Jun

30

DowntownSeattle.com has recognized the Seattle waterfront as one of the area’s most notable locations. With dozens of neighborhoods there, many of which are home to waterfront houses near expansive Puget Sound or beautiful lakes such as Lake Washington or Lake Sammamish, which of these neighborhood communities is the best? There are many factors that can impact a buyer’s decision as to the best location to live, but these three neighborhoods are extremely popular choices for anyone who enjoys waterfront living. There are plenty of other great neighborhoods in and around Seattle to live in, but these stand out even among those, and here’s why.

South Lake Union

Among the neighborhoods in the Seattle metropolitan area, South Lake Union can boast many appealing qualities. South Lake Union has high walkability, or the ability to walk to local businesses, work, school, and recreation with ease. This accessibility heavily heightens the quality of life of South Lake Union’s residents, who can enjoy the waterfront lifestyle in Seattle with few obstacles. They can walk to a beach or a seafood shop, to their job, or to their neighbor’s party quickly and conveniently. South Lake Union has high quality waterfront property at a reasonable urban price, which easily places it as one of the top waterfront neighborhoods in Seattle.

Magnolia

Magnolia is another attractive choice for a prospective Seattleite. Magnolia is the second largest neighborhood in Seattle, and is in a prime location. From the Magnolia waterfront, there is a breathtaking view of Mount Rainier, the Puget Sound, and of course, the Seattle skyline. To have a waterfront home in Magnolia means to have a lifestyle of immersion in a community designed to be self sufficient and walkable. It is simple to find a great place to eat or a place to play among the prosperous Magnolia businesses. All in all, Magnolia has earned its place on the top Seattle waterfront neighborhood list because of its lifestyle: Magnolia residents live in luxury, with some wonderful things to see and places to walk to, all in one wonderful neighborhood.

Madison Park

Last but not least, Madison Park is also a great neighborhood to call home in Seattle. The waterfront homes in Madison Park are on the edge of Lake Washington with a beautiful view. Perhaps more importantly, the lake is so close that all water activities a resident could ever want, such as boating or swimming, are within a very reasonable walking distance. This is of the utmost importance to some, and it makes Madison Park the epitome of what it means to be a top Seattle waterfront neighborhood. Madison Park is upscale and has numerous restaurants, shops, and banks, as well as zoning for excellent Seattle schools nearby. A neighborhood like Madison Park is sure to please.

Though these three waterfront neighborhoods are on the list, there are easily another dozen that could be perfect for a buyer looking for waterfront real estate. All of them are great communities that cater well to the discerning homebuyer. WaterHavens has more information about a number of Seattle’s top neighborhoods for those looking to buy or sell.

Share

Jun

2

Over 500 residents live in a houseboat. It may seem like a small number, but it is the largest population in the country and, after Asia, the largest in the world. The houseboat population has been increasing especially with movies like ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ showcasing it. If you are thinking about owning a houseboat in Seattle, first consider the layout, costs, and other aspects of flat-bottomed boats.  Note that there are houseboats, house barges, and floating homes in Seattle, all of which have different nuances and classifications.

Houseboat Property Costs

Living on a houseboat has a significant advantage: lower costs. A smaller houseboat, around 30 to 40 feet, can run approximately $100,000. You then pay for the marina space the boat sits in. No matter what size houseboat you choose, you do not need to pay for Seattle real-estate taxes, trash collection, or landscaping costs. It should be noted, floating homes can run well over a million dollars for those wanting luxury. There are waterfront properties available for everyone’s budget, needs, and wants.

Houseboat Maintenance Costs

The maintenance of the houseboat is where it gets tricky because costs are often higher than a traditional home. Boats require a good bit of upkeep, but not necessarily more than if you tended your yard in a regular home. If you are a talented DIY-er, this may not be a problem. Otherwise, you may want a list of reputable professionals on hand.

Due to a number of issues that come with age, it is sometimes recommended to not purchase a houseboat over 25 years old. Along with potential structural issues, it is hard to find someone to finance it if you cannot pay out of pocket.

Finding a Dock Space

The popularity of Seattle houseboats is significantly increasing, leading some marinas to ban them. Some feel that the houseboats can contribute to waterfront pollution, schools systems, and other public needs without paying taxes toward these. The inner marinas, however, such as Lake Union are full of houseboats with personality. Dependent on the marina and amenities you choose, a dock space can rent for as little as $300 per month to over $1,500.

