Ashworth Cottages – what went wrong?

In today’s edition of The Seattle Times, Eric Pryne examines how the recession is affecting Seattle’s premier Green Lake neighborhood. For the most part, the article focuses on apartment and condo complexes. But it also mentions that Pryde Johnson’s LEED platinum Ashworth Cottages is in the process of foreclosure.

According to the article, only two of the 20 homes have sold though it also mentions that another four of the houses are in various stages of possible sale.

Of course, the obvious reason for the project’s current state is the economy. But

Curt Pryde and Fawn Johnson at the grand opening of Ashworth Cottages in August, 2007
Ashworth Cottages came on the market in the summer of 2007 – before the economy really tanked. So my question is why is it where it is today?

First, some background: Ashworth Cottages opened to a lot of media attention. They were the first LEED platinum residential project in the state (seventh in the country), and thus received a press conference attended by Mayor Greg Nickels. The 20 cottages are on a lot originally zoned for six houses. To get it rezoned for 20, Pryde Johnson waited an extra 6 months, and had to get it approved by Seattle City Council.  I wrote an article about the project’s grand opening. It’s available here.

At the time, Curt Pryde and Fawn Johnson said they were confident Seattle buyers would appreciate the quality and health benefits of the platinum projects and pay between $739,000 and $950,000 for the ultimate green two-to- four-bedroom home. Apparently, that has not been the case.

But why?

The interior of an Ashworth Cottage, August 2007

I live on the other side of Green Lake – and what many people would say is the more expensive and disireable side. Even in this recession, houses around me are for the most part being snapped up. Sure, they might be on the market longer than usual but it seems like they’re still selling. Heck, even a gross ex-college party house I toured with rooms that smelled of urine sold for a pretty good price. If Ashworth Cottages were on the other side of the lake, would they have sold? Is it location, location, location?

By the way, you dear readers, have voted Ballard/Fremont the greenest neighborhood in my poll at right, followed by Capitol Hill, followed by Green Lake/ Wallingford. Maybe this project would have done better in a different neighborhood?

Maybe it’s a question of what people want for their $750,000. The Ashworth Cottages are very quaint but they don’t really have yards (the argument here is that Green Lake is basically a person’s yard). At the July 2007 grand opening, they were touted as a model example of what the city should be striving for in density. But could it be that people want more space for their money and don’t really want to spend $750k for “the model” of dense living?

Or is it the elephant in the room …. that people just do not put that high a price on green features yet and aren’t willing to pay a premium for them?

Was it the recession after all?  What do you think the problem was? If you had $750k, is this the house you would spend it on? Comment below and tell me what you’re thinking…..

By the way, the project’s Web site now says homes begin in the mid-$500s.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

19 thoughts on “Ashworth Cottages – what went wrong?

  1. Preston

    Wow, this is very interesting. You make some interesting points, and without knowing a thing about the various neighborhoods, etc, it sounds like initial price killed the hype that certification provided. This will be interesting to follow.

  2. Zachary J Blodget

    I think it’s the “elephant in the room” you mention. I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to market Portland’s first LEED Platinum home, and I can’t get anywhere. Admittedly, the paint colors range from funky to ugly depending on your opinion, but it’s a really cheap thing to change (I’ve mistakenly held off on repainting thinking I’d rather offer potential buyers a paint credit and let them pick their own colors). But I digress… I’ve had ample opportunity to talk to buyers at my weekly open houses, and by and large, they still want lots of square footage, a big grass lawn for the kids, and granite and cherry kitchens.

  3. Leanne Finlay

    As a real estate agent with more than 26 years experience in the Greenlake market, I have to say the price for the units was the major issue for me. I couldn’t wrap my enthusiasm around this big of a ‘cottage’ complex at these prices.

    They seemed to crowded on the parcels and too small in square footage to be attractive at their initial ask prices. I’m sure great care and consideration went into their design, and materials researched and utilized – but frankly, the demand was imaginary, proved by the buyers response to the finished product.

