon. The Stewards’ primary goal is to protect the salmon, but their impact extends beyond the brackish waters of the Walker and Miller creeks that flow through the park. Osterman says the monthly efforts, which draw up to two dozen people, have united the community in a common cause.

The Future Buyers are tearing down the remaining ramblers that stand next to new, larger homes so they can build minimansions of their own. One custom home, which includes a bluff-side view and an elevator to take residents and guests to and from the beach, recently fetched $2.75 million, but you can still find ramblers in the $400,000s and typical four-bedroom homes without views run between $600,000 and $800,000 (views come with $1 million price tags). Builders are carving up larger single-property lots, and high-end developments are popping up in vacant parcels like dandelions. In response, the city’s new outdoor mall is expanding to bring needed amenities to the area. While a few tenants have moved in, the storefronts remain mostly empty.

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The Up-and-Comers

Deals in our area are scarce, but we found a handful of underappreciated neighborhoods representing some of the best deals around. From suburbs sporting spiffy new construction to redeveloping close-in spots, there’s something here for every lifestyle. But act quickly: Today’s bargain neighborhood is tomorrow’s pricey hot spot. 

 

Beacon Hill
Median Price $362,150
Number of Housing Units 13,360
What You Get Affordable prices near downtown
What You Don’t Restaurants, bars, or boutiques

The Scene Beacon Hill might qualify as the best-kept secret in Seattle. Its northern edge is almost as close to downtown as Capitol Hill, and it offers quick, easy access to I-5 and I-90. On this strip stretching south from the International District to the southern boundary of Seattle, buyers will find Craftsmans with views of downtown or the Olympics (and Boeing Field) in the mid $400,000s. Lower prices have helped keep Beacon Hill a diverse working-class area. It has also long been the home to a Japanese-American community, as well as to other Asian Americans, Latinos, and Italian Americans spilling up from Rainier Valley’s Garlic Gulch.

*The Love Story *Laura Martin arrived here 25 years ago and has never left. As a parent committed to the public school system, she enrolled her three children in Kimball Elementary, and the older two now attend Mercer Middle School. “When we first enrolled Kathryn, we were hoping it would be okay,” she says, “but it’s been a great experience. Our kids are finding everything that you hope for in middle school.” Martin has formed close bonds with her neighbors, who come by the dozens to a party at her house every year to watch the Blue Angels zoom overhead.

The Transformers The headquarters of El Centro de la Raza dominate the retail strip atop north Beacon Hill. The organization has been a powerful force in the neighborhood ever since the turbulent early 1970s, when Latino activists occupied and claimed the abandoned Beacon Hill School as a “center for the people.” The once-radical organization has integrated into the Seattle political structure, and offers case-management services for youths in conjunction with the Seattle Police Department and Seattle Schools, after-school programs, child care, immigration counseling, and other services.

The Future The hill has long been short on amenities, but Beacon Hill’s branch library recently moved into a new, sunlight-filled building across the street from the soon-to-open light rail station, which will offer quick access to downtown and Sea-Tac airport in 2009. New businesses, such as Galaxie Espresso, serving Victrola coffee and Baguette Box sandwiches, and Buggy, a children’s resale shop, are trickling onto Beacon Avenue. And Beacon Hill’s schools are improving. Recently renovated Cleveland High School was the first Seattle school to use a Gates Foundation grant to restructure its program, and its students are eligible to have their college tuition paid by the Gates-funded Achievers Program. This fall Spanish- and Mandarin Chinese–language immersion programs, modeled on Wallingford’s award-winning John Stanford International school, will begin at Beacon Hill Elementary.

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Burien
Median Price $335,000
Number of Housing Units 14,023
What You Get Affordable housing, shorter commute
What You Don’tMultifamily housing

The Scene Burien neighborhoods are identified by ’50s- and ’60s-era bungalows and ramblers nestled in large, tree-filled yards. Along the waterfront, near the heavily wooded 185-acre Seahurst Park, larger homes sit back on sizable secluded lots—most priced below similar homes in comparable neighborhoods to the north. Burien’s old-fashioned business district draws shoppers and strollers to popular shops such as Vino Bella and the Yarn Stash and local restaurants.

