Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tax fraud hits home



Dumb-cluck IRS lays an egg


Commentary by Bryan Tagas

After electronically filing my 2013 federal income tax return using TurboTax last week, I requested that I be notified as soon as the IRS officially accepted my filing.  Sure enough, about three hours later I got a text message from TurboTax. Unfortunately, the news was not good: “Your Federal Tax Return Rejected – Action Needed!”

“Here’s the problem with your return,” the message continued, “IND-513 – The Spouse SSN in the Return Header must not be equal to the Spouse SSN in another return filed for the same tax year.”  But then there was this hopeful bit: “Don’t worry, we can help.” Well, actually, not.

They can’t help, in fact, because the problem is that my wife is a victim of what’s known as “stolen identity refund fraud.”  Someone somewhere has filed a tax return and, presumably, gotten a nice juicy refund using my wife’s social security number in the process.  When my wife confirmed all of this with the IRS she was told, surprisingly, that she ought to be thankful that the fraudster had only listed her as a spouse and not as the primary filer (no mention, however, of how horrific that particular circumstance might have been).  Oh, and there was another piece of positive news from the IRS: “Fortunately, there is much less tax fraud this year than there was last year!”

We’re already feeling much better about the whole thing.

The IRS was not willing to say, however, whether the person using my wife’s SSN actually
received a refund as a result of the fraudulent filing.  Apparently it is IRS policy not to say.  And that’s probably for a very good reason:  it’s damn embarrassing that the federal government is so lax as to allow perfectly preventable situations like this to occur.

According to press reports, hundreds of millions of dollars are scammed this way each year, probably billions.  Taxpayers should be outraged.  A quick search of the Internet turns up some incredible stories.  In one notorious case, the IRS gave refunds totaling $1.2 million to a woman who filed more than 400 fraudulent electronic tax returns from a single IP address at her home.  She used the illegally obtained Social Security numbers of hundreds of people. Other unbelievable cases are documented at the IRS’s own identity theft tax fraud webpage.

How did my wife and I get caught up in a tax-fraud situation? Well, the story begins with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle and its failure to protect the confidential information of its employees, vendors, and volunteers.  Perhaps you’ve read the articles in the local press. My wife volunteers as a once-a-year art instructor for a Catholic elementary school. With good reason, the Archdiocese does a background check on all such volunteers—and it apparently maintains a database that contains the social security numbers, addresses, and other personal information of these individuals.  The Seattle Archdiocese reported last month that its computers had been hacked and it warned current and former employees and volunteers that they should take steps to determine whether they had been victimized.

I dismissed the matter, given that we always file our taxes electronically and I know that the IRS only accepts our returns if the PINs of both my wife and myself are entered correctly and we have accurately reported the exact amount we paid in taxes for the previous tax year.  And there were other possible safeguards that I was aware the IRS could employ to protect us.  Besides, as far as I knew, we actually owed money to the feds for the 2013 tax year, so presumably no one could fraudulently get a refund using our Social Security numbers anyway.  Certainly the IRS was smarter than that!

Unfortunately, I was thinking logically, like the banker I am.  But this is the government, after all.  And apparently when it comes to the IRS, it’s a first-come, first-served world. Whoever submits the first return with a particular SSN locks out anyone who comes later using that same SSN, even when that second person is the legitimate filer!  Now it’s up to us to prove to the IRS that we’re legitimate.  We’ll have to file manually, attach an affidavit claiming identity theft, and wait up to six months for our refund--assuming we qualify for one.

Now anyone who ever tries to change their password or home address on a financial website should expect an email or snail mail confirmation of the change.  That’s just prudent operating procedure.  If fraud has occurred, the victim is immediately put on notice.  The IRS doesn’t work that way, however.  In fact, the IRS takes pride in stating that it NEVER sends emails to taxpayers.  That rule supposedly exists so that no one will ever, therefore, be scammed by someone pretending to be the IRS!  Everyone, of course, knows the IRS doesn’t send emails.  Right?

