"It'sBlaine and Birch Bay's Turn"

Published on Thu, Sep 8, 2005 by ack Kintner

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"It's Blaine and Birch Bay's Turn"

By Jack Kintner

The real estate boom that has been happening all around Blaine and Birch Bay for many years began making itself felt in our area two years ago and shows no signs of ending anytime soon. But trying to put a face on rapid growth – finding out who is moving in, and where they’re coming from – is not as easy as it might seem.

Dan Washburn, a Port Angeles native who is owner of Windermere Realty in Whatcom County, said that a year ago more people were moving into Whatcom County than out at a rate that yielded a net gain of about 4,000 people per year. “About half of them bought in Bellingham and the other half somewhere in the county,” Washburn said, “and for various reasons it’s become Blaine and Birch Bay’s turn to see the kind of rapid growth that hit Lynden a few years ago and has been happening in Bellingham for some time.”

Washburn said this year he’s seeing more people buy real estate as an
investment. “Nationally about 25 percent of home purchases are for investment purposes,” he said, citing Lynden’s 27 percent jump in single-family home prices last year. “That’s very roughly a $65,000 jump in the price of a typical three-bedroom house,” Washburn said, although when asked if this rise in value was due to an economic “bubble” that might, like the infamous dot-com companies of the 1990s, suddenly collapse, he didn’t think so.

“It’s different for investors, maybe, but for home owners the rise in the value of their property is directly due to this being a place that people want to come to, and that demand isn’t going away any time soon.”
There are currently about 1,600 houses and condo units either under construction or close to it in Birch Bay, and just two of the new developments planned for east Blaine will add several hundred houses inside the city limits. One development parcel in downtown Blaine, at the southwest corner of Peace Portal Way and H Street, could be the poster child for what’s been happening – the downtown location once dominated by a shabby X-rated bookstore that was a shunned but stubborn remnant of Blaine’s almost 50 year long “blue” period is now the intended site for an up-scale nine-unit four story condo known as Harbor Place that’s proven to be almost unbelievably popular.

Though local rumor mills had all the condos sold before construction began, local realtor Ron Freeman said that’s not the case. “We’re not selling them yet,” said Freeman, “since construction’s just begun.” What Freeman is selling, due to intense demand, are places in line for prospective buyers to make an offer. The units range from an 848 square foot one bedroom unit to a 2,200 square foot penthouse, and all of them have at least one client who has purchased the right to make an offer. “Half have more than one, and a few have three interested parties,” Freeman said.

Five years ago building lots for less than $30,000 were available and many properties in such venerable developments as the gated Birch Bay Village sat unsold for years.

Now, according to local realtor Mike Kent, that surplus inventory has virtually disappeared. “Today there are virtually no houses available for less than $100,000 in the area, and a house selling for $250,000 is now considered to be mid-range in price,” Kent said.
Asked where people are coming from, Kent quickly said “California.
It’s been the primary source for a long time.”

Washburn agreed, but said that people are “coming here from all over. We do get the press, such as the recent ads on CNN.” Washburn mentioned seeing a magazine article recently that named the two top retirement communities in the country as Sarasota, Florida, and Bellingham, Washington, “and some of those will end up in Blaine or Birch Bay. But it’s still mostly people from California, followed by Texas.”

“There are a lot of people who are deciding to retire early,” Freeman said, “to cash in their house in southern California, move to the area and get a nice place and still end up with a half million or so in the bank.”

Realtor Jeri Smith of the Bellingham office of Windermere Realty began her real estate career in Palm Springs, California, but said recently that she’s never experienced a market like this. “We have no dirt,” she said, meaning that there is a shortage of building lots, which forces prices up. “People come to live here from all over,” Smith said, “because we’ve been getting press all over about what a nice place
this is.”

None of the realtors interviewed for this story saw this rise ending
soon since even with the increasing number of investors, as most purchases are still for a primary residence. “Barring a cataclysmic event, like another 911, as long as interest rates are low and there’s a shortage of land, prices will continue to go up,” Smith said.