Skip to content

Housing affordability crisis demands a solution

Last week, the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties hosted their annual Housing Summit and our own Peter Orser was there to discuss how our recent condominium report can help provide answers.  Read a summary of the event on Seattle King County Realtors blog

Peter Orser addresses the crowd at the 2016 MBA Housing Summit

New Corporate Real Estate Course for Professionals

We are offering a new course this fall, RE 530: Corporate Real Estate.  This course is eligible for 25 CEUs towards CoreNet Global MCR Professional Designation renewal credits.  Professionals can register for the course as non-matriculated students through non-degree enrollment:

RE 530 – Corporate Real Estate
Tues/Thurs 12:00-1:20 pm
Instructor: Kelli Leith

Course Description

Corporations and public institutions utilize space for their workers, equipment and customer base. A critical element in the success of these corporations is the identification of ways their real estate footprint through owned and leased assets can be a factor in attaining the vision and mission they have. Corporate Real Estate requires real estate professionals’ understanding of a CEO, CFOs and COOs vision of the corporation and the development and execution of a real estate strategy which will help corporations grow and be successful based on their own set of parameters.  This course focuses on an overview of corporate real estate, the functions of corporate real estate, the real estate strategies and services applied in corporate real estate decision making and understanding the: what, where, when, how and why of corporate real estate planning.

Creating liveable communties: a conversation with architect David Yuan

David YuanNBBJ, a leading global architecture firm, is well known locally for its work on familiar Seattle buildings, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Safeco Field, and 2 Union Square. David Yuan is an Architect and Partner at NBBJ and has been a Runstad Board member since 2013. During his 26 year tenure at NBBJ, he has worked on a number of high profile projects, including Madison Centre, Russell Investments Center, Pacific Place, and the renovation of the Seaboard Building.

One of his recent projects, three new blocks for Amazon in the Denny Triangle, has garnered significant attention in recent press. Yuan worked with the NBBJ team on the design and to secure land use approvals for the three block project, which included obtaining three alley vacations from the city in less than a year.

“One of the main drivers of the project is to create a  neighborhood,” Yuan emphasizes, “and to promote an active street environment, encouraging  pedestrian  activity through public amenities such as mid-block pedestrian connections, a dog park and a sports field.”

At the lower levels in each office tower, NBBJ has designed what they term “Centers of Energy”, spaces that foster informal meetings and increased collaboration among Amazon employees.

Of course, all eyes are on the Spheres, three iconic structures inspired by classic greenhouses that provide employees an opportunity hold meetings in a plant rich environment, complete with tree houses. “We wanted to create an environment where employees could think creatively and come up with ideas they may not have had in a standard workstation. The Spheres were technically challenging and designed not only to accommodate a diversity of plants, but to function as an effective place to meet during the day.”

NBBJ endeavors to design vibrant places that entice people to be creative, engage with each other and with their surroundings, a goal that Yuan continues to champion in his other current projects, including the 36-story Madison Center in downtown Seattle, and Centre 425, a 16 story office building in Bellevue both under construction.

As a Board member, Yuan stresses the host of opportunities offered by the Runstad Center. “Make sure you are well attuned to your own passions, interests, and skills,” he recommends, “and make use of the affiliated resources, including the great alumni and the industry connections.”

Acknowledging Seattle’s growth in recent years, he recognizes the need for all parties to coalesce and build the city together. “Seattle has been blessed as a destination for creative people. Because we are open to new comers and are located in a wonderful natural environment, we attract innovative companies who look to recruit the brightest and the best as a result,” Yuan says. “However, we are experiencing growing pains, affordability issues, and are heavily constrained by physical challenges like hills and water. So the question is, how do you design for growth? How do you create community that is connected to transit, has open space, and are highly liveable while accommodating higher densities? An answer must be found by neighborhood leaders, developers and policy makers working together to find creative solutions for the future.