So no email.  But the IRS could have sent us a letter, and it might have read as follows:

“Dear Taxpayer:  We have accepted your recent tax return, but we noticed the following discrepancies: 1) your refund address or bank account has changed since your last tax filing, 2) you have a different spouse from all your previous tax returns, 3) if you filed electronically your PIN does not match our records and if you filed manually you either did not fill in the PIN box or failed to write in the correct number, and 4) your reported income does not match the W2 and 1099 information for you that was provided to us by third parties for 2013.  However, because your Social Security number is correct, we are preparing to send your tax fund to the new address or bank account you specified. Sincerely, the Internal Revenue Service.”

Inexplicably, we didn’t receive such a letter. Presumably, the IRS was just too busy getting those fraudulent tax refunds processed efficiently.


Anyway, when I told my wife I was going to write a blog posting about our maddening tax-fraud experience, she warned me not to do it: “They’ll audit us for sure,” she said. “No way,” said I.  “The IRS certainly doesn’t take retribution against citizens who exercise their constitutional right to say the agency is incompetent.”

Then I remembered: I was also the one who said that there was no way the IRS would ever accept a tax return from someone else using her Social Security number.
Live and learn?  Me?

Apparently not.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Getting caught up


Graffiti epidemic angers property owners


Many neighborhood businesses and a few residential properties were hit by tagging "artists" on Thursday or Friday last week.  The above example, one of the worst, is at the bus stop next to Madison Park Hardware on 42nd near E. Madison St.  Among the neighborhood icons tagged were the cute red phone box in front of the former Best Buds shop and the not-so-cute "Black Hole of Madison Park" (Constance Gillespie's building next to the Bank of America).


Those who have experienced vandalism may report it using the Seattle Police's CORP (Community Online Reporting Program), but no one should expect much of a police investigation of this kind of criminal activity. That's just the way it is.



Another neighborhood business to exit


Ann Marie Lingerie (4000 E. Madison St.) is closing up shop later this month, at least at its current location.  Store manager Felicia Klabo tells us that Ann Marie may ultimately move to another physical location, but for the time being it's going to be exclusively an online merchant. The store is having a 50-75%-off moving sale, so those looking for the latest Hanky Panky nightwear or Prima Donna underwires should rush right down.

If you are among those who bemoan the loss of Madison Park's retail core, this closing is no doubt particularly sad.  Ann Marie has been one of the very few neighborhood clothing stores to survive (The Original Children's Shop being the only other). The store has been a neighborhood fixture for many years, but the current ownership of Nathalie Scandiuzzi began in 2011.

At the other end of "The Village," however, a new establishment opened during the last month, at 1928 43rd Avenue E.  City Sweats is another neighborhood spa, this one offering "Far Infrared Sauna Treatment, massages, Himalayan salt scrubs, Lymphatic Drainage and a full tonics bar menu."  Oh, and "chromotherapy."


Meanwhile, interior construction work is now underway at the old Mad Pizza location on E. Madison St. next to Scoop du Jour.  We see that "Vophan Restaurant & Catering LLC" has applied for a beer and wine permit for this location, but there's no official confirmation yet that this new entity is going to be providing the neighborhood with sushi. Nevertheless, it's a pretty strong rumor.  Further down the street, however, no work seems to be underway at the former Best Buds location, rumored to be the site of a future taco stand.


Finally, there's the HomeStreet Bank branch, still building away more than a year after the bank first took the space on.  As we understand the story, the hundred-year-old building turned out not to be in very good condition, requiring a lot of work that was not initially anticipated. As you can see (above), there's much to do before the branch can open sometime later this year.



Madison Park home wins prestigious award


A recently constructed "passive house" at 4211 E. Lee Street in Washington Park has won an American Institute of Architects National Housing Award. The award was established to recognize "the best in housing design and promote the importance of good housing as a necessity of life, a sanctuary for the human spirit and a valuable national resource."

The house uses 90% less energy for heating and cooling than is typical of conventionally built structures. NK Architects designed the home, which was constructed by Cascade Built.