Though you can find a houseboat in Seattle for less than $100,000 by itself, the average cost will be much closer to a few hundred thousand. It gives you a larger living space, high quality finishes, and lets you live on the water while enjoying the views.

Share

Feb

24

Floating homes and houseboats are an iconic part of Seattle waterfront living, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t come under fire in recent years. Three years ago, the city of Seattle undertook a rewriting of shorelines policies that led to questions about whether owners would be able to continue to live in their houseboats in Lake Union and elsewhere. In 2011, a Washington senate bill offered grandfathered protection to stationary floating houses. But the bill’s sponsor, Senator Jamie Pedersen, said he unintentionally excluded live-aboard vessels and barges. He recently introduced a new bill to extend the same protection to moveable houseboats that stationary floating homes now enjoy.

Controversy Along the Waterfront

Stationary floating houses not only stay in one place, they are also typically hooked in to local utilities. Floating vessels, on the other hand, are able to move from place to place along the waterfront. However, most rent space from a marina to have a reliable place to dock for the long term. When the 2011 senate bill passed, many interpreted the omission of live-aboard vessels to mean that local governments should not continue to accommodate houseboats and other floating vessels in waterfront property decisions. Lake Union Liveaboard Association president Mauri Shuler described houseboat owners as having “massive trouble” in dealing with the City of Seattle and the state Department of Ecology, which are in charge of shoreline regulations. State officials acknowledged a preference to lease seriously limited marina space to smaller recreational vehicles rather than larger, live-aboard vessels.

Clarifying Lawmakers’ Intent

Senator Pedersen has introduced Senate Bill 6450 to clear up the lingering confusion. An amendment to the Shoreline Management Act of 1971 will extend protections to floating vessels that are used or were designed as a residence, providing the owner had leased moorage space prior to July 1, 2014. This waterfront bill passed the senate unanimously and is awaiting a vote in the house.

What This Means for Waterfront Real Estate

In short, this assures current houseboat owners that they won’t be set adrift as shoreline regulations change. Taking a broader view, however, waterfront property owners will be relieved to know that some of the character and charm of lakeside life will carry on as always. But they may also now have additional questions about the availability of marina space for pleasure cruisers and other non-residential watercraft and about the environmental impact that moveable vessels will have on Lake Union and other areas of the Seattle waterfront. Those who live in houseboats and floating houses naturally share concerns with others who own waterfront real estate, which may make them allies as political maneuverings happen regarding plans for future development in the area.

The house has yet to act on the senate bill, but as it has already received unanimous approval from the senate and moved out of committee, it seems a foregone conclusion to suggest the bill will most likely pass.

Share

Jul

16

One of the most picturesque and exciting features of the Seattle area is its trademark waterfront real estate, complete with floating homes and houseboats. The city’s Lake Union and Portage Bay neighborhoods are home to a thriving community of waterfront houses and homeowners. These homeowners enjoy a fantastic view of Seattle water, as well as easy access to downtown Seattle. Even better, the area is privy to highlights that aren’t found elsewhere, such as Lake Union Park’s FarmBoat floating market. This attraction, held on the historic steamship known as Virginia V, has a storied tradition and a lot of charm.

A Brief History of FarmBoat Floating Market
When it comes to Seattle’s sites, waterfront attractions boast some of the longest histories around, and the FarmBoat Floating Market is no exception. The market is held aboard the long-lived Virginia V and docked at Lake Union Park Wharf, where it harkens back to another age. Around the turn of the 20th century, shipping vessels of steam and sails were the transportation of choice for agricultural goods. Hundreds of ships just like the Virginia V used to travel to and from Puget Sound to move farm goods around before there were trucks and highways. A floating time capsule, the Virginia V captures that unique old-world atmosphere and makes it available to Seattle locals and tourists alike.

The Attraction of Lake Union’s FarmBoat Floating Market
Like the water taxi and water-based firefighters, the floating market is a distinct fixture of the waterfront community. Market visitors can stop by the FarmBoat Floating Market to browse local produce and specialty foods, enjoy a scenic lunch, and even pick up a bit more knowledge about this fascinating bit of Seattle history, such as how the Virginia V once transported farm products from Vashon Island to Pike Place Market way back in 1922. In terms of local heritage and tradition, the FarmBoat Floating Market does a great job of shedding some light on this interesting locale. Even better, the entire experience is available free of charge, which is always a draw when trying to decide which of Seattle’s many attractions to see.

