Seattle Shuns the Craftsman Home

Local developers say Seattle homebuyers want modern houses, charm be damned.

Last month, we wrote about a controversial developer named Dan Duffus. Mainly, his critics object to his practice of putting big homes on tiny lots, ones that often previously served as backyards. But neighbors also complain that the projects are ugly, too modern, and out of step with the historic character of the neighborhoods they're in.

Duffus' response: That's what buyers want. "Most people buying right now don't like traditional homes," the developer told Seattle Weekly. He added that he himself lives in a modern house in West Seattle.

"The demand is so high for this modern look," echoed Steele Granger, a builder involved with Duffus on a Tangletown project. He traces the trend back to Palm Springs , where he says it emerged four or five years ago.

But Seattle isn't Palm Springs. Isn't the historic craftsman a thing of reverence here, conveying taste and class to a Northwest sensibility and making neighborhoods like Queen Anne, Wallingford, and Capitol Hill so desirable?

Not any more, says Windermere agent Penny Bolton. At least not for youngish buyers. "For the demographic that is 30 to 40, the craftsman is dead," she says.

She says these buyers want "new and clean" and an open floor plan more readily found in modern homes. They also like the green attributes frequently found in homes built today: "high-efficiency [appliances], "recycled materials."

Duffus' projects notwithstanding, however, Bolton says "there's not much to choose from" when it comes to really modern homes in Seattle, meaning those built in the past few years with a sleek, pared-down aesthetic. And so she says buyers often turn to mid-century modern homes—those ramblers from the '50, '60s and '70s that until lately were the stepchildren of the real-estate scene.

Bolton recalls one Ballard house she sold recently. It was from the '30s, but had been renovated with a mid-century aesthetic that had buyers "falling over themselves" to make offers. She also notes the real-estate website 360° Modern, offering lavish displays of local homes from mid-century onwards.

John L. Scott agent Bill O'Brien isn't so sure that modern is now king in Seattle real estate. He says he works with a lot of buyers who are not looking for that. But those that are, he says, tend to be "much more passionate" than other buyers about what they want, and less willing to compromise. They will keep looking until they find a modern home.

Given that the supply is low, at least when it comes to very modern homes, O'Brien says they get snapped up quickly when they come on the market. Which helps explains why Duffus homes, despite their small lots and the furor they cause among neighbors, seem to easily attract people who want to live in them.

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