The first local information site to do it right

Why can’t I wait for EveryBlock to hit Seattle? I’m nosy. I like knowing where houses are being built in my neighborhood, I love knowing when a local restaurant was shut down by the health department, and I’m a sucker for truly local – like my neighborhood – news and sometimes the Capitol Hill blog is just slightly behind the times or just slightly east of 15th. I also want to know about crimes more minor than the Tully’s hold up.

Seattle in Top Ten for Continued Appreciation- Want to know Why?

We’ve talked alot on RCG about whether we’re in a bust or a bubble real estate market and we in the Pacific NW have been watching the rest of the country and wondering, Why all the gloom? and today’s Seattle times have some explanation that can provide perspective:

Last week, unveiled its forecast for the changing real estate market in the U.S. over the next few years – ten markets where housing prices and values will continue to remain strong, ten markets where appreciation will pretty much top out and the ten markets that are most likely to experience a decline. They talked to experts, studied public and private databases, analyzed market trends and examined the analysis of many others.

The ten “bubble blowers,” where appreciation should continue to grow, are:

  • Boise (ID);
  • El Paso (TX);
  • Albuquerque (NM);
  • Seattle (WA)/Portland (OR);
  • Salt Lake City (UT);
  • Raleigh (NC);
  • Philadelphia (PA);
  • Atlanta (GA);
  • Little Rock (AR); and
  • Cincinnati (OH)/Birmingham (AL) (they were too close to call).

Just why this is happening in the Pacific NW is the subject of this mornings Seattle Times article by Elizabeth Rhodes. She sheds light on why Seattle is breaking the national trend toward stagnating or dropping home prices. Her article notes that the average home prices have taken a steep hike in the last year and appear to be continuing the rise.

Citing the NWMLS statistics that came out on Thursday, median closed price of King County single-family homes has shot up almost 12 percent in the past year, reaching $405,000 last month (and up from $392,950 in February).

Interestingly, sales are down, but so is inventory. In March 2004, there were 7,156 homes for sale countywide. March 2005’s inventory was 5,244 homes. This March recorded a further drop, to 5,100. This is the pinch that causing the rise in prices.

At the same time, the local economy is growing and employers are adding jobs, bringing more potential buyers to the area. So the competition for available homes is strong and prices are reacting accordingly.

We agents have been experiencing this hot market all spring as we did through most of last year, possibly feeling the market fluctuations first. We’re out there in it, pricing homes to reflect the low inventory and coaching buyers for the best positioning in a multiple offer situation. I just watched the price of an Eastside condo jump $20,000 in a two week period!

Interesting Insurance Program from King County Metro

I just received a newsletter from Todd Litman of the Victoria Transportation Policy Institute that describes an innovative project that is being tested by King County Metro.

King County Metro, the Washington State Department of Transportation and other partners has $2,2 million to develop a Pay As You Drive (PAYD) Insurance Pilot project for Washington State over a 4-year period to evaluate the impacts of a pilot including at least 5000 participants. They are in the process of recruiting an insurance carrier to join in the project. The deadline for expressions of interest is February 15, 2006. For more information contact Bill Roach ( or Bob Flor (

I probably wouldn’t have mentioned it, but I noticed that the Cascadia Scorecard had an article on this topic today, Pay As You Drive Insurance, and they didn’t mention this interesting program. This makes me think that the project must be really below the radar and in need of some Rain City Guide attention!

So how does it relate to Seattle real estate? Barely… But what’s important is that if you are a King County resident whose car spends almost all day at home, then you may be able to save money by joining this program and only paying insurance on the miles that you drive.

Healthier Living Involves an Urban Home

A recent study was just released that concludes that living in a walkable neighborhood is healthier than living in the suburbs! Another good reason to live in Seattle!

The Seattlest nominated this article for the “No Shit Sherlock” department in that it does not take a study to conclude that people who walk more will be healthier. However, to the study’s benefit, this kind of data gets used in the most obscure (yet important) ways. For example, I found the data to be extremely useful for a transportation demand management (TDM) tool I recently built for the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT). It can be so darn hard to quantify the benefits that make neighborhoods special that sometimes us engineers, (yes, I am an engineer by training) latch onto relatively obscure concepts like “walkability” in order to differentiate good neighborhoods from bad! Besides just letting us know that a walkable neighborhood is a healthier place to live, the study also helped to define what it means for a neighborhood to be walkable!

Bonus: One piece of my involvement in the TDM study involved creating a map that displayed the walkability of every single neighborhood in King County. My memory of the map was that the most walkable neighborhoods were almost all located in Seattle (surprise) with only a few located in the Eastside. If you’re really interested in learning more about what makes a neighborhood “walkable”, let me know!