Placing FarmBoat Floating Market in Context
Lake Union FarmBoat Floating Market is managed by the Urban Public Waterfront Association, or UPWA. This organization is a non-profit with the mission of connecting people to the local maritime environment through water-centric events and activities. This alone shows how big a role the waterfront plays in Seattle’s culture and historical traditions. Ultimately, the Floating Market is a great choice for learning more about the area and experiencing what draws people to Seattle’s waterfront property. Whether visitors want to see the FarmBoat Floating Market as a slice of Seattle’s waterfront community, as a living relic of a bygone era, as a compelling shopping destination, or as a great vantage point for admiring Lake Union and the distinctive downtown Seattle skyline, FarmBoat Floating Market is a destination of choice. It has earned its place as a one of a kind attraction in Seattle.

Share

Jun

18

There’s a unique and fun attraction in the Seattle area known as Ride the Ducks. The Duck rides have a long history as an essential tourist attraction, cruising past the city of Seattle and through the Lake Union waterfront community. The company describes its rides as a “party that floats,” coming with an eccentric captain who provides narration about the scenery as part of the tour. During the summer, the business really picks up, with more than 150 entrances and exits of Lake Union over the course of a 10-hour day. Now, the Duck boats are looking to dock at a new home that’s just 100 feet away from the houseboats in Lake Union.

A Disruption to the Community
Eastlake residents clearly respect and appreciate the role of the Ride the Ducks attraction, but they have recently expressed concerns over the appearance of a ramp that’s so close to their houseboats and waterfront property. Brian Tracey, the owner of Ride the Ducks, has met with the neighbors on at least two occasions to assuage their concerns about both the noise, safety, and pollution of a new Lake Union access point nearby. They have some valid worries, as the World War II-era boats run on diesel and would be active for many hours every day.

An Interesting Rebuttal
At the same time, Brian Tracey and his Ride the Ducks offer another side to the story. The particular area under consideration is actually an abandoned dock that could benefit from some new construction. Interestingly, the area was already zoned for maritime industrial use, so it’s not without precedent for the site to be home to a structure like a public boat ramp. In addition, the efforts could beautify the area, such as the overgrown street edge that’s already there. The other major concern is that the water traffic would get continually backed up without the additional point of access.

What Happens Next with the Ducks
Both sides of the debate have good points. On the one hand, Lake Union’s floating homes, houseboats, and waterfront houses are a beautiful and unique feature of the Seattle area. Many of these waterfront real estate owners paid a premium for the privilege of having a serene place to live, and it could be damaging to their way of life to have a constant stream of Duck boats streaming in and out of the nearby boat ramp. On the other hand, Ride the Ducks is a key attraction with a tradition of its own, and there didn’t appear to be anything illegal in how Brian Tracey purchased the property or intends to use it. The matter is before the Department of Planning and Development, with the Parks Board of Commissioners having voted back in February to oppose the entry ramp. The case is continuing to develop, but it’s a striking example of how scarce and special waterfront land is in the Seattle area.

Share

Jan

22

The Shoreline Master Program is getting updated in many municipalities around Washington state, in accordance with Washington law and Department of Ecology requirements. One of the more controversial and public topics revolved around how to address the floating homes, house boats, and house barges that are primarily centered around Lake Union, Portage Bay, and the Ship Canal. Are they legal? Do they meet SMP requirements for proper use of shoreline resources? Is gray water and black water being properly removed? What are the differences between the three classifications of floating residences in Seattle, and how should each be addressed for any updates to the SMP? These and many other questions were raised.

The local liveaboard community quickly rose to the occasion and gathered support in ensuring that their homes were not threatened. A combination of good intentions and misunderstandings of actual implications were mixed together to form sometimes passionate responses. Local media coverage was extensive, and generally pointed out that these were people’s homes being discussed. The iconic landscape of “Sleepless in Seattle” Lake Union became a romantic rallying point.

Seattle’s Shoreline Master Program was just unanimously passed by the Seattle City Council. In summary, most pre-existing uses for floating homes, house boats, and house barges were grandfathered in and all liveaboard owners can rest easy. Future development is much more restricted, so it makes the existing homes effectively more valuable due to government-limited future supply.

