What Now? Series: Dynamic Housing Markets in the West

In 2017, Unique Homes is traveling the U.S. to find the dominant stories in each region of the country — This issue covers the Pacific Northwest, Nevada, California and Hawaii. 

By Camilla McLaughlin

Photo courtesy of Matthew Field

A mix of tech, entertainment and financial service industries along with sheer physical beauty and miles of coastline make California, the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii unlike any other part of the country. Recognized worldwide as a mecca for technology and innovation, West Coast metros have an urban vibe that reaches across generations. Islands, bucolic country settings and premier enclaves with a worldwide reputation for ultra luxury add to the region’s singular blend of real estate. So, it’s no surprise the West has some of the most dynamic housing markets in the country with demand for upscale properties anchored by lifestyle, jobs, economic performance, gorgeous settings, and often stunning architecture.

Seattle and Las Vegas

Coming out of the recession, Seattle has been one of the strongest markets in the country, charting 32 consecutive months of year-over-year declines in the number of homes on the market. With less than a month of available inventory, homes in April sold within seven days. In Portland, Oregon and Tacoma, Washington, sales took a little longer — 10 days. Compared to a year ago, Seattle’s median price is up by 17.4 percent, and just over 62 percent of those deals exceeded the list price. The median price in Portland is up 9 percent. Even though the city has had a robust market in recent years, luxury here still commands fewer dollars, with classic estates typically priced under $5 million.

Even in Las Vegas, one of the hardest hit by the downturn, the number of homes on the market continues to decrease, and the average list price is now over $600,000. More out-of-state buyers are eyeing this desert oasis, drawn by Nevada’s favorable tax environment and lower cost of living. Equally powerful incentives are innovative new construction, striking views, a more laid-back lifestyle, easy access and new communities. Ascaya, a new development in Henderson that showcases contemporary architecture, brings a new luxury paradigm to the region. To date, 15 lots have sold, and five additional reservations are on the books. This is a big change from last year when only 14 homes over $3 million sold in the entire Las Vegas valley.

Highest Price in Las Vegas: A $30 million estate in a mountainside setting at The Pointe at The Ridges in Summerlin.

Highest Price in Seattle: $26.8 million for a two-acre waterfront estate with views of the Seattle skyline and the Olympic Mountains. 

Photo courtesy of Gorbis/Getty Images


Golden State real estate continues to amp up, with too few on-market properties the biggest drag on sales. Statewide, the May median price was $550,200, the highest level since August 2007. San Francisco prices continue to lead the state and the nation with a median of $1.5 million, but Los Angeles, home to some of the highest priced properties in the country, accounted for the second highest price increase in California in May, 6.9 percent year-over-year.

“This year’s market has been unbelievable with the highest volume of estate properties on record. Way ahead of last year, and last year was a record,” says Joyce Rey, executive director of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, of L.A.’s prime West Side markets. In the $30 million bracket, there have been 14 sales in 2017 compared to only three in 2016, an increase of 367 percent. In the $20 million bracket, 2017 transactions increased 182 percent, from 11 to 31, while those in the $10 million range were up by almost 20 percent. 

In part, Rey says this is due to the large number of foreign buyers in her market, whose familiarity with California is limited to Beverly Hills. “We just have a huge, strong demand with buyers coming from all around the world,” including China, the Middle East and Europe. “They look for move-in condition, prime locations and have a particular preference for views.” Contemporary architecture with walls of glass and light-infused streamlined interiors is preferred.

“Overseas buyers will still often look for a property that has multiple structures, or at least a guesthouse or caretaker’s quarters, but some of the most affluent buyers are Silicon Valley types or celebrity buyers who are not looking for the major estate with a lot of land but something sexy with all the bells and whistles and a lot of wow factor,” says Bob Hurwitz, founder and CEO of Hurwitz James Company.

Another luxury influx comes from the East Coast. Santiago Arana, a partner at The Agency, attributes this trend to a shift in the culture and tech advancements in the work place. “Executives and entrepreneurs are no longer bound to physically reside near work, which means they can enjoy the California lifestyle while working remotely from their L.A. home.” 

Stunning architecture and an integral indoor/outdoor synergy make this home designed by Brian Foster a work of art.

