The Condo Craze

Capitol Hill

27% own  •  73% rent  •  $58,000 median household income

Depending on how you feel about condominiums, Capitol Hill’s decade of precipitous growth inspires either delight or chagrin. But one thing is undeniable: This neighborhood’s hot streak shows no signs of letting up. Its population has shot above 45,000, which doesn’t even include the people who come here in droves for the restaurants and nightlife.

The forthcoming Broadway light rail stop, set to open in 2016, has led to particularly ambitious development, including three multiunit projects between Denny and John. Market-rate apartments and condos make up the majority of proposed buildings, though at least 20 percent are dedicated to affordable housing. 

Sarah Lewontin, executive director of Bellwether Housing, a developer that at one point tried to build affordable housing on Broadway, says Capitol Hill offers “more density than people in the Northwest think of in terms of home ownership.” In other words, owning in such a desirable neighborhood likely won’t come with a garage and a yard, but it still comes with a premium price tag. Home prices rose nearly 5 percent over the last year. Hey, when you’re hot, you’re hot.


The Best-Kept Secret

Mount Baker

3,856 total population  •  89 homes sold in 2014

Just as prospective home buyers are opting out of the Ballard and Fremont rat race and settling further north, Capitol Hill–minded house hunters are finding respite from the madness by heading southeast to Mount Baker.

Here, higher-end homes line Lake Washington, but between the water and Martin Luther King Jr. Way, rows of bungalows adorn the tree-lined streets and newer townhomes are peppered among them.

Nate Stott, who recently bought a flipped property in Mount Baker, says he and his partner, Anne, “wanted a home with character, close to an urban center that is somewhat walkable.” The house they decided on was within their price range, but without the 10-plus offers he had encountered in other markets.

Mount Baker has its own light rail station and is close to I-90, making it an appealing commute for people like Stott, who works on the Eastside.


The Flipper’s Market

West Seattle

58,179 total population  •  23% households with children


So you want to move to the 'Burbs? 
Summing up the most popular cities outside Seattle 

RENTON  More affordable than surrounding cities, popular with young families 

BOTHELL  Quintessential and quaint subdivisions built in the last 10 years

KIRKLAND  A mix of upscale and affordable neighborhoods, easy commute to Bellevue

ISSAQUAH  Newer housing developments full of modern properties

EDMONDS  Quiet communities on the Sound with a small-town vibe

Just four miles southwest of downtown, old homes are purchased, renovated, and sometimes completely rebuilt at an impressive rate. Redfin reports that in 2013, West Seattle saw 98 homes flipped, gaining on average around $143,000 in value in the process. Combine that with a home inventory that’s the envy of other more centrally located areas (278 for sale at the peak of 2014), and you have first-time home buyers flocking to this older neighborhood long considered a family-oriented alternative to the density of urban Seattle. The Junction, a three-block stretch of California Avenue, provides the sort of dining and retail options usually associated with higher-profile family-friendly neighborhoods like Phinney Ridge.

The Urbanite Oasis

South Lake Union

$50,500 median household income  •  66% residents with college degrees

Perhaps no neighborhood has grown faster than South Lake Union, its population jumping more than 20 percent in just a single year. The reason isn’t exactly a surprise: Amazon, of course, owns significant real estate in the area, while other tech and medicine firms have sprung up around it—a self-contained universe of employees needing places to live. 

South Lake Union is addressing this need with a bevy of mixed-use residential projects among a torrent of other construction. Twenty-five buildings have been approved since March 2014 with another 42 in preliminary phases—all of this in an area less than one square mile. 

Lori Mason Curran of Vulcan Real Estate, says the rapid growth in a formerly industrial environment has created some unique housing developments. Take the Stack House Apartments, for example: A century-old laundry supply building forms the backbone of two residential structures that pair vintage bones with a ton of high-tech amenities like an indoor winter garden, gaming rooms, and rainwater collection systems.


The Reasonable Waterfront


65% own  •  35% rent  •  122 home solds in 2014

Listen, buying a house within view of Seattle’s many bodies of water is going to be pricey. That doesn’t mean some homes near the water aren’t more affordable than others. Just east of the Central District, facing Lake Washington, the mix of older and newer homes on Leschi’s lakeside slope enjoy the same stunning views as communities like Madrona and Denny-Blaine at more reasonable prices. There’s also quick access to the parks and docks along the lake. 

The median home value in Leschi is $541,000. Compared to Madison Park’s average of just over $1 million, that’s a steal. While home prices clearly rise closer to the water, Coldwell Banker Bain agent Michael Ackerman has seen multiple clients start inland and buy a more affordable house with a partial lake view, then make their next home purchase closer to the water. “It’s almost like the Leschi neighborhood on the hill is a stepping stone.” 