The Love Story Mary Jo and Jim Vigil were searching for a waterfront property with easy access to downtown and Sea-Tac airport. The beach community that surrounds Seahurst Park sold them on Burien. “We consider our neighbors our friends, and during the summer the neighborhood comes alive with gatherings on the beach and at neighboring homes,” Mary Jo says. Jim, a math and science teacher at Washington Middle School, and Mary Jo, the director of operations of law and corporate affairs for Starbucks, moved into their 3,000-square-foot midcentury modern home last spring. The house features unobstructed views of Puget Sound, Vashon Island, and the Cascades from every room—just what they were hoping for.

The Transformers If Burien Arts Commission member Dane Johnson has his way, the city will become Puget Sound’s version of Brooklyn. He and a group of eager arts enthusiasts are transforming the suburb into a showplace for the arts focused on bringing innovative experiences to Burien residents. Burien’s new cultural-arts coordinator Al Parisi has increased the diversity of performers at existing community events like the annual Burien Strawberry and Arts Festival by introducing soul and hip-hop performers to the mix; and groups like 4Culture are pushing site-specific programs, including one that allows artists to live and work in empty storefronts in exchange for dressing up the windows for passersby. Nonprofits, such as the Burien Arts Commission and Burien Little Theatre, collaborate to nurture art-focused traditions, including the annual summer theater festival, Shakespeare in the Park.

The Future Burien’s aggressive plan for growth and modernization centers on its downtown, where a new, mixed-use town center is under way. When finished in early 2010, the civic plaza will usher in a new library, 70,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, a one-acre park, and 400 studio and one- and two-bedroom condos starting in the mid-$200,000s. The city also plans a new, state-of-the-art transit center and upscale hotel nearby. All told, the city has spent more than $200 million in public and private investors’ funds on road and infrastructure improvements.

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Federal Way
Median Price
$281,250
Number of Housing Units 34,738
What You Get Affordability, diversity
What You Don’t An urban downtown scene—yet

The Scene Federal Way’s proximity to Tacoma, Seattle, and the airport make it a popular commuter town. More than a bedroom community, Federal Way features established single-family neighborhoods filled with starter homes and houses built in the ’80s and ’90s. Prices rise progressively with proximity to the waterfront, but buyers can still find deals in upscale Redondo for between $1 million and $2 million (similar properties in West Seattle or Magnolia go for two and three times as much). Large Ukrainian, Korean, and Hispanic communities make Federal Way one of the most diverse suburbs in the area, a fact that draws many former Seattleites who celebrate living in a cultural melting pot.

The Love Story A Seattleite at heart, Marisa Flores never wanted to move south from Skyway, but she and her husband were lured by Federal Way’s affordability. They call their five-bedroom, 4,700-square-foot house a steal that fits their growing family perfectly. “Federal Way is the area’s best-kept secret,” Flores says. “In the first two weeks, I cried because I was living far [from Seattle], but now I absolutely love it.” Marisa now feels at home in Federal Way’s eclectic communities and enjoys the convenience of shopping (and parking) away from the big city.

The Transformers Chris Carrel has spent years disproving the idea that nothing but pavement and strip malls make up Federal Way’s landscape. As the executive director of Friends of Hylebos, he works to protect community green space, streams, and wetland habitats. To date, his group has preserved over 400 acres and recently contributed to restoration efforts in West Hylebos Wetlands Park.

The Future Federal Way is pinning its hopes for future growth downtown. Its Symphony project, set to break ground next month, will introduce four high-rise towers with ground-floor retail and office space, and residential units above. It also calls for a hotel and a Highland Community College satellite campus. Two more mixed-use projects are in the planning stages as well, as is a new 500- to 700-seat performing arts center. The city recently called for a feasibility study for the project, which could include a convention center.

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First Hill
Median Price $285,000
Number of Housing Units 7,145
What You Get Convenience of downtown without the prices
What You Don’t The proposed First Hill light-rail station

The Scene First Hill boasts historic mansions, classic apartment buildings, pocket parks, large murals, and mature trees stretching over the streets—all just blocks from downtown. Residents take to the sidewalks to get to work at nearby hospitals, Seattle University, or downtown jobs. After work, hip eateries and clubs are just a few steps away on Pike and Pine Streets.

The Love Story After tiring of her Tacoma to First Hill commute, Juli Jenkins made an offer on a contemporary, one-bedroom condo at the new Decatur development just six blocks from her office last spring. “I really love the building and the neighborhood, and I am happy I found a place that is close to work, businesses, shopping, and great restaurants,” she says. Jenkins relishes the close-knit community and the variety of her neighbors. “I have been flabbergasted at how many times I’ve seen these cute little old men rolling out of the parking garage next door on their Harleys,” she says of First Hill’s retired population. “They are truly living the high life.”

