Monday, September 5, 2011

Residential construction alive and well here

At the height of the local real estate market three years ago it was an unusual month in which three or four spec houses were not under construction in the neighborhood.  As we’ve reported, those heady days are long past, with the number of new speculative projects coming onto the local market each quarter falling to a single outlier, if even that.  This definitely doesn’t mean, however, that construction of new housing has come to a halt in Madison Park.  Far from it.

Numerous residential builders and a host of workers in various construction trades remain gainfully employed here creating new houses.  By our count there are currently 15 residences in some phase of construction in Madison Park. While a few of these are major remodels where the existing structure has at minimum been gutted, most of the current projects involve complete teardown and replacement.   Interestingly, most of the new-construction activity is centered south of Madison or in Broadmoor. Washington Park is home to most of the new construction (a total of nine sites), while Broadmoor has four construction projects underway.  Unless we missed one, the rest of Madison Park is limited to only two at this time.

It’s possible that one or more of these projects will turn out to be a speculative venture. Unless the property owners have already disclosed their intentions, the first evidence of a spec house may be the posting of a “For Sale” sign on a newly completed structure.  At least one house north of Madison appears to be in this spec category, with completion likely in the fall.  That’s when we’ll probably see the sign and know for sure.

39th Avenue E. and E. Highland Drive

But most, if not all, of the rest of the construction projects in the neighborhood are being undertaken by property owners who are building their own dream homes.  And for the most part, they are throwing up large structures on imposing pieces of property. One of the grandest projects in this category is the 7,200 sq. ft. residence being built on a nicely placed 10,000 sq. ft. view property at 3825 E. Highland Drive  The existing 3,600 sq. ft. structure, built in 1937, was demolished to make way for the new two-and-a-half story residence, with a detached garage.

Down the hill from this site, just south of the Seattle Tennis Club along McGilvra Boulevard E., there have been no fewer than three separate view-property construction projects in progress over the last six months, one of which is a recently completed 7,000 sq. ft. mansion on a 26,000 sq. ft. piece of property. Next door to it is an almost-complete 6,500 sq. ft. contemporary home built on a 15,000 sq. ft. parcel.

It is a Stuart Silk-designed steel-and-glass structure which is expected to attain the highest level of "Built Green" certification:

And a few lots further down the street, a 9,580 sq. ft. five-level (four stories plus a lower garage) mega mansion appears virtually completed, a full four years after the original 1930s house on the site was demolished and construction of the new structure first began.

That on-again-off-again project is quite a story that we don’t have time for here.

Meanwhile, in Broadmoor, three of the active building projects involve teardowns of older structures sitting on choice sites.  In one case, a homeowner on the fairway purchased her neighbor’s abode in order to demolish it and expand her already-large residence.  One of the four Broadmoor building projects is new construction on a previously vacant parcel.  More new-construction opportunities still exist in the gated community, with five separate vacant lots currently for sale there. A couple of these are being market as the “only vacant lot” available in Broadmoor.

What we really like to see is the kind of project where the new owner takes a classic existing home and remodels it in a way that preserves and enhances the structure.   There are plenty of examples in Madison Park where the original house that was torn down was architecturally superior to the modern house that replaced it.   In many cases these replacement houses are gigantic boxes rising where a cottage had previously stood.

We are happy to note, therefore, that there are at least a couple of major rehabs underway in Washington Park that defy this go-big-or-go-home convention.  One of these, a classic 1925 Craftsman located at 809 39th Avenue E., is currently being renovated in a way that retains the basic elements of the original house while adding a partial second story.

Based on zoning, a much-larger house than the one planned could be built on the 7,000 sq. ft. piece of property.  A neighboring homeowner was the purchaser of the Craftsman, so this rehabilitation may be more of a view-protecting proposition for him than a special concern over preserving the classic outlines of the somewhat-dilapidated structure that he bought.  Most of us can applaud the idea that not every single original house in Madison Park needs to be demolished and replaced. It's nice, therefore, to see a few old worthies get a reprieve from the junk heap, whatever the property owners' motivations.

[Photo at the top:  A modernistic residence by E. Cobb Architects under construction at E. Highland and 42nd Avenue E.    Thanks to Laura Halliday of Windermere Real Estate for her assistance in compiling some of the information used in this posting.]


  1. Dear Mr. Tagas,

    Thank you for the insightful comments about the 'state of construction' in our little hamlet.

    We subscribe to no less than a half dozen publications telling us of the ups and downs of the construction industry across the country. Your accurate report has more impact for our company than all of those rags put together.

    Respectfully yours,

    Trent E. Jackson
    Tradecraft Builders

  2. .....Too bad, looking at these eyesores. Still no accounting for good taste, or scale, or context. Stuart Silk should have stuck with the brick in his pretty picture instead of what actully installed, which makes the place look like a hospital.


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