A record $250 million listing put L.A.’s ultra market in the spotlight this spring. In this rarified niche, list prices are at record peaks and sales have been strong, but the number of properties is on the rise. “There is a plethora of inventory; probably around 40 homes priced at $30 million or more on the Westside of Los Angeles, and this doesn’t include the dozens that are ‘pocket listings’ and not officially on the market or the MLS,” Hurwitz says. “In addition, there are many properties being built in the most desirable luxury home environs that will be hitting the market upon completion in the next year or so. This is thin air and the buyers who can afford and are prepared to pay such numbers are finite, so you are seeing some increasing opportunities to make aggressive offers and good buys.”

Another note of caution concerns foreign buying. Post-election, a few buyers from outside the country tabled purchases. Hurwitz explains: “Since a significant part of my marketing and clientele consists of targeting and representing foreign buyers, I am very attuned to this marketplace. Besides having offices and agents in a number of different countries, our business model is very proactive in terms of reaching out directly to the most affluent individuals and cooperating in a major way with wealth advisors, EB5 and education abroad entities and numerous real estate companies in these areas. I have seen some reluctance in investing in the U.S. recently due to uneasiness of the political climate. On a personal and painful note, I had my buyer, a member of the royal family in a Middle Eastern country, back out of a three-week cash escrow on a $40 million purchase of one of my listings as a direct result of the presidential election results.”

This Los Angeles home reflects a vision for contemporary interiors that is elegant, yet casual and inviting.

Photo courtesy of The Agency

On the Horizon in San Francisco:

Personalized condominiums: La Maison in San Francisco’s South of Market (SoMa) neighborhood is a collection of 28 uniquely designed individual residences in a five-story building. Each features high-end appointments. Building amenities include organic gardens and a rooftop deck.

Luxury Adaptive Reuse in Pacific Heights: The Pacific includes 76 boutique residences, 12 townhomes and four rooftop duplex penthouses, each with a private terrace. Interiors were inspired by international hospitality brands including Bulgari and the Satai.

What’s hot:

  • Rooftop decks are the latest “must-have” outdoor amenities. They have become a staple for condos, but increasingly single-family homes also incorporate a rooftop deck, particularly if there is a view. A luxury bonus is elevator access.
  • Bunk rooms in Tahoe are a favorite second-home addition, but this trend is not limited to Tahoe. On many of our “On Location” visits we’ve found that bunk rooms, often with an adjacent playroom, are not a rarity. Even adults find it’s hard to resist the pull of such cozy appointments.
  • Basements in both San Francisco and L.A. as residents scramble for more space.
  • Hybrid designs with an exterior reflecting one style and the interiors another. Frequently seen are combos with a traditional exterior and a decidedly contemporary interior.

Photo courtesy of Christopher Mayer Photography

What Buyers Want:

When it comes to luxury, few trends can be generalized, even downsizing and simplification. “Preferences are totally mixed, and luxury buyers get what they want. Luxury buyers don’t try to fit into a box. Instead, they make the box,” says Josh Reef, with Hurwitz James Company.

Few upscale consumers are willing to sacrifice to reduce square footage. “Our buyers prefer a high square footage for all the rooms they need and desire in a home, such as personal wine cellars and gym or yoga rooms. While there is still a demand for high square footage, buyers are shifting toward a more-casual home living environment. In exchange for formal living and dining rooms, buyers are requesting rooms that allow them to fully utilize 100 percent of their home on an almost daily basis,” says Arana.

Still, brokers say the one thing almost all buyers want is to have everything done. “Even at the lower end of prices, very few are interested in a renovation,” says Trinkie Watson with Chase International in Lake Tahoe.

Photo courtesy of Martis Camp Sales

This story originally appeared in Unique Homes Summer 2017. 

Click here to see the digital version.

Photo courtesy Maxwell Mackenzie.

In 2017, Unique Homes is traveling the U.S. to find the dominant stories in each region of the country — This issue covers the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

By Camilla McLaughlin

To say 2017 is a year of change is an understatement, and real estate is no exception. Prices are up … and down. Condition matters, and design and architecture have almost become a national obsession. In our yearlong series, we are taking a look at all the regions of the country in an attempt to answer the question of the year,


For real estate in major East Coast cities, 2017 culminates a decade of change. In many locations, it is a turning point of sorts with new value equations being forged and entirely new standards for luxury properties emerging. Lifestyle matters more than ever. Whether it’s a desire for arts and culture or an escape from ever-increasing gridlock, a penchant for urban living has become a prime driver for real estate in many markets. What changes also stays the same, as neighborhoods that were hot hundreds of years ago are back in vogue.

Photo courtesy ©getty images. 