The Transformers The First Hill Improvement Association aims to keep the area safe while maintaining its character. Members participate in design reviews for new developments so projects stay consistent with the neighborhood’s look. When crime became a concern, the association was instrumental in adding low-level pedestrian lighting on three neighborhood blocks for increased safety.

The Future If residents have their way, First Hill’s future will look a lot like its past. Whenever feasible, condo conversions take precedence over new construction. The new 146-unit Decatur is housed in a vintage building originally designed by Space Needle architect John Graham Jr. in 1950. Nearby at the Marlborough are converted units in a refinished 1920s apartment building with a rooftop garden. Real estate agents predict that new construction will come to First Hill in the next decade, though, beginning with two towers at the corner of Eighth and Seneca, next to I-5, expected to begin this summer, and bringing 294 new residences to the neighborhood; prices range from the $300,000s to $1.3 million.

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Renton
Median Price
$357,000
Number of Housing Units 28,505
What You Get More house for less money, easy access to freeways
What You Don’t A trendy address

The Scene Not so long ago, Renton was just Boeing’s down-at-the-heels backyard. There was, longtime residents will say, no reason to go downtown. But a decade’s worth of revitalization is paying off. The city’s center is gaining mixed retail-condo buildings and apartments and still holds onto popular old businesses and streets lined with modest bungalows and Craftsmans. Farther from downtown, houses are larger and newer, with plenty of cul-de-sac developments continuing to grow.

The Love Story Renton became the key to Aaron Brown’s dream of leaving his career as a bank examiner to run his own personal-training business. Drawn by Renton’s prices and its flourishing downtown, Brown recently left Issaquah and bought a house in downtown Renton to serve as combined home and office. Now his business is growing, and the free workouts he offers on weekends at Renton Memorial Stadium are helping him both recruit clients and make friends. “There’s a lot to do here right in downtown, without getting in your car,” he says.

The Transformers Ask longtime residents why the Rotary Club is an important force in Renton and they’re likely to look confused. Everyone who’s anyone in Renton is a member. Newly elected mayor Denis Law is a past president of the club. The group helps fund Valley Medical Center, provides scholarships for local youth, and sponsors neighborhood cleanups.

The Future The revitalization of downtown Renton began a decade ago, and new mixed-use developments now sit alongside established local businesses. Other business have moved here: The Evergreen City Ballet recently moved from Auburn to expanded facilities downtown. Nearby, former Boeing land is being transformed into the Landing, an outdoor mall that will include apartments. The Seahawks will move into the country’s second-largest NFL training site there later this year, and the Federal Reserve Bank relocated its branch headquarters from downtown Seattle. Voters this past February rejected annexations that would have increased Renton’s size, but increasing density and development within the city show no signs of stopping.

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Top Commuter Towns

Your bucks go farther in the burbs. Big lots, plenty of bedrooms, and bustling family-oriented community centers abound. Cities vie fiercely to attract new residents—many of them are pouring millions of dollars into their infrastructure, creating better downtowns, more amenities, and updated housing. These five outer boroughs will make you want to quit your job in the big city and just stay home.

 

Bainbridge Island
Median Price$600,000
Number of Housing Units 9,988
What You GetSemirural retreats, ferry rides to Seattle
What You Don’t GetSwinging nightlife, abundant on-island employment opportunities

The Scene Bainbridge has come a long way from its origins as a center for lumber milling and shipbuilding. Condos have sprung up near downtown and the ferry dock. And though many of its homes are scattered amid firs and madronas, Bainbridge is a tightly knit community, with plenty of gathering spaces. Its small downtown commerce area is perfect for strolling and shopping on warm summer days (just do it before 8pm, when most stores close up). Many residents enjoy the fruits of wealth accrued in previous careers off-island or make the 35-minute ferry commute to Seattle. Their wealth, coupled with the island’s large, semirural lots, make Bainbridge a pricey proposition.

The Love Story Eric Hoffman embodies the joys and challenges of life on the island: At the highly ranked Bainbridge High School, where he has taught for over a decade, he loves his motivated students and distinguished colleagues. Hoffman treasures the strong sense of community the island offers, but he has struggled to afford to live in this affluent community on a teacher’s salary. He and his family recently moved to a house in Meadowmeer, a short walk to Grand Forest, one of the gems in Bainbridge’s 1,400 acres of parkland. “I’m a backpacker, and there’s enough nature here that I can leave my door and walk in the woods for hours,” he says.

