It’s easy to get bored reading about Seattle Condos.  Seems like they are all fairly similar these days – great views, lots of glass, novel amenities, and perhaps an attached hotel.  It was kind of a breath of fresh air to check out the Harvard and Highland project in Capitol Hill’s Historic Landmark district.   The lowest price unit starts at $1.45M and go as high as ~$5M.  It’s def not your typical mid-career $500K purchase but that’s not who they’re going after. 

According to George Kropinski, the manger for H&H, home buyers purchasing this type of homes are moving for life changing reasons. They are mainly empty-nester buyers (I’d add well heeled ones) who are downsizing from their 4,000-5,000 square foot homes to a 2,000-3,000 square foot condo that requires minimal maintenance work so they can spend time traveling around the country (probably to visit the new grand kids). Some may own a 2nd home in Miami or LA. Half of the time, they may not be in their primary home. Due to the baby boomer demographics, this market gets bigger every year and there is demand to build this type of home to cater to their needs. People who buy H&H are like the regal baby boomers I suppose.

He also pointed out that home buyers looking at H&H are generally looking for a transitional design, a cross between traditional and modern finishes. A single family home with multi-story or a high-rise condo with too contemporary of a design will not appeal to them.

I took a hard hat tour of H&H and visited one of the developer’s past projects, the Harvard Estate in the same neighborhood (check out the slide show below). H&H will have very similar design elements as the Harvard Estate.

Probably one of the few things worth mentioning about this project is the construction of the homes. George explained that in a typical high-rise building, the structural column on all the residential floors is dictated by the layout of the columns in the underground parking structure. In order to adequately support a tall building, the concrete columns will rise continuously through the garage floors all the way to the penthouse level. For H&H, the architects have designed the below grade parking structure with columns places in the most sensible and efficient manner to facilitate the parking of cars, but these structures do not penetrate into the residential floors above. Instead, the concrete slab for the ground floor (ceiling of the garage) is thickened considerably in order to be able to support the weight of the entire building above, which can then utilize a totally different column spacing -one that is most appropriate for the layout of large suites and allow more flexibility for home buyers to customize their space during the pre-sale stage.

Homeowner dues for H&H will be around 36 cents per square foot. When asked how they are different from high-rise buildings, George pointed out that many developers do not pay much attention to the monthly dues; H&H claims they have designed their building with operating costs in mind, for an example, using brick exteriors for the project (require no maintenance and never need painting), peak roof (where they can obtain 45-year warranties, and use mature plants for sensible planting and ease of future maintenance which will reduce unnecessary expensive on-going operating costs.

A few observations during the tour:

1.) Harvard and Highland is located within the Harvard-Belmont Landmark district, existing homes in this area are not allowed to be torn down. So, basically what you see around in the neighborhood is pretty much what it is going to remain in the area.

2.) Storage space – Extra large space (10 x 20) will be assigned to individual owner. This market of home buyers has accumulated tons of personal stuff over the years. Eg. art work, antique pieces and furniture that they are not willing to sell, donate or give away nor are their kids ready to take over. They need bigger space for all these personal collections. The large storage is probably icing on the cake for them.

3.) Outdoor areas – The project has appealing outdoor landscaping and generous terrace space for most homes.

4.) Amenities – Other than the fitness center and courtyard, there are no other amenities.

Overall, H&H comes across as a well built condo with appealing exterior factors for home buyers with a very healthy budget. The neighborhood is pretty quiet, probably not suitable for someone who prefers really gritty urban living.

The condo is slated for completion spring 2009.

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