A parking lot in the International District is slated to become into 203 condos in the next couple of years, but most of its units are already spoken for. Koda, a condo tower designed by local firm KMD Architects and developed by Taiwan-based Da-Li Development, started presales over the weekend—and the units are already 95 percent reserved.
The units haven’t been sold yet; condo-seekers put down a refundable $5,000 deposit for the first right of opportunity, which will be held in escrow until specifications and a fixed price is confirmed within the quoted price range. Prospective buyers need to be prequalified by Caliber Home Loans in order to keep that reservation.
The goal is to break ground in the Spring of 2018, have the project completed in 2020.
“We have an opportunity to further anchor Japantown and its contribution within the International District,” Yang Lee, a director with KMD Architects, said in a statement. “We are paying homage to a historic past while participating in the renaissance taking place in the International District.”
Specifically, the location at Fifth Avenue and Main Street is in Japantown. “It’s important to note that the International District is not just Chinatown, as commonly thought but in fact collection of historically significant communities,” said Yang Lee, a director with KMD Architects, when the condo project was first announced. “Architecture and placemaking can reinforce this spirit of place.”
Because of that location in the historic Chinatown International District, the building was subject to a special design review process—and not everyone was as enthusiastic about its presence in the neighborhood.
“Only rich white yuppies drinking lattes will be allowed to use this space and everybody else will be forced out by security,” said Marlon Herrera, speaking only as an individual, but a member of both the Parks Commission and the CID Coalition, at a International Special Review District Board meeting.
Koda is one of the few new condo buildings planned to pop up around downtown, along with Nexus in the Denny Triangle and a 30-story project just announced for Trinity Parish’s First Hill property. Condo sales also went quickly for Nexus, with 75 percent of them reserved after a weekend presale event last year.
It’s an indicator of high demand for condos—and while “another condo building” is a common gripe in development-heavy Seattle, most new residential buildings are actually set to be rentals. Many design and building professionals attribute this to the Washington State Condominium Act, a consumer protection measure which holds developers and architects to a greater risk of a lawsuit within the first five years after the project is constructed.
In an op ed for the Daily Journal of Commerce last week, Weber Thompson’s Blaine Weber wrote that condo projects are a “guaranteed lawsuit”: “There are many reasons for this fourth-year phenomena, the first is the way the state Condominium Act is structured; the second most salient being the aggressive behavior of some plaintiff attorneys who approach HOA board members at this four-year mark to convince them to initiate a construction claims lawsuit.” Weber suggests reforms to state law and changes at the insurance level.
For now, though, condos, especially downtown, remain in low supply and high demand—often a lower-cost option for homeownership than a single-family home, but still not especially accessible to many, especially with a competitive buying process and resulting bidding wars on existing inventory, especially in lower price points.
In a statement, La Di Development vice president Kevin Hseih seemed open to future condo projects: “We only build condominiums in Taiwan and are very comfortable with that product type... that said, we can also understand the strategy to build and hold these appreciating assets as apartments, especially as Seattle’s growth trajectory is so exciting. So, it’s of little surprise that our units are also attractive to individual investors.”
Hsieh said La Di is looking for other opportunities, although the process is moving slowly.