    20 homes that were a blend between ‘cottages’ and ‘townhouses’ priced between $750k – $949k … just didn’t make sense, green or not green. I didn’t and don’t feel that the particular location made the difference in price – the reality was simply too many units, too similar, too expensive. The 20 units competed against each other because there simply wasn’t demand for 20 such units in that price range; in short, too much like-kind, in a price range that had no indication of desire for such product.

  4. Leanne Finlay

    Zachary, when buyers choose new, they don’t want to paint, they want to fall in love with exactly what is in front of their eyes, today. If you have ugly colors – get them changed, quickly. You can’t change their desire for what you cannot give them, but you can give them colors they love.

  5. Therese

    Maybe people are just tired of craftmen style architecture in Seattle. All the faux craftsmen townhouses have soured many to the style. People want contemporary style in new developments. If you want a craftsmen, you buy an older home. Also, the prices were too high for a development in that location.

  6. Anne Whitacre

    Wow. $900,000 is a lot of money for a 1800 square foot (or smaller) living space, considering that in 2007, my 1600 square foot (with small yard) 1907 house on Queen Anne was appraised around $650,000. for the extra $250K, all of the “green” features of the cottages could be more or less duplicated and still provide a yard for the dog. The “rethinking” that goes into making a new house “green” these days is more like “rebuilding” the house the way it used to be — my 1907 home has solid wood doors (which means no funny glues that off gas); operable windows (which means air exchanges) and no composite products. Redo the hot water heater (which is the type my parents had in their house 20 years ago) and upgrade the windows and you get most of the same sustainable features for lower cost. I like the idea of density, but for nearly a million dollars, I would want… oh, perhaps waterfront property. (yes, I know you can’t get waterfront for that cost, but my house does have a pretty good view)

    one of the comments above that states “the demand was imaginary” illustrates a couple of developer ideas that may have not been thought out: in the original article, the developer talks in terms of long term utility savings to offset the higher purchase price. You don’t see a lot of people buying a house and living in it long enough for that to make much difference — and a lot of products have been sold with the “less maintenance” promise in the past — see vinyl siding, for example. The developer in this instance is asking buyers to pay more for an idea — the idea of dense living, smaller spaces, a raft of “green” products –but the primary selling point isn’t tangible, and the mortgage payment is more than real enough.

  7. Joshua Daniel Franklin

    I’m guessing the higher energy costs of standalone cottages (vs condos, whether lowrise or highrise) was not lost on potential “green” buyers, either.

  8. nate

    I wonder if they went too much in the direction of making it look like a regular house. Maybe there is the Prius complex with buyers, in that if they are going to spend the extra for a “green” house, they want it to scream that it is environmentally friendly rather than suggest. Visible PV panels, or raintanks or something like that maybe?

  9. Zoey77

    I love the idea of these homes, I live right down the street from them. I think the idea is great, and is a movement that cities across the country should be considering and going towards, common areas, all the builtgreen bells and whistles. That’s wonderful. But boy is it pricey, and the worst part about this whole situation with the Ashworth Cottages is that it sends a message that green developments, and a nod to communal living (courtyards etc) is both inaccessible and not what people want. I don’t think any of this is the case at all, I think that people absolutely want to embrace this kind of community.

    With that said, I think an issue with the Ashworth Cottages that hasn’t been discussed much is the surrounding inventory. Within a half-mile of the Ashworth Cottages there is a huge number of high-end and mid-grade townhomes (I live in one of the mid-graders just down the street from the Ashworth Cottages and enjoy it thoroughly). The purse does a lot of the talking when it comes to buying a home, and I couldn’t see why someone would plop down 200-500K more for what is essentially a townhome at Ashworth, when there are literally hundreds of other townhomes at half the price all around them. For me, as much as I love the idea of the builtgreen home, the purse yelled way too loud, I couldn’t justify the price at all.

    Granted, I’m now kicking myself because I think that they are gorgeous little cottages, and if I had waited a year to buy maybe I could get one for a song, but oh well! Cest La Vie! 😉

  10. Pingback: Too Much Green For Green In Greenlake | hugeasscity

  11. Katie Post author

    Thank you all for your very thoughtful comments. Your viewpoints flesh out the issue and create a visual image of the different problems that might have helped cause Ashworth’s problems.

