More Seattle homeowners buying 'air rights'

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by HEATHER GRAF / King 5 News

KREM.com

Posted on June 14, 2013 at 11:47 AM

Updated Friday, Jun 14 at 12:01 PM

The latest trend in Seattle's real estate market has homeowners looking up for some quick cash.  Depending on where you live, the air above your roof could be worth a lot of money.

Real estate appraiser Richard Hagar says the battle over "air rights" is heating up in neighborhoods like Magnolia and Blue Ridge in Seattle, along with Somerset in Bellevue.

"It's becoming more common because we're getting higher and higher population density," he said.  "People can't spread out and make big ranch-style houses anymore.  So as our population increases, we squeeze upwards."

To prevent a neighbor from building up and blocking their view, he says some homeowners are willing to spend a lot of money.

Nina and Georg Pedersen, for instance, spent $600,000 to buy the Magnolia home next to theirs, because they worried about the damage a new owner could do to their view.

"If we were looking at a wall over there, I think it would impact us tremendously," said Nina.

Their view from their home includes downtown and water views, and they'd like to keep it that way.

For about nine years, the Pedersen's rented out the home next door.  In January, they decided to sell the home, but retain the air rights above it.

"It's do-able," said Nina.  "If you know about it, but I think people discover too late, the house goes up and the view is gone."

Hagar's advice to homeowners hoping to preserve their view is to start by have a civil, friendly conversation with your neighbor.  If that doesn't work, consult an appraiser to determine a fair value for the air space.

He's dealt with dozens of cases with price tags for "air rights" ranging from $50,000 to $250,000.

"It's a difficult thing, and it's unique everywhere," he said.  "Because the view at Bill Gates' house, if you will, could be in the millions.  So every house is unique."

For the Pedersens, it cost about $100,000.  Since they were selling the house, they simply asked for a hundred thousand dollars less than the normal asking price.  As a result, the family that bought the house is forbidden to build up or add on a second story.

"It's a separate deed where we literally own the air above this house," Nina said.  "You've got to be able to plan ahead and really jump at it when the opportunity comes, and be willing to pay for it."

In her household, they feel it's money well spent.

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