New York

“We used to say cash is king. I think right now value is king. Everyone from luxury down to the $1 million range wants to feel some value,” says Diane Ramirez, chairman and CEO of Halstead Property, about real estate in the Big Apple. 

Few real estate markets received as much scrutiny in 2016 as New York. Reports from the first quarter of 2017 point toward a revival, with prices and transactions for resale apartments increasing by 5 percent year-over-year. Closing prices for new development averaged $4.3 million, 15-percent higher than the first quarter 2016. “Post election, we’re seeing a great deal of interest. In Manhattan, the luxury market is bubbling, very interesting and active. We’re seeing activity, but the higher you go up the more challenging it is. Yet, we recently closed on a $41-million-plus sale,” says Ramirez.

Years of white-hot demand tempered in 2016, and sellers have had to fine tune expectations and adjust to the new market reality. Ramirez explains: “Buyers, whether it’s $30 million or $16 million or $1.5 million, want to see or feel they got some value.” It doesn’t necessarily have to be price. It could be some type of a concession or initiative.

What’s hot here continues to be new. “People love new construction. They just love the newness. It’s no longer just about space,” Ramirez says, listing the benefits new construction delivers — views even from the kitchen, open plans with excellent flow, collaborative spaces and technology. And big windows that make these urban dwellings almost seem like a suburban home.

Fewer permit applications suggest development is slowing. New buildings currently in the pipeline are not on ultra prime streets. While still very upscale, they will come to market at lower price points. “I am happy to see some of the newest development coming in prices that are still in the $6 million range or higher but not starting at $8 million,” says Ramirez.

Highest-priced listing: $110 million penthouse in the Woolworth Tower Residences

On the Radar: 121 East 22nd Street

New upscale buildings with lower price tags such as 121 East 22nd Street, which straddles Gramercy Park and Madison Square. Prices range from $1.3 million to $10.5 million. The first residential building in Manhattan designed by Rem Koolhaas’ firm, Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), this building offers 67 unique floor plans and was developed in conjunction with Tolls Brothers. Also on the books is 75 Kenmare, perched on the site of a former parking garage at the intersection of SoHo, NoHo, the Lower East and Little Italy.

Rendering courtesy Toll Brothers City Living.

Motoring Toward a Car-Fewer Future

Last year, planners at the Urban Land Institute speculated how ridesharing and self-driving cars will change cities. This year, the vision of cities with fewer cars is beginning to look like a real possibility. Our focus cities rank high for living without a car, according to a recent report compiled by Redfin. “Transportation is a big deal these days,” observes Paul Grover. Access to transportation and walkability often determine target locations for buyers. Grover says it’s not uncommon for clients to say they are planning to not have a car or to reduce the number of cars they own. San Francisco ranked highest on Redfin’s list of best cities to live in without a car, followed by New York, Boston, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia. Walkability is only part of the equation, which includes bike sharing, bike lanes and transit.

Photo courtesy ©istockphoto.com / csfotoimages.


“Boston is becoming a little shinier. The public gardens and esplanade, all the things we love about it, are still here, but you can definitely see change,” says Paul Grover, a partner at Robert Paul Properties. More than the skyline is being altered as recent construction, such as the 60-story Millennium Towers, introduces a new paradigm for premium properties.  Unlike the townhouses prized by Boston’s legendary Brahmin, the lifestyle is ultra luxurious with services, architecture and amenities comparable to prime buildings in New York and San Francisco. For example, the Millennium has a private restaurant and bar, under the helm of Michael Mina, solely for residents.

Change is not new to Boston. For almost two decades, the city has been in a constant state of flux as one neighborhood after another is rediscovered. Some of the most compelling real estate stories today are coming out of old towns that ring city center. Newton, Brookline, Chestnut Hill and Weston remain luxury stalwarts, but close-in communities like Watertown, Chelsea and Everett are seeing record prices. Cambridge is white hot. In Somerville, once a haven for first-time buyers, million-dollar prices are not uncommon.

Right now, Boston has one of the hottest real estate markets in the country with the number of single-family homes for sale down 35.2 percent year-over-year in February; condos were down 27.6 percent. Statewide, February marked the 60th time in the last 61 months with a year-over-year inventory decrease.

What’s hot: Close-in locations with access to transportation. 

Highest-priced listing: Woodland Manor, a $90 million estate on 14 acres, less than 6 miles from the center of the city in Chestnut Hill.

Top: ©getty images; Bottom: 2 Avery Street, courtesy Robert Paul Properties.

