The coming Seattle-area traffic disaster?

Is there something that the Washington State Department of Transportation isn’t telling us?

Simultaneously, there are several large-scale transportation projects in planning or preparation stages: replacement of the 99 viaduct with a tunnel, replacement of the 520 bridge, and construction of the East Link of the light rail project. These projects individually would have significant impacts on traffic during their construction, however there will be many years of overlap between them which will cause a serious traffic nightmare. If you read the WSDOT pages, you don’t see any mention of any of these projects in relation to each other.

The legislature just approved tolling for the 520 bridge, this is a necessary and correct step. It will have the effect of diverting some traffic to 522 and I-90. At some point in the near future, construction will begin on the new 520 bridge further diverting traffic to the alternate routes.

The east link of the new light rail will run in the express lanes of I-90 removing two lanes of traffic in the peak directions. Currently, on many days, I-90 is stop and go even with these extra lanes. Diverting the current express lane traffic into the existing lanes (even with the additional proposed HOV lane in each direction) will already significantly slow down traffic on this corridor. Add to this the extra traffic diverted from 520 and I-90 will be a parking lot for several hours a day for many years.

I-90 feeds a significant amount of traffic to 99. When the viaduct is being replaced over several years, some amount of its traffic will be diverted to I-5. I-5 will also be getting additional traffic from cars diverting around 520 on 522. I-5 is already pretty bad, this will definitely make it ridiculous.

There are no definitive dates yet for a lot of these projects, but we’ll start seeing some of the first effects in the next few months. There doesn’t seem to be any real coordination going on around these projects or any acknowledgment on their cumulative effects to traffic in the short term from the state. If the duration of these projects were months or even a year, this would be somewhat reasonable. However, WSDOT estimates are for these projects to happen over the next 5-10 years. That isn’t reasonable for this to proceed without serious mitigation plans (even if they were to add significantly to the cost or the time lines).

Right now, it just seems like everything is up in the air so WSDOT isn’t addressing the potential issue. That makes it seem more like they just hope that no one notices…

freebie iPhone app idea for the real estate websites

yes, this one is for you redfin, windermere, et al. Normally, I’d sit on idea like this, but lets be real. I’m not going to write this one. So, as a customer, I’m asking you guys to do it for me.

I want an iPhone app version of your websites.


  • Get me details on the houses presented for the iPhone screen size
  • Show me houses for sale near my current location

Less Obvious

  • Let me pick a bunch of houses to view on the website: give me a tour, in-order, with turn-by-turn directions
  • Show me how far and the way to get to the nearest: school, park, etc.

Go for it, I’ll use it, and if you want to toss me a commission or make me VP of product development, I’m cool with that.

Can we finally say that Seattle’s housing market is no longer defying the national trends?

Home prices slip to ’06 level – Seattle Times
State foreclosure rate up from ’06 – Seattle Times

Elizabeth Rhodes and the Real Estate Industry professionals that she quotes as part of her highly-biased reporting may still refuse to admit it, but the numbers have been showing conclusively over the last few months that the market is not improving.

Paying for others’ home loan mistakes

Paying for others’ home loan mistakes – Bill Virgin, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

YOU WERE the careful, responsible sort of home buyer. You took out a plain-vanilla, fixed-rate, 30-year mortgage, shunning exotic loans with low teaser rates, coupled it with a substantial down payment, bought only as much house as you could afford with monthly payments that were within your income. Maybe you’re even paying a little extra each month or have converted to a biweekly schedule to get the loan paid off in advance.

Silly you.

Or perhaps you were the careful, responsible sort of banker, one who got nervous over loans in which borrowers put nothing down, or paid so little that the principal owed grew every month, or signed up for loans whose payments they could never afford once the low teaser rates reset. Maybe you even shied away from making such loans, much less buying paper backed by them.

Silly you, too.

Because you, Ms. Prudent Home Buyer, and you, too, Mr. Cautious Banker, sure missed out on the party. While you were playing the role of the ant, everyone else was enjoying the life of the grasshopper.

And now you, directly or indirectly, will get to help pay to rescue those who had the fun — without getting any break as a reward for your frugalness.

Now, I’m not a libertarian, I’m more of a social democrat. So you’d think I’d be all for the nanny state coming to the rescue of those oppressed by the mortgage industry fat-cats. Except, I’m not. Why? Because I think there is a matter of personal responsibility. I think that some people were suckered by unscrupulous and lying mortgage brokers, but I don’t think that was the general rule. I think most people didn’t bother to read or try to comprehend the documents they were signing. And I think those people are idiots who fed the housing bubble and forced others who wanted to buy a house into risky loans too. I think that these people should deal with the pain they caused themselves and others. For those who were cheated, I think the government should step in and prosecute the companies and make things right (my social democracy roots showing through), but for those who couldn’t be bothered to try and understand this crap or the developers and flippers who were playing calculated games of chance with other people’s money… yeah, let them clean up their own mess and save my tax dollars for universal health care.