Summary of changes:

  • Floating homes: There is a new registration program and future development standards.
  • House boats / vessels: New clearer standards were enacted regarding the types of permitted vessels, but pre-existing residential uses are grandfathered in as noncomforming uses that can continue plus be repaired/reconstructed as needed.
  • House barges: The 34 pre-approved Seattle house barges can continue on as they are, with the clarification that discharge of gray water must meet the requirements set in 1992 for these homes.

Overall it ended up as a good balance between protecting the property rights and values of existing owners of floating residences while also taking into account more restrictive requirements for future new construction of similar residences that will meet current environmental regulations.

Seattle Lake Union floating homes with sailboat and city skyline

Floating homes on Seattle’s Lake Union


Share

Jan

22

The Seattle City Council approved its long-underway revision to the Shoreline Master Program (SMP). These regulations pertain to buildings, homes, uses, and construction along the city’s waterways.  Any updates can create controversy among competing factions, as was the case this time too.

The Seattle Times summarized changes to the SMP as including “an allowance for building boats for Washington State Ferries, a provision that fueling stations must be for boats only, limits on signs in the shoreline area and restrictions on pesticides and fertilizers”.

I provide a more detailed analysis and update regarding the discussions around houseboats, house barges, and floating homes in a separate post here.

Share

Jan

15

The Supreme Court decided in a 7-2 ruling that a residence which floats on the water – and which is obviously constructed to serve as a residence – should be treated under the regulations for houses and not vessels. This is important in some scenarios because home owner protection regulations and admiralty law have different levels of protections and uses. Real estate laws are generally considered to be more protective of home owner rights, and they would have helped the defendant in the Supreme Court case had his home been considered a house by local government officials.

The Seattle Floating Homes Association was supportive of the decision. However, this does somewhat “muddy the waters” regarding some of the recent Shoreline Master Program (SMP) discussions regarding which regulations Lake Union’s house boat communities should uphold. House boats are classified as vessels, they have steering and propulsion (though rarely, if ever, use them), and they must abide by Coast Guard regulations. This new ruling puts that definition in a bit of limbo since it could be interpreted to classify these house boats as houses. One important distinction, though: the floating residence situation that initiated the court battle had no propulsion, steering, or rudder. This puts it more in the category of a barge or floating home than a house boat. In Seattle, we actually have three different designations for what many people lump together as “house boats”: floating homes, house boats, and house barges.

Seattle Lake Union floating homes with kayaker

Kayaking by floating homes on Seattle’s Lake Union

Share

Sep

6

There’s now a “famous person groupies” cruise around Lake Union and Lake Washington, showing the locations of famous people who live on our beautiful lakes. Here is the info quoted from their inaugural invitation:

“”Map of the Stars” Cruise-Tours

The 3 hour “Map of the Stars” cruise includes Lake Union sights (Sleepless in Seattle floating home, Chihuly’s Studio, views of Space Needle and downtown, etc.) and Lake Washington with the premiere mansions (Gates, McCaws, Schultz, et al.) of Madison Park, The Eastside’s Gold Coast (Meydenbauer Bay, Medina and Hunts Point) and the North end of Mercer Island. I will narrate the tour and provide information as we view most of the homes in the book. We include the homes of eighty percent of the state’s billionaires. I will also point out homes listed for sale for more than $5 million.

The yacht has a wonderful upper level sundeck and a stately heated interior party and dining room with large picture windows.

Cruise includes:
Appetizers and dinner buffet
Margaritas, wine, beer and soft drinks
The book, Lake Washington 130 Homes ($17.95 retail).

$50 per person

More information is via Anchor Bay Charters and Hundred Homes.

View some of these cruises on YouTube (2 minutes):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZkmOnJYserM

Share

Apr

2

From the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance: this year’s Lake Union and Portage Bay Sweep. It’s a fun event where you can be out on the water, help pretty up the area, and have some nice camaraderie with other folks along our urban waterfront. From the organizers:

“Over 200 volunteers in kayaks, row boats and motorized craft remove 2-3 tons of trash annually from Lake Union and Portage Bay. Volunteers are treated to a picnic lunch provided by event sponsors and Puget Soundkeeper Alliance.”

The event will be held May 15th from 8:00am to 2:00pm. Contact and other info can be found at the link above.

Puget Soundkeep Alliance logo

Share