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Land costs keeping home prices high
"Does an affordable home costing upwards of $280,000 promote economic diversity?Some local contractors say a home that cuts that price by a third - a $180,000 single-family residence - simply can't be built on the island, principally because of the cost of home lots.Land costs are the number one issue on Bainbridge Island, said Jim Engle of Kitsap-Trident Homes. A building lot on Bainbridge costs at least $50,000 more than the same thing in Poulsbo.According to developer Kelly Samson, that cost is a function of several factors.The bare ground can cost $50,000 for each building site you can get out of it, he said. Infrastructure improvements have to be added to that - streets, curb and gutter, and water and sewer connections.Then there's the time factor.I've never seen a project on the island go through (the permitting process) in the mandated time frame, Samson said. It can easily take a couple of years, and all that time you're paying 10 percent interest to the bank.There is also the risk that the project will ultimately not be approved, and that is a risk the bank doesn't take, Samson said.If you have a $500,000 piece of property, the bank might loan you $200,000. But you put up the other $300,000 yourself, and you need some rate of return on that money to compensate for the risk that it might crash.The upshot of it all, Samson said, is that a bottom-dollar building site for a single-family home costs about $100,000.While the actual cost of materials and work is not easy to pin down, it is clearly rising.Dave Smith of Central Highland Builders built the market-price homes at the Weaver Creek subdivision, which sold for between $220,000 and $250,000 in 1999 and 2000.Three years earlier, he built Broadmoor Village in East Bremerton, where homes sold for under $100,000.Basically they were the same homes, Smith said. The land cost more on Bainbridge, there was some extra work, but there was a big increase in construction costs during that time.Island architect Peter O'Connor said high construction costs are an area-wide phenomenon brought about by a high level of activity.Prices are up because everybody is so busy, O'Connor said.There is some disagreement within the building community about whether Bainbridge costs are still higher than those elsewhere.Things are incredibly expensive on Bainbridge, said builder Dick Allen.Kitsap-Trident's Engle says he has not experienced any so-called Bainbridge bump.The subcontractors I've been using don't charge any more to go to Bainbridge Island than to Poulsbo, he said.While everyone agrees that home prices on the island are higher than in surrounding communities, some builders question whether there is much demand for lower-end homes.We sold all the Weaver Creek homes as fast as we put them up, Samson said.But Smith, the builder, noted that the Weaver Creek homes did contain some extras, and he questioned whether a truly basic house would sell on Bainbridge.The customers coming over here are demanding a level of finishes that you can't do on a low-end, bare-bones house, saidEngle said the same thing. He built some homes recently in the Vista Road area, without a garage, for $210,000.People looking would say they loved the house, but they wanted more extras. A basic house on the island is hard to sell, he said.If the market cannot produce a $200,000 home on Bainbridge Island - and all the builders and developers contacted agree that it can't - then what is the solution?Architect O'Connor, who served on the city's affordable housing task force, said the city will have to consider things like a community land trust to take the cost of land out of the mix, or a fund to subsidize down payments.You could, for example, have the city put up 60 percent of the down payment, then, when the house is sold, recover 60 percent of the equity, and roll that back into a fund, he said. "