Thursday, October 12, 2017

Q: We recently bought a rental property here on Vashon Island and have been interviewing people as potential tenants.

Some of these folks are aggressive and start telling us that we can’t discriminate against them because they have kids.  I know we can’t discriminate based on many things, but we really don’t want to rent to people with children.  Children are just too hard on the house and property.  We hope to retire to that home in a few years and want to keep it nice.  We thought you might know what the rules are.

A:  It’s easy to go online and read the landlord tenant laws of Washington State and King County.  There is, indeed, a stipulation that you cannot discriminate due to “familial status.”  That means families with children or a renter who is pregnant and about to have a child.  If there is sufficient space in the home for a family, and I believe yours in a three-bedroom house, then you can’t refuse to rent to a family with children.

It can be discouraging to be faced with repairs from damage caused by tenants.  But each tenant is different.  Years ago, when we did property management on Vashon we had plenty of families with children that kept the homes they rented clean and tidy.  Having a rental has some risks as does renting a house.  Both sides have things to gain or lose.

What makes the most sense is to be sure that you share the rules of the landlord tenant regulations with your renters.  They have legal obligation which includes keeping a property clean, and in good order.  They must get rid of garbage and keep the property in reasonably good condition.  You have the right to visit the property at least quarterly, always notifying your tenants first of course, just to see how things are going.  It’s a good idea to check the smoke alarms, chimneys if there is a wood stove, plumbing to check for leaks, etc.  This is a service to the tenants as well as keeping the house in decent shape. 

Monday, October 02, 2017

Q: We are devastated that our new neighbors cut down every tree on their property.

All that remains are just a bunch of ugly stumps.  Some of those were fruit trees that the prior owners shared with all of us.  Several neighbors used to make jam together from all the neighboring fruit trees and we are just stunned that this happened.  I know there isn’t anything you can do, but is there anything that can protect trees and landscaping beyond one owner?

A:  There are legal mechanisms to protect the living environment of a property. One can write up covenants that can be recorded on the title to property that specifies that certain things can or cannot be done on the property.  If it’s legally defendable it will stand up in court.  Most often, these covenants control a view corridor or some distinctive feature of the property, but it can include protecting trees or other natural features.

You can also form a neighborhood association that specifies that certain things cannot be done in that neighborhood.  It’s tricky to do after all the homes are built and have changed ownership a few times but if everyone commits to it, it can be done.  Extremes of this type of thing are areas of suburban development that only allow certain colors to be painted on the outside of homes or that require all cars be put in a garage at night.  Those are dreadful, in my opinion, but they do exist. Better to agree to care for the natural features and the trees in your neighborhood.  

On larger properties the King County Public Benefit Rating System gives you a property tax reduction for keeping part of your land in natural habitat. We all benefit from the lovely forests, ponds and fields that others have set aside for wildlife habitat.  That program can be enhanced by donating a conservation easement to our local land trust that can protect the habitat on your property in perpetuity.  You can even get a deduction on your income tax for doing that, plus you’ve helped keep our Island beautiful.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Q: We noticed that a house we had been interested in has gone off the market.

Was there something wrong with it?  Did it have a failed sale?  What can you tell us about that?
A:    To my knowledge, there was nothing wrong with the home.  The sellers may want to wait and put it back on the market next year hoping for a higher price, or they may just want to give it a rest for a few weeks. 

As summer comes to an end sellers often take their property off the market to wait until next spring.  They may not be that motivate to sell, or they may want more for the home than the current market will support.  Sometimes, they are simply tired of keeping it in “show ready” condition.  That’s really a mistake in my view.

I work with motivated buyers all year long.  I often sell homes and land during the winter months.  Buyers that are ready to buy often get a better deal because the market isn’t as frantic as it is in the summer and they don’t have as many other buyers to compete with. There isn’t as much inventory, of course, but we never have much inventory here at anytime of the year.

I am thrilled to have summer over.  “Tourists” who think they might want to live here keep all the Realtors here scrambling in spring and summer with little results.  We end up putting in a lots of long hours showing homes and land to folks who really aren’t that serious about living here.  It’s just part of the job, so to speak, but I love autumn when it’s cooler and less frantic.

As for the home you were interested in, I’ll keep an eye out for it to be relisted and let you know.  In the meantime, there will be other, more motivated sellers, putting their properties on the market throughout the fall and winter.  That’s when you will get more for your money anyway, so be patient. But be ready.  Keep your credit clean and keep saving money.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Q: When we bought our place no one told us that the neighbors had pigs and goats.

Somehow, we didn’t see them when we came to look at the house and we didn’t have time to do an inspection. We just reviewed the inspection that the sellers had done.  Now that we are moved in we realize that this is a big deal.  The pigs especially really smell bad in this hot weather.  The goats make an awful noise whenever anyone gets near them.  We think this whole thing was misrepresented and we would like your recommendation for an attorney.

