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Seattle’s housing market high on fixer-uppers

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Aging houses and slow construction mean more fixers hitting the markets

You’ve seen the disclosures in the listings: fixer-upper, as-is, TLC, project house. Except for new construction that was interrupted for some reason, those terms usually mean a house that is less than perfect - and that’s being nice about it. Renovations are impressive, and expensive. Most houses eventually hit a spell where the owners can’t afford to keep up with the weathering and aging every house experiences. No house is perfect, but these houses are further from perfect than most. They’re showing up more often.

For some, those disclosures are warning signs. For others, they’re opportunities for a lower price and a chance to express themselves. According to Zillow, Seattle fixer-uppers save buyers a median savings of $24,000. You can buy a lot of paint and appliances for that kind of money. Zillow’s report on fixer-uppers is nationwide. About 1.2 percent of Seattle’s homes fit their criteria, which is above average, but not by much.

Because fixer-uppers are partly determined by age, cities with older homes tend to have more fixer-uppers. Seattle isn’t an old city compared to the east coast, but about 54 percent of our houses are more than thirty years old because we aren’t building as many new houses. That’s a lot of opportunity for repairs getting out of hand.

Since 2006, the median age of houses sold has risen from 15 years to 28 years in 2015. That’s a large change in a short time, more than a year for year increase.

If there were more new homes, the percentage would drop; but Seattle is running out of room for new houses. Get ready for more major renovations, remodels, and their antithesis - the bulldozed lot.

A quick search of Seattle’s market using ZIllow’s keyword search produces 713 single-family houses, of which five are described as fixer-uppers, five include TLC, and three are as-is. (Of course the data may be skewed if a seller is proud of having turned a fixer-upper into a turnkey that is perfect as-is because they applied TLC.) Not exactly the 1.2 percent reported in the survey, but markets change and a few houses one way or the other shift the results.

At least in Seattle’s hot market enough money is being invested that it’s conceivable that this could become a Renaissance era for refreshing our houses, turning fixers and near-fixers into impressive updates and upgrades.