Leschi also boasts a more diverse community than many of its lake-facing neighbors, with 45 percent nonwhite residents, in a neighborhood populated largely by homeowners.


The Crown Jewel


34 median resident age  •  10,386 total population

Not only was Ravenna the most competitive Seattle housing market in 2014, it was one of the top 10 hottest neighborhoods in the country, according to a Redfin report. Homes stayed on the market for an average of just seven days, with an overall 11 percent increase in home value from the previous year. Not Capitol Hill. Not Ballard. Placid little Ravenna. 

Its old age in part makes the neighborhood so desirable, with its Craftsman and Tudor homes built mostly before 1940. Close proximity to the University District doesn’t hurt either, nor do the parks and highly ranked schools.

“Multiple offers are pretty much a given,” says Redfin agent Christy Kim. She regularly receives an astonishing number of interested parties per house, and the highest bidder may ultimately buy at 20 percent above list price. “People love it here, and they are willing to pay for it.”


The Great Ballard Exodus


52% own  •  48% rent  •  $74,000 median household income

Young families and tech transplants looking to buy their first home often start their search in Ballard…where inventory is down 7 percent from last year. With such a competitive market and minimal homes to choose from, many would-be homeowners migrate north, where Greenwood’s 20 percent increase in home sales since 2014 makes it a new hot spot.

“There are a lot of younger people looking for their first house who need more space to start a family,” says Redfin agent Adam Heater; his clients are finding the median price of $322 per square foot more affordable than elsewhere.

Greenwood also enjoys the same sort of self-contained neighborhood feel Ballard likes to boast, only with much less condo development. The 85th and Greenwood block has a real main-street vibe, from the French bistro Gainsbourg to the newly opened (and instantly popular) Coyle’s Bakeshop. Throw in the easy commuting routes via I-5 and Aurora Avenue and the influx of young people looking to purchase home, and we might as well start calling it Ballard North. 


The Hot Ticket


8,314 total population  •  $541,000 median home value

Between 2013 and 2014, Ballard saw a nearly 50 percent increase in listings of single-family houses, townhomes, and condos. And yet, home prices rose 10 percent. People are buying properties faster than developers can build them.

Which isn’t surprising: The neighborhood is an ideal hybrid between urban and neighborhood living. A thicket of condominium projects have been completed or are currently under construction on and around Ballard Avenue, near some of the city’s most popular restaurants.

Head north to 65th, however, and suddenly there are whole neighborhoods of bungalows, caravans of strollers, pickup basketball games, and four esteemed public schools. “Families move here because the school districts are great no matter what neighborhood you’re in,” says Robin Sheridan at Windermere. “And I also find a lot of young professionals who work in Pioneer Square and South Lake Union.”

No surprise, this dichotomy has prompted a real estate gold rush in the area, with 245 homes sold in 2014 alone, easily placing it among the highest volume of home sales in all of Seattle and surrounding municipalities.


The Next Hot Ticket

Columbia City

44% own  •  56% rent  •  $52,528 median household income

This southern Seattle neighborhood has seen a particularly steep increase in home sale price, up nearly 12 percent from this time last year. “Columbia City is much more hip than it used to be,” says agent Michael Ackerman. “People buy there because they like the flavor and diversity of the neighborhood.” This includes newer million-dollar properties built on the hills above older communities of bungalows and Craftsman homes.

Not as remote as West Seattle, but far enough south to be considered a sort of sovereign community, Columbia City has a cozy, walkable main drag, cultural happenings at the Columbia City Theater, elite brunching at Geraldine’s, and a convenient light rail stop. Last year saw 144 homes sold here, and as interest continues to grow, buying and renting get more competitive with each passing year.


The Old and the New

SoDo/Pioneer Square

1,402 households  •  $458,282 median home value

Nearly 30,000 people work in the conjoined communities of Pioneer Square, one of Seattle’s oldest neighborhoods, and SoDo, one of the up-and-comers. Yet the combined residential population is just over 3,000, the smallest pocket of city dwellers in Seattle’s greater downtown area.

That population is set to grow with the addition of the Stadium Place apartments, a massive 740-unit complex beginning the second phase of construction this year. One new waterfront building is currently in development off Occidental Park, and two new complexes on Fourth Avenue will add a combined 261 units to the area.

“There’s been a huge migration down there for all the new and existing tech companies,” says Kevin Lisota at Findwell.  “Pioneer Square is the hip place to work, and these big complexes are being built to house all the newcomers.”

Courtesy Chris Peterson/ZGF Architects


This feature appeared in the May 2015 issue of Seattle Met magazine.