FYI Guy: More than 450 were replaced by homes triple the size, or bigger. Check out our before-and-after pictures.
There’s been a lot of concern over the lack of affordable housing in Seattle recently. Turns out, we suffer from a shortage of unaffordable housing, too.
In our increasingly affluent region, there’s growing demand for spacious, amenity-laden new houses, particularly in prime locations on the Eastside and in parts of Seattle. But the existing housing stock in these established neighborhoods is often characteristic of a more modest era — small prewar cottages and midcentury ramblers. And so, these older structures are coming down fast, making way for new homes that satisfy the present-day demand for double-height great rooms, open kitchens and walk-in closets.
Analysis of data from the King County assessor shows that from 2012 through 2014, more than 1,500 houses were torn down and replaced with something larger — typically at least twice the size.
On average, these teardowns are 1,546 square feet in size, while the new houses built in their place clock in at 3,219 square feet. More than 450 of the teardowns were replaced by a home at least three times larger. The greatest concentration of these is in Kirkland and Bellevue on the Eastside, and in North Seattle — especially Ballard and Phinney Ridge.
Many times, these new homes transform the streetscape by the sheer increase in size from not only their predecessors but also the surrounding older houses.
Buying a house that’s significantly larger than its neighboring properties may seem to go against the conventional real-estate wisdom: “Don’t buy the most expensive home on the block.”
I talked about this with Ballard-based real-estate agent Greg Stamolis, who works with spec builders both in acquiring properties for teardown and later selling the new home when it’s completed.
According to Stamolis, buying one of these high-end properties is a vote of confidence in the neighborhood: “The buyer is willing to accept that the neighborhood is strong enough to buy a brand-new house that’s three times the size of the house that was there. They’re saying ‘Hey, this neighborhood really is worthwhile, it’s a great location.’ ”
I asked Stamolis to profile the typical buyer, but other than having good incomes, he says it’s a little hard to generalize. Many are recent arrivals who’ve moved to the area for work, but it’s also common for buyers to already live in the neighborhood, only in a smaller property that they feel no longer meets their needs. Rather than undergo a complete remodel of their present house, they decide to purchase a larger new one.
Nearly all buyers are married couples — some with kids, some without — but Stamolis recalls selling one expansive property to a single person who wanted a home that could showcase a sizable collection of fine art and antiques.
Large rooms and modern amenities are only part of the appeal of these new houses, Stamolis said. The typical buyer leads a busy life — often a dual-income household — and doesn’t want to deal with the upkeep and repairs of an older house.
Stamolis, who is a Seattle native and a Ballard resident, acknowledges these new houses are not always welcome additions to the block: “It can be hard for people who live in these older neighborhoods to see this kind of rapid change. When you have a 1920s neat, older bungalow, and then it’s torn down for a 3,000-square-foot house, it’s always an adjustment for the neighborhood. It kind of breaks the character of the neighborhood, which I understand. And it’s a disruption, because construction takes six months.”
But once the dust settles, he says, it doesn’t take long for things to go back to normal.
“After people meet the new neighbor, they are more comfortable. Very quickly, they become part of the neighborhood.”