First of all, why build? Everyone knows housing inventories are incredibly high. None the less, we had a simple set of criteria that we just couldn't satisfy:
- A single-family house with roughly 2000-2500 sq ft. We currently own a townhouse, and it is a great home for a couple, but it doesn't accommodate children very well. Likewise, a huge house doesn't seem like a great use of resources.
- Modern. To me, modern can include a full range from mid-century modern to 80's modern to today's modern architecture; we were open, as long as the house had open spaces, clean lines, and minimalist finishes.
- Within the region of a good elementary school. (I used the overly simple metric of a school in the top 100 out of the 1008 in Washington state on SchoolDigger).
- Within a couple miles of the Fremont area of Seattle, where I work, since I want to avoid commuting by car. This limited us to Ballard, Phinney Ridge, Magnolia, Wallingford, and Queen Anne. (Fremont, where we live now, doesn't have a school that makes the cut.) These are well-established and desirable neighborhoods, i.e., expensive.
- On budget. I won't give specific numbers, but our price range is substantially south of the 7-figure mark. High for most of the world, but not unusual in Seattle.
After several years of watching Redfin listings, I found that a house meeting the above criteria didn't exist. The world of modern houses seemed to have a big gap; there were plenty of modern townhouses, and plenty of huge modern houses that were well north of one million, but almost nothing in-between. What did exist was usually in a neighborhood like the Central District, whose schools and distance were not acceptable. This gap is a product of the economics of development. Land in Seattle is expensive, so building an economical house doesn't leave much margin; building four economical houses, or an expensive mega-mansion, makes the land a much smaller percentage of the overall project.
I simply assumed that building a custom modern home was outrageously expensive. So, for a while I hoped to buy a mid-century-modern house that was outdated, and renovate it to my tastes. However, most people don't seem to think their interior is outdated, so the pricing never left much room for a renovation budget.
That left us in a conundrum. In the next post I'll describe the beginnings of the solution.