Idea 1: Poor Man's Waterfront


When home-seller Jan Sewell says one of her listings may be the "cheapest" on Lake Washington, she means to put the word in quotation marks. "I happen to have a listing that is one of the 'cheapest' houses on the lake," says Sewell, a sales agent for Windermere Real Estate. "It's an affordable $619,000."

She probably should have put "affordable" in quotes, too.

On the other hand, for a single-family abode on the region's most exclusive lakefront—a genuine Northwest "waterfront" home that doesn't turn out to be located next to a babbling brook—it's at least a terrific investment: As Will Rogers said, "Buy land, they're not making any more of it." They're making even less of it around Lake Washington, where single lots are being snatched up and molded into the estates of the cyber-rich.

Sewell's two-level, four-bedroom, double-decked home for sale at 9908 Rainier Avenue South was built in 1965 and renovated since. With its back to the street and a wall of windows looking onto the lake, it rests among a string of deceptively spacious houses lining Rainier Avenue and the lake just north of the Renton city limits. What appear to be the roof peaks of cabin-like residences turn out to top homes of two, three, and four levels, all with watery views, rocking boats, and docks.

Though they sit nearly foundation-to-foundation, the waterfront row homes are your best bet if you want major, close-in lakefront and your wallet ID card doesn't say William H. Gates III. Sewell says area homes for under a million frequently streak across the sales listings, including another residence on Rainier South that went for just under a half-million.

"There was one that sold a couple months ago down there in the $300,000 range," she says, although "rumor has it that the ground around it was sinking." Actually, at $619,000, the price for the aforementioned four-bedroom home comes in slightly under what Gates' pays just for property tax on his Lake Washington mansion ($650,000 a year for his 31,210 square foot, $59 million Medina spread, home to four people). While four bedrooms don't compare to Gates' seven nor do two-and-a-quarter baths approach Gates' 24, this "cheapest" joint on the lake has a hot tub, guest powder room, vaulted ceiling, library loft, wet bar, and a "paltry" tax tab of $5,577.

It's got a view, as well, of the most expensive house on the lake. No, not the Richest Man's manse. The Third-Richest Man's home, that of Gates' buddy Paul Allen. His compound across the way on Mercer Island is valued at $67.6 million (and his county property tax is $750,000 a year, roughly covering County Executive Ron Sims' $138,430 salary for five years).

The Gates and Allen homes, along with hundreds more that routinely sell for $1 million on up, show what you're up against seeking a 4BD LW WF.

Still, we found listings for other Rainier South waterfront homes at $599,950 and $585,000, though with not as much to offer as the four-bedder. Also in the process of being sold was a Lake Washington home on the Eastside in Kennydale for just $450,000—with one bed, one bath.

In Bellevue, a $329,000 home listed as Lake Washington waterfront property turned out to be a gracious, Old World charmer built in 1915, with leaded glass, a front porch, fruit trees, and lovely gardens—everything but the lake, two blocks away.

However, it's possible to find a home, if not a house, for under $100,000 on Lake Washington. The cheapest—no quotations needed—would be the one bedroom, one-bath Leschi condo unit we found. Price: $99,000 or best offer. So it's 519 square feet. Who needs guests?

But we've saved the best waterfront property for last: A home in beautiful, historic (old) Renton. One bed, one bath, 700 square feet, with "uncovered parking." Cost: $9,000. No kidding.

Waterfront? Not on the lake, says a salesperson. But it is "on the sewer line."

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