Easter egg hunt this Saturday


Madison Park (the City park, that is) will be the scene of a mad scramble for easter eggs this Saturday.  The hunt will begin at 3:30 and continue until all the eggs are found or the parents get bored. There will be a "bunny petting lounge" and a "little ones hunt" as well.  Let's hope for sun.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The new 520 pounds its way across the Lake


Madison Parkers give bridge the stink eye


There’s literally been a lot of water under the bridge since we last wrote about the floating-bridge project.  Some of that water, unfortunately, was in the new pontoons. That design-related problem has supposedly been fixed, though at a whopping cost. WSDOT reported earlier this year that an additional $208 million will be needed to cover the cost overruns associated with repairs to the four leaky pontoons that were already on the Lake and design changes to the pontoons that were yet to be produced.  That uses up the project’s remaining reserve fund, initially pegged at $250 million. Meanwhile, the timetable for completion of the floating-bridge portion of the project has been delayed by nine months.  If the bridge is completed before spring 2016 it will be a miracle.  It was originally supposed to be drivable by July 2015.

Even when the floating bridge is completed, it will not be the end of the new 520’s woes. The southern, eastbound half of the Western Approach (that’s the two fixed bridges to be built between Montlake and the start of the floating bridge) still awaits funding, as does as the section of the roadway that will connect Interstate 5 to the two Western Approach bridges (one for eastbound and one for westbound traffic).  The northern, westbound approach bridge is funded, with construction to begin later this summer.

As a result of delays and design changes, both taxpayers and bridge users will, one way or another, be paying a lot more for the privilege--and other road projects will be denuded of funding (but thereby be developed more efficiently, in the words of the WSDOT press office).  Meanwhile, the legislature has apparently given up on trying to pass an omnibus transportation bill for the near term, WSDOT dysfunction providing a handy cover for the legislators’ inaction.  So there’ve been and will continue to be big implications resulting from the 520 screw-ups.

Many in Madison Park, of course, have more parochial reasons for being upset with WSDOT.  The local media has done several stories on how residents here are dealing with the noise and vibrations of 520 pile driving (apparently, not well).  That constant pounding!  And at all hours of the day and into the night--even on weekends!  More distressingly, at both the Canterbury Shores condo building and the Edgewater Apartments residents report that cracks have appeared that are possibly due to 520 construction.  It’s not clear at this point whether these problems are merely cosmetic or have structural significance.  The State will investigate (and, if necessary, compensate) once the project ends, according to WSDOT.

The near-term good news is that the pounding has apparently stopped for a while. According to a WSDOT spokesperson, pile driving related to the West Connection Bridge ended in early March, though pile removal has been underway since that time--and that, too, “can cause noise and vibration, but not nearly as much as pile installation does.”

The pilings in question were only temporary and were placed there to aid the construction of that portion of the highway that will connect the new floating bridge with the old Western Approach. This new West Connection Bridge (shown in the photos above and immediately below) is a necessity because the new floating bridge will need to channel traffic onto the old highway while the new westbound West Approach Bridge North is being constructed, along with the fact that since there’s no funding yet for the new 520's permanent, eastbound approach bridge to the west of that point (Pier 36). We’re talking about the area just off the northern shore of Madison Park.


Construction on this 1,330 foot connector bridge began last summer and will be completed in the fall of this year.  This graphic shows the progress of construction:

(click to enlarge)

The twelve piers, shown in green, are all completed, and the roadway above is now being constructed.  Pier 36 will connect directly to the new floating bridge when completed.

Also on the subject of construction progress, here’s a graphic showing the status the 77-pontoon floating structure of 520:

(click to enlarge)

As noted, there are 32 pontoons on Lake Washington.  Some of these are anchored (those shown in dark green) some are sitting on the Lake temporarily moored (light green), and some are either under construction (orange), pending transit (yellow) or yet to be built (white).  And then there’s Pontoon U, the one shown in dark green with the orange cross hatching.  That’s the remaining problem pontoon that is now being repaired.  Work on that began in early March and should be completed by the end of spring.  After that point, in theory at least, water should only be going under and around the new bridge and not literally into it.

