Condo auctions have become common nationwide, as banks seize projects whose developers are slow or incapable of paying back their loans. It's a sign of the recession, and of the troubles for both the banking and real-estate industries. In some markets, the bottom-feeder opportunities for home buyers are great. If you have a safe, steady job and good a credit rating in, say, Miami or Phoenix or Sacramento, you can buy a home amid the foreclosures and auctions for a song. But the picture is a little different in Seattle. You've already read about the old Queen Anne High School condo auction. Those units were being sold in a charming old structure in a relatively quiet residential neighborhood. Now, down the hill in LQA, the new and very different Lumen is about to auction off its remaining 19 units.
Let's consider whether you'd actually want to live there, and why auctions aren't as wonderful as they sound...To begin with, the Lumen ain't cheap. This is the problem with all new condos (as opposed to conversions). Going by the prior offers on the 19 units to be auctions, the price per square foot on these modern, open-plan residences ranges from $500-$850. Unit prices range from $350,000 to $1.7 million (again based on past offers). And the recommended minimums for the auction are fairly meaningless. $155,000 for a 630-square-foot one bedroom? There's no way Wells Fargo would accept such an offer.
Then there's the location: Squat on the corner of Mercer and Fifth (site of the old Tower Records, RIP), right at the traffic light light where cars race eastward in the desperate plunge beneath SR-99 (Aurora) into the vehicular maelstrom that is the Mercer Mess. To the South are the rising new Gates Foundation, EMP, and Seattle Center. All of which means even more gridlock on event nights, Bumbershoot, Folklife, etc. And did we mention that construction is to start this summer on the Mercer Mess fix? But it'll only reach from I-5 to Dexter. Mercer Mess West, where the Lumen sits, will have to wait.
Oh, and did we mention that Tuba Man was beaten to death right around there, too?
But there are pros as well. QFC is in your building. Restaurants like Crow and Panos Kleftiko are steps away. You've got Seattle Center, McCaw Hall, Teatro ZinZanni, and the Queen Anne strip all within close walking distance. Downtown, whether by foot, bus, or bike, is super convenient. (Walking east to South Lake Union, however, remains insanely dangerous and difficult on the narrow sidewalk in the present Mercer trench. Seattle's Department of Transportation isn't scheduled to begin work there until 2011.) Also: The Church of Scientology is just two blocks east--maybe you'll run into Tom Cruise!
And the architecture? Completed in 2007, the mixed-used structure by Hewitt Architects isn't everyone's cup of tea. It's a little Sleeper, a little Soviet brutalist, and the signage for QFC and Office Depot makes it all the less inviting--particularly on the south-facing Mercer exposure. Floorplans aren't available on the Lumen auction Web site (which has redirected from the original sales site), but many units were "Euro"-style shoeboxes with sliding translucent screens. I actually like it better than those tacky stucco-and-balcony condos all throughout Belltown. Facing west, north, or east (mind the loading bay) wouldn't be terrible; you just wouldn't want to look onto Mercer.
There's a buying seminar on Wed., July 1 at the Lumen prior to the July 11 auction. Good luck, if you should decide to make an offer.