The moral of this long-winded post? Living in a walkable neighborhood is not only more pleasant, but better for you!

Walking at the Ballard Locks

Ignorance is not an excuse, but…

The common phrase is that ignorance of the law is no excuse. In this case, I have some clients who just received a $1,000 ticket for renting a home without a business license. If this was their profession and they had 20 or so units, a $1,000 fine probably wouldn’t be a good thing but it could be absorbed. But when you are in your 80’s and retired it is a pretty big impact. Especially when the ticket is the first time you’ve heard of the new regulations.

I’ve talked to 4 property management companies, some with properties in the same area and none of them were familiar with this law. Makes me wonder how much effort the city took to alert property owners of the change.

As of January 1, 2005, the City of Des Moines (Washington, not Iowa) added rental of residential real property to the list of business that require a business license. In addition to a business license, the landlord is now also required to obtain “crime free housing endorsement

Belltown to get community center

[photopress:walking_along_the_waterfront.JPG,thumb,alignright]While it won’t make Belltown the most family-friendly area of Seattle, it is nice to know that this area is getting a new community center.

The first thing that came to my mind when I read the article was that the couple that run the UptownSeattle blog are leaving a little too soon… I can tell that they really like the area and it would have been a great sign for the neighborhood if they would have felt better about raising a kid in Belltown.

Real Simple Syndication (RSS) for Real Estate

Duck Flapping WingsI can tell from some of the questions I got from my past post about RSS feeds that I was going over some people’s heads. As the resident geek here at Rain City Guide, I feel it is my responsibility to explain RSS feeds and why they are so cool… So let’s begin with the big picture…

Who cares about RSS?
Imagine that you could create a newspaper that only included content that you were interested in. Mine definitely would not include tables if yesterday’s stock quotes! But what would it include? My ideal newspaper would be completely personalized to my interests and include this type of information:

  • Current world, local, real estate, transportation, and tech news
  • Commentary from my favorite writers on world news, local news, real estate, transportation and tech issues
  • The latest photos of my friends and family
  • A photo and description of every new home that came on the market in Anna’s market area
  • Upcoming local events
  • Blog articles written by people who are moving to Seattle

But wait! I’ve already got that newspaper and it is delivered (digitally) to one place every day. Even better, it is delivered continuously throughout the day as new articles appear. My newspaper is ALWAYS up-to-date. It includes selected articles from the New York Times, the Seattle Times, the Seattle PI and 4500 other newspapers!. As a matter of fact, I’ve created such an awesome newspaper that I rarely search the web anymore for new content. Just about all the content that I could possible be interested in gets delivered to me! And best of all, this newspaper with articles, commentary, data and photos personalized to my tastes is delivered to me FREE!

How does this work?
Through the magic of RSS.

What is RSS?
RSS stands for Real Simple Syndication. The idea behind RSS is that a website (newspaper, blog, photo site, etc) publishes a text file on their site with a very specific (RSS) format so that other sites can “ping” this one text file to find the latest news, information, photos (or home listings!). The text file is pretty ugly to look at (here is Rain City Guide’s RSS feed), but that is beside the point, because users should never be looking at a raw RSS feed. Instead, users (that means you!) should get a feed reader that will parse all the ugly text and reformat it in a nice, easy-to-read package.

Have a lost you yet?
Stick with me, and I hopefully you’ll start to see what makes RSS feeds so cool (at least in a geeky sort of way!).

Ducks at LakeWhy go through all the hassle to get a site’s RSS feed when you can just go to the site whenever you’re interested in reading their content?
The beauty of the RSS feed is that updated information is brought to you! Ever since I’ve started using a feed reader, I find myself searching the web for interesting information a lot less because interesting information is brought to me! To give you an idea of the diversity of feeds available, here are some of the things that are delivered to the inbox of my feed reader every time new information is published:

I mention these items just to give you a picture of the diversity of feeds that are available. In reality, over 100 of my feeds are all from bloggers, but the options for different feeds are massive and growing every day. I’ve really enjoyed being able to read articles and see photos from all of these sources within one place (a feed reader!), which brings me to…

So where do I get one of these feed readers so that I can create my own on-line newspaper?
There are a ton of feed readers available. Some of them are desktop-based and some are web-based. Most of my experience has been on the following three web-based options, so I’m going to limit my opinion to these three, but feel free to search beyond my experience:

I began using MyYahoo years ago, and then a while back (months? years?) they added the ability to add any RSS feed to a user’s MyYahoo page. I took advantage of this and enjoyed it so much that MyYahoo page became extremely cluttered. I clearly needed a better option which is when I turned to Bloglines. Bloglines allows you to categorize your feeds into an unlimited number of folders and it does a great job of keeping track of which articles you’ve already read, making it extremely popular and easy-to-use program. Plus it is 100% web-based so that if you log into the service and read an article on one computer (let’s say at work) then when you log in from home, your home computer will know that you’ve already read that article… Bloglines is a great way to keep up on your favorite news, blogs, etc.