Part-time lecture search


The University of Washington’s Department of Urban Design and Planning and the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies are seeking applicants for a part-time Lecturer position for the MS in Real Estate commencing January 1, 2017. The position is a 50% FTE, 9-month teaching position. Salary is competitive. When hired through a competitive search, lecturers are eligible for renewable multi-year appointments and promotion, among other benefits available to full-time UW faculty members.

The position involves the teaching of one course in each of three academic quarters – Autumn, Winter, Spring— with opportunities to teach additional courses if desired. The initial appointment will be for two years, with multi-year reappointments available, depending on performance.

Applicants must have at least a Master’s degree in a relevant field. Work experience and teaching expertise in real estate development including studio courses is required. Demonstrated high-level proficiency in teaching at the graduate level is also preferred.

Applicant instructions can be found on the UW Hires website, here.

Seattle Mass Timber Tower, a new study by Callison RTKL

Peter Orser was asked to write a forward for a recent feasibility study conducted by Callison RTKL. This study, Seattle Mass Timber Tower, focuses on mass timber construction (MTC) and the possibility of using MTC for a high rise. Mass timber is a cost effective, energy efficient, renewable material of excellent structural strength that demonstrates high fire resistance. MTC has been used successfully in Europe and British Columbia, but it is a relative newcomer to US building practices. Additionally, MTC structures in the US to date have been limited to 6-10 story buildings. Whether or not MTC can be used for buildings in the 30-40 story range has yet to be fully vetted. As the former CEO of Weyerhaeuser Real Estate Company and as the Director of the Runstad Center, Peter recognizes the importance of investing in, researching and discussing technologies that have the potential of delivering sustainable solutions to the urban growth challenges we face. Callison RTKL’s analysis, now publicly available, examines the possibility of utilizing MTC for high rise construction from design, sustainability, affordability, safety and construction perspectives. The full study can be found here.

Washington State Condominium Report released today

The Runstad Center’s Washington State Condominium Report was released today.  MSRE student, Center researcher, and author of the report David Leon shares his thoughts…

The City of Seattle has been experiencing unprecedented population and economic growth over the last five years. As the city’s population has increased and the number of high-paying jobs has grown, prices for housing have increased significantly.  Condominium development could provide an affordable in-city option for new housing.  At present, condominiums are not being built in sufficient numbers to meet demand, and those that are being built are being sold at prices that are beyond the means of the average-income individual.  Reasons for this dynamic include financing and capital markets, insurance coverage, and to some degree, legal liability for condominium developers.  This paper examines the current state of the housing market in Seattle, focusing on construction of new condominiums, with comparisons to six other Western cities.  The paper then examines elements of the Washington Condominium Act that may bear on the heightened liability for condominium builders, and suggests some options for reducing the liability, after comparison to four other states and the Canadian province of British Columbia. Changes to the Washington Condominium Act may be necessary but not sufficient conditions for the building of more affordable condominium units in Seattle.  Financial incentives may be required to create the conditions for more affordable condominiums.  For the market to be incentivized to build more affordable condominiums without public subsidy, economic opportunity for builders must offset the greater perceived risks and inefficiencies of smaller scale building through lower costs.  Insurance costs and the risk of litigation are factors that, if mitigated, can contribute to tipping the scale toward the delivery of more affordable for-sale condominium product.

Condo Sales Graph

Sales price tranches for Seattle new condominium sales, 2010-2015.

The Center’s findings were discussed further with UW Today.  Click here for the full report.

Leaving a Legacy: A Profile of Douglas Howe

Douglas Howe Photo July 15 2016

It is more than fair to say that Douglas Howe, a Runstad Advisory Board member since 2011, has a distinct proclivity and sharp acumen for Pacific Northwest commercial real estate. He is the founder of Touchstone, currently one of the region’s most active developers, with approximately 2 million square feet currently under construction. Most recently, in June 2016, Touchstone opened the luxurious Thompson Hotel and Sequel Apartments, a stunning project designed by Tom Kundig of Olsen Kundig and Jensen Fey Architects. This project took an immense amount of work and collaboration, born out of Howe’s venerable career.

