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What Now? Series: Dynamic Housing Markets in the West

In 2017, Unique Homes is traveling the U.S. to find the dominant stories in each region of the country — This issue covers the Pacific Northwest, Nevada, California and Hawaii. 

By Camilla McLaughlin

Photo courtesy of Matthew Field

A mix of tech, entertainment and financial service industries along with sheer physical beauty and miles of coastline make California, the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii unlike any other part of the country. Recognized worldwide as a mecca for technology and innovation, West Coast metros have an urban vibe that reaches across generations. Islands, bucolic country settings and premier enclaves with a worldwide reputation for ultra luxury add to the region’s singular blend of real estate. So, it’s no surprise the West has some of the most dynamic housing markets in the country with demand for upscale properties anchored by lifestyle, jobs, economic performance, gorgeous settings, and often stunning architecture.

Seattle and Las Vegas

Coming out of the recession, Seattle has been one of the strongest markets in the country, charting 32 consecutive months of year-over-year declines in the number of homes on the market. With less than a month of available inventory, homes in April sold within seven days. In Portland, Oregon and Tacoma, Washington, sales took a little longer — 10 days. Compared to a year ago, Seattle’s median price is up by 17.4 percent, and just over 62 percent of those deals exceeded the list price. The median price in Portland is up 9 percent. Even though the city has had a robust market in recent years, luxury here still commands fewer dollars, with classic estates typically priced under $5 million.

Even in Las Vegas, one of the hardest hit by the downturn, the number of homes on the market continues to decrease, and the average list price is now over $600,000. More out-of-state buyers are eyeing this desert oasis, drawn by Nevada’s favorable tax environment and lower cost of living. Equally powerful incentives are innovative new construction, striking views, a more laid-back lifestyle, easy access and new communities. Ascaya, a new development in Henderson that showcases contemporary architecture, brings a new luxury paradigm to the region. To date, 15 lots have sold, and five additional reservations are on the books. This is a big change from last year when only 14 homes over $3 million sold in the entire Las Vegas valley.

Highest Price in Las Vegas: A $30 million estate in a mountainside setting at The Pointe at The Ridges in Summerlin.

Highest Price in Seattle: $26.8 million for a two-acre waterfront estate with views of the Seattle skyline and the Olympic Mountains. 

Photo courtesy of Gorbis/Getty Images


Golden State real estate continues to amp up, with too few on-market properties the biggest drag on sales. Statewide, the May median price was $550,200, the highest level since August 2007. San Francisco prices continue to lead the state and the nation with a median of $1.5 million, but Los Angeles, home to some of the highest priced properties in the country, accounted for the second highest price increase in California in May, 6.9 percent year-over-year.

“This year’s market has been unbelievable with the highest volume of estate properties on record. Way ahead of last year, and last year was a record,” says Joyce Rey, executive director of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, of L.A.’s prime West Side markets. In the $30 million bracket, there have been 14 sales in 2017 compared to only three in 2016, an increase of 367 percent. In the $20 million bracket, 2017 transactions increased 182 percent, from 11 to 31, while those in the $10 million range were up by almost 20 percent. 

In part, Rey says this is due to the large number of foreign buyers in her market, whose familiarity with California is limited to Beverly Hills. “We just have a huge, strong demand with buyers coming from all around the world,” including China, the Middle East and Europe. “They look for move-in condition, prime locations and have a particular preference for views.” Contemporary architecture with walls of glass and light-infused streamlined interiors is preferred.

“Overseas buyers will still often look for a property that has multiple structures, or at least a guesthouse or caretaker’s quarters, but some of the most affluent buyers are Silicon Valley types or celebrity buyers who are not looking for the major estate with a lot of land but something sexy with all the bells and whistles and a lot of wow factor,” says Bob Hurwitz, founder and CEO of Hurwitz James Company.

Another luxury influx comes from the East Coast. Santiago Arana, a partner at The Agency, attributes this trend to a shift in the culture and tech advancements in the work place. “Executives and entrepreneurs are no longer bound to physically reside near work, which means they can enjoy the California lifestyle while working remotely from their L.A. home.” 

