Market Voyeurism

Banker's Dream

What recession? Buy this house and live like there's no tomorrow.

By Eric Scigliano January 5, 2009 Published in the January 2009 issue of Seattle Met

Tycoon house
Is this really a $6 million home?

If you’ve lost your job and need to unload that overpriced shack you bought in the go-go days, your misery has company. Steve Rotella, the ex–Washington Mutual Bank president, quietly listed his 1909 early-modern North Capitol Hill manse in October. The online photos suggest it’s quite the digs, with wine cellar, two-tone box-beam ceilings, great swaths of tile and wood paneling, a dining room big enough for board meetings. The gracious Olmsted-designed garden has bluestone patios, a stone fountain, and neoclassical arcade. The view, alas, is only of the local radio towers. But with just five bedrooms in 7,430 square feet on three-quarters of an acre, you’ll have plenty of room to entertain.

Still, the price may be daunting. Rotella was asking for $6.25 million, even though he bought the place for just $3.78 million in 2005, before the bubble burst. Perhaps notoriety boosts value: You, too, can live like the tycoon who presided over the biggest bank failure in U.S. history.

Fearing gawkers, muckrakers, and other riffraff, they listed the home as simply “Federal Ave E.” But county tax records revealed the number, 1642 Federal, and your intrepid reporter engaged a real estate agent to check it out. No lockbox; tours could only be arranged through the listing agent, and her guard was up. “Is he a client you know well?” she asked my agent. “Does he make enough money to buy it? What does he do for a living?”

“That’s not the kind of question I would ask a client,” my agent replied.
“Is he a journalist? We’ve had about 20 journalists try to get in to see it.”

Your correspondent, now not-so-intrepid, declined to lie, so we can’t tell you more than you’ll learn from the listing (MLS number 28168989). But if you just have to see it, tell them you’re a high-riding banker with money to burn, then ask for nothing-down, option-ARM financing—in the spirit of the good old days.

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What you can get for… $500,000

Home prices in King County keep plummeting (the median dropped another 10 percent between the third quarter of 2007 and the same period in 2008), meaning that anyone out there digging for deals is bound to get more for their money. Unless they wait until the next quarter, when they might even get more…

Greenwood $474,950

Details 651 NW 89th St; 1,480 square feet, 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, built 1937.
Selling points Brazilian cherry wood floors throughout the living spaces on the main floor; additional building in the backyard can be converted to a playhouse or office.
Listed by Bob Melvey, Windermere


Redmond $499,950

Details 6218 154th Ave NE; 2,790 square feet, 3 bedrooms, 2½ baths, built 2004.
Selling points For the techie who spends more time in the bedroom than the basement: minutes from Microsoft and, not one master suite, but two.
Listed by James Vert, John L. Scott


Maple Valley $499,990

Details 25044 235th Ct SE; 4,243 square feet, 4 bedrooms, 3¼ baths, built 2000.
Selling points Lower level doubles as an entertainment area with a wet bar and home theater; possible fifth bedroom on the upper level.
Listed by Christopher Stone, Coldwell Banker Bain


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