February 12, 2019

The year isn’t even two months old and I’m placing a big bet already: I’m trading in condo ownership for townhouse ownership, in so doing bidding goodbye to my neighborhood of roughly 13 years.

Over the last several years I’ve found myself drawn to what I call Seattle’s “near north,” the area between the ship canal and the northern tip of Green Lake. It’s largely unfamiliar territory to me. For example, before I started my home search last November I hadn’t been to Green Lake in about 10 years, and its nearby neighborhood has seen lots of new commercial and residential development in preparation for a forthcoming light rail station. I’ve worked in Fremont and Wallingford since late 2014. I’ve spent more time at the University of Washington than any other university besides the one where I actually enrolled. And then there’s Ballard, which was the front-runner from beginning to end as my next home.

Ballard is tucked into the western edge of the near north. Formerly a principally blue-collar area known for its Scandinavian immigrants, a lot has changed since I moved to Seattle. Around the uniquely expensive Spirit gas station at 24th & Market, it wasn’t that long ago that I could see only sky to the north and west. Today there are scores of new buildings in Old Ballard, including new supermarkets, restaurants, and residences large and small. The spirit of the old lives on, though, in the beautiful new Nordic Museum and in festivals like Viking Days and SeafoodFest. The latter is held in the Ballard Avenue Historic District, home to charming shops, music venues, and the soon-to-be-open Skål Beer Hall. I’m already looking forward to my first Syttende Mai, a parade and festival commemorating Norway’s Constitution Day.

Speaking of small new residences in Ballard, I’m planning to move into one of two townhouses built behind a pre-existing house at 17th Ave NW and NW 60th St. As a supporter of the Yes In My Backyard (YIMBY) movement, it seems only fitting to be living in what was literally once a yard. On the same block there are already several flag-lot townhouses built in similar fashion, all owned by employees of tech companies, and there are also townhouses built in the more conventional style. Townhouses are as close as much of the near north gets to density. With duplexes and apartment buildings banned in most of North Seattle, townhouses have sprouted up everywhere. I saw dozens of them, all with similar amenities, many without parking spaces. (One builder offered a free e-bike to buyers.) My house will have an off-street “parking pad,” but as I don’t own a car, it’ll be useful for guests. Also, like most townhouses, the full bathroom is downstairs in the guest bedroom while the master bath has a very nice shower. Many agents told me that houses are now designed so that a portion, in this case the ground floor, can become a small Airbnb-ready unit; I have no intention of becoming an innkeeper, so that’ll instead make for a nice office.

Once I’m moved out, my plan is to sell my condo on Capitol Hill. I’ve appreciated my five years on the board and I feel that my building is attractive to people working downtown and in South Lake Union. Since I’ve moved to Seattle I’ve spent nearly my whole time living on Capitol Hill or one block to the south in northern First Hill. I will genuinely miss the neighborhood and already look forward to coming back to visit. Despite all the development and change recently, Capitol Hill remains uniquely diverse, quirky, inclusive, and accessible. The Hill has a light rail station today, for example, whereas Ballard won’t get a station until about 2035.

The housing market in Seattle is going through a big transition. In March 2017, 92% of home listings in the area attracted multiple offers; by November 2018, that had fallen to about 21%. Price reductions are common, but overwhelmingly it’s the sellers who drop the price. Local agent Matt Goyer observed that between September 2018 and December 2018, over 70% of houses sold for between their final list price and 5% below it. I made only two offers before securing my Ballard backyard townhouse, compared with 5 offers in 2012. My first offer was on a townhouse, unit A, that had dropped $105,000 since its initial listing; I offered about 8% below unit A’s reduced price, but on the same day unit B in the same complex received a “full asking price” offer, so the sellers declined to entertain my low offer on A. My agent conceded that although unit B had itself been discounted $106,000 from its initial price, “full price” has a certain cachet anyway. I’m optimistic but pragmatic about getting a good price for my home when I sell it later this year.

Next comes the fun part: decorating, furnishing, and living in a brand-new home in a new-to-me neighborhood. It’s going to be a fun year.