Excellent Sales Activity!

This week saw a pretty nice run of Pending and Closed sale son urban condos across a broad range of pricing. Several units in Northwynd at Columbia Shores either closed or went pending this week. A couple of pending sales in Shorewood as well as Parkview at Vancouver Center. In the upper range a unit went pending at Tidewater in the $1 million range and two nice units at Viewpoint $699k and $950k went pending this week.

Things are looking strong for Vancouver USA and the urban condo market. If the economy can continue to push favorably forward this summer should bode well as the Waterfront project continues to bring more exciting restaurants, services and development to the area.

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Positive Changes to Washington’s Condo Laws

The Columbian reported last week that there have been some positive changes to Washington’s 30 year old laws on Condominiums. Senate Bill 5334 passed unanimously in both chambers of the state legislature and has been signed into law by the governor. The law makes some much needed amendments to the Washington Condominium Act of 1989.

The original law created a great deal of “gray area” with regards to implied warranties and defects that often led to lawsuits against the builder. Although some suits are unavoidable, much of this litigation over the years has turned out to be frivolous and damaging to the public interest.

It seems that our state government is out to ease the problems while maintaining safety and consumer protections. Holy cow, did our government just get something right? WOW! That rarely happens and to have unanimous support is truly remarkable. Now if we could only export some of that cooperation to Washington DC, that would be awesome.

We shall see how it all shakes out, the law goes into effect on July 28th. I would imagine that the waterfront will benefit greatly from this new legislation. Many builders have been shy to build condos especially in the affordable price ranges because of the inability to get financing. That lack of financing was often due to investor fear of lawsuits.

Perhaps now some of these proposed condo towers for the waterfront will get started.

Activity Up, Prices Steady

Downtown Vancouver is seeing some robust activity in the low to middle priced urban condo market right now. New units have come online over the last couple of weeks but units are selling as well. There has been a sizable load of activity in the Parkview Condo Tower at 701 Columbia this year.

Parkview is in the unique position of offering relatively affordable units that can be purchased for less than or very near to the price of a rental unit. In fact the building just south of Parkview is a nearly identical but slightly shorter tower with all rental units.

I believe the excitement over the waterfront and the local tight rental market has put positive pressure on the entry-level to mid-priced condos and Parkview is where most of those are located in the downtown core area.

In other urban living news, Riverwest Apartments are very near complete. I would imagine they will start leasing soon with delivery sometime in the late spring.

Kirkland Project now Rising above Street Level

I went to the Maryhill Winery opening this past weekend and they have a lovely tasting room on block 12 next to Twigs Bistro. I noticed the Kirkland project progress as I drove by.

Most of the underground infrastructure and parking are complete and the Kirkland Tower and Hotel Indigo structures are rising above the street now. Generally these types of tallish buildings have a slow start building the ground support and elevator towers before the steel frame rises. Once the base structure is in place things start to move fast. The building goes up fairly quickly from this point.

According to reports from Gramor, the Waterfront developer and Kirkland the block 4 project developer, The 8 story Hotel Indigo will be completed first followed by the 12 story Kirkland Tower. Both will be built simultaneously however.

I am intrigued by both of these projects. The hotel is quite possibly going to be the nicest in town. Built with an interior open atrium design and an El Gaucho location the project is aiming pretty high. They are also putting in a ‘sky lounge’ on the 8th floor. Kirkland Tower is a condo building that will be directly connected to the hotel structure and owners will have access to some of the hotel’s amenities and services. The project will have underground parking shared with the hotel, but also featuring a stackable parking setup which will be unique in Vancouver. This parking arrangement lifts one car up on a rack allowing another to be parked underneath.

The real test is the pricing on the units. Rumors are circulating that the larger units, which are not really going to be that big maybe 1600-1800 SF will be listed in the $4 million plus range. Now to be clear, Vancouver USA has condos that have sold in these upper reaches of pricing, mostly in the Tidewater project to the east. But those are much larger units some with 4000 SF. If Kirkland can get these units sold in that price range, it does bode well for the success of the grand waterfront as a whole.

Some reports show that there are some who are concerned with the high pricing on units so far, and to be fair they have a point, but equally fair is the point that so far the structures going up are right on the water. These are the most premium lots in the project, one should expect higher end uses. As the project builds out to the lots further back off the water, I would estimate that units will start going in with more modest middle-income pricing. Patience is important in these matters.

