More on the state of Seattle real estate

The rest of the country is seeing the bubble deflate in very real terms. All across the country, the weird mortgages that people got in irrational exuberance are now producing record percentages of defaults.

Here it Seattle, it is a little bit different. The pyramid scheme hasn’t collapsed, but it is definitely slowing down. Tear-downs on steep grades aren’t selling in bidding wars the first week they go on the market any more. The good stuff is selling, but even good stuff at high prices isn’t moving. The market is slowing, but not everyone has realized that the party is over yet.

Meanwhile, the developers push on, and thousands of ugly condos and horrific townhouses are sprouting up. In the $300K to $500K range, middle class families still fight with real estate investors over houses. The investors will buy some new appliances, repaint the interior and have the house back on the market in six months for 50% over what they paid for it.

The bubble-burst hasn’t happened, but the writing is on the wall. The market can’t sustain the growth of the last 10 years. Expecting first time buyers to buy condos or town homes instead of single-family homes only makes sense when the condos and town homes are affordable, but the new condos and town homes within easy commuting distance of the city are still priced 10-15 times higher than the median income.

There is only one possible outcome to this craziness.

If we are lucky, the prices will stabilize into a much lower growth. This will mean that people who poured their life savings into their homes will essentially earn 0% on their investment and will have to figure out how to save for their retirements or kids tuitions some other way.

If we are unlucky, prices will start to slide, banks will start to call in the low down payment loans, and Seattle will be in for serious trouble as the property tax income dries up quickly and people can no longer afford their homes. Especially, with the new difficulty in declaring bankruptcy, this second option becomes quite scary.

I do think we’ll end up somewhere in the middle of those two options, but I’m no economist, I’m just a realist. People are still moving into the area and that will continue to provide a stabilizing factor to home prices (although I would expect to see immigration velocity slow as the cost of living here continues to increase). Hopefully, it will all work out. But then again, there isn’t any way I’m going to see real estate as an investment in the Seattle area for the foreseeable future.

Here are some links that got me thinking (again) about this:

The Nerd’s Eye View on leaving Capitol Hill

The Seattle Times: Houses here cost more than you think This article makes the developer seem noble, like he’s looking out for the little guy. If you’ve ever seen the Townhome, Seattle Style, you know that, in actuality, they are soulless, neighborhood destroying, street-life eliminating little towers of evil. I’m not against town homes, I actually think that they are a decent way to do density if they are zoned well and integrated into the neighborhood (see: Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Boston, and New York for examples). In Seattle, it is all about the quick buck. Tear down a house on a 4000 square foot lot and throw up four town houses in a 2×2 configuration with a tiny alley between them so that you can almost get a car into the garages that are inexplicably in the center of the lot. Those things are turning the city into a vast, ugly, uniform housing development.

Seattle Weekly: Rich Man, Poor Man A side-effect of the crazy condo market in Seattle is that a lot of apartment owners are converting their buildings into condos to cash out while the money is good. The net effect: less rentals available, and the cost of living rises. So far the flood of new condos into the Seattle market hasn’t collapsed the prices, but they definitely are not going up like they were a year ago. Especially because a lot of the initial buyers of the new units were investors who are now having a hard time turning their units over for a profit. (explaining the previously rising prices)

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Sound Off on “Bungalows biting dust for Suburban-Style Homes” The original article is ok, but the response to the article is a much better read if you are trying to plumb the minds of the Seattle Zeitgeist. Of course, there are some nut-bag comments thrown in, but a lot of very reasoned expressions of opinion on all sides of the argument.

my iTunes quandry follow up follow up

iTunes Logo

Yeah, turns out iTunes doesn’t like symlinks. So having some folders in my iTunes library symlinked to another drive worked as long as I wasn’t adding new files into that folder (like podcasts). Podcasts would never leave the download directory and get moved into the symlinked root.

So I just got a bigger drive, which is not what we would call a “scalable” solution. I’m at 500GB now, and with me adding more and more video into my library, that isn’t going to last too long.

Open Call From the Patent Office – washingtonpost.com

Open Call From the Patent Office – washingtonpost.com

The patent office has decided to open up the approval process to anyone on the net. Allowing internet users to make claims regarding the voracity of a patent’s uniqueness and also show evidence of prior art. The first group of patents that will go under this public scrutiny are from the software industry.

On one hand, this is brilliant. There have always been the horror stories of the insanely extensive and overreaching software patents awarded to companies who had done nothing. These companies then went about suing every other company on the planet until finally someone stood up to them and challenged their patent. The patent examiners get a zillion patent applications a year, many of which require specialized knowledge of the arcana of software design. It is understandable how some stuff would get by them, and this new plan should help.

On the other hand, this could be a total and utter mess. Most professional software developers aren’t allowed by their companies to look at the patent office web site. The fear is that if the developer’s company got sued for patent infringement and there was a record of someone at that company accessing the patent website, the company could not prove that they didn’t know about the patent they were infringing. That is the crux of patent infringement defense. You can’t infringe on a patent that you don’t know about. So, then, who is going to be contributing to the patent review process? Well, I would imagine that the big companies would be contributing legions of lawyers to support their own patents and challenge their competitors. I would also assume that college professors may contribute, and they might have the best contributions, but doing this ain’t exactly gonna pay their grad students, is it, so how much time are they gonna spend trolling the site? Who is going to contribute the most? Random internet folk, the same kind of people that start flame wars on every site that allows users to contribute content.