Pontoons parked north of Madison Park

WSDOT’s 520 bridge director, Julie Meredith, reported last month that the new floating bridge is halfway to completion, with 46 pontoons produced to date and all of the bridge’s 766 concrete deck panels for the bridge's low-rise section scheduled to be out of their Kenmore production facility by fall 2015.  And with completion of the West Connection Bridge on the near horizon, it’s just possible that from the standpoint of noise, vibration, and other intrusions the worst will soon be over for Madison Parkers.

Or perhaps not.  WSDOT will begin construction of the westbound West Approach Bridge North project this summer.

Many Madison Parkers haven't enjoyed the 520 nighttime work

[All photos courtesy of WSDOT.]

The latest on those Arboretum ramps


Outta here by 2016


There may be three or four people out there who are still unaware that as a result of the construction of the new SR-520 floating bridge, the existing bridge's on- and off-ramps in the Arboretum will be demolished, along with the infamous "ramps to nowhere."  Those thousands of people who regularly traverse E. Madison Street or Lake Washington Boulevard in order to access or pile off the freeway in the Arboretum will just have to find another channel through which to flow. This re-direction is a major concern for many East/West commuters, as well as for many residents of Madison Valley and Montlake who are going to be negatively impacted by the new heavier-volume traffic patterns once those "convenient" ramps are gone.

We've covered this story in some detail (for that background see here).  At this time two years ago we reported that the Arboretum ramps had received a stay of execution. Although the westbound exit to Lake Washington Boulevard had originally been scheduled to be demolished in 2012, WSDOT decided to delay that effort until sometime this year.  The eastbound entrance to 520, however, was always scheduled to be removed next year, and that plan, at least initially, did not change.

However, we learned something new as a result of doing the update (above) on the new bridge's progress. We asked WSDOT for a current estimate of when drivers will no longer have access to 520 through the Arboretum, and this is answer we got from Roger Thompson, spokesperson for the SR-520 Bridge Replacement and HOV Program: "While we don't know the exact date and month, we anticipate that the westbound Arboretum off ramp will likely be removed by late 2015. This is because before the contractor can build the bridge portion of the West Approach Bridge North, the westbound off-ramp must first be removed--as it physically lies in the area we need to construct the bridge." Drivers exiting 520 westbound will have a new 24th Avenue East off-ramp through which to access Montlake and the Arboretum.



With regard to the Eastbound entrance ramp to 520, that demolition will not take place until "Stage 3" of bridge construction.  Tentatively, construction of that ultimate phase of the project is scheduled for the fall of 2016.  But that timetable is subject to factors beyond the direct control of WSDOT. As Thompson noted, "Future construction phases for the west side--primarily from I-5 to Montlake Boulevard--have yet to be funded. Timing and sequencing the removal of the eastbound Arboretum on-ramp depends on additional funding.  We're working closely with the Governor and Legislature to identify this funding and will have more information once funding is secured."

So there you have it.  At some point in the not-too-distant future, the Legislature willing, those ramps will be history.

Enjoy them while you can.

The ramps as seen from Google Earth
[Upper photo courtesy of WSDOT.]

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The shooting: pondering the imponderable


Bizarre incident raises many questions


Commentary by Bryan Tagas

It was a surreal three hours in the otherwise placid life of Madison Park this week:  a cross-dressed sous chef terrorizes customers and employees of the neighborhood Wells Fargo office by staging a holdup with a "realistic looking" airsoft gun; makes off with the cash; races down McGilvra in an underpowered Hyundai, just ahead of converging police; somehow manages to flip his car in Denny Blaine; heads for the bushes while shedding his women's attire; leads police on a multi-hour man hunt; allegedly brandishes a fixed-blade knife when finally accosted; runs threateningly towards a police detective while refusing to drop his weapon; is immediately shot dead ("pop, pop, pop" in the words of a witness).  Not your typical day in the neighborhood.


If you're at a loss to explain how this sequence of events could possibly unfold here, you're not alone. The robbery and shooting are the talk of the town.

