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Visiting Seattle

Visiting Seattle

Jude and I like to travel in December, and we recently took our annual winter trip.  This year’s trip began in Seattle, WA. Neither of us had ever been to Seattle before, and were pleasantly surprised at the cultural similarities that the two cities have, while also, in my opinion, having very different “feeling” downtown areas.  Naturally, we began comparing the two downtowns, and while Austin is doing a lot of things right within the urban-core to make it one of the most desirable places in the country to live, downtown Seattle is also doing a lot of things right, and is anchored by beautiful natural scenery. Our City leadership can look to Seattle in terms of continuing to optimize Austin’s potential, notably their [troubled] effort to tear down the Alaskan Way Viaduct, a hideous highway separating the city from the bay.



But, before I begin really comparing, I think it would be a good idea to start with some historical facts / population stats for both cities:

Population of downtown area:
Austin: around 10,000 (Downtown Austin Alliance), close to 1% of Austin’s total population
Seattle: around 60,000, close to 10% of Seattle’s total population (Downtown Seattle Association)

Public  / Communal Transportation:
Austin: CapMetro Buses, Red Line Commuter Rail, Taxis, BikeShare, Uber, Lyft, Car2Go, ZipCar
Seattle: Metro Buses, Ferry, Seattle Center Monorail, Seattle Streetcar, Link Light Rail, Taxi, Uber, Lyft, Car2Go, ZipCar

Public Market:
Austin: Sunday Farmer’s market in Republic Square park
Seattle: Pike Place Public Market, a permanent installment open 7 days a week

Size of downtown area:
Austin: 9 districts, approximately 1.5 square miles overall (.005 of total size of Austin)
Seattle: 12 distinct neighborhoods, approximately 4 square miles overall (.03 of total size of Austin)

Population Growth:
Austin and Seattle are the two fastest growing cities in the nation.

Notable Corporate HQs:
Austin: Whole Foods, HomeAway, GSD&M
Seattle: Amazon.com, Tableau, Starbucks


The original and, ahem, more anatomically correct Starbucks logo that you see much more prevalently in Seattle

The most interesting of these statistics, to me, is that the relative size and population of downtown Seattle to the overall city is a much higher percentage than with Austin.  One way of interpreting that fact is to say that downtown is a bigger part of the total Seattle experience, and I have a feeling policy and funding follow suit (which brings more dollars and more vibrancy back into their downtown to flow out to the rest of their city).  However, I would say that most people in Austin realize that downtown IS the city’s cultural center and a must see / do.   I think all Austinites can continue to keep that perspective top of mind while encouraging continued growth in our urban core – realizing that a vibrant and engaging downtown brings benefit to the entire city.

However, despite their difference in scope – downtown Seattle and downtown Austin do have similarities. For instance, where downtown Seattle has graceful Gulls, whose calls evoke the sounds of the calming sea that traces the edges of Seattle’s downtown,…downtown Austin has Grackles.  (Okay, so Seattle wins that one.) Where downtown Seattle has insane hills that are the stuff of sleigh-riders dreams, downtown Austin has a gentle southeastern slope that makes outdoor activities a dream. Downtown Seattle has the Needle, downtown Austin has … the Austonian.  Downtown Seattle has a crazy Gum Wall, downtown Austin (well, close to downtown) has a graffiti wall (Hope Outdoor Gallery).

The examples above are a little in jest – but I will say that the culture of downtown Seattle did, in fact, feel pretty similar to downtown Austin.  For one, the city is very dog friendly.  Dogs were everywhere.  Additionally, many of the restaurants and night-life spots in downtown Seattle could have just as well been in Austin.

The natural surroundings, however, could not have been more different.  There were mountains viewable from downtown Seattle, as well as an active ocean port.  The weather is very rainy and generally much colder than in Austin. Likely, because of the weather (and maybe the hills), I did not see NEARLY as many folks jogging or bicycling around downtown Seattle, where in Austin, that’s the definite norm. One thing that REALLY struck me is that downtown Seattle and downtown Austin are very close to the same age, both “founded” in the mid-1800s. Downtown Seattle had a broader historic feel, but Austin is simply effervescent with youth and new growth.

