Seattle City Council votes to reduce barriers to building ADUs

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On Monday, the Seattle City Council approved legislation that could make it easier to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs)—like backyard cottages and mother-in-law apartments—along with language that would rein in McMansions in single-family zones.

More specifically: The legislation allows two ADUs on one lot instead of one, and axes a requirement for off-street parking, a sometimes onerous and expensive hurdle for homeowners to jump. Homeowners were previously required to live on the lot containing an ADU in order to rent it out, but the legislation eliminates that requirement, too.

ADUs gain more livable space, too: The ordinance increases maximum ADU size from 800 square feet to 1,000, and slightly increases the allowable height.

It also sets the floor-area ratio (FAR) limit in single-family zones, which limits how much square footage a house can have in relation to its lot, to .5—for example, a single-story house could only have a footprint of half the lot, or a quarter for a two-story house with equal square footage.

City councilmember Mike O’Brien, who represents District 6 on the Seattle City Council and has championed the legislation for years, said in advance of the vote that despite record growth in Seattle’s population, “We’ve seen the population in our single family zoning decline over the years because there’s not really opportunity to add capacity in single family zones.”

 

While it’s been in the works for longer, the major idea behind ADU reform is around affordability: ADU reform was among the recommendations of the Housing Affordability and Livability committee (HALA) in 2015.

It also paves the way for more homeowners to participate in programs like the Block Project, which builds backyard cottages to house those experiencing homelessness.
The final legislation made some exemptions to the FAR rules. Up to 250 square feet of garage won’t count against it. Neither will up to 35 square feet of dedicated bike parking. Houses that already exist on the lot get a one-time pass to expand up to 20 percent past the limit so as not to step on planned remodels. Basements don’t count either.

Here’s where the ADUs come in: They don’t count against FAR, ideally encouraging more of them to be built.

Single-family zoning in Seattle is currently extremely permissive, and has no FAR limit—essentially, you can build as massive of a home as you want, as long as it’s just one home. This allows one major factor in what’s colloquially known (popularized by Curbed columnist Kate Wagner) as McMansions to thrive: being dramatically out-of-scale with the neighborhood.

This legislation has been in the works since 2014, but it’s been tied up in appeals. Most recently, a city study released back in October was appealed by the Queen Anne Community Council (QACC)—led by Marty Kaplan, a longtime opponent of backyard cottage reform. (The same group was successful in appealing an earlier impact study in 2016.) A hearing examiner cleared the legislation to move forward back in May.

There are a few concerns that have arisen during the heavy public comment around this process, though. The loudest is probably worries about parking impacts—that nixing the off-street parking requirement will result in crowded on-street parking. Other themes include worries about developer speculation in light of removal of the owner-occupancy requirement, and whether the legislation will actually create more affordable housing and not just vacation rentals like those listed on Airbnb.

~Sarah Anne Lloyd, Curbed Seattle

Seattle makes affordable housing mandatory in upzoned neighborhoods

Architects and developers building across much of Seattle will soon have to meet the city’s new Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) requirements, a set of rules passed with a spate of recent comprehensive zoning changes designed to ensure that “new commercial and multifamily residential development contributes [new] affordable housing.”

The MHA regulations were approved this spring and are expected to add over 6,000 new low-income housing units to the city’s housing stock over the next decade. The changes are part of the city’s Housing Affordability and Living Agenda, a three-pronged effort undertaken by city agencies several years ago to increase housing supply in order to stem escalating rents and property values across the thriving region. The fiercely contested changes in land use will allow for a greater level of residential density in many of the city’s neighborhoods and will ask builders to either include affordable housing on-site or pay into a general fund that can be used by city agencies to create new affordable housing in other areas.MHA-Maps_Credit_Courtesy-City-of-Seattle-1-645x895

The new regulations span five categories of development density, from low-rise detached and row house neighborhoods to taller mixed-use districts where buildings will be allowed to rise to a height of 95 feet or more. The efforts will upzone roughly 6 percent of the city’s single-family zones. Single-family zones ultimately make up over 80 percent of the city’s residential areas.