Photo courtesy ©getty images. 

Washington, D.C.

“The thing with D.C., it’s always been a solid market with so many people moving in and out,” says Katherine Herndon Martin with McEnearney Associates. Long before the recession, Washington’s real estate star was on the rise, and in recent years it has charted among top markets nationally. In March, homes were selling within two weeks, with the number of units sold up 15 percent vs. a year ago.

The recent focus on ultra properties on Kalorama Road has pushed upscale Washington into the limelight. Until recently, prices above $12 million were rare, but billionaire interest, beginning with Jeff Bezos’ purchase of a $23 million property on S Street, puts new upscale dynamics in play. Similar to Beverly Hills, new estates, rather than new towers, create rising benchmarks for luxury here.

The most expensive property on the market in the District of Columbia is a $22 million estate on Chain Bridge Road on the second-highest point in the

city. (The National Cathedral is the highest.) At first glance, the regency-styled home seems to be one of the city’s historic estates, but it is newly built and constructed with a level of materials and attention to detail comparable to that found in the most expensive areas of the country. 

The other facet of the D.C. real estate story is continued redevelopment and gentrification of neighborhoods and parts of the city, a process that began decades ago. Some of the newest hot areas include Brookland near Catholic University as well as neighborhoods around Logan Circle. In many of the suburbs, bigger continues to have great appeal with buyers often adding on to what is already substantial square footage in properties in Potomac, Maryland and McLean, Virginia.

Highest Price in the Region: $24 million for new construction in McLean, Virginia.

Highest Price in the District: $22 million for a newly constructed estate in the Foxhall Neighborhood.


Eds and meds is how Mark Wade with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox and Roach Realtors sums up part of the draw to Center City Philadelphia. But, based on the large number of downsizers exchanging suburb for city, arts and culture are easily in the mix. The big news here is new super premium buildings that fetch unheard of prices, especially for condominium residences. “Basically, what we have is that Philadelphia is a town of Toyotas and Mercedes. That’s our high-rise market. What’s coming down the pike are Bentleys. There is a huge disparity between the two. The gap is unbelievable,” Wade says referring to the recent sale of an 8,900-square-foot, two-story penthouse at 500 Walnut for $17.85 million, a record in a city where the previous high priced sale was a $12.5 million penthouse, set in 2010.   

Newcomers, particularly those drawn by the universities and medical systems, also opt for a home in the city. “Twenty-five years ago, the trend was the exact opposite. Somebody would move here, say from Atlanta, and they would bypass the city and magically end up in the suburbs. Today, when we get a transferee like that, it’s the exact opposite,” observes Wade. Additionally, the city attracts a large contingent of commuters to Manhattan, who happily trade an hour in the car for a productive hour on the train.

Highest-priced listing: $16.795 million for a
Society Hill condo.

On the radar: New ultra-luxury buildings, such as the Residences at the Ritz Carlton, are setting records over $10 million.

Market Insight: “When our market rises, it does so at a sustainable pace,” says Wade. “When our market falls, it does so gradually — we don’t have the crazy ups and downs of say a Miami, or New York, or D.C. We seem to chug along either up or down. Nothing wrong with that!”

Photo courtesy ©Mefmanoo/Wikimedia Commons.

The Residences at The Ritz-Carlton, Philadelphia. Photo courtesy Ritz-Carlton.


Photo courtesy ©getty images.

Charm City is more than just a catchy moniker. “Baltimore is a hotbed,” and when you are here you discover that it literally is Charm City, observes Charlie Hatter, owner of Prime Building Advantage and Monument Sotheby’s International Realty in Baltimore. “Luxury real estate is doing very, very well,” he says, citing a recent $6 million sale. “Anything above $2 million is considered ultra luxury for this market.” High-end suburbs including Roland Park and Towson and properties in the horse country see strong demand.   

The ambiance of the city and prices bring a number of new residents who have children in New York or Washington, D.C., which are both an easy train ride away. Revitalized areas in the city and inner harbor area are in demand. Like many places, sales were slow or even stagnant in summer and fall. On the other hand, Charlie Hatter describes the spring market as “huge” with lots of activity around the inner harbor, as well as areas that have been revitalized. “People love the charm and the uniqueness of the older properties,” he says.

Highest-priced listing: $12.5 million for a Four Seasons penthouse with skyline and water views.

This story originally appeared in Unique Homes Ultimate ’17. Click here to see the digital version.

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