First of all, those who believe it was insanity to attempt a bank robbery in Madison Park should know that it has been done before. The fact that the neighborhood is at a the "end of the road" does not mean that it's impossible to make a successful getaway from The Park.  The neighborhood Bank of America branch, back when it was a Seafirst office, was successfully robbed multiple times.  It's a challenge, but not an impossible one.


And then there's the issue of Why?  It's probably impossible to know. The suspect has been identified as Cody Spafford, a dependable, likable four-year employee at the highly-regarded The Walrus & The Carpenter  oyster bar in Ballard.  Although he had a police record, according to media reports, Spafford's criminal history had apparently been limited to several misdemeanors and one case of felony possession of marijuana in Oregon.  Nothing to presage the high-drama, "act of desperation" he graduated to in Madison Park on Thursday. Almost certainly his close friends and family know something that his co-workers quoted in the press may not have known. But in the absence of that personal testimony, Cody's bizarre presence in Madison Park this week is inexplicable.


And what about that final, tragic scene, seemingly straight out of one of those TV cop shows? As summed up by a local TV reporter, it was not the kind of act one expects to play out "in a neighborhood of multi-million dollar homes."  But was it a case of Suicide by Cop?  What possesses a young man to lunge at a rifle-toting police officer other than a desire to end it all?  This is what the SPD police blotter reported about the incident:

"The detective began talking to the suspect and repeatedly ordered him to drop the knife, but the suspect told the detective he would not drop the knife.

As the detective was working to get the suspect to drop the knife, a lieutenant at the scene called for officers with Tasers to respond to the courtyard.

The suspect, brandishing a knife, ran toward the detective. The detective fired multiple rounds from a rifle, striking the suspect. Officers and detectives called for medics and began performing CPR on the suspect. The suspect died at the scene. Although officers armed with additional less-lethal tools were responding to the incident at the time of the shooting, police are trained to use deadly force when facing a threat from a deadly weapon, such as a gun or a knife."

Perhaps it had to end this way, Cody by his actions having removed the authorities' non-lethal options.  A thorough investigation of the shooting and a full reporting of the results will be needed, however, to assuage any lingering doubt.

The homeowner who called police to alert them to Cody's presence on her property adds this postscript: "I have seen the write up on the young man killed.  I am so sorry I was a part of this.  What happened to those tazers the police were issued?"

Too late, too late.

[Photos courtesy of the Seattle Police Department.]

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Wells Fargo branch robbed



Suspect flees, crashes car, is shot by police


At about 9:15 this morning a man robbed the Madison Park Wells Fargo branch and, after getting money from a teller, fled the branch on foot.  The SPD Blotter states that the man, who reportedly was wearing a wig, makeup, and women's clothing, was seen getting into a  silver-colored car parked nearby.  About ten minutes later, SPD received a report that a silver-colored car had crashed and flipped over near 39th Avenue E. and E. John Street.


The driver of the crashed Hyundai then exited the scene, rolling or carrying a suitcase with him.  Witnesses at the robbery scene had reported that the suspect had a rolling suitcase in hand when he got into his getaway vehicle.

Police helicopters and news helicopters soon converged over the Denny Blaine neighborhood as police on the ground blocked off the area and began their search. The suspect was described as being white, about 5' 7'' in height,170 pounds, and wearing a large bandage on his nose.  When confronted by police, the suspect reportedly brandished a knife, which he refused to put down.  Police then shot the man, who was pronounced dead at the scene.

Google Map view of area where suspect was shot: 39th Avenue E. and E. Howell St.

The earliest word we received regarding this incident was a posting on the Next Door newsfeed  by Community Council member Bob Edmiston, who was actually in the branch as the robbery was happening and ran out to call 911.  He reports that everyone in the branch was unharmed.  Police locked the branch down immediately thereafter to investigate the crime.  The area where the suspect was shot is also closed off while the investigation proceeds.

Intersection of Lake Washington Blvd. & 39th Avenue E.