MHA regulations, according to planning documents provided by the City of Seattle, will be pegged to the degree of upzoning that takes place: Under the plan, areas that have been upzoned most significantly will be required to add a relatively higher proportion of new affordable housing. The required fees administered in lieu of on-site affordable housing construction will start at $5.58 per square foot for projects located in low-rise areas outside downtown Seattle and will go as high as $35.75 per square foot for larger mixed-use developments, according to city agencies.

~Antonio Pacheco, The Architect’s Newspaper

 

Would-Be Sellers Appear Ready to Boost Inventory

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There’s a fresh sign that more inventory may be coming to the market, as homeowners deepen their faith in selling. The percentage of consumers who are “strongly” optimistic that now is a good time to sell hit 46% in the second quarter of this year, a significant increase from the 37% who said the same thing in the first quarter, according to the National Association of REALTORS®’ Housing Opportunities and Market Experience Survey, which was released Wednesday.

Home prices have begun moderating in recent months, which may be prompting homeowners to consider selling sooner in order to cash in before prices go any lower. “With home price appreciation slowing, home sellers understand the days of large price gains from holding an extra year are over,” says NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun.

Homeowners have been putting off a move in recent years, reluctant to give up low interest rates on their current loans and fearing the difficulty of finding another home to buy amid an inventory crunch. The inventory problem, though, could be eased if more would-be sellers decide to put their homes up for sale.

Other findings from the HOME Survey include:

Not just seller optimism. More Americans also believe now is a good time to buy. Thirty-eight percent of respondents to NAR’s survey say they “strongly agree” that now is the right time to purchase a home, and 27% “moderately agree.” Thirty-five percent say it’s not a good time to buy, according to the survey.
Confidence in the overall economy. A rosier economic outlook may be generating some of the optimism in the housing market. Fifty-five percent of consumers now say they think the economy is improving, up from 53% in the first quarter of 2019. Consumers who are the most upbeat about the economy tend to earn $100,000 or more and reside in rural areas, the survey shows.
Generation X offers important clues. The most notable change in consumer economic perceptions, Yun says, is among Gen Xers, who have tended to face the most financial pressures in recent years compared to other age groups. Fifty-three percent of Gen Xers say they believe the economy is improving, up from 50% in the first quarter. “Many in the Generation X population find themselves needing to purchase multigenerational homes,” Yun says. “Also, they may be feeling financial stress from caring for aging parents and children of all ages. Nonetheless, they have an optimistic outlook about the future.”
Mortgage rates boost sales. Overall, of the respondents surveyed who don’t currently own a home, 27% say they believe it would be difficult to qualify for a mortgage due to their financial situation; 30% said it would be somewhat difficult to qualify. Mortgage affordability showed some improvement in the second quarter, and the trend likely will continue, Yun says. “Lower mortgage rates, along with job and wage growth, will lead to an increase in sales and thereby contribute positively to economic growth in the upcoming quarters.”

~Realtor Magazine

King County housing market soars skyward ahead of summer

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After a lull to start the year, the King County housing market is once again headed skyward.

Since February, the median closing price for residential homes in King County has yet to increase by more than 1 percent in any month, even falling by 5 percent in March. That’s not the case for May, where that median price climbed almost 7 percent ahead of the busy summer months.

“We had a pretty robust May,” Windermere Real Estate Chief Economist Matthew Gardner told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross. “Essentially we saw mortgage rates drop precipitously down to about 4.2, 4.3 percent at the start of the month, down to 4 percent at the end. That got a lot of buyers off the fence.”

With more buyers entering the fray, pending sales in King County jumped 5 percent in May.

Even with that, though, prices are still well below 2018 levels, with the median residential home price falling 3.62 percent year-over-year. Year-over-year prices in King County have dipped in all but one month in 2019. The only exception occurred during February’s slight 0.78 percent bump.

According to Gardner, that’s been driven primarily by an increase in available homes.

“The number of homes are in the market continues to rise, with more choices for buyers,” he noted. “It’s still pretty tight, but we are seeing more inventory.”

While the summer months are typically the hottest both for weather and home prices, Gardner still expects increases to arrive “absolutely at more modest rates through the balance of the year.”

