When Jodi Krause heard that the West Seattle bridge would be closed for repairs until 2022 — or longer — the Genesee Hill resident had one thought, she said.
Once restrictions on movement to contain the spread of the coronavirus are lifted, the bridge closure will turn her already hourlong commute — driving her son to school in Woodland Park and then zipping down to South Lake Union for her job at Amazon — into a “horrible” ordeal, she said.
“We either change his school. We deal with the commute every day. Or we move,” she said. “When we talked through those options, we felt that moving will be the least disruptive of the three.”
Nor is Krause alone among West Seattleites. Nearly 100,000 vehicles and 25,000 transit riders traveled across the ailing span of bridge every day. The closure is leading some to think of pulling up stakes and selling “before the reality sets in for what the commute is going to look like,” said Windermere broker Chad Dierickx, who said he’s been contacted by three clients since Wednesday morning, asking whether they should put their homes on the market.
It’s too soon to say precisely what the impact of the infrastructure debacle will be for West Seattle homeowners and businesses — or how to disentangle it from the economic pain caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
But both home and business owners may be protected to a certain extent by the fact that residents and visitors alike already see West Seattle as something of “an island,” close-knit and difficult to get to, said Sam Crowley, owner of the Fleurt Collective apparel and home goods boutique in Alaska Junction. A large portion of her business is already local: neighbors, and parents of her children’s friends.
Still, Crowley said, “My business no doubt will suffer.” She said that because of the business closure caused by the coronavirus, she’s applied for every government subsidy for which she’s eligible — so far, she’s received “not a dime.”
Lessons learned from transitioning to serve a community under a stay-home order as part of pandemic-control measures may help some businesses navigate the isolation imposed by the faulty bridge, said Lora Radford, executive director of the Alaska Junction Association. Those adaptations include a new emphasis on delivery and online orders.
Easy Street Records, for instance, started shipping vinyl after Amazon announced it was halting deliveries of nonessential items. The restaurant Lady Jaye has scaled back pricier offerings to focus on to-go meals for two, to better “target the neighborhood,” said co-owner Evan Carter.
Similar trends hold true in the realm of real estate. West Seattle’s relative remoteness from the rest of the city is a draw for many homebuyers, who appreciate the district’s Sound views and quiet streets. Meanwhile, employees already working from home may not see much wrong with living in a now-more-remote West Seattle.
“A lot of West Seattle started on the telecommute bandwagon when they took the viaduct away,” said John L. Scott broker Bill Reid, a longtime West Seattle resident. The Alaskan Way viaduct was closed in early January last year; the new tunnel linking West Seattle to Belltown and South Lake Union didn’t open for another month.
“Given this pandemic, we’ve all been forced into it at a very rapid pace. It’s opened that door already.”
Recent housing-market data certainly suggest home sales activity is down in West Seattle, but it doesn’t do much to resolve the question of how the bridge closure could affect future prices, apart from the pandemic.
The bridge has been closed for inspection since March 23, after diagonal cracks in the hollow concrete girders beneath the bridge deck grew two feet in two weeks.
The same day, Gov. Jay Inslee instituted a statewide stay-at-home order restricting travel and mandating that most employees who are able to work remotely do so.
Pending sales in West Seattle fell from an average of 38 per week in the first three weeks of March to 20 in the weeks ending March 25-April 8, according to Northwest Multiple Listing Service data provided by Windermere. That tracks roughly to citywide trends.
But there’s some evidence that home shoppers place a premium on living closer to the city center. A 2018 Zillow study found that a typical home 40 minutes away from Seattle’s downtown core cost nearly 50% less than the same home 15 minutes from downtown — though there are plenty of reasons living close to the city center can be more desirable and expensive.
Similarly, home prices in West Seattle consistently lag other neighborhoods. A typical West Seattle home sold for $694,500 in March, compared to $1.2 million in closer-in view neighborhoods such as Queen Anne and Magnolia.
West Seattle’s affordability was a big draw for Cassidy and Cory Townsend, who bought their first home last year in West Seattle’s Fairmount Park neighborhood. Cory, the regional development director for the Alzheimer’s Association, now faces a “challenging” commute to Lynnwood two days a week once stay-at-home restrictions are lifted.
They expect their property value to drop in the near term, but they’re not unduly worried about that. “We’re not living in West Seattle as a short-term investment,” Cory said.
It’s the reason behind the potential value drop that makes the couple audibly wince at mentions of the bridge closure.
“We certainly don’t want to see a depreciation because of a lack of investment in infrastructure,” he said.