Thursday, November 6, 2008

Where to go when you want to escape: Utopia (or Mount Vernon)?

It’s Friday evening. You just left work. Driving home you get a notion to… just keep driving. Where would you go? To your cabin in the woods? A small farmhouse on a hill with a porch and a view of the sun setting over the Olympics? Maybe a modern house set next to a river that makes a sound tempting you to ditch your day job and fish professionally.

What if you had a place to go? I remember a reporter for the PI telling me about his cabin he’s building up in the North Cascades. He had to hike everything in. There was no power, no telephone, no lights. You could tell this was his idea of fun by the way his face lit up talking about it. An extreme example of escaping? Yes, but you’d be amazed what’s out there.

I was touring around Mount Vernon for a client and ran across this great escape. A charming 1920’s farmhouse situated on 20+ acres of pasture for under $400k. It’s an ideal retreat in the foothills of the North Cascades and the street address alone makes you want to go there. And best of all? Once you’re there if you want to escape your escape, civilization is just down the road and no ferry line. Take a look:

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What is Street Appeal?

I was recently holding a house open one Sunday just up the hill from the house I grew up in. The sun was out and it was one of those warm fall days right before the bite of winter starts to roll in. As I was placing my open signs (a-boards in real estate lingo) out I noticed a group of children hanging out on the grass bank in front of my old house. A few of the kids were straddling their bikes chatting with the rest who were perched on a rather steep slope of lawn. The picture was a timeless one for me. If you were to look in our family photo albums, you’d see a similar scene played out every time the sun came out.

Times have changed. The boys on the bikes were wearing helmets. Absent was the plank of wood propped up on a flimsy metal step-stool. Evil Knievel was the rage and we were busy trying to see who could clear the most squares on the sidewalk. But the vibe of that street was still there. The kids on the street were living it. I could feel it.

There is so much more to a house than the kitchen and the color of the carpets. The intangible items are sometimes what are more valuable to the homeowner than the brand of kitchen appliance. I think this is why the new construction market has taken such a hit as of late. People are looking for a house to have a character, a soul.

Today’s market as challenged as it is a great time to shop for a new house. You’ll have the time to think actually about it, look inside and out. Check out the neighborhood. Try and catch the vibe and see if it’s right for you.

Recent data out from the mortgage brokers is that applications are down some 20%. That means nobody is asking for a mortgage. The banks have money to lend. If you bought a house ten years ago, you’ll recognize the process. The lender will ask you to verify the information on your application with tax returns, bank statements and pay stubs. Gone are the pain free mortgage applications. But if you were to lend someone $400,000 wouldn’t you ask for the information to be real?

As I was leaving I noticed the gathering had evolved, like ours used to, into a game of touch football in the middle of the street. I’m not a big football fan but the noises that rolled up the hill from their game put a smile on my face and memories rolling though my thoughts for the rest of the night.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Washington Park Jewel

This Washington Park jewel sits on one of the venerable neighborhood's most highly sought, tree-lined streets. Built in 1928, the classic traditional home has been extensively refurbished with exquisite style, both inside and out. Several remodels in the 1990's updated systems and endowed the house with all the amenities desired for contemporary living. R. David Adams transformed the grounds and created inviting spaces for outdoor living and entertaining.

The two-story house with red brick walls and a gabled shake roof has a commanding presence from the street. A tall diamond pane, leaded glass window with a wrought iron Juliet balcony graces the fa├žade. Aggregate steps lead up a sloping lawn bordered by mature plantings. They end at a covered entry with a paneled door and elaborate surround.

An entry hall with a split staircase has arched passageways to adjoining living and dining rooms. Both of these graciously proportioned formal rooms have dark-stained hardwood floors and high ceilings with crown molding. The living room features a wood-burning fireplace with a verde marble surround and mantel detailed with classical motifs. Leaded glass windows have lovely territorial views; clerestory windows above them bring in additional light. Leaded glass casement windows in the dining room look out on the front lawn, while French doors on the opposite wall open to a terrace and formal back lawn.

A beautifully updated kitchen offers granite slab counters, tile floors, and traditional cabinets, some fitted with leaded glass doors. A center island topped by a wrought iron pot rack holds a 4-burner gas cook-top by Dacor. Other appliances include Dacor double convection ovens, a paneled Sub-Zero side-by-side refrigerator/freezer, KitchenAid microwave, and dishwasher. An informal dining area is positioned next to leaded glass windows looking out on the backyard. A door in the kitchen provides easy access to the yard and back garden.