Down south, prices continued to drop in May, marked by a massive 5.24 percent dip in median residential prices in Pierce County.

“If you look at sales prices, let’s say for May — in King County: $645,000. In Pierce County? $365,000. A significant difference,” Gardner pointed out. “Based on affordability, that’s meaning a lot of people are heading down south.”

~My Northwest Staff

US long-term mortgage rates slip; 30-year average at 4.06%

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U.S. long-term mortgage rates fell slightly this week, marking a fourth straight week of declines to lure prospective purchasers in the spring homebuying season.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday the average rate on the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage slipped to 4.06% from 4.07% last week. By contrast, a year ago the benchmark rate stood at 4.66%.

The average rate for 15-year, fixed-rate home loans declined this week to 3.51% from 3.53% last week.

With mortgage rates at historically low levels, prospective homebuyers have been rushing in. Applications for mortgage loans jumped 2.4% in the week ended May 17 from a week earlier, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Freddie Mac surveys lenders across the country between Monday and Wednesday each week to compile its mortgage rate figures.

The average doesn’t include extra fees, known as points, which most borrowers must pay to get the lowest rates.

The average fee on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages was unchanged this week at 0.5 point.

The average fee for the 15-year mortgage held at 0.4 point.

The average rate for five-year adjustable-rate mortgages rose to 3.68% from 3.66% last week. The fee remained at 0.4 point.

~The Associated Press

April showers brought more good news for home buyers, but inventory is still below ‘balanced’

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Good news, buyers: The latest real estate report from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service shows that more balance is returning to the local market.

During April, housing inventory continued to grow, the rate of price increases slowed in many areas (sometimes even decreasing), and mortgage rates remained low. NWMLS statistics saw a 28.5% overall increase in active listings compared to April 2018, and there was a 5.8% gain in pending sales.

Of course, according to NWMLS director John Deely, principal managing broker at Coldwell Banker Bain that’s not news to many buyers hitting the market. After such a long run as the hottest market in the country, many buyers are starting to get smarter about navigating buying a house.

“With an increased supply of listing inventory, low interest rates, and a positive economic climate, buyers are confident that this is a good time to buy,” he reported, while noting a larger number of buyers are opting out of competing with other buyers.
“This year’s buyers and sellers are approaching the market with more caution and a focus on an analytical, versus emotional approach that has ruled the last several years.”

Increased inventory takes a lot of the responsibility for lightening the load on buyers: according to NWMLS, seven counties had double-digit growth in inventory from a year ago, led by King County, which reported a 78.5% growth, and Snohomish County (up nearly 57%).

That doesn’t mean the market is wholly balanced, unfortunately. As NWMLS report notes, though inventory is up drastically in some areas, there’s still just about 1.7 months of supply across the NWMLS’s 23 county system.
“That is still slim compared to the National Association of Realtors’ data showing a national average of 3.9 months of inventory,” Gary O’Leyar, designated broker and owner at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Signature Properties, said. “Despite the increase in inventory over last year at this time in King County, we are seeing a very robust spring market laced with multiple offers in many instances.”

Mike Grady, president and COO of Coldwell Banker Bain, put it thusly: “Buyers now have three-to-four weeks instead of three-to-four days to make a decision, so it’s still quite a ways from a balanced market.”

Zosha Millman, Seattle PI

2019 Homebuyer Forecast ~ Update

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On Tuesday, Realtor.com issued a revised forecast projecting a more robust market than originally predicted through the remainder of the year.

As mortgage rates fall and more homes hit the market, realtor.com has updated its homebuying forecast for the end of 2019. While the original forecast predicted mortgage rates to reach 5.5 percent by the end of the year, the adjusted forecast indicates rates will likely peak at 4.5 percent. The number of home sales, meanwhile, will experience a much smaller drop than initially forecasted. Realtor.com expects them to drop by only 0.3 percent instead of 2 percent.

“The 2019 housing market is different than what we predicted in fall 2018, primarily due to an unexpected drop in mortgage rates in January 2019,” said realtor.com Chief Economist Danielle Hale in a prepared statement.