Douglas Howe quickly discovered that his primary passions were in landmark renovation and urban office, and his priority became creating the best work environments possible. One of his projects, the Kirkland Marriott Courtyard Hotel, initially included a contract with Marriott, but following September 11th, 2001, Marriott pulled out due to economic fears. Touchstone, however, already had the franchise. “We became accidental hotel developers. But we executed it well. It was a perfect compliment to Touchstone as an office developer… There are a lot of natural synergies between office and hotel development,” Howe reflects. Since the Kirkland Hotel, Touchstone has completed numerous, successful office and hotel projects, culminating in the Thompson Hotel.

“You know what I always said? If people live in it or sleep in it, we don’t do it!” Howe laughs. Given that he became an “accidental hotel developer”, the irony is that he is also capping his career with a well-received, high-end apartment complex attached to a boutique hotel. With its sweeping, unobstructed view of and proximity to iconic Seattle features, the Thompson Hotel and Sequel Apartments appeals to visitors and Seattleites alike. Howe’s philosophy in picking sites and projects has always been very intentional, strategic and forward looking. This particular project actually began in the 1990s, when Howe began developing a relationship with the site owners, but wasn’t until 2007 that he gained control of the property. From there, financing the project, establishing a design and program that was unique and appealing, and selecting the right hotel operator were all challenges that Touchstone faced. Their work has paid off, and is reflected in every distinguishing detail of the project. Touchstone worked closely with Josh Henderson, Seattle celebrity chef, to open Scout on the ground floor. Signature to most Thompson Hotels, there is a spectacular roof top deck, where Henderson has also established The Nest. Touchstone aimed to create a different, sexy and edgy space that appealed to a discerning, new age crowd, and, while they are still in the process of refining details and have only been open for one month, they are already attracting large, national corporations to utilize their event space and conference rooms. Connected to the Thompson Hotel by a clever courtyard space is Touchstone’s first multi-family project, Sequel Apartments, which enjoys all the benefits of being a hotel guest including room service, housekeeping and concierge. Sequel is already 75% leased and on track for full occupancy by the end of summer 2016.

Howe’s legacy lives on in the Touchstone team. As Howe began to plan his retirement, he put in motion a succession plan for Touchstone, partnering with Urban Renaissance Group and infusing Touchstone with significant capital for the next market cycle in an agreement lauded as NAIOP’s 2015 Deal of the Year. “Touchstone is a great team,” Howe says, “It’s up to them to find the future. I have every confidence that they will be successful.” Touchstone is the recent winner of the prestigious NAIOP Developer of the Year award, so it seems that Howe’s instinct about his team is spot on. The advice that he aspires to impart on all Runstad students, aspiring and current developers then, rings sound. “You can do better. Pay attention to the details and make an impact on the urban environment. As a developer, you have a responsibility to leave a legacy, a well-designed building that fits within the context of the urban environment and can withstand the test of time. You can create a special place. Developers can make that happen within a budget and we try to accomplish this and stand out in every project.”

Commoning the community in Brazil

We continue our series of blog posts from our Runstad Center Affiliate Fellows class of 2015, who recently traveled to Santiago, Chile, and Rio de Janeiro and Curitiba, Brazil. Recently, Thaisa Way took us for a look at the yards and courtyards of Santiago.  Here, she explores the idea of “commoning the community” in a favela, Vidigal in Rio de Janiero, Brazil.


On the same day that Maiko, Kate, Jose, and I headed to the favela community of Vidigal, I read about the competition in London to find spaces that could be “commoned” as in making them collective social spaces in the urban fabric. This same idea is being envisioned within the favela of Vidigal as residents look to create collective action to create shared spaces in their urban landscape. It is noteworthy that the city of Rio and many in Brazil speak of urbanizing the slums as a means to bring city services of water, electricity, sewage and transportation to the communities. Commoning is another form of urbanization- building on the potential of shared spaces to build community in dense and underserved neighborhoods.


