What Is WA Realtor Hill Day?
WA Realtor Hill Day is a day once a year when Realtors from across the state come together at the state capitol to speak with legislators about issues that impact the real estate industry. This includes tax and liability laws, zoning, and most importantly, housing affordability.
Unlock The Door
The Washington Realtors, along with Habitat for Humanity, Home Sight, and other groups dedicated to building better communities, are leading a coalition called Unlock The Door. This campaign aims to tackle the housing affordability and homelessness crises in the State of Washington. Here is the mission statement from their website:
“There is a housing affordability crisis in Washington impacting buyers, sellers, and renters from Seattle to Spokane. Growing pressure and demand for housing leads to skyrocketing prices and low housing supply. Families in all income groups are struggling to find homeownership opportunities. This impacts every part of the housing and rental markets in Washington.
According to the University of Washington’s Center for Real Estate Research, first-time buyers in King, Snohomish, Pierce and Kittitas Counties face home prices that are nearly double what they can afford.
We need to work with our state and local elected officials to solve this growing crisis in our communities. That includes educating lawmakers about the real world impacts on all Washingtonians.”
I encourage you to visit their website to learn more. Here’s a great video from their home page.
Realtors Come Together
On Thursday, January 24, I went to our state capitol in Olympia. I left Seattle at 7AM with three other Windermere colleagues and we arrived two hours later in Olympia. Over 500 Washington Realtors turned out, making it was one of the largest turnouts of any Realtor Hill Day event, ever!
First, we gathered for a briefing of the day. Various speakers updated us on the current state of the Washington real estate market and laws affecting housing in our state.
Second, we split into groups by county, and then by district based on where we live. We were going to be speaking with legislators who represented our communities and us. After all, Realtors are constituents and community members.
Third, we went over some of the issues we would focus on when speaking with our legislators. Most importantly, these were reforming condominium liability laws and increasing urban density zoning. I’ve provided more in-depth explanations of these issues at the end of this post.
36th District of Washington
The 36th district covers parts of Northwest Seattle, including the neighborhoods of Magnolia, Queen Anne, Ballard, and Greenwood. There were eight of us Realtors from the 36th District, four of whom are current directors of the Seattle King County Realtors Association. To put that in perspective, there are only 15 directors in the whole association. Now that’s great representation!
Next, we headed to the capitol building to meet with our legislators, Representative Gael Tarleton, Representative Noel Frame, and Senator Reuven Carlyle.
It was my first time visiting the capitol during a legislative session, and it was quite an interesting experience! The legislators have completely packed schedules of back-to-back meetings all day with all kinds of groups. Firefighters, architects, concerned citizens, school groups, us Realtors, and so many more. Consequently, the buildings and grounds are swarming with people moving around and milling about, waiting for their meetings. We had about 15 minutes for each of our meetings, which obviously isn’t a lot of time. Luckily, our meetings were mostly on time.
The three legislators we spoke to were all on board with the proposed changes to the condominium liability laws. These laws currently discourage the building of new condominiums, which are an important part of affordable homeownership. However, zoning is a more contentious issue. This is mainly because many people like having their big lots, backyards, and separation from neighbors. As a result, they don’t want increased density.
Overall, we felt that the legislators supported our main goals. Therefore, we feel optimistic that there will be positive changes to laws which will ultimately lead to more affordable housing opportunities in Washington state. Coming together with colleagues from all over the state and speaking with our legislators was a great experience. Everyone I met was very gracious and supportive, and thanked me for coming. Spending a whole day to travel down to Olympia was very worthwhile and I’m looking forward to next year!
Please comment below if you have any questions or input.
Washington Realtors’ Legislative Priorities
Reforming Condominium Liability Laws in Washington State
As it stands right now, if a developer builds condominiums in Washington state, they have a 100% chance of being sued. Let me explain why.
Each condominium project has a homeowners association. The HOA is made up of volunteer board members who own units and live in the building. These board members have a fiduciary duty to protect the other condo owners in the project. If problems in the units arise, such as defects in workmanship, then the condo developer could be liable to fix those problems. However, what has been happening is that HOAs have been preemptively suing developers to protect themselves (the individual board members) from liability. Otherwise, the other individual unit owners could sue the individual HOA board members.
As a result, developers have two choices:
- They can build condos knowing that they will be sued. This increases the cost per unit by tens of thousands of dollars because the developers have to insure themselves.
- They can build apartments.
Not surprisingly, most developers choose the latter. In fact, only about 5 percent of all recent multi-family permits in Seattle were for condominiums. In Spokane, it was about 2 percent. This means that Washington has a serious lack of condominiums, and most of the new condos that have been built are not affordable.
So why is this so important? Well, condos have typically represented one of the first rungs up from renting on the ladder of homeownership. With this “starter home” rung missing, people are forced to either continue renting or make the huge jump to buying a much more expensive house, which many people can’t afford. If we have more condos, and more affordable condos, then inventory increases and prices moderate.
Increasing Urban Density Zoning
Zoning designates what kinds of buildings can be built, and where. In Seattle, about 75 percent of all land is zoned for single family homes. This means that only one house can be built per lot. In order to increase affordability, more housing of all kinds needs to be built. That includes multi-family buildings like townhouses and condos. This is difficult to do when so much of our usable land is zoned for and already taken up by single family homes on large lots.
The goal is to increase density, especially near job centers and mass transit. This can be achieved by rezoning certain parts of the city to accommodate building denser housing. The problem with increasing density is that people like their privacy. They don’t like the idea of lots being packed from end to end with housing, taking away yards and street parking. This is why rezoning is a much more divided issue.