Afternoon Update:  MPB reader Geri Nelson, who lives on E. Howell, reports that she confronted the robbery suspect in her yard late this morning, just before the police discovered him.  "He looked [to be in his] early twenties," and was "kind of preppy," she says. He was "wearing tan shorts, a tan hat, a blue collared shirt, and carrying a tan over-the-shoulder bag that he was clenching against his hip."  She asked him what he was doing on her property, but she couldn't understand his response. "He split to the next yard thru the laurels.  I immediately called 911 and they had him before I got off the phone."  She reports that the suspect had some money in the bag that he was carrying, and he had stashed his luggage in the neighbor's garage. While searching for the suspect, police had earlier discovered some discarded women's clothing that had apparently been used by the suspect in the robbery.

The fatal shot came at about 11:45 a.m., approximately two and a half hours after the robbery occurred.  It is not clear why the suspect was shot, though an Seattle Police spokesperson has been quoted in the media as stating that the officer who confronted the suspect felt threatened.

[Overturned-vehicle photo courtesy of the Seattle Police Department.]

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Madison Park: not hot, but certainly exclusive



When the Seattle Times ran a story earlier this year on the Puget Sound neighborhoods with the hottest real estate markets, Madison Park did not make the list. Trendy neighborhoods such as Belltown and Beacon Hill saw huge spikes in median home values during 2013, a stunning 24% in the case of Beacon Hill.  Madison Park’s appreciation last year was about 7%. Not bad, but certainly not on a par with many Seattle neighborhoods that are considered “affordable.”  Beacon Hill, for example, had a median price of only $320,000 for houses solid there in 2013. Madison Park, by contrast, recorded a median price of $1,350,000 for the 103 single-family homes sold here.

But in spite of our not being “hot,” Madison Park has proven over time to be an excellent neighborhood in which homeowners can benefit from long-term gains on their residential property purchases, assuming their properties were not bought at the height of the market. Real estate website Zillow reports that Madison Park had a 7.1% increase last year in our median home value, based on neighborhood sales. The Zillow Home Value Index for a median Madison Park home (single family residences and condos combined) now stands at $925,200 (the median being the point where half the houses have a higher value and the other half a lower value). Unfortunately, Zillow excludes Broadmoor in its calculations, which somewhat distorts the overall picture for Madison Park, since Broadmoor represents about one fifth of neighborhood single-family housing. Nevertheless, Zillow’s calculations are useful for taking a long-term look at appreciated values in the area.


Zillow’s records go back to 1996, when Madison Park’s median house value was just $266,300.  Five years later, in February 2001,the Zillow Home Value Index for the neighborhood had risen to $570,900 (up 114%); and at the ten-year mark in February 2006 the median home here was valued at $839,400 (up an additional 47%). The height of the market in Madison Park came in September 2007, when a median home topped $1 million for three months, peaking at $1,005,700 in September. The decline from that point was swift, with the median value hitting $715,200 in February 2011, before the recovery finally began.

From the low point, according to Zillow, Madison Park’s homes have appreciated 29% overall. That seven-year increase may seem modest relative to the go-go years around the turn of the century, but it brings the Zillow Home Value Index to just 8% below the neighborhood’s all-time high.  Zillow is predicting a 4.8% increase in values during the coming year, which will place the median list price per square foot at $529. Today’s $505 per square foot is 59% higher than the $317 for the city as a whole, according to Zillow.

The takeaway from all of this is that Madison Park has already lived through the cycle of rapid appreciation that certain other Seattle neighborhoods are beginning to experience, post Great Recession.  The now-rarified nature of Madison Park precludes this kind of ongoing frothiness, though Madison Park’s many virtues will continue to make the place a sought-after place to live for those who can afford it. Gentrification continues apace, with cottages coming down and mega-houses going up. All of this puts the neighborhood further out of reach for typical Seattle families, lessening the size of the audience for homes in the Park.  Even rentals here are astronomical compared to Seattle overall ($2,950 per month at the median in Madison Park versus $1,615 for the city as a whole, says Zillow).