The Transformers An abundance of wild outdoor space remains one of Bainbridge’s biggest assets, and the island’s parks and conservation areas are the result of years of aggressive action by the town government, in concert with the Bainbridge Island Land Trust. Founded in 1989 in response to the rapid development of the island, the trust has purchased conservation easements and worked with other agencies to buy land outright. The trust now holds 43 conservation easements comprising more than 700 acres. An additional 395 acres have been preserved through purchase with Land Trust assistance.

The Future Despite rapid development, the island has managed to hang onto a number of farms, which supply the island’s weekly farmers market, and protect its extensive parks system. Bainbridge’s condo market appears saturated and may soon offer bargains. In Winslow, within walking distance of the ferry terminal, Vineyard Lane sold well, thanks to its green features, but many of the 180 condos and townhomes of Harbor Square were bought by speculators, with many units now lingering on the market.

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Central Tacoma
Median Price $196,850
Number of Housing Units 85,057
What You Get Historic architecture, affordable prices
What You Don’tSeattle’s traffic, hip address

The Scene Tacoma has it all—a hopping urban scene, newly constructed condos atop restaurants and retail, and serene and leafy residential blocks lined with meticulously restored Victorians overlooking the Olympics and Commencement Bay. The once-gritty working-class stepchild to Seattle has been coming into its own in the last 10 years. Nowhere is that more evident than Central Tacoma, just south of Sixth Avenue. Craftsman and midcentury fixer-uppers abound here, and they’re cheaper than similar houses just a few blocks to the north. New development is changing this long-neglected part of town, and deal-seeking buyers are snatching up bargains quickly.

The Love Story Gerry Greene used to avoid Tacoma, but last year, having retired from Gig Harbor to Texas, he and his wife gave up on the sweltering Texas heat and found themselves lured back to Tacoma. Their daughter lived in the city’s Proctor area, so the couple bought a house in the Central District to be nearby. “I love the diversity of the area, the tremendous shopping and arts events,” he says. He attends the theater and has taken classes at UW Tacoma.

The Transformers The blog Exit133.com, founded in 2005 by California transplant Derek Young, has become a clearinghouse for all things Tacoma. It is a vibrant community space with information about Tacoma development, arts, even job listings and forums on topics such as the city’s rep as “gritty.” Exit133 recently expanded, creating Suite133, billed as Washington’s first “coworking” project, offering office amenities, shared space, and human contact for those who telecommute or freelance.

*The Future *Tacoma has one of the largest historic housing districts in the state, and many people have been drawn by Tacoma’s intact, cohesive neighborhoods and late-nineteenth-century housing stock. Revitalization projects with an eye toward maintaining architectural identity are coming fast and furious. A grassroots organization is pushing to revive the streetcars that shaped Tacoma neighborhoods in the early twentieth century, and in 2006 Historic Tacoma formed to educate the community about its architectural heritage and provide resources for preservation and salvage. As in Seattle, condos are making inroads, either converted from old buildings or built from scratch, including a large project on the cleaned-up Asarco smelter site. The city projects downtown housing will increase by 28 percent by 2011.

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DuPont
Median Price
$335,785
Number of Housing Units 2,817
What You Get New Urban village, miles of trails
What You Don’t A grocery store, high prices

The Scene DuPont’s tale is really one of two cities. There’s the classic DuPont—a sleepy former company town noted by the National Register of Historic Places for its unrivaled collection of preserved early- twentieth-century homes. Then there’s Northwest Landing, DuPont’s new housing development begun in 2005. Northwest Landing subscribes to the ideals of New Urbanism: Small retailers populate a central village square and, on narrow tree-lined streets nearby, homes sit close together, their driveways relegated to back alleys. Its streets connect to networks of wilderness trails for residents to enjoy. The two identities are struggling to coexist as a new generation discovers the town, seeking input on its future growth.

The Love Story Larry and Jean Wilcox came to DuPont for the air. Jean had suffered from asthma, and the pollution in California’s Central Valley was doing her no good. Now she is breathing free, and the couple walks DuPont’s trails regularly when Jean isn’t busy contributing to the Friends of the Library. Though they arrived just four years ago Larry, a retired teacher and coach, now serves on the city council and belongs to the newly chartered Kiwanis Club. He says his plate is full, but he loves the opportunities for involvement. “It’s nice to be able to stand back and say you contributed to solving an issue.”