A hallway off the entry leads to an exceptional library with pine-paneled walls. This cozy room has built-in cabinetry for media equipment as well as a window seat under a lovely, diamond pane window that looks out on the backyard. Completing the main floor is an elegant powder room with fluted pedestal sink.

A split staircase with two tall diamond pane windows and display niches leads to the second floor, where there are three bedrooms and two baths. The master suite has high vaulted ceilings, hardwood floors, and one wall lined in built-in storage cabinetry. A tall window with a Juliet balcony enjoys peek-a-boo views of Lake Washington, the Cascade Mountains, and the Bellevue skyline. The three-quarter master bath has been updated with marble tile floors and a glass-walled shower. A second bedroom also has a partial view of the lake and mountains. The third bedroom, equipped with a cedar closet, looks out on the backyard. These two bedrooms are served by an updated full bath with a claw foot tub, pedestal sink, tile floors, and built-in cabinetry. A utility room with laundry facilities is conveniently located on the second floor. A full, unfinished basement offers abundant storage options as well as great potential for an additional level of living space.

A beautiful terrace and back lawn provide an ideal setting for outdoor entertaining. The brick-trimmed aggregate terrace adjoins a level lawn bordered by neatly clipped boxwood and mature rhododendron. High hedges that surround the backyard provide privacy to the gated, fully enclosed space. Stone pavers off the kitchen lead to a lushly planted garden. An azalea-lined walkway connects the house with a detached 2-car garage accessed from the alley.

This distinguished residence is only minutes from Lake Washington and the shops and village-like amenities of Madison Park. It is also easily accessible from downtown Seattle.

Offered at $2,500,000


Bedrooms: 3
Baths: 1 full; 1 three-quarter; 1 half
Fireplace: 1
Year Built: 1928
Lot Size: 7,200
Heat: Gas-fired hot water
Garage: 2-car detached
Taxes: $16,202 (KCR 2008)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Cottages as Condo Alternatives and Downsizing as a Trend

It’s a trend I’ve witnessed recently with my clients, that’s now been reported nationally in last week’s Weekend Journal by the Wall Street Journal. Smaller is better for some— and home ownership rather than condominium or townhome ownership is better for others too.

I’ve had clients lately who’ve started their search with a condo or townhome in mind who end up looking at homes instead. In today’s “buyer’s market” in our region, single family residences have become an affordable alternative with a greater rate of return on investment. I’m seeing homes in neighborhoods like Ballard, Maple Leaf and Loyal Heights in the under $400-300,000 range that make excellent condo alternatives.

The July 18 Weekend Journal article by Sara Lin was entitled: “The Newest Cottage Industry: Buyers Snap Up Small Homes; 1,000 Square Feet for $599,950”. It highlighted some buyers from our region who’ve gone smaller. Hear Sara’s recap of the story online:

I’ve been an admirer of small space living for years, a favorite book being Creating the Not So Big House by Sarah Susanka. Some excellent examples of small cottage neighborhoods that have recently been developed in our area include Ross Chapin-designed Greenwood Avenue Cottages in Shoreline and The Cottage Company’s Third Street Cotatges near Langley on Whidbey Island:

Just Up the Street from Where I Grew Up (and Future Site of the Ultimate Man Cave?)

Check out my new listing in Windermere (click above), just down the road from where us neighborhood kids used to play kickball, sled and race go karts. It’s a great family house, built in the last ten years, with 3+ bedrooms and Lake Washington and Cascade views. It’s done.

Plus, as one Open House visitor mentioned to his wife, “Hey honey— did you check out the ‘man cave’?”

(For more about the “man cave” phenomenon Word Spy digs into the trend here: ).

We’re talking plenty of room for personal space and hobbying. See, this terrific home has a garage deep enough to park three cars, leaving an ideal spot in the rear for a woodworking shop as this impressed guy pointed out, or for a customized "man cave" with all the amenities. Like, say a custom LP stereo from Tune ( an audio store started by Seattle Prep alum Connon Price) or something amazing like that.

“Man cave”… I like the sound of that. Maybe I’ll change the flyers.