Letter from West Seattle

Every month, we publish a nationwide newsletter to hundreds of thousands of people. Many write back, asking me for pricing advice on their Boca Raton condo or their Berkeley ashram, and I always try to hook up my new pen-pal with a true local expert. Usually, that’s the last I hear of it. But this past week, a Redfin customer asked about West Seattle, and Redfin’s Kevin Broveleit — who lives and works in West Seattle — copied me on his response. It was chock full of nitty-gritty, and so totally fascinating to read that I asked Kevin if we could publish it here, too. The long and short of it is that what little inventory is out there is getting snapped up now during the high season, but demand afterwards is expected to be light, in large part because so many buyers are now restricting themselves to mainland Seattle… (if you’d like our thoughts on any other Seattle or Eastside neighborhood, let us know in the comments to this post and we’ll dig into it.)

For now, take it away Kevin!

Hi [John Doe],

I think the West Seattle market is at an interesting crossroads.  There are three major things going on right now.  The first is the recent change (since the beginning of the 2010-11 school year) in how elementary school districts are defined and governed.  This has actually been a very good thing for zip code 98116, because we have the three highest scoring public elementary schools (Lafayette, Schmitz Park, and Alki) in West Seattle.

There is a somewhat large divide between the others, although I’ve also heard good things about Gatewood and there are rumors of Fairmont reopening.  Right now a 3+ beds, 2+ baths home with a conventional configuration in 98116 is super desirable and typically flies off the market.

You’ll notice for the first time in the last several years the number of sold homes in 98116 exceeds the number of homes on the market (http://www.redfin.com/zipcode/98116–see the market trends section).  But the buying season for people with school-age children grinds to a halt starting the middle of August (the zero barrier for being settled prior to the start of school).

The second factor holding us back are the transit/commute issues reaching critical mass right now.  I’m actually of the opinion that the West Seattle Bridge/Spokane Street viaduct expansion is ultimately going to have a bigger impact on us than the 99/Alaska Way viaduct will.  The Spokane Street project is going to pose a lot of challenges for the next six months, but after that we’re going to have more avenues to and from downtown.   I expect that this project’s completion will establish the new normal for our commute.  This will then allay the anxieties of being stuck on our peninsula without a bridge (sorry for the amateurish play on “up the creek”.)

Finally, West Seattle is a bit of a lagging indicator of Seattle as a whole.  Much of our demand and gentrification for the past decade has come from a new infusion of people from other areas.  West Seattle is not somewhere you stumble into, and most Seattleites try to avoid it.  My wife and I are classic examples.  She went to grad school at UW and was renting in Fremont.  After a season of getting beat up in the Green Lake-Wallingford-Phinney-Ballard market we were looking for options.

I don’t mean to say that I think West Seattle is a consolation prize, quite to the contrary we feel VERY lucky to have landed here, but at the moment those other neighborhoods have come down in price and fewer people are broadening their search to West Seattle.  Unfortunately I’m not sure how to substantiate much of this with stats at the moment, so please excuse my gut instinct.

In short, we are lacking “good” inventory.  New listings that work for households with school-age children, that are well cared-for on the north end of West Seattle and below $600k are flying off the shelf (so long as the seller is realistic in price).  In fact I think the smartest strategy is to slightly under-price if your home fits these criteria.  That said I have no idea if you’re looking to buy or sell or both, or you’re just a real estate numbers’ junkie like us.  If you would like to go a little deeper or talk about what’s going in a specific neighborhood or price range, let me know and I’d love to connect on the phone or grab coffee.

  • Benson

    Hi Glenn, would love to connect with you to understand more about West Seattle. I'm looking to potentially move there and am considering various areas but Alki is alluring :-) You can reach me at bnpchan@gmail.com. thanks! Benson