Courtesy of Realtor.com

Home prices are the only metric not predicted to experience a shift toward affordability. Realtor.com predicts prices will grow by 2.9 percent instead of the original 2.2 percent. But overall, the anticipated slowdown in sales is not likely to take place. With lower mortgage rates, more homes are expected to trade hands than originally predicted.

“We believe 2019 will be characterized by lower, but still increasing mortgage rates that will buoy home prices and sales by boosting buyers’ purchasing power beyond what we initially projected,” Hale said. “This will create a slightly hotter, but still cooling housing market relative to the initial forecast five months ago.”

Veronika  Bondarenko,  Inman

Is spring going to be a Goldilocks housing season for everybody?

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Have we arrived at one of those rare Goldilocks moments in real estate, where the market works well for sellers and buyers, strongly favoring neither?

Maybe. Based on the latest national consumer-sentiment survey by mortgage investor Fannie Mae, American consumers appear to think so. They’re more positive about the overall direction of the housing market than they’ve been in nearly a year. Growing numbers think it’s a good time to sell and a good time to buy. They expect their own personal financial situations will improve this year, and they believe that interest rates for home loans will continue to remain relatively affordable.

Housing and mortgage economists tend to agree. As Michael Fratantoni, chief economist of the Mortgage Bankers Association, told me: Six months ago, “I was guardedly optimistic. Now I’m just plain optimistic.” Mark Fleming, chief economist of First American Title Insurance, says: “So far in 2019, we’ve seen mortgage rates decline and wages rise — both trends work to boost home-buying power and fuel greater market potential for home sales, setting the stage for a stronger than expected” season.

Yet some economists warn that things are not necessarily as rosy as Fannie’s consumer survey would suggest. They point to troubling signs: Total home sales on a national basis continue to decline. That pattern historically has been a leading indicator that prices could actually fall during the year ahead, ending years of nonstop appreciation. Plus, houses are taking longer to sell — many owners are having to cut their asking prices. The days of widespread bidding wars are over.

So what’s really going on, and how do you relate it to your own situation, either as a potential buyer or seller? Some hard facts:

●Prices are still rising, but at a slower rate than in recent years past. The median home listing price hit $300,000 last month for the first time ever, a 7 percent jump over the previous year, according to Realtor.com. Fratantoni predicts price increases will moderate to an average of just 4 percent this year, 3 percent next year and 2.5 percent in 2021.

●A notable percentage of sellers’ asking prices are being reduced.

●Interest rates have been a great stimulus and are key to a strong spring. Lower rates are good for buyers, good for sellers. Last fall, average rates for a fixed-rate 30-year mortgage hovered near 5 percent, according to data from investor Freddie Mac. In the first week of April they averaged 4.08 percent. Homeowners and would-be buyers have responded enthusiastically to the lower rates, sending applications soaring by 18.6 percent during the week ending March 29 compared with the week earlier, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

●Inventories of available homes for sale continue to rise — meaning more choices for shoppers, according to National Association of Realtors researcher Michael Hyman. Listings nationwide were up by 3.2 percent year-over-year in February. That’s generally a good sign for buyers because it helps keep price pressures down. But homes for sale in the primary entry segment for first-time home buyers — houses priced under $200,000 — dropped by 9 percent year-over-year, according to Realtor.com, while they grew by 11 percent in the upper price brackets over $750,000.

All this is well and good, says Issi Romem, chief economist for realty marketing and data site Trulia, but the reality is that the housing market is in cyclical slowdown mode. Inventories of available homes may be increasing, but part of the reason is that houses are staying on the market unsold for longer times in many areas. The price cuts and longer days-on-market times reveal that significant numbers of “sellers are facing greater difficulties in selling.”

Romem and Trulia Senior Economist Cheryl Young issued a report last week that runs counter to the cheery outlook prevailing in the industry. “[It] is possible,” they say, that “by fall or next year prices might modestly decline.”

What that means is that the Goldilocks theory and perceptions of balance between sellers and buyers may not be quite right.

Advantage: buyers.

 

Kenneth R. Harney, The Washington Post

Like spring, Seattle’s real estate season is just getting started

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A month out from “peak real estate season” in Seattle, and the local market is still not among the hottest in the country.

