Construction traffic doesn't slow Fremont home sales

Typically, traffic-weary homeowners flee the swarms of city automobiles for the serenity of suburbia.

Still, though a healthy dose of gridlock appears to be imminent for one of the Seattle's most-beloved neighborhoods, many homebuyers are frantically trying to scratch their way into Fremont.

Initial construction of the Fremont Bridge is already under way, and a full-fledged facelift will begin in spring/summer 2006.

But while traffic this summer may slow to a crawl, the real estate market in Fremont seems to be chugging along with quiet indifference.

"The road construction affects both Fremont and Wallingford as far as altering traffic patterns, but it doesn't seem to be affecting home prices," said Tracy Allinson, of RE/MAX Metro.

Greg Stamolis, of Windermere Real Estate's Ballard office, agreed."I think it may have some impact on the market," he said. "But most people understand that the inconveniences are temporary and that improving the infrastructure will only make the area more viable in the long term."

Motivated buyers

The project is expected to drastically improve access to and through the area, but that's just a bonus for buyers who already want in.

"There are lots of motivated buyers out there hoping for new listings," said Kathy Moeller, of Winder-mere Real Estate's Lakeview office in Wallingford. "I just sold a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condominium that came onto the market on Friday and sold on Sunday. Even over the holidays, sales took only a matter of days."

John Hama, of Home Realty in Green Lake, said the market time for most homes is brief. "As active as the market is, most of what's available - be it condominium, townhome or single-family - is snatched up in seven to 10 days," he said.

Moeller said the key for buyers is to be prepared. "Serious buyers are pre-approved and have already met with their lender in order to expedite the process, which is almost a necessity if you want to get the home you're looking for," she said. "Things are pretty fast-moving."

Allinson added that the overpriced properties in the area push the average market time to about 30 days, a bit longer than it was over the past year.

A more balanced market

While it is mostly a seller's market, Stamolis said the market is more balanced than in the recent past. "Inventory is low, but it's better than it has been," he said. "There's been a lot of building occurring in some of the more desirable neighborhoods like Fremont, and as a result I think the quality of available properties has increased due to the competition between builders."

Variety is the key. Currently, the least-expensive property in Fremont is a one-bedroom, one-bathroom cottage on North Motor Place built in 1939, which is listed for $284,950, according to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service, which tracks home-sale statistics in several Washington counties.

At the other end of the spectrum, a three-bedroom, 3 1/2-bathroom home built in 2001 on Dayton Avenue North sold recently for $669,950.

"The average three-bedroom, 1 1/2-bathroom home in Fremont will sell for between $400,000 and $450,000," Hama said. "That price is pretty substantial considering the same home in an area like Ballard would sell for considerably less."

A more economical option

One of the biggest current trends is tearing down single-family homes and building zero-lot-line town-homes to capitalize on the scarcity of land. "Townhomes are the most economical option for builders at this point," Hama said. "If you can take a single lot and essentially build four homes instead of one, obviously it's more profitable.

"Another positive aspect of townhomes is that the insurance is far less expensive than it is with condominiums," he added, "after all the recent claims for faulty siding."

There are other options for builders as well.

"For a while, because interest rates were down and homeownership was more appealing, vacancy rates were higher than usual at apartment complexes," Allinson said. "One thing that we've seen is building owners converting apartments into condominiums, which can be done relatively inexpensively in order to maximize profits."

Commercial activity

Commercial real estate in Fremont is also bustling.

"The commercial activity is paralleling the residential activity," Stamolis said. "Businesses see the strong residential market and believe in the neighborhoods that they rely on for their own strength. I sold several mom-and-pop properties recently that are now doing very well."

He added that if a commercial property has sat on the market for an extended period of time it was probably overpriced or had a specific defect, like poor access or parking.

As for access in and out of Fremont, though people are expecting an adventure in the coming months, the end results are expected to outweigh the headaches, according to Moeller, who is also on the board at the Fremont Chamber of Commerce.

"So far, the city has responded beautifully to the needs of the community," she said. "Unfortunately, the worst of the construction is yet to come, but most people realize that the short-term inconvenience will eventually pay off."

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