Part of building a community that is fresh and exciting is luring in some big dollars to boost the local economy and this project is certainly doing that quite well.

No Chatter in a Long Bit on Timberhouse

I mentioned the Timberhouse project last month in an article about another new project proposed for the waterfront called the Trestle. Click here for that story.

Last year about this time the Columbian, Gramor Development, and other local biz buzz was all over this new CLT project planned for Block 3 called Timberhouse. The building is planning on using CLT or cross laminated timber for the construction. If built it would be the tallest CLT structure in the US and second tallest in the world. Of course the Trestle will be even taller but it is earlier in the development cycle. Or is it? The Timberhouse Talk has been almost non-existent this year other than a quote in a local newspaper from Gramor boss, Barry Cain suggesting it was coming along or something like that. Hmm, I not so sure. Block three is just sitting there, no activity at all.

I am kind of excited about Timberhouse, the project drawings show a building with a classic style. It has multiple wings of different heights and a series of architectural setbacks that harken to yesteryear, despite the structure featuring very modern building techniques and tech. I hope they can actually get this built.

One thing could be the production of CLT. It is a newish building material but on the plus side, Canadian Timber Products Giant, Katerra recently opened up its massive expansion in Spokane The 250,000 sf factory for CLT will help with demand for CLT products in the US.

In other news, condo sales continue to be reasonably brisk in Downtown Vancouver. I believe that long term values of existing condos could see an above average spike as the Waterfront should serve to draw people into the area. Most of the condo units going up in that $1.5 billion project are very high end units in the one to five million dollar range. That will make the units in places like Heritage Place, Frontier Block, Viewpoint, and Parkview very attractive alternatives. It’s a short walk from any of those projects to the new waterfront.

Things are looking fantastic for Urban Living in the ‘Couv’.

Latest Downtown Buzz

The Columbian reported recently that the Vancouver City Council is looking at contingency plans for Block 10 should Gramor be unable to lock down a grocer for the ground floor of the proposed high-rise project. According to the story, Gramor’s Barry Cain is confident he’ll ink a deal this year. The story went into details about the changing landscape in the grocery business and that once sprawling stores like Freddie and Safeway are now becoming smaller affairs more akin to the markets of yesteryear in mid-century America. That may be the perfect scenario for downtown, a small 15,000-20,ooo SF space.

Meanwhile Vancouver Center 4 should start seeing lots of activity, some minor prep work has begun but the building should go up fast as all the underground work is already in place.

Not much happening elsewhere in urban real estate at the moment, but on local economic news, the Port of Vancouver once again increased its volume setting another record for cargo handling volume. This is good news for our local area. Exports up 8.7%

High End Condos are Moving!

Generally the higher end of the market is slower than the entry level or middle, but in the Urban Condo scene it seems that the plush units are selling very well. Two of five listed units at the very expensive Tidewater project have sold and in a reasonable time frame for both.

Meanwhile in Parkview it seems the more expensive units with premium upgrades and higher prices are more desirable than the more modestly equipped units as well. The exception is the one bed and studio units which are hard to find, reasonably priced and sell quickly.

The action in the $750k plus condo market indicates a market demand for these units and bodes well for the upcoming Kirkland Tower project on the waterfront which will have units ranging from $1 million to $5 million. Kirkland is expected to be ready next year.

Another High Rise Proposed for the Waterfront

Carbon 12 in Portland, OR

The latest news has centered on a Portland firm planning a new high-rise for the waterfront. The Columbian newspaper reported last week the Kaiser Group has proposed a CLT ((cross laminated timber) apartment tower called, “The Trestle.” Perhaps the railroad parlance is in honor of the nearby rail operations for the Port of Vancouver. Kaiser Group is involved with the development of other CLT projects including the Carbon 12. It’s an 8 story CLT building in Portland, which is currently the tallest CLT wood structure in America. This new cross laminated timber structure is proposed for Block 14 with 16 floors and 185 feet tall. The building as proposed would be a little bit taller than the current FAA height restrictions in the area, but Block 14 is far enough west that I would imagine the FAA would be fine with it especially since the building will likely have a narrow elevation profile and the La Farge cement tower is nearby and exceeds 150 feet itself. A 16 story building with only 110 units will not be very wide. We shall see how this one develops, looking like a really nice project. If built it will be taller than the Timberhouse 12 story building proposed on Block 3 and would become the tallest CLT building in the United States. The Trestle, is in the preliminary stages and would be finished in 2023.