That is, likely, more than alright for a number of home-buyers, who might’ve been burnt out from last year’s market which seemed to go nowhere but up in median price. But it’s also a bit surprising — and not confined to Seattle, according to a new monthly report from CoreLogic.

According to CoreLogic’s numbers, Washington’s growth in February 2019 for single-family home prices year-over-year was just 4.6%, only marginally more than the national average, 4%. Both those numbers represent something of a cooldown, according to Dr. Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic.

“During the first two months of the year, home-price growth continued to decelerate,” Nothaft said in their most recent report. “This is the opposite of what we saw the last two years when price growth accelerated early.”

That doesn’t mean that housing is suddenly cheap, either locally or nationwide; CoreLogic’s report also looked at the top 50 markets based on housing stock. They found 40% were overvalued, 18% were undervalued, and 42% were at value in February 2019.

And according to Nothaft, the peak season is primed for prices to go up even further.

“With the Federal Reserve’s announcement to keep short-term interest rates where they are for the rest of the year, we expect mortgage rates to remain low and be a boost for the spring buying season,” he said in the report. “A strong buying season could lead to a pickup in home-price growth later this year.”

And while Seattle had some other things on its mind in February that might’ve contributed to a cool down, local analysts agree that it’s shaping up to be a good season too.

After all, even with the Snowmageddon, home prices in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties rose significantly, ending the month-over-month declines that started last May. And as CoreLogic notes in their report, Seattle’s market was considered “at value” in February.

“Similar to previous months, prices are moving upwards the most consistently in exurban areas along the Interstate 5 corridor,” James Young, director of the Washington Center for Real Estate Research at the University of Washington, said in the latest Northwest Multiple Listing Service report.

“Look for prices outside the major urban areas to continue rising as the weather improves and the main selling season arrives.”

~Zosha Millman, Seattle P-I

Seattle-area home price cool-down stands out among U.S. cities

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The housing market is getting better for buyers across the country, but Seattle’s shifting market continues to stand out compared to other regions.

Since the local market peaked last spring, single-family home prices have fallen twice as fast in the Seattle metro area as in any other region in the country, according to the monthly Case-Shiller home-price index, released Tuesday.

The total drop for the full metro area in that seven-month span, from June to January, totals 6 percent. The typical U.S. city actually saw a slight uptick in home values over that period, but prices dropped about 3 percent in the San Francisco and San Diego regions, and about 1 percent each in Portland and Chicago.

There are a lot of ways to slice the data, though they all show the local market falling behind the national one

On a month-over-month basis, Seattle-area home costs slipped down another 0.3 percent in January, a slightly bigger drop than the national average.

On a year-over-year basis, prices still went up 4.1 percent, but that was slightly less than the national average – the first time that’s happened in seven years.

And even those gains are masked by big differences across the region. As has been the case, prices are growing for low-cost homes typically found in the outer areas of the region like Tacoma, and staying flat in higher-cost places like Seattle.

The index, which covers King, Snohomish and Pierce counties, divides homes into three tiers. For the cheapest group of homes (those priced below $380,000), prices increased 8 percent over the year. But the most expensive ones (homes priced over $605,000), saw prices tick up less than 2 percent, or slightly less than inflation.

In the middle tier, prices grew 4.5 percent.

Overall, the last time the local market was this cool was 2012, back when prices were still bottoming out from the recession.

The cool-down trend is a broad one. The national home-price gain of 4.3 percent over the past year represents the smallest since 2015. Across the 20 metro areas tracked by the index, only Phoenix saw bigger price gains in January than in December. Las Vegas was the only region in the country where price increases topped 7.5 percent.

There are signs that the local market has bottomed out, however. More recently, prices in February grew $45,000 in King County, the most ever for a single month in dollar terms, though that bounceback isn’t yet reflected in the national Case-Shiller data, which lags behind by a month.

The current median cost of a single-family house is $655,000 in King County, $475,000 in Snohomish County and $355,000 in Pierce County. The Pierce County figure is tied for a record high, while King and Snohomish are well below their peaks reached last spring.

~Mike Rosenberg, Seattle Times