The public transportation was robust and almost effortless (at least to us) in Seattle.  Also, downtown Seattle had more shopping – department stores and mom and pop shops happily co-exist in downtown Seattle.

Nordstrom Rack right next to the Monorail

Nordstrom Rack right next to the Monorail

Additionally, and this is a very timely issue for Austin, but busking in Seattle certainly felt MUCH more professional than what I see in downtown Austin…here’s one of the many talented street performers sprinkled around downtown Seattle. It’s important to note that Seattle has some very lax regulations on busking, however. In Austin, I think it should be monitored and systemized more than it is, and stakeholders like DANA agree (the City is currently obtaining more stakeholder feedback before re-presenting their proposal on busking regulations).

Now, it may sound like I just think Seattle is the greatest thing since sliced bread and why don’t I just marry Seattle because I love it so much….but, it’s not like that.  I LOVE downtown Austin, I really do. I believe we are a relatively “new” downtown (in the modern sense) and an incredibly fast growing one, at that. And the opportunities that brings for those of us in on the ground floor of this burgeoning downtown are incredible. And it only benefits us to look to more established downtown centers across the country and take what we can from those that have done it before.  City leaders and policy influencers are already doing this, of course – but it never hurts to keep it top of mind.

And, I think it’s important to note that more isn’t ALWAYS better.  For instance, the amount of vagrancy in downtown Seattle was frankly overwhelming.  Austin certainly has vagrancy issues as well, but, at least, anecdotally, Seattle felt FAR worse. And, there’s controversy as to whether Seattle is really doing their best to solve the problem in a sustainable way.

From searching a few online sources, Seattle’s cost of living seems quite a bit higher than Austin’s.  Most online source quotes that housing is at least 25% higher in Seattle than in Austin. This figure does not compare the downtown areas specifically, but I would think there is some disparity there.

In the last 90 days, downtown Austin’s median sold pricing is observed to be $490 per foot.  Semi-reliable online sources quote a recent median sales price for downtown Seattle the last 90 days at around $475 per foot.  So, if this is accurate, it may be that downtown Austin, is in fact, the more expensive housing market, at least at this specific point in time.  One reason for that may be the relatively lower inventory.

I think looking to Seattle can really help those that are shaping the new downtown Austin – especially in terms of public transportation, the city’s relationship with its natural surroundings (the Waller Creek redevelopment and Shoal Creek Conservancy efforts certainly are on the right track), and the SCOPE of downtown in relation to the size of the overall city: encourage vertical development in the urban-core, in order to preserve the beauty of our hill-country.

One thing is clear, Austin is a fabulous place to live – and it’s sunny.  Seattle can keep all that cloudy gloom for itself.

By The Numbers: Downtown’s Shrinking Inventory

By The Numbers: Downtown’s Shrinking Inventory

The data supports what we all see – demand exceeds supply for downtown condos, especially dwellings priced under $500,000.  May was the first month ever that both the average and median price per foot for a downtown resale was over $400/ft.

At the extremes, asking prices for new construction high-luxury condos are approaching $1000 per foot, and there are several recently recorded transactions between $700-$800 per square foot.

Downtown condo inventory as of 6/7/2013

1) total resales available = 49
2) total new construction available = 77 est.

As of this post, there are only 13 units for sale under $500,000, and built within the past 15 years, in all of downtown Austin.  This leaves us with just over one month of inventory available for the largest segment of condo buyers in downtown’s core.

The lack of new product in the market is putting significant upward pricing pressure on resales.  With no new condo development planned in downtown, as interest rates remain low, resale prices will continue to rise to meet the demand.