In Vidigal we met with architect Guto Grasien, who had grown up in the community and returned to live and to design for public good. With him was Maria (a dancer and choreographer) and Sebastian (VP for the Vidigal Community) as well as an artist and a film maker, all residents of the community. They showed us a small model roof garden that shaded a bus stop for residents. On the roof was a mixture of hay and soil that was used to grow medicinal and healing plants. The only irrigation is rain water. The roof garden, an idea that Guto initiated, was planned and planted with participants from the local public schools- 25 elementary students under the leadership of a few community members including Grassa, a healing/ medicine woman in the community. The plants are harvested by Grassa, who has with a few other women opened a small souvenir shop for all the foreigners touring the favela, and a small café upstairs that serves green juice – a healthy mixture of wheat grass, cabbage, celery, apples, and other greens. The idea is to introduce a healthy drink, easy to enjoy, as a means of introducing health and nutrition as a topic of discussion. Further the gardens introduce the idea of city nature as a beneficial and productive part of the urban fabric. Thus the roof garden, the store, the café, the garden all are a form of commoning.


The community, like most favelas in Rio, is on a very steep hillside- the flat lands by the bay and ocean are generally filled with more expensive housing, from middle to upper class housing and commercial strips- the beach itself a common landscape, open and used by the full public. Back to the favela- as they are on steep hillsides, while roads for cars, motorcycles, and infrastructure are useful, stairways are the primary shared circulation infrastructure- they wind between houses, roads, and views- yes precarious but also pragmatic, serving as critical contributors to the public realm.


Also there we were welcomed into a remarkable garden that was once a city site deemed to become an ecological park. However, the city abandoned the project and neighbors started to use it as a garbage dump. Other community members imagined doing the garden on their own and started to clean the area for garden beds. They creatively found materials to use including car and bike tires that were dug into the hillside to hold the soil in place and to provide planting beds. Plants are gathered from the nearby forests and hillsides and the place is a bit of paradise within the urban landscape. It was a respite, it was a place of hope and production- but it was even more a place where urban nature was expressed creatively, inspirationally, and poetically.


While many focus on the ways in which the city and state appear to have abandoned the poor in Brazil – and this is true when one considers the availability of clean water, sewage treatment, and many other basic services – what we saw and heard in Vidigal was also the resilience of communities to find ways to build a robust public realm. It was a good learning experience for us, as it is so much easier to just bemoan the irresponsible actions of government and leaders.

Washington housing market remains strong in 1st quarter of 2015

Washington state’s housing market was strong in the first quarter of 2015, with both sales and new building permits up compared with a year ago and the market remaining largely affordable, according to a new report from the Washington Center for Real Estate Research here at the Runstad Center.  Housing affordability for all buyers statewide continued to rise in the first quarter; however, affordability varied widely across the state.

The Center’s findings were discussed further with UW Today.

Here’s a preview of the data, in our snapshot for Q1 2015.  The full report, now available to subscribers, will be posted online when the third quarter report snapshot is released.  If you’d like to become a subscriber, please contact

Runstad Affiliate Fellow authors new book

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 1.30.32 PM

The Runstad Center congratulates Thaisa Way, whose new book, “The Landscape Architecture of Richard Haag: From Modern Space to Urban Ecological Design” was recently published by University of Washington Press.  UW Today picked up the story and talked with Thaisa about Rich Haag, his legacy, and how his work demonstrates that thoughtful design of the public realm – parks, plazas, streets, and campuses – has a critical impact on our society.

Thaisa is a 2015 Runstad Affiliate Fellow, who recently returned with her cohorts from a trip to South America, examining the urban landscape in the cities of Santiago, Rio de Janeiro, and Curitiba.