Clean Lines vs Amenities

Article written for Rental Housing Association's monthly newsletter.
By Marty Smith

Seattle and its surrounding communities are relatively new cities in the big picture of our country. Yes, we have more heritage than, say, Scottsdale, but still, we are young. The building construction we have seen going on in this area has been exciting, yet maddening at the same time. Much of Seattle’s new construction is in housing and multiple unit buildings. Many of these units are apartments. The trappings and amenities in what is being built is direct competition for existing residential buildings. The draws to the new buildings are coffee shops, gyms, pools, etc. This leads to the owners of classic older architecture having to find an edge.

From the turn of the last century up until the mid 50s, many of the apartment buildings built were brick veneers or structural masonry buildings, as was much of the construction throughout the country. In the 60s and 70s through today, the use of composite siding and skins became the norm. Oddly, some of the old masonry buildings currently have the best rental rates. If they were built with the same architecture and construction of new buildings, the cost of the masonry and masonry detail alone would not allow for rent to be anywhere near as low as it is. Buildings being built now are generally thought to have a 40-50 year life span. If maintained, the old classics will outlive centuries.

Personal preferences play a big part in where people want to live. Some are drawn to the newest, hippest, biggest, yet, many in the greater Seattle area are drawn to the classic lines of a different age. However, if a building of a different age is not maintained, looking clean and presentable, it will have no chance with the younger people coming into the rental market, or those that prefer to stay in the rental market. Classic lines of a different age draw timeless appeal. A dirty old brick building that is not maintained, no matter how classic the architecture, does not maintain its unequivocal glory. Many times there is nothing wrong with the masonry that would require standard restoration, but the appearance of aging, old dirty masonry is just…depressing. Simply cleaning the masonry will attract, as well as keep, many who might go elsewhere. Clean masonry manifests pride of ownership from renters, which keeps them happily in the building.

Masonry restoration is such an unknown principle in this newer part of the world. There are some people in the trade that will attempt to sell you work that is unnecessary, or sell you something that is easy to do, compared to what should really be done. As an example, there have been many structural breaks in brick masonry that have been repointed after the 2001 quake, whereas they should have been rebuilt. Also, anybody with a pressure washer can get the masonry clean looking. Depending on the process, cleaning the masonry will do more damage than it is worth. Contractors who know better have ruined classic sandstone buildings using high-pressure water. They simply comply with the requests of the building owners.

Find yourself a good consultant or a good restoration mason who knows the difference. It is a good thing to have one in your Rolodex. As if anybody uses a Rolodex anymore…okay…put them in your Smart phone.