Emerald City Visions: Building and Remodeling in Seattle
It’s hard to really pinpoint what makes Seattle such a charming and inspiring city. The year-long mild weather certainly plays a part with winters never getting too cold and summers never getting too hot. Awesome views of the mountains from dominant Rainier in the south to the majestic Cascades in the east and the sublime sunsets over the Olympics to the west. It’s a place that treasures the diversity of its neighborhoods. Trendy Capitol Hill is a magnet for folks seeking lively street culture while Belltown’s foodie scene beckons culinary hounds and the enigmatic Queen Anne gently rises from the iconic Space Needle into a tranquil residential community. With so much to love here, it’s no wonder so many folks are moving in.
For those who are not only settling in Seattle but are also looking to either build their own home or remodel an existing property, the dream move now becomes a project in creating the dream home. It’s a thrilling prospect full of wonderful expectations and grandiose visions. But it’s also a moment to take a step back and consider what it really means to build your own castle here in the Emerald City. Everything from budget and financing to picking the right paint colors — and all things in between — require planning, reflection, consultation and a lot of patience. It’s all part of the process, though, one that in the end will have you living in that space you’ve always dreamed of.
Sizing up the Competition
The first thing to keep in mind about Seattle is that everybody seems to want to live in Seattle! And why not? It’s truly one of the most enthralling cities in America. That means that in the housing market, you can expect to come up against a decent amount of competition. You will almost certainly never be the only person making offers for properties. And not everybody will feel prepared to deal with the regulatory hurdles (more on that later). That’s why it will be important to do a little research on your preferred neighborhood upfront as well as connect with a reputable real estate agent. It’s good to engage a few of these folks as finding one who is really the right fit for your quest is critical. Once you get a better idea of the lay of the land, you can start to think about what will truly work for you.
Also consider the features of the environment you’re looking at. In Seattle, just about anywhere you build will be hilly. But that can mean a very different thing Downtown versus, say, somewhere toward Discovery Park. Renovating houses near Alki Beach will need to take saltwater corrosion into account while those facing Lake Washington won’t. You can expect more urban zones to lean heavily into requirements that come with high population density while living closer to nature means more environmental considerations in building codes. Whatever lifestyle you’re aiming toward, get to know what both state and city officials will be requiring of your builders — and just how many other folks will be vying for their chance to build.
The Financial Angle
Nobody likes to think about budget, but everybody has to do it. One of the side effects of living in such a desirable city as Seattle is that home and building costs tend to reflect the competitiveness of the market. For folks looking to build, there are a few core elements to ponder upon. First, the actual cost of the plot of land you’re looking to make the old homestead on. Location of course will be primary in dictating property values, but then there’s also the size. How big do you want your home to be, your yard to be? Think about the number of rooms/bathrooms you will need. Getting all this right will be critical, especially when seeking a bank loan for the funds. Also, keep in mind that Section 203(k) loans can be granted not only for new construction but also for remodeling costs.
From there, it’s critical to get a fix on what the price per square foot will run you. Again, this starts with what localities are commanding. Some neighborhoods trend pricier than others. But there’s also a bit of nitty-gritty when it comes to building. Different materials will be more inexpensive than others, for example. That can mean everything from the frame to the flooring. From there, consider the topography of your plot. As stated, Seattle has a lot of hills. Naturally, this often leads to issues related to sloping, grading and quality of the soil. It might just be that the place that pleases your eye the most won’t be a great spot for building upon. Save yourself the logistical headaches and see if you can review property histories in the area or even get feedback from a surveyor.
Planting Your Flag
Now that you’ve had a look at where you want to build and what it will take to create your dream home, it’s time to secure that spot. You’ve picked your property and you’re ready to make it yours. It’s time to engage a builder and get going on the first steps of making that dream come true. Take a long look at local reviews, see how long the folks you’re looking at have been in business and read testimonials carefully. If you have any friends who have already gone through the process in Seattle, be able to pick their brains as well. Because once you’ve chosen your location and are ready to move, a competent builder will not only be the one who realizes your home dreams but also shepherds you through all the regulatory matters that come up.
There’s a bunch of important steps to anticipate once you have your initial property purchase out of the way. Zoning will be key and you can expect quite a bit of that in Seattle. No worries: as noted above, dealing with that is one of the key functions of your builder. That will still mean plenty of hoop-jumping, but you won’t be alone in those challenges, plus you can take some comfort in knowing all of your neighbors have probably been through it before as well. A title report will be the next important step. Issues such as easements and limitations can pop up and impact your plans. Any good builder will offer up workarounds and adapt to local regulations. Details like this and others can be added to a list, and feel free to tap your builder and real estate agent to add items to that list.
And Now for the Fun Part
Paperwork, meetings, research, decision after decision — there’s a reason you’ve been pushing yourself through all this toward your dream home in Seattle and finally, you’ve reached it: the designing stage. Here is where your imagination meets the practical concerns you’ve already addressed and what your home will really end up looking like begins to materialize. Where some parts of your old dreams may have been left behind, new possibilities jump out and whet your anticipation in seeing it all come to life. Your next step is to secure a great architect. Yes, you can do a lot of research and ask around to connect with the best creative genius to match up with your desires. But here’s a shortcut: consult your builder. They will not only know the best people in town but probably already have working relationships with many of them.
But even if you employ that shortcut when seeking an architect out, do make sure to meet at least a few and see if they are truly a good fit. Obviously, they will need to be able to work well with your builder. From there, take a look at examples of their finished products. Be sure that their creations resemble the type of palace you want to erect for yourself. As a rule of thumb, the more your eye likes what it sees in the architect’s portfolio, the more likely you will love the house they help you create. And again, keep a close eye on costs. Even when remodeling, the trends for building see costs rising in the Seattle area due to booming local demand — so be sure to hold the architect accountable on that front as well.