Yeah, that’s is going to elevate the process.

Is Microsoft Screwing Up WPF/E?

Simon Brocklehurst thinks so, and I agree with him. Microsoft has a long history of promising to support other platforms and then coming up short or dropping them quickly. We used to joke at Microsoft that cross platform meant both Windows98 and WindowsNT.

Entourage hang fix

In an earlier post, I was complaining about how Entourage would just go away for 15-20 minutes at a time. I’d searched the net for info on how to stop it in vain. I’d cleared out gigabytes of messages without a noticable difference, but then looky what came across my RSS feed yesterday!

Macworld: Mac 911: Stop Entourage background churning

I just turned it on. Hopefully this will do the trick. BTW, when I turned off the “background” integrity checks, it said that it wouldn’t happen when the laptop wasn’t plugged in. Yeah, that wasn’t true for me.

Flex, WPF/e and the new war for developer hearts and minds

Scoble starts a discussion (Why do a reader only for one publication? (Adobe vs. Microsoft for developers)) and Ryan Stewart picks it up (How Adobe started winning developers)

I think we’ve got some fun coming on and we developers are going to be in the catbird seat as Adobe and Microsoft fight it out for our loyalty.

disclaimer: I worked for Microsoft for 8 years and I’ve been working for Adobe now for 3 years, but not directly on any of the technologies I’m writing about.

C# was first launched when I was at Microsoft and I was pretty skeptical because it seemed such an obvious attack on Java and at the time I wasn’t that interested in Java. Real Developers write in C++.

Then I left Microsoft for a start-up where our chief architect convinced us to write our system in Java, and I learned it, and I found it pretty powerful for some things. My development team was able to build a fairly complex system very quickly with few bugs by taking advantage of the richness of the language and supporting libraries like JUnit. It reminded me of Common Lisp. When you got used to writing in Java: if you needed some functionality, your first impulse was to look for it in the language itself instead of writing it from scratch. Most often it was there.

Then, I left that start-up for another start-up founded by a former softy like myself where we embraced .Net 1.0 ’cause we were using all other MS technologies and we were writing a grid-type app. I liked .Net and C# even more than Java because it was so integrated with the OS (as long as the OS was windows, which it was in our case).

Now, I’ve taken a Flex class and I have to say that I’m really impressed. It really does for RIA what C# and Java did for server-side programming. Also, it is nice to finally have a more programmer-oriented approach for developing SWFs with a real IDE! I think that C# was also really good for rapid application development and prototyping as well, but Flex is much obviously better. As someone who works on both Macs and Windows, I definitely dig that cross-platformness and symmetry.

WPF/e is really interesting, but I haven’t gone into depth with it. Why not? Well, at home I have macs only now, and at work I have my actual job to do (in C++, natch). After looking through the docs and stuff, I can’t really see how you’ll be able to author cross-platform stuff with it since it seems so crippled on other platforms. I have to say that the strategy seems pretty much like “protect the windows platform by making the tools for windows only and the experience crappy on other platforms while still talking up how we are cross-platform.” Kinda similar to the original .Net story.

I’m also concerned that this stuff could get dropped or have less contribution if MS ever does (or doesn’t) win out. (Blackbird, Windows Media Player for Mac, IE before FireFox, etc…)

The one good thing is that the competition will push both Microsoft and Adobe to continue to develop better tools and that makes us developers the absolute winners here.

some fun with C#

The only problem I had to deal with in my quickie switch from interland to dreamhost was changing the Unit Circle store from ASP pages to something else (I haven’t decided if I’m going to do a Flex thing, a zencart thing or a PhP thing yet). The first hurdle I had to deal with was that the old store used an Microsoft Access database backend. I’ve switched 100% to macs and my old PC was dead, so I couldn’t load the mdb file on my home machines, at work we don’t have the full office license, so I couldn’t use Access on my work PC. I searched around the web and found some shareware that theoretically could convert from MDB files to other types of files, but none that I tried worked very well (if at all). What I did have on my work machine was Visual Studio. On a whim, I opened up the server tab and tried adding the access file AND IT WORKED! I could browse the tables, but there was no way in VS to export them. So I wrote up a quickie C# app, which I’m posting here. Ya know, for the kids.

Some caveats:

  • I haven’t written C# professionally for a couple years.
  • I haven’t added the code to actually grab the table list from the access file and enumerate those. It is left as an exercise for the reader.
  • It doesn’t handle quoted values in table values explicitly (it passes them through, but any CSV importer will get confused).
  • I wrote it in about 20 minutes.
  • In other words, don’t judge my coding skills from this.

Here is the code.

By the way, I had formatted the code using the C# code formatter on Manoli.net which is very cool, but it completely screwed up my blog layout due to the <pre> statements and long lines. So I put it in the separate page.