From This: a 42nd Avenue E. Cottage

Proving Madison Park’s exclusivity, Zillow ran some numbers for us earlier this year comparing Madison Park’s pricing today with that of other Seattle neighborhoods. Madison Park’s $925,200 median value came in third of the 99 neighborhoods Zillow analyzed, topped only by Laurelhurst at $1,011,800 and Windermere at $943,800. If only single-family residences are included, however, Madison Park tops the list at a median value of $1,242,300 (Lower Queen Anne comes next at $1,115,700, followed by Windermere and Laurelhurst, the only other Seattle neighborhoods with median house values exceeding $1 million).

To This: a 42nd Avenue E. Mega-House

Madison Park’s year-over-year increase in its median single-family home value, 12.6%, was exceeded by the annual increases of 29 other Seattle neighborhoods (21.7% for Highpoint and more than 17% for both Windermere and Laurelhurst, for example). Further reinforcing the conclusion that Madison Park is at the top of the exclusive zone is the fact that the current median list price per square foot here is now $660, a 38.8% increase over the same point last year. There’s no inventory left in Madison Park, and what’s available is expensive (just 11 houses currently on the market, Broadmoor included, with list prices ranging from $1.4 million to $3.5 million).

Zillow currently rates Madison Park’s real estate market as “Very Cold” (in other words, an extreme buyer’s market).

[Upper photo: 1510 37th Avenue E., courtesy of Windermere Real Estate via Redfin.]

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Keeping up


Tacos are in our future (and sushi?)


The rumor we picked up and reported a few weeks ago that a taco stand could be moving into the space once occupied by Best Buds flower shop at 41st and E. Blaine has proven  true. A company called Taco Bar LLC has applied for a liquor license for that site, though no construction activity is currently underway there.

Meanwhile, there's a new rumor, though unsubstantiated (that's the thing about rumors), that the replacement for the departed Mad Pizza on Madison St. might be "something Japanese."  As with the old Best Buds shop, however, the former pizza parlor is not undergoing rehabilitation at this point.

Finally on the food scene, Madison Park Conservatory served its last meal on Saturday, chef/proprietor Cormac Mahoney and some of his great crew posing for a final shot in the kitchen:


Those so choosing can leave their best wishes on the restaurant's Facebook page.

As an aside, Madison Parkers might be interested in reading a postmortem of MPC at one of the KOMO News websites, Seattle Refined, wherein blogger Frank Guanco muses, "maybe the neighborhood didn't deserve Madison Park Conservatory."

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Fourth Quarter Real Estate Report


2315 38th Avenue E.: sold at list price in five days

Who moved our inventory?


As the new year began, Madison Park exhibited all the aspects of a "hot" real estate market except for one. It's hard to sustain a vibrant market when there are virtually no houses for sale; and at the end of January there were just nine Madison Park listings. That  represents one and a half months of inventory, based on fourth quarter 2013 sales levels.  Those who have been waiting for the right moment to put their house on the market, however, will be heartened to learn that houses are now selling in record time and they're selling, in many cases, at the initial asking list price---or even higher.  Those are both significant changes from what was true when last year began.

Here's a rundown of the market's sales activity in the fourth quarter:

Houses

Sales:  18
Median Sale Price:  $1,590,000
Average Sq. Ft.:  3,651
Average Price per Sq. Ft.:  $432
Average Days on Market:  63
Average Discount from List Price:  6.8%

Condos

Sales: 3
Median Sale Price:  $435,000
Average Sq. Ft.:  1,515
Average Price per Sq. Ft.:  $585
Average Days on Market:  218
Average Discount from List Price: 7.7%

For the most part, the six houses that on average sold per month during the fourth quarter moved quickly from "listed" to "sold."  Excluding the two houses that changed hands above $2 million, the remaining 16 lower-priced houses sold in an average of just 39 days. Five of these properties were closed in fewer than ten days.