Stunning architecture and an integral indoor/outdoor synergy make this home designed by Brian Foster a work of art.

A record $250 million listing put L.A.’s ultra market in the spotlight this spring. In this rarified niche, list prices are at record peaks and sales have been strong, but the number of properties is on the rise. “There is a plethora of inventory; probably around 40 homes priced at $30 million or more on the Westside of Los Angeles, and this doesn’t include the dozens that are ‘pocket listings’ and not officially on the market or the MLS,” Hurwitz says. “In addition, there are many properties being built in the most desirable luxury home environs that will be hitting the market upon completion in the next year or so. This is thin air and the buyers who can afford and are prepared to pay such numbers are finite, so you are seeing some increasing opportunities to make aggressive offers and good buys.”

Another note of caution concerns foreign buying. Post-election, a few buyers from outside the country tabled purchases. Hurwitz explains: “Since a significant part of my marketing and clientele consists of targeting and representing foreign buyers, I am very attuned to this marketplace. Besides having offices and agents in a number of different countries, our business model is very proactive in terms of reaching out directly to the most affluent individuals and cooperating in a major way with wealth advisors, EB5 and education abroad entities and numerous real estate companies in these areas. I have seen some reluctance in investing in the U.S. recently due to uneasiness of the political climate. On a personal and painful note, I had my buyer, a member of the royal family in a Middle Eastern country, back out of a three-week cash escrow on a $40 million purchase of one of my listings as a direct result of the presidential election results.”

This Los Angeles home reflects a vision for contemporary interiors that is elegant, yet casual and inviting.

Photo courtesy of The Agency

On the Horizon in San Francisco:

Personalized condominiums: La Maison in San Francisco’s South of Market (SoMa) neighborhood is a collection of 28 uniquely designed individual residences in a five-story building. Each features high-end appointments. Building amenities include organic gardens and a rooftop deck.

Luxury Adaptive Reuse in Pacific Heights: The Pacific includes 76 boutique residences, 12 townhomes and four rooftop duplex penthouses, each with a private terrace. Interiors were inspired by international hospitality brands including Bulgari and the Satai.

What’s hot:

  • Rooftop decks are the latest “must-have” outdoor amenities. They have become a staple for condos, but increasingly single-family homes also incorporate a rooftop deck, particularly if there is a view. A luxury bonus is elevator access.
  • Bunk rooms in Tahoe are a favorite second-home addition, but this trend is not limited to Tahoe. On many of our “On Location” visits we’ve found that bunk rooms, often with an adjacent playroom, are not a rarity. Even adults find it’s hard to resist the pull of such cozy appointments.
  • Basements in both San Francisco and L.A. as residents scramble for more space.
  • Hybrid designs with an exterior reflecting one style and the interiors another. Frequently seen are combos with a traditional exterior and a decidedly contemporary interior.

Photo courtesy of Christopher Mayer Photography

What Buyers Want:

When it comes to luxury, few trends can be generalized, even downsizing and simplification. “Preferences are totally mixed, and luxury buyers get what they want. Luxury buyers don’t try to fit into a box. Instead, they make the box,” says Josh Reef, with Hurwitz James Company.

Few upscale consumers are willing to sacrifice to reduce square footage. “Our buyers prefer a high square footage for all the rooms they need and desire in a home, such as personal wine cellars and gym or yoga rooms. While there is still a demand for high square footage, buyers are shifting toward a more-casual home living environment. In exchange for formal living and dining rooms, buyers are requesting rooms that allow them to fully utilize 100 percent of their home on an almost daily basis,” says Arana.

Still, brokers say the one thing almost all buyers want is to have everything done. “Even at the lower end of prices, very few are interested in a renovation,” says Trinkie Watson with Chase International in Lake Tahoe.

Photo courtesy of Martis Camp Sales

This story originally appeared in Unique Homes Summer 2017. 

Click here to see the digital version.

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