The Rolls-Royce and the Ferrari parked in front of a real estate sales office in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood Wednesday night were the first indication that this was no normal “house party.”
The line of blue-jacketed valets, the red carpet and rope line, the doorman with a list of registered guests, the wine bar, the gourmet hors d’oeuvres, the black-tie-wearing servers, the mini pop-up shop for custom-tailored men’s suits — all of that was a pretty good signal, too.
A decidedly less stereotypical Seattle — sans the hiking and rain gear that usually defines us to the world — actually dressed up and turned out to mingle and tour a mock floor plan for a luxury condominium development called Nexus.
With approximately 80 percent of their 378 homes already pre-sold, developers for the planned community held the preview event to showcase Sky Series Residences — a limited collection of just 15 condos atop the unique building that will offer more square footage, sweeping views and price tags ranging from about $1.6 million to $4.9 million.
In a city with a booming tech economy, a new class of home buyers and a red-hot real estate market creating the fastest-growing home prices in the country, the event served as a flip side to the ongoing debate among Seattle’s leaders and many of its longtime residents who are grappling with the effects of growth and an affordable housing crisis.
The median home price in Seattle eclipses $700,000, a recent bus ad for a coding school touched off a hot debate about housing affordability, and big money from the likes of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is being thrown into the fight against homelessness.
But Wednesday’s party was a clear signal that the developers of Nexus — Vancouver, B.C.-based Burrard Group and Seattle’s Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty — are confident that luxury living and the lifestyle associated with it have a place in the new, tech-fueled Seattle.
The 41-story high-rise, with its stacked- and staggered-cube design, is slated to open in mid-2019 in what the developers are referring to as the “East Village” of downtown — the area around Howell Street and Minor Avenue, near Interstate 5.
Don’t be alarmed if that term sounds more New York City than Seattle. Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty President and CEO Dean Jones, who was hosting the event, said the current climate in Seattle points to the city’s “Manhattan moment,” with the building’s neighborhood leading the charge.
Beyond the bar serving specialty cocktails with X-branded ice cubes and the assorted small-scale models of the future high-rise, visitors got the chance to poke around a 2-bedroom, 2-bath Nexus model at the back of the Belltown space.
Boasting smart-home automation and other high-tech amenities, Nexus promises that technology “harmonizes the physical environment with the daily lives of residents through a unique combination of bespoke hardware and software solutions.” This is, after all, “City Life. Evolved,” as another slogan stated.
Like any house party, the majority of folks seemed to gather in the kitchen area of the condo. Sleek furnishings and modern artwork decorated the home throughout, and screens behind the mock windows, printed with the cityscape and Elliott Bay, gave the appearance that we were taking in those sweeping views.
Closets were filled with the same fancy clothes that people at the party were wearing, and people seated on the couch with drinks looked like they actually belonged in the home — even if they were just watching a slideshow on TV advertising the future condo in which they were sort of currently sitting.
In a small space off a back hallway, Annette Dresser worked near a rack of fine-looking men’s suits. With material swatches laid out on a table, Dresser was doing just what her name implied, working as a personal stylist and senior managing partner for J. Hilburn, a luxury menswear company. With the ability to browse online, get fitted online and get connected to a personal stylist, the whole process seemed like a good match for techies and others looking to ditch the fleece for something more dapper.
One guy who definitely stood out among the crowd was Nelson Yong, a brand and marketing professional from Kirkland, Wash., who landed a spot on NBC’s “First Dates” and whose Instagram account — with 47,000 followers — is like a photo tutorial on how to look good with your clothes on. Yong is just the type of “influencer” necessary at an event like Wednesday’s to generate buzz through social channels.
Yong (center) posted a picture alongside Scott Wasner (at right) a founding director at Realogics known for his $8 million sale of the “50 Shades of Grey” inspiration condo at Escala in Seattle last November. With hashtags like #menwithclass and #luxurylife, the post attracted 1,500 likes in a couple hours.
There’s no doubt that Seattle is attracting international real estate investors much the same way Vancouver and San Francisco have. Christian Chan, executive VP of Burrard, said in a news release that Seattle is following in the footsteps of Pacific Gateway cities because “our market fundamentals are so familiar.”
Indeed, Seattle magazine vet John Spear was at the event, offering copies of a recent publication of an all-Mandarin Seattle luxury living magazine. With the Space Needle on the cover, the inside of the magazine was filled with features on fine dining and the Starbucks Reserve Roastery, alongside ads for homes and yachts.
With 200 or so people cycling in and out of the relatively tight party space, the front sidewalk proved to be a good spot for some fresh air — and more good people watching.
The luxury cars parked in a line on First Avenue were probably attracting more stares and smartphone photos than anything related to the luxury condo inside. A yellow McLaren, a dark red Ferrari and a black and silver Rolls-Royce played host to a number of women who took the time to stand next to, sit in or sit on the cars and pose for pictures.
Young valets, standing in a line along the curb, took in the scene as the expensive automobiles attracted a steady stream of gawkers. The cars were provided — as yet another prop to illustrate living well — by Zadart, the Bellevue, Wash.-based business that rents exotic automobiles.
Jackson Tse, a former vice president at Wizards of the Coast, now serves as CSO at Zadart and he stood near the street talking up the 14 cars he owns himself as a woman set her cell phone and water bottle on the back of a rare Ferrari.
Nearby, Moira Holley, another founding director at Realogics, pointed down First Avenue just a couple blocks toward Bay Vista Tower, a 1980s-era luxury condo building. Holley currently has the most expensive condo listing in Seattle and it sits at the top of Bay Vista. The renovated penthouse unit is going for $13.8 million. She told me she’d love to show it to me sometime.
As the party started to wrap up and the Ferrari sped off toward downtown Seattle, I grabbed an Uber and headed north back to Ballard.
With no sweeping views, and lights that I have to turn on with my hands and not my voice, my place is no futuristic vision of new Seattle luxury.
But it was good to be home.
[Editor’s Note: Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty is a GeekWire sponsor.]