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It's A Vision Thing

by Connie Yoshimura

     Recent articles and headlines in the local newspaper have prompted lots of public discussion about the lack of housing, and affordable housing in particular,  in Anchorage.  Finally, everyone has  come to understand the consequences of  the past several years of underbuilding.  Since 2010 when the development and planning community first began to realize that Anchorage might face a future housing shortage, little has been done to facilitate more new housing and redevelopment.  From the year 2010, there have only been 1,110 single family homes built; 266 duplexes (counting both sides) and 560 multi-family housing units for a total of 1,936 new dwelling units.  Anyone shopping to buy a new home or rent an apartment can testify that these low numbers only add to the growing agony and frustration of Anchorage residents looking for a place to live.  These numbers are a far cry from the 6,000 building permits in 1984 which was more than the city of Phoenix that year, although no one is suggesting we return to the overbuilding which contributed to the real estate recession of the late 1980s.  However, we are now faced with a far different scenario with residential units for sale continuing to be in the low 300s every week, multiple offers on homes and only days on the market for properties in decent condition.

     Over the past four years, Anchorage’s population has continued its modest growth and the need for housing has not kept up.   People are attracted to Anchorage and Alaska for its unique lifestyle, i.e. neighborhood moose, mountain vistas, the opportunity to bike and walk with nature just moments or steps away from their backdoor. And that’s where the ‘vision thing’ comes in.  Anchorage residents by and large don’t like going home on an elevator and walking down an interior  corridor to get to their front door.  They don’t want to live above a bookstore or restaurant.  They want a place for their pick-up truck and snow machine.  According to the AK Division of Motor Vehicles, there are 16,878 snow machines registered in Anchorage.  There are 67,932 pick-up trucks.  Buyers want a garage and a backyard, no matter how small, even 20 feet by 20 feet which is about the size of a yard you get with a townhouse style condo.  But, at least it’s a place for the dog to pee and  a BBQ in the summer.    Unfortunately, Anchorage visionaries have a different idea.  They want to see a more urban multi-family community develop.  That might be okay for the Alaskan snowbird or the North Slope worker who flies in and out every two weeks, but it doesn’t work well for the demographics of young, mixed generational families who want to raise their children in a low density community.

     The few developers and builders who have tried low rise larger multi-family developments have all gone bankrupt or nearly so because building up is more expensive than building horizontal.  Those who have survived have switched to townhouse row housing that provides some semblance of community and backyard space.  In 2010, Anchorage had 5,000 acres of residential land for development. If each of the 1,936 housing units that have been built since then took up a fifth of an acre, and that’s being very generous, we have not used even a tenth of the available land for development.  So what’s the problem?  Infrastructure.  Plain and simple.  In the late 1980s the Municipality stopped reimbursing residential developers for the extension of roads, water and sewer.  Developers must now extend utilities and roads to their property even if that means they can’t have a driveway and lot accessing the road.  At worst, this financial burden makes most residential development financially unfeasible or at best creates higher priced lots so that buyers will soon have to pay $500,000 for a new single family home.

     Whether or not this was a deliberate public strategy and policy to force more ‘urban, multi-use, higher density redevelopment’ in Anchorage, it has contributed greatly to the current housing shortage.  The bottom line is Anchorage needs a small lot, fee simple, single family ordinance so that Anchorage residents have a place to park their snow machines and pick-up trucks without having to drive to the Valley.   And, the MOA should lift its ban on utility and road reimbursements on an area-wide basis.

New Home Ideas From the International Builders Show

by Connie Yoshimura

     The International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas showcased some new ideas and also a return to more traditional living. New homeowners continue to discard the formal living room.  After all, who wants to buy two sets of living room furniture, so the great room concept still reins for family living.  But, the return of the dining room is a surprise.  That infrequently used room reserved for holidays still has emotional appeal for those sit down family dinners like they portray on TV and the movies.   Or maybe it’s because eating out is becoming more expensive both in dollars and calories so the idea of inviting friends over to share a healthy, home cooked meal is gaining in popularity.  For whatever the reason, the formal dining room has returned, although its definition is not necessarily with three or four wal     The International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas showcased some new ideas and also a return to more traditional living. New homeowners continue to discard the formal living room.  After all, who wants to buy two sets of living room furniture so the great room concept still reigns for family living.  But, the return of the dining room is a surprise.  That infrequently used room reserved for holidays still has emotional appeal for those sit-down family dinners they portray on TV and the movies.   Or maybe it’s because eating out is becoming more expensive both in dollars and calories  so the idea of inviting friends over to share a healthy, home cooked meal is gaining in popularity.  For whatever the reason, the formal dining room has returned, although its definition is not necessarily with three or four walls but rather created through lighting, pillars, sculptured sheetrock ceilings  and flooring.