DT Resale Chart - May TTM - MaxMin

You’ll recall that back in January, for the first time, the average sales price of a new construction downtown condo exceeded, $1,000,000.  There were 14 closings in May for new construction condos: the Austonian, W Hotel, and Four Seasons Residences.  Spring is sold out.  [UPDATE: The Four Seasons is sold out, with contracts pending.]  The W and Four Seasons could officially be sold out after another couple months of sales and pending contracts close.  The Austonian has a pretty good inventory remaining, but soon lacking any competition sales could accelerate quickly.

May 2013 Resale Statistics

- Total sales volume (resales only) =  $12,717,900
- # of resale transactions = 22
- avg price per foot = $453
- median price per foot = $424
- avg sales price = $578,086
- avg sales price to list price (SP/LP) = 97%
- avg condo size = 1275 sq. ft.
- avg price per bedroom = $343,727
- avg days on market (DOM) = 43 days

May 2013 New Construction Statistics

- # of new construction transactions = 14
- avg price per foot = $700-$800/ft est.
- Total new construction sales volume =  not reported

[table id=33 /]

DT Resale Chart - May TTM

BREAKING: Sales Of New Downtown Austin Condos Average More Than $1,000,000

BREAKING: Sales Of New Downtown Austin Condos Average More Than $1,000,000

For the first time, the average sales price of a new condo in downtown Austin is more than $1,000,000.

It’s not news that residences cost more than $1,000,000.  It is news when we’re talking about averages!  To be clear, we are focusing on new construction only, not resales (which have also had a banner year, and we’ll cover that in a future post.)

In 2012, the Austonian, Four Seasons Residences, W Hotel Residences, and Spring Condos (which in 2012 closed out their sales), accounted for 124 sales.

According to builder reports assembled by Capitol Market Research for new construction condos sold during the past 12 months:

  • average price = $1,061,682
  • average size = 1,701 ft.
  • number new condos sold = 124

The data is provided to us monthly as an aggregate of the above four buildings.  Anonymizing individual building sales was the only way to convince the developers to share their sales data.  To qualify the average price, we can approximate a median price using the 12 monthly aggregate records we have.

  • median monthly average price = $1,044,181 (min $777,813 to max $1,687,857)

The refrain which began in 2010 continues: there are no new downtown Austin condos being built.  Nor have we seen any new site plans for downtown condos.  Inventories continue to decrease (by 124 units in 2012) and residences are selling quickly at prices close to the asking price.  An ancillary effect of this shrinking inventory is rising prices for resales.

By my estimation, when compared against TCAD records, only 115 new construction units remain.  If interest rates remain low, the downtown Austin real estate market is on a trajectory to complete sales of new construction condos in 2013.

I’ll continue to provide detailed analysis of 2012 results over the coming weeks, including resales and analysis of building-by-building performance.


BY THE NUMBERS (June): Downtown Austin Condo Sales

BY THE NUMBERS (June): Downtown Austin Condo Sales

In June, we observed downtown Austin condo prices averaging $381/ft for resales and $590/ft for new-luxury sales. With no new projects planned, a chunk of downtown Austin’s condo inventory is removed every month.

Pricing in Austin’s urban core continues to trend up for three reasons:

1) Shrinking inventory emboldens sellers
2) Low interest rates – hovering at 3.40% – enticing buyers
3) Migration patterns into Texas, specifically Austin, more specifically downtown Austin

Combined sales of new construction and resales removed 41 units from inventory in June, representing $25,156,400 total sales volume.

Currently, there are 94 resales and 172 new construction units available for sale in the downtown Austin core.

downtown austin condo price trends

June 2012 Resale Statistics

- # of resale transactions = 28
- avg price per foot = $381
- avg sales price to list price (SP/LP) = 91%
- avg days on market (DOM) = 17 days
- Total resales volume =  $12,829,900

June 2012  New Construction Statistics

- # of new construction transactions = 13
- avg price per foot = $590
- Total new construction sales volume =  $12,326,500

[table id=31 /]