The Transformers New Urbanist Peter Calthorpe designed Northwest Landing, DuPont’s lauded housing development. The houses mirror the old town’s historic Craftsmans, and the development includes sidewalks, trails, and small lots to encourage residents to interact with their neighbors. But many longtime DuPont residents have bristled at the transformation of their community. As a result, the town is mostly cut off from Northwest Landing. The only road connecting the new and old DuPont is limited to emergency vehicle use, but that is expected to change as new residents, who now make up a majority of the city council, flex their civic muscle.

The Future Enclosed by Puget Sound, Fort Lewis, I-5, and the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, DuPont doesn’t have much room for growth. The community continues to develop within its boundaries, however. The city expects that its denser neighborhoods will build out by 2010, doubling its current population to approximately 15,000. A state-of-the-art civic, police, and fire complex in Northwest Landing will soon replace the tiny city hall housed in the former general store in old DuPont. An elementary school opened in 2001, and a junior high school is in the works. The newly opened park-and-ride bus stop has made mass-transit commuting easier, and the long-awaited grocery store isn’t far behind, insiders say.

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Everett
Median Price $309,970
Number of Housing Units 42,122
What You Get Bustling urban development, easy access to outdoors
What You Don’tA traffic-free life

The Scene Once the punch line for mullet jokes, and a haven for local Boeing employees since 1968, Everett is adding a more urban, young professional vibe to its existing parks, trails, and beaches. In historic North Everett, though, buyers can still find stately manors, Craftsman homes, and classic bungalows on tree-lined streets in family-friendly neighborhoods. Many are available at prices well below the Seattle average for families working locally or for those willing to commute to Seattle.

The Love Story Twenty-six-year-old Sean Straub didn’t want to commute to his job as the Business Development Officer at the Bank of Everett downtown, but wasn’t looking for a single-family residence either. He found a condo just four blocks from work in Everett’s developing downtown corridor. “My biggest obstacle isn’t traffic or traffic lights, but crosswalk signs,” he says. The area’s urban landscape also appeals to Straub when he leaves work. He often stops by Wicked Cellars for a $5 wine tasting before heading to dinner a few blocks away at the Prohibition Grille and a nightcap at Chopstix. “It’s then five blocks back to my condo for a good night’s sleep,” Straub says. 

The Transformers Craig Skotdal, president of Skotdal Real Estate, wants to prove that downtown Everett can have the hip urban vibe that many residents desire. He is the driving force behind downtown Everett’s Library Place, the largest residential development to date in the city’s core. Skotdal hopes to pair the project with public space at the entrance to the Everett Public Library as well as new retail space to lure visitors (and residents) to the library and downtown.

The Future The upcoming Port Gardner Wharf development will turn Everett’s marina into a walkable community filled with offices, shops, and more than 600 condos and townhomes. A one-and-a-half-mile pedestrian esplanade will flank the water’s edge, and residents will have access to 18 acres of parks, open-air markets, a gourmet grocery, and a luxury hotel and spa. The first 137 residential units are expected to be ready by early 2010, with prices ranging from $400,000 for one-bedroom units to $1.1 million for penthouses. In downtown Everett, the new Library Place project (slated to open in September 2009) will transform nearly two-thirds of a city block into a 200-unit development boasting the city center’s first street-level flats and townhomes. This year the city will break ground on the new 96-acre mixed-use Riverfront development on the Snohomish River, which will link to downtown and the rest of the region via nearby Everett Station’s Sounder commuter rail and bus service.

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Issaquah 
Median Price
$550,000
Number of Housing Units 11,544
What You Get Urban villages coupled with green space
What You Don’t Walkable retail

The Scene Tucked away at the south end of Lake Sammamish, Issaquah is a slice of Americana—complete with a downtown meat market and confectionary—perfect for the growing families it attracts. Its environmentally conscious residents put a premium on green space and focus on creating a community that boasts urban density in the suburbs. Its two newest mixed-use developments, Issaquah Highlands and Talus, combine high-density urban villages filled with multi- and single-family housing and community parks in lieu of big backyards.

The Love Story When Natalie Dobson and her husband decided to move east from Laurelhurst last fall, they selected Issaquah because of the city’s close proximity to work, family, and the Cascades. “We try and get outside at least once a day, and then on weekends we head for the mountains for snowshoeing or hiking,” Dobson says. “It’s also nice if my husband is going to go up alone for a morning of snowshoeing or backcountry snowboarding, he can be back by noon.” The couple moved into a four-bedroom home backing up to a greenbelt in the Issaquah Highlands and were surprised to find such a tightly knit community in the suburbs. “We love that you can feel the livelihood of the community here just like Laurelhurst,” Dobson says.