     The kitchen is still the heart of the home and continues to grow in importance. Kitchen islands have been expanded to seven feet and should always be large enough to seat at least four and are taking the place of the kitchen nook.  Builders who build four bedroom homes and don’t put in an island large enough to seat four are missing the whole island concept.  In today’s rising new construction costs, no one needs three eating areas.  Enlarge the island and turn the kitchen nook into a formal dining room or add the extra space into the great room.  Custom homeowners can spend tens of thousands of dollars on cupboards.  However, adding a few knobs and pulls, crown molding, under cabinet lighting and three or four glass doors can accomplish almost the same look with a moderately priced cabinet.

     And think twice about that exorbitantly expensive colored Viking stove but do add a hood to your five burner, down draft cooktop.  The clunky granite backsplash has gone the way of the trash compactor and has been replaced with tile from the counter to bottom of the cabinet.  Nowhere at the home show were  there Spanish tiles that were so popular five years ago, but now the look is more muted and subdued.  It’s almost like the tile or stone  itself has replaced color and design.

     The master bedroom and bath is the second most important room in a new home.  There are literally hundreds of faucets, towel bars, soaking tubs to choose from, but here are some must-have basics that every 2,400 square foot home or larger should have.  You may never use the soaker or jetted tub but everyone still wants one plus a double-headed shower.  That shower can get pretty expensive if its dimensions don’t fit a preformed plan and requires a custom mud/tiled floor.  What’s more important than the  floor is that the shower has a tile and glass surround.      The plate glass mirror  above the double vanities is definitely a thing of the past.  Go to Home Depot, Pier I, Pottery Barn or order from Frontgate and chose one you can be proud of and reflects your personal style.  They cost less than the plate mirror and look better.  Just say ‘no’ to that old fashioned mirror concept. There was not one plate glass mirror in the bath section of the show.

     All buyers are looking for more space. The most popular move-up floor plans are 2,400 to 2,600 square feet.  In Alaska, the most popular extra space is the daylight or walk-out lower level (also known as a basement).  But if your homesite is flat and not sloping,  the upstairs family room may be your ticket to extra space.  Stacking the second floor over the first floor living area and garage is an economic way to gain space  and is less expensive than a basement.   The sought after two-story family room should be saved for views only.  Instead, consider a ten-foot ceiling and some extra windows to help bring the outdoors in.  By adding an upstairs family room, new homes can look pretty boxy without much relief, so it is important to make sure the home has some shakes, rock, board and bat and other  details that enhance the exterior elevation.  Pillars, extra windows, a glass front door and windows in the garage door can all  add to an exterior elevation.ls but rather created through lighting, pillars, sculptured sheetrock ceilings and flooring.

     The kitchen is still the heart of the home and continues to grow in importance. Kitchen islands have been expanded to seven feet and should always be large enough to seat at least four and are taking the place of the kitchen nook.  Builders who build four bedroom homes and don’t put in an island large enough to seat four are missing the whole island concept.  In today’s rising new construction costs, no one needs three eating areas.  Enlarge the island and turn the kitchen nook into a formal dining room or add the extra space into the great room.  Custom homeowners can spend tens of thousands of dollars on cupboards.  However, adding a few knobs and pulls, crown molding, under cabinet lighting and three or four glass doors can accomplish almost the same look with a moderately priced cabinet.      And think twice about that exorbitantly expensive colored Viking stove but do add a hood to your five burner, down draft cook top.  The clunky granite backsplash has gone the way of the trash compactor and has been replaced with tile from the counter to bottom of the cabinet.  Nowhere at the home show were there Spanish tiles that were so popular five years ago but now the look is more muted and subdued.  It’s almost like the tile or stone itself has replaced color and design.       

     The master bedroom and bath is the second most important room in a new home.  There are literally hundreds of faucets, towel bars, soaking tubs to choose from but here are some must have basics that every 2,400 square foot home or larger should have.  You may never use the soaker or jetted tub but everyone still wants one plus a double headed shower.  That shower can get pretty expensive if its dimensions don’t fit a preformed pan and requires a custom mud/tiled floor.  What’s more important than the floor is that the shower has a tile and glass surround.  The plate glass mirror above the double vanities is definitely a thing of the past.  Go to Home Depot, Pier I, Pottery Barn or order from Frontgate and chose one you can be proud of and reflects your personal style.  They cost less than the plate mirror and look better.  Just say ‘no’ to that old fashioned mirror concept. There was not one plate glass mirror in the bath section of the show.

     All buyers are looking for more space. The most popular move-up floor plans are 2,400 to 2,600 square feet.  In Alaska, the most popular extra space is the daylight or walk-out lower level (also known as a basement).  But if your home site is flat and not sloping, the upstairs family room may be your ticket to extra space.  Stacking the second floor over the first floor living area and garage is an economic way to gain space and is less expensive than a basement.   The sought after two-story family room should be saved for views only.  Instead, consider a ten foot ceiling and some extra windows to help bring the outdoors in.  By adding an upstairs family room, new homes can look pretty boxy without much relief so it is important to make sure the home has some shakes, rock, board and bat and other details that enhance the exterior elevation.  Pillars, extra windows, a glass front door and windows in the garage door can all add to an exterior elevation. 

Displaying blog entries 1-2 of 2

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Dwell Realty
561 E. 36th Ave., Suite 200
Anchorage AK 99503
907-646-3600