Moreover, five of the 18 house sellers had the pleasant experience of quickly receiving offers at or above the list price. One house sold in seven days at a 12% premium to list.  The average discount from original list price of 6.8% reflects the fact that some sellers were not as fortunate.  One house originally listed at $3,350,000 sold during the quarter at $2,400,000 (a 28% discount from the initial list price) after 280 days on the market.  Another house, originally listed at $1,689,000, sold for $1,400,000 (a 17% discount) after only 49 days on the market.

The condo market was not as frothy during the fourth quarter, but the average days on market showed a decline in spite of the fact that one of the three condos sold 476 days from listing.

2053 42nd Avenue E.: pending sale seven days from list

It appears to be an excellent time to sell a house in Madison Park, with potential buyers having a rather limited set of options to choose from.  This was the state of the market at the end of January, based on NW Multiple Listing Service (NWMLS) data provided through Redfin:

Houses

Listings:  9
Median List Price:  $1,795,000
Median Sq. Ft.:  3,540
Median Price per Sq. Ft.:  $507
Average Days on Market:  192
Percentage with Price Reductions:  66%
New Listings:  1
Pending Sales:  3

Condos/Townhouses

Listings:  4
Median List Price:  $435,000
Median Sq. Ft.:  950
Median Price per Sq. Ft.:  $459
Average Days on Market:  137
Percentage with Price Reductions:  50%
New Listings:  1
Pending Sales:  1

The number of new listings in January was anemic, and that situation seems to be holding for February as well, with just a couple of new houses coming onto the market. With pending sales now exceeding new listings, there's an obvious imbalance.  The three pending houses on the market, by the way, were each listed below $1 million and received offers in under ten days.  The houses that have not sold, for the most part, are much pricier, with four of the nine listed at $2,500,000 or more.

Madison Park's market mirrors the state of the market for Puget Sound as a whole, with a lack of inventory being the number one problem for buyers and real estate professionals alike.  But for the region as a whole, new listings are actually up this year, according to the NWMLS, while in Madison Park listings are significantly lower than at this point last year. There were ten new listings in January 2013 and just two new listings this year. There were 28 houses on the market at this time last year, and there are just nine this month.  For the overall Puget Sound region there is a 4.5 month supply of inventory on hand (and for King County, inventory of 2.5 months), while in Madison Park we're down to 1.5 months of inventory.

Got a house you want to sell?

4100 E. Highland: a new February listing at $2,795,000

[Thanks to Laura Halliday of Windermere Real Estate for her help in compiling the sales data.  Listing data courtesy of Redfin, using information from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service. Photos provided through Redfin, courtesy of Windermere Real Estate and Coldwell Banker (middle photo).]

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Madison Park Conservatory to close


In an email to its regular patrons yesterday afternoon, Madison Park Conservatory's maestro/chef, Cormac Mahoney, announced that the end is near:

"It is with a heavy heart that we let everyone know MPC will be closing its doors after service on February 15th. Restaurants are a crazy thing and many stars have to align to create a successful and enduring place. Although, we would have the liked our run to be much longer we are very proud of the past three years and have many fond memories to look back on. Most importantly, I want to thank our staff, both current and past, for accompanying us on this journey. Also I want to thank all our customers who have enjoyed MPC. So to all those MPC regulars, first dates, birthdays, anniversaries, company parties, wine clubs, family reunions, friendly gatherings, happy hour fans and sunset cocktail sippers - much love for allowing us to spend time with you. The everyday relationships made at MPC is what we'll miss the most. Lastly, thank you to all our vendors. We have been proud of our food because it is always started with great ingredients and it's the tireless work of our many vendors that makes our food possible.
"

The restaurant, which was the recipient of many favorable editorial reviews since its inception in November 2010, had been seeing a decline in patronage for some time. As Mahoney learned to his chagrin, restaurants are a tough business.

The loss of Madison Park Conservatory leaves another void in the neighborhood's business district at a time when some claim to detect a downward trajectory for Madison Park as a "destination neighborhood."  In that respect, this closing is not only a sad experience for the staff and patrons of the MPC but may also foreshadow the neighborhood's longterm retail vitality (or lack thereof).

Time will tell.