    This post got a lot of attention, and sparked similar posts and viewer comments over at The Seattle PI and Hugeasscity (thanks, Aubrey and Dan!)

    This is a topic I’m really interested in and will be following. Though most people I’ve talked to say the recession will actually be good for green building, we’ll just have to see whether that pans out….

  12. mike

    LEED platinum is a joke. plus these are ugly.

    jump on the passivhaus/minergie bandwagon before it’s too late!

  13. greenlake nieghnor

    You fail to mention, a large majority of the units are not free standing cottages, but town homes. The neighborhood fought this level of density tooth and nail, despite obvious collusion between Pryde&Johnson and the city. We were insulted and ridiculed by both the city and the developer for our concerns.

    I realize I should not find joy in my enemies suffering, but I get a small moment of ecstasy every time I pass this empty development on my way home each night. I pray every night for those that I have resentments with; I pray Pryde&Johnson goes bankrupt.

  14. Green Goddess

    This is everything that annoys me about LEED. It is too much and not enough. I appreciate the aspects of the concepts that USGBC endorses but when you add so many features that the price exceeds the practicality and affordabilyt there is no hope for it to become the norm in Residential build it will be associated with a luxury product.

    Location in this case has NOTHING to do with the problems with these units they are simply too expensive, poorly designed and over developed. Had they half the units and made them bigger with yard they would have been snapped up.

    Seattle touts green but more importantly they tout affordabilty. Really this is town with only FEW real people who could afford such outrageous prices. I have looked at them and with some minor tweaking they could still be very green but still very affordable. Its this projects among a few others that give green a luxury image that is just plain wrong.

  15. Carol

    I toured the cottages with a realtor about 4 months ago and fell in love with them but not the price tag. My husband and I want to downsize but with 2 kids in college who might return home someday we also want room for them. Now that the prices have come down we might think about buying. That is if we can get rid of our house on MI! And a note to the greenlake neighbor remember what empty property does to your own home’s value!!!!

  16. csob

    I toured the models today (6/7/9) and found them to be very unattractive. Nice fit and finish, decent appliances, but awkward spaces. One two story unit had a “detached” garage, meaning you had to walk out the front door, past the neighbor, walk to the back of the houses, down a flight of stairs and past your neighbor’s garage door to get to yours. Imagine that with two kids in two. Now imagine the reverse with two kids and multiple bags of groceries… in the rain.

    The site is next to a Seattle Parks Department yard where it looks like a great deal of hard, dirty, noisy work gets done during the week. All this and more for $750K to $1M. Wow!

    What were they thinking? I guess they thought we would put up with the awkward spaces and inconvenient layout in return for LEED Platinum logo and the privilege of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars more than comparable houses. They were wrong!

  17. Dreaming of a Cottage

    These are lovely residences, but there’s no greenery for the howm owner, and the decks are small, small, small. If they had a little garden and a bit bigger deck, and better garage access, I think they’d make a go. But, $700+ and not any privacy is just too much.

  18. Jon

    My wife and I are hunting for our first home and walked by this complex last night. Considering their size, lack of land, and proximity to each other, we both felt that they were on par with some of the nicer town homes in the area. We were both excited about the prospect of giving the Ashworth Cottage office a call until we looked them up on-line and learned that the asking price STARTS at $550K (recently dropped $100K). Homes priced at $650K are largely out of the realm of possibility for first-time home buyers, and my guess is that most people looking to upgrade their living situation are going to look for more land, more space, nicer materials, and more tangible investments to spend their net gains on. I appreciate the LEAD certification process, but I don’t think that residential buyers are ready to offer it a monetary value just yet. I certainly would rather spend my money on a bigger, nicer, sub-half-million town house down the road than have to save $50K extra dollars for the down payment on an Ashworth Cottage when it offers no immediate benefit to me. Does that make me a bad person? Can I reduce my ecological footprint in ways that won’t cost me $250,000 that I don’t have? I think those are the questions that are going to lead this development into foreclosure.

  19. Pingback: DJC Green Building Blog » Blog Archive » Ashworth Cottages: how much of a premium will people pay for green?

Comments are closed.