A:  You might start your investigation by reading the form 17, sellers disclosure that you signed when you made the offer on your new home.  There is plain language on that form that indicates that you might be buying near farming activity and that you should investigate for yourself the noise and smells.  You obviously ignored that.

In a rural or semi-rural area, you can expect people to keep animals.  You purchased a home on several acres and many of the homes in that area have horses, goats, sheep, chickens and yes, even pigs.  It was your responsibility to do a neighborhood review so that you understood the kind of place you were moving into.

I’ll send you my recommendations for a couple of our local attorneys but from what you’ve told me, I don’t think you have a case.  I find it hard to believe you never noticed the farm animals next door when you looked at the house. I always find it amazing when people buy a home without really studying the area, the community and the property.

The form 17, seller’s disclosure, has specific language that recommends to buyers that they do their own research and spend time learning all there is to know abut a property and its surroundings.  It sounds like you didn’t take any time at all to even look around the neighborhood.  Perhaps the pigs won’t be a problem in cooler weather, and you might learn that goats can be fun.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Q: We got our new King County assessment a while ago and the value of our place really went up.

The County records still say we have a view.  We lost that when the neighbors trees grew so tall.  We’re wondering if the assessment would go down if the County knew that we don’t have a view anymore.  We also wonder if the market value has dropped because we lost the view.

A:  It’s always worth a try to challenge the assessment.  Take photos of the front yard facing what used to be the view and compare it to the way it looked when you first bought it.  The photos on the listing at that time showed a pleasant view.  Many people are concerned about the new assessments.  Keep in mind that the property taxes don’t go up in proportion to the assessment.  That is controlled by state law and can’t increase that much. It’s also important to remember that most of our taxes are for our own community. That’s our fire protection, schools, parks etc.  All things considered, I believe that it’s a good investment.

You are correct that it’s certainly possible that the loss of a view can change the market value of your home when you sell it someday.  A home with a view is generally always priced higher. I recall that when I sold you that home many years ago, I negotiated a view easement with your neighbor.  The neighbor asked for a fee to be paid to them, which is customary, and I felt that it was a fair price. Sadly, you didn’t feel that you should have to pay for it and that opportunity was lost.

It often frustrates me when people are short sighted about their property. Making sure that you grab any opportunity to enhance and protect the value of your home with properly drawn up view covenants, road easements and well maintenance agreements will make it so much easier to sell your home when that day comes.  It will also bring you a higher price. Good luck with the County.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Q: When you came out to look at our place and give us a price opinion I was shocked at how low it was.

Our neighbor sold for way more than that a few months ago.  I asked another real estate agent to come out and look and she was even more negative.  What’s with you people?  This house is almost identical to the one that sold near us.

A:  It’s always hard to tell people the truth when you know it will hurt or insult them.  But you asked.  Your neighbor’s house is similar in size, age and style.  However, they have maintained their home well and prepared it for sale by painting, cleaning, decluttering, and tidying up their yard and garden.  It presented very well and all the systems of the home are in good working order. Your home, on the other hand, is in poor shape.  Your roof has leaked and there are water stains in several rooms.  The yard is just overgrown weeds and old car parts. It appears that the inside of the house hasn’t been cleaned in a very long time.  The kitchen and bathroom floors have deep cuts in the vinyl and the carpet has pet stains and is very dirty.  Of course, I’ve seen homes sell with those problems in our hot market but they sell for much less.  Because you haven’t taken care of your place and seem unwilling to fix things up to sell, you’ll be leaving a lot of money on the table.  Clean, well maintained homes sell for a great deal more than fixers.  Buyers assume they will have to put a lot of money into the house even after they buy it, so they don’t want to pay top dollar for the property.

I’m sorry to tell you these things.  You seem like nice folks and I wish you the best.  But a neglected home in poor condition will not bring you top dollar.  It may even be difficult to finance.  Give that some thought and then maybe it will be worth it to clean and repair before selling. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Q: I know you only represent buyers and don’t list homes, so we can’t use your services to list our place for sale, but we would like a referral to someone you trust.

How do you choose which real estate broker to recommend?

A:  Generally, when I’ve been asked to help a seller select a listing broker, I like to visit the home first.  I can often help the seller by recommending things that they might want to do before putting the home on the market. Then I give some thought to the personality of listing brokers I know and trust that would be most compatible with the sellers.  Some brokers are laid back in their approach and have a calm demeanor.  Some are high energy and assertive, and there are lots of personality types in between. Some brokers specialize in certain kinds of property.  Perhaps they are more knowledgeable about undeveloped land, or possibly condos, or have more background in farms on acreage.  I try to take all that into consideration.

When selecting a listing broker, I think there are several things that you should look for.  Almost all brokers have access to the same basic marketing methods.  They all use the internet and most of them use staging specialists to help make your home more appealing.  They also should be easy to contact and ready to assist you in any way necessary. But most important is how they handle a transaction. That means how they advise you on price and negotiation techniques.  