[via Seattle Bubble]

Condo owners lose their view… duh.

Condo owners struggle for views as Seattle rises – Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Benjamin Shanfelder signed up to buy a condominium on the west side of downtown Seattles Cosmopolitan building in 2005 because it was one of the first new downtown high-rises and was convenient to amenities like the downtown bus tunnel and South Lake Union streetcar.

But before choosing a condo on the west side of Cosmopolitans 21st floor, he looked into plans for the adjacent lot and found the city had approved a 13-story office building there.

“I bought with that assumption,” he said last week.

Shanfelder knew other nearby projects would block some of his view. But it was a nasty surprise when developers of the neighboring building, which would be 18 feet away, revised their planned height to 34 stories — one story higher than Cosmopolitan.

“I would lose most of my remaining view and pretty much all of my sunlight and privacy,” he said.

Personally, I find this hilarious. Not in a schedenfreude way, in a way that anyone buying a condo downtown would think that they would have much of a view for very long. I’ve watched the Belltown towers rise over the years first on 5th street, than 4th, 3rd, 2nd and now 1st. Expensive view condos now have views into the expensive view condos that moved in between then and their views.

The property developers prey upon the stupidity of people, who either don’t think to do their homework or don’t bother to really think much about it. The evilness is that the developers get away with it.

Edith Macefield is my new hero

Old Ballard’s new hero digs in as retail project envelops her home
Photo from Karen Ducey of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Karen Ducey / Seattle Post-Intelligencer

I used to drive by this house every day. Before they were building condos on the site, there was some warehouse that complete surrounded her and was later abandoned. You’d see her out front sweeping the sidewalk as the warehouse fell into decay. Then they tore it down and started building yet another ridiculous Ballard condo building in the middle of a sad industrial zone and I was happy to see her house remain as the construction got started. It’d be cool to have the house marked as a landmark to old Ballard or something.

Drop Foreseen in Median Price of U.S. Homes – New York Times

Drop Foreseen in Median Price of U.S. Homes – New York Times

Perhaps the most prominent housing booster was David Lereah, the chief economist at the National Association of Realtors until April. In 2005, he published a book titled, “Are You Missing the Real Estate Boom?” In 2006, it was updated and rereleased as “Why the Real Estate Boom Will Not Bust.” This year, Mr. Lereah published a new book, “All Real Estate Is Local.”

In an interview, Mr. Lereah, now an executive at Move Inc., which operates a real estate Web site, acknowledged he had gotten it wrong, saying he did not fully realize how loose lending standards had become and how quickly they would tighten up again this summer. But he argued that many of his critics have also been proved wrong, because they were bearish as early as 2002.

“The bears were bears way too early, and the bulls were bulls too late,” he said. “You need to know when you are straying from fundamentals. It’s hard, when you are in the middle of the storm, to know.”

More on investors bouying the Seattle Real Estate Market

The Seattle Bubble blog pointed me at this article from Forbes listing Seattle as the best place in the US to flip a house. Anyone shopping for a house within twice the median price in Seattle isn’t surprised by this at all. I’d say at least 40% of the houses we looked at were houses that had been purchased within 12 months and had their prices multiplied between 1.5 and 2 when being re-listed. All praise be to RedFin for making it ever easier to find the flippers by actually listing sales history on their pages.

I won’t buy flipper houses on principle. Even if you like the flippers’ aesthetic, you can’t trust their commitment to quality. If you aren’t ever going to live in a home, you are going to be more than willing to cut any corners that a prospective buyer won’t notice immediately. I really didn’t feel like paying insane premiums for a fresh coat of paint and a cheap kitchen remodel.

Seattle Bubble has also pointed me at ReMuddle which takes joy at pointing out lame flipper houses. What is scary is how many of them we’ve toured or driven past in our searches.

Seattle housing market tips onto the downward slope

Scales tip in favor of home buyers – Seattle Times

Economists’ predictions have come true. Like most of the rest of the nation, the greater Seattle-area housing market has slowed to the point where buyers have an edge.

Of course, you can’t dampen the outlook of the real estate professionals:

But the fundamentals behind Seattle’s market — particularly its strong job growth and dearth of new housing — mean “our area is going to thrive and grow,” Lones predicted.

“If it’s going to be any kind of a slowdown, I think it’s going to be false slow,” she said. “We’re in a very desirable place to live.”

San Francisco is also a very desirable place to live, but it hasn’t become a city of 20 million people because of the cost of living. Palm Springs doesn’t have 10 million folks. The job growth and desirability of a place cannot erase the problems of a real estate market out-of-whack with financial reality.