Timberhouse from Summit Development

Now that I’ve mentioned the Timberhouse, I haven’t heard anything lately from Summit Development on the progress towards a ground breaking. Summit Development is a bit hush on this project having not updated their website at all in several months. I like the classic style of this project, but I fear that they may be stalled out on it. No news is not good news in this line of business. The last quote I read from Barry Cain at Gramor, back in January, they were planning on breaking ground for Timberhouse this year. Let’s hope they do, there is a lot on money, both public and private riding on this amazing waterfront, the sooner these projects get started, the sooner more local, regional, and national buzz the site receives. Media buzz in this instance is very good.

There is a website that counts tower cranes and measures the economic success of cities based on the number of active cranes operating in the city. Seattle has spent the last few years at the top of the list in the U.S. Let’s get a few more cranes up here in the ‘Couv’.

Block 4 Construction Progress

In other Waterfront news, The progress on Lot 4 seems to be humming along as we ride into spring. I was at the Grand Opening of Fidelity and Chicago Title at the Murdock on Thursday night. That is a nice building to be sure. From the east side the windows look over the construction site for Lot 4 where the Kirkland Tower and Indigo Hotel projects are under construction. I took a photo with my phone, out the window of title officer, Joan Grimm’s east facing office. It shows the underground development on Block 4. These are two subterranean levels of parking for the complex. The 12 story Kirkland Tower condos will rise up on the near side of the block while the 8 story open atrium Indigo Hotel will go up on the far side of the block. The two buildings will be connected to form an almost single structure.

Downtown Vancouver and the Waterfront are the happening spot in the metro area right now, and there is no need take our foot of the accelerator pedal.

Terminal One in the News

A recent article in the Columbian discussed the Terminal One project at the Port of Vancouver’s original terminal immediately east of the Vancouver Waterfront Development. This is effectively a companion development that will ultimately have a waterfront public market (similar to Pike’s Place, Seattle). The recent news focuses on both the potential for parking concerns and the call out to potential developer/investors for block’s A and C on the north side of the project. The idea for those two blocks is a mixed use high density development. The FAA will no doubt keep the height down to 6-7 floors as Pearson Field and PDX flight paths are affected.

The western two blocks of the six block project are leased to Gramor Development as part of the $1.5 billion Waterfront Vancouver project. Gramor has plans for a high-rise office on the waterfront block 2, and block 1 is available. An AC Marriot hotel is scheduled to break ground this year on block D. The current Warehouse 23 restaurant and the wharf it sits on top of will be demolished to make way for a brand new wharf and the public market. Also on the same “block” as the new wharf will be an office building officially block B.

It looks like the timeline is AC Marriott on block D first starting this year and completion likely late next year; then the aforementioned “back blocks” A and C with whatever the private sector can arrange with the port authority. The last bit will be the proposed office building and the brand new Wharf and public market.

Parking is fine for now as the Waterfront and Terminal One are only just starting. Several of the vacant lots are already paved and in use as surface parking and staging for some of the larger projects. As both developments start to build out the area available for parking will shrink while the demand will rise. A double whammy of sorts. This will be a concern over the next few years.

I think the leased block 1 of the Gramor Waterfront should be a public parking facility jointly owned by the City of Vancouver, Port of Vancouver, and Gramor or their assign. The city could run the garage and space could be designated for the public as well as private space to serve future office/commercial development in both projects.

When dealing with the combined waterfront effort of the Port of Vancouver and Gramor Development, this is $2 billion in local projects; it would be foolish not to expect some logistical problems along way.

What’s up at Northwynd?

There has been a surge in activity at Northwynd Condos at Columbia Shores. Quite a few units are now listed. There doesn’t seem to be any real negative issue, just a lot of people making a move. Recently the association at Northwynd had a small assessment that led to a $100 increase in HOA dues, but that is really not a big enough deal to produce an exodus.

I spoke to one Realtor® privately that has a few listings in that complex; she thinks people are excited about the new waterfront and some may be capitalizing on the “buzz” surrounding the waterfront. Although there is some merit to the idea that some homeowners could be ‘taking profits’ like investors do in the stock market when values are high, it seems a bit more complicated than that. I’ll be sniffing around to see if there is more to the story over the next few weeks.