Ducks PlayingI’ve also been playing around with Google’s new feed reader called GoogleReader. It’s a great option as well and I really like that it has an “relevance” option that brings the things I’m most likely to be interested in to the top of my list of things to read.

What’s next?
My hope is that if you’re new to RSS feeds, then at least you are starting to see that they have a ton of potential. They are everywhere and Scobleizer (over at Microsoft) would even argue that they are essential for new web companies! Feeds are only going to become more popular, so if you want to be a web-savvy individual, it is time to hop on the band wagon and try it out!

And if you’ve made it this far, you’ll start to notice orange RSS “badges” all over the web. These badges are letting you know that you can read this site’s content from your blog reader.

For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to assume you are using GoogleReader… To add Rain City Guide to GoogleReader, here is what you need to do:

  1. Go to GoogleReader
  2. In the search box, type is “Rain City Guide” and click “Search for New Content”.
  3. Where you see “Seattle’s Rain City Real Estate Guide”, click on the Subscribe button. This will add Rain City Guide’s RSS feed to your GoogleReader.

It is that simple to add a feed. In addition, most sites offer an “+ to XYZ” buttons like this one (Add to Google) from Google. There are bunch more feed readers on the market, and I’ve tried to make it as easy as possible to add Rain City Guide, so I’ve added a button for all the ones that I’m aware of on my sidepanel.

Also, if you are interested in real estate feeds, feel free to grab the real estate feeds that I follow by downloading this file to your hard-drive and using the “import” feature within GoogleReader to add these feeds. (To do this you will need to (1) click on “Your Subscriptions” and (2) on the pull down menu that says “more actions”, click on “import”. Then (3) just follow the instructions to import the XML file.)

So why all the big fuss about RSS feeds? And what does this have to do with real estate?
I’ve been playing around with some ideas I have for an RSS feed of real estate listings and before I announce anything, I needed to have a post I could turn to where I could say “This is what an RSS feed is and why you should care!” There’s nothing I’m ready to present yet, but if you’re interested in being an alpha-tester, let me know and I’ll pass along a link soon enough!

Senior Housing Boom or Bust?

John Luther Genealogy PhotoI’m a few days behind in this post, but it seems worth noting that the Seattle Times had two stories this past weekend on the Senior Housing market that made me scratch my head…

Article #1, some feel squeeze from senior-housing boom, explains how the boom in senior-housing facilities is making it difficult to find a starter-home, while article #2, many seniors find few housing choices in area, explains how seniors are finding it difficult to find small, inexpensive (i.e. starter) homes.

Maybe the two authors need to get together and write one article that says (surprise, surprise) that finding an inexpensive starter home in Seattle can be difficult. 🙂

Local Treasure: Golden Gardens

[photopress:golden_gardens_beach.gif,thumb,alignright]There’s a fun story on the City of Seattle’s website about the history of the Golden Gardens park. Turns out this local gem was named and developed “in 1907 as an attraction at the end of the novel, new electric car lines being built by realtors to induce townfolk to take a ‘Sunday outing’ out of town and through the woods to a picnic or swim at a beach. (Along the way they were made aware of the real estate available!)”

Wow! Back then agents understood that a rail project adds to property values! 🙂

Of course, some things never change:

“In 1933, the community celebrated the opening of Seaview Avenue, a narrow two-lane road alongside the railroad, but on its own fill behind a new rock seawall, that ended abruptly with a new railroad underpass connecting with the old parking lot and providing a drive through the park, as well as auto access to the beach area. Then traffic really became a problem!

[photopress:golden_gardens.JPG,thumb,alignleft]Why was (and is) parking so tight? Because Golden Gardens is still a great place to take a ‘Sunday outing’ (or an outing on any day of the week!). The park has a little bit for everyone…. There are beaches and creeks for the kids, fire pits for the teens and wonderful views and trails for the rest of us!

Want more? More history of Golden Gardens in this acrobat file (pdf). More on Seattle’s first electric streetcar. More archived photos of Seattle. More archived photos of Golden Gardens. More modern shots of Golden Gardens.

And, of course, there are more local treasures on Rain City Guide.