Seattle Times, Sep. 06
Water creeps into Pulliam's den overlooking Second Avenue and seeps through cracks around his windows. Mold grows in his neighbors' walls, and water sogs their carpets. Moisture buckled the hardwood floor in one unit at his building. Variations of that lament are increasingly common throughout metropolitan Puget Sound. According to architects, engineers and contractors, new condominiums and apartments are springing so many leaks that a full reckoning has yet to be realized. One engineering consultant knows of 60 developments studied by his office alone. And insurance companies are "looking at major exposure to potentially $100 million or more in claims" in the Puget Sound area, said Kenton Brine of the Northwest Insurance Association. The full extent and range of problems may not be known for years as homeowners and their associations discover damage done by relentless Northwest rains, then move through a tedious and expensive maze of insurance claims and lawsuits to try to recover repair costs. But in dozens of existing court cases, and in conversations that permeate the construction industry, blame abounds. The Seattle area, riding near the front of the nation's surging economy, is crackling with new construction. Downtown alone, more than 4,000 new apartment and condominium units are planned or under construction. In the next two decades, the number of downtown housing residences is expected to more than double, to 27,350 units. Bellevue is expecting another 6,800 units in the next 20 years. If the pattern of problems continues, hundreds of those condos will leak, creating a moldy, wet underside to the region's boom. That means hundreds of condominium owners - some well-to-do downsizers, some strapped first-time buyers - risk facing thousands of dollars in legal fees and repair bills. Risk is an inherent part of home ownership. But Bob English, an advertising sales manager and president of the Nautica Condominium Owners Association, still talks about the "sense of violation" he felt when his Dexter Avenue home started to leak. It took nearly two years of legal wrangling with developers and insurers to get some repair relief on his 6-year-old building.
In three to five years, damage from a leaking exterior can cost from 20 to 45 percent of a building's original cost to repair, said Randy Hart, vice president of Olympic Associates Co. The architecture and engineering firm has consulted on several area buildings, including Seattle Heights.
Estimated repair costs at Seattle Heights, built in 1993 for $17 million, could run from $10 million to $40 million.
Fixing the exterior of the Rose Pointe Condominiums, built in the mid-'80s for $636,000, topped $2 million. The 14-unit Greenlake Villa Condominiums, built at 7700 E. Greenlake Drive N. for about $1 million in 1990, will probably cost $1.3 million. The 54-unit Nautica Condominiums at 1425 Dexter Ave. N., built for $3.7 million in 1994: $3 million. The 192-unit Newmark, built for $16 million in 1991: $4 million.