The Transformers The Downtown Issaquah Association is the driving force behind the city’s resurgent commercial core, encouraging the economic development of small, independent businesses and organizing events, including five summer art walks that draw more than 10,000 people annually, to attract tourists (and dollars) to the area’s merchants. In keeping with the old-time town feel, the association also works to preserve and restore downtown’s historic structures dating back to the 1880s. Most recently, it renovated the old Hailstone Feed Store and Shell Gas Station and is working with the Issaquah Historical Society to restore the city’s vintage trolleys.

The Future The Highlands and Talus developments will define Issaquah. Over the next two years, the Highlands will add its own Swedish Hospital location and a Marriott Hotel set alongside 3,250 new housing units, now 75 percent completed. Nearby, High Streets Mall will offer residents outdoor shopping similar to the University Village concept. When finished, Talus will include 1,735 residential units in styles ranging from townhouses to chalet-style homes and mountain-top estates. Multifamily units will make up three-quarters of the housing, and the development will include 435 acres of public green space.

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Your Next move What you should do right now if you’re a buyer, seller, or home owner.

Seattle housing prices have inched down for the first time in 17 years. Inventory is up by as much as 64 percent. And thanks to a wave of national foreclosures, lending standards have squeezed buyers out of the market. Depending on your perspective, those words evoke either panic and cold sweats or eager hand rubbing and Cheshire cat grins. Yet real estate agents and experts still say that Seattle prices are poised to rise even higher in the coming years. With so much conflicting data, it’s only natural that potential buyers, sellers, and home owners could use a few tips on their next move. We contacted agents, brokers, and banks in the Seattle area to get the best advice to help you navigate the 2008 real estate market.

 

Buyers

Be prepared As recently as six months ago, borrowers could secure subprime loans without even verifying steady income. Not anymore. Banks and brokers now require at least two months’ worth of income documentation. Bring copies of your W-2s, pay stubs, and bank statements with you when you apply.

Check your credit Lenders use your credit history and standing to determine, in part, the terms of mortgages they are willing to offer you. Resolve any collections on your record. If there are any errors, contact the company and correct the issue. Keep a record of any paid or corrected debt.

Get in the game As of the end of February, more than 13,000 housing units were up for sale in King County, a 68 percent increase from the same time a year ago. Bottom line: There are more houses to choose from now than in the past 10 years, and the competition from other buyers has all but dried up (pending sales were down more than 35 percent from February 2007).

Negotiate Sellers have already adjusted their prices to reflect the 1.3 percent drop in prices in our area, so don’t expect a lowball offer to be accepted. But most properties aren’t receiving multiple offers the way they were just 18 months ago, and many sellers will agree to sales contingent on inspections or the selling of your old property, concessions that were increasingly rare until recently.

Consider new construction Many local builders are offering high-end incentives (better finishing materials, more landscaping, etc.), covering closing costs, and even cutting prices in order to reduce inventory.

 

Sellers

Think twice Inventories are swollen, lenders have tightened their standards, and potential borrowers are worried about the economy. Unless you have to move, you’re better off waiting for the market to pick up.

Know the market Bidding wars have been relegated to only a handful of properties in the most popular neighborhoods—you’re not likely to get the same price your neighbor got even three months ago. Large inventories punish greedy sellers: Price your property too high, and it will languish on the market while new listings grab buyers’ attention.

Dress up The price is important, but so is the presentation. Take care of any cosmetic issues (fresh paint, new flowers, clean windows) before putting your home up for sale. Consider having it staged for open houses. Buyers now have options, so make your property stand out in the crowd.

 

Home Owners

Assess your situation Local lenders are still refinancing existing mortgages. If yours is negatively amortizing (meaning your monthly payment doesn’t even cover the interest that’s accrued), you’ll want to refinance. Owners who have adjustable-rate mortgages or jumbo loans should consider doing so to avoid higher mortgage payments in the future and to lock in better interest rates.

Get help If you’re in danger of missing a payment, contact your lender immediately. Banks don’t want to take on your property, so most are willing to work with you if you’re up front about your problems.

Don’t panic The area market remains strong. Prices have dipped, but only by 3.3 percent from a year ago in March. Our geographic isolation, a diversified economy, and a steady influx of new residents (U.S. census data shows King County to be the 25th-fastest-growing area in America) will push prices higher in coming years.

This article appeared in the May 2008 issue of Seattle Met Magazine.