Hi Liz, your question is a complex one. There's a bunch of things to consider when picking an area. If your primary criteria in picking an area is best potential in long term appreciation then my gut says Bellevue is a better bet based on ...what you mentioned...the build-out of downtown Bellevue. However, you need to consider a couple things. The transformation of downtown Bellevue is great for the city and the region, but maybe not so great to the surrounding communities. Now Lake Hills isn't an immediate surrounding neighborhood but it'll be affected as well. A flood of people into the region and all the issues that brings...more traffic, more cars, more people ...likely more crime. The other thing to consider is once the dozen or so cranes in downtown bellevue are done ... there's probably going to be a massive influx of housing inventory. I'm not clear when they'll all be done by, but obviously in the next couple years. If demand for housing in Bellevue at the time is really high, then it'll bring up values in downtown and all the surrounding areas. If housing demand is like now...flat or low, ...we'll have an overabundance of inventory and that'll keep prices flat or down. My point...just because it's transforming doesn't necessarily mean all rosy things.
2nd point... schools. All the areas you mentioned have great school districts. You've got Northshore SD feeding the South Bothell/North Kirkland areas, Lake Washington SD mostly Kirkland, and Bellevue SD. All are great and you aside from perhaps a few individual schools, you really can't go wrong with any of those three.
Okay with that being said, onto the fun stuff. Which area ..between Kirkland and Bellevue is the better long term investment? If I or anyone could predict these kinds of things...we'd be really rich right now. But I can't so I use the next best thing... track record. I don't have these figures down to the specific neighborhoods you mentioned, but this will give you an idea. If you want more detailed, ..contact me and I can provide.
Let's first look at Bellevue...East of 405 ..which Lake Hills/Phantom Lake would be a part of. The average quarterly growth in 2001 was 5.6%....meaning ...when averaged out...each quarter in 2001 grew about 5.6%. In 2002 it was 4.3%, 2003 it was 3.2%, 2004 it was 10.2%, 2005 it was 20.1%, 2006 it was 18.5%, and 2007 it was 8.73%. If you averaged all those out, ...you get the average growth per annum of 10.1%
Do the same thing with Kirkland, the average growth per annum is 11.3%. So roughly a 1% delta. The difference?...(oh by the way ..these figures are for single-family homes only ) ...since 2001, Bellevue has only had 3 years with average quarterly growths in double digits...with 2005 and 2006 as the standouts. Kirkland has had 5 years since 2001 in double digit average quarterly growths. .. Kirkland's growth basically has been more consistent.
So what's this all mean....history says Kirkland appreciates basically as good as Bellevue in the long run (a tick better actually) and it does so in a fairly consistent manner. (2001 - 1.3%, 2002 - 14.2%, 2003 - 2.52%, 2004 - 16.5%, 2005 - 11.0%, 2006 - 19.0%, 2007 - 14.6%). Bellevue on the other hand had two really great years and the rest were only so-so in comparison. So...historically, Bellevue is more volatile than Kirkland.
Last point... what time frame will Lake Hills/Phantom lake area improve? Belleuve is/has been doing improvements to the infrastructrue (mainly parks and roads) in those areas, but I hardly would call that an improvement. My belief is it takes re-zoning of an area to stimulate any kind of re-development. Otherwise, all you'll get is a house here and there being torn down to rebuild another house. I don't see big chunks of Lake Hills improving any time soon....they're all 50 year old homes ...some here and there have been remodeled fabulously, but you're still surrounded by 50 year old homes in various stages of care (or neglect ..depends on how you look at it).
Lastly, the number of sales in Bellevue has been slowly declining in the last 3 years while inventory has been dropping. In 2007, we saw an increase in inventory but still a decrease of overall activity. Not a good trend as that's trending toward a buyers market. Good for you now, ..not good for sellers now. Kirkland has been steady every year ...inventory vs. sales wise. Again proves ...Bellevue ..more volatile, ..Kirkland more stable. Both achieved relatively the same return over the same period of 7 or 8 years, just depends on how bumpy of a ride you like.
I have all this data in easier to read formats ... just contact me if you're interested.
Good luck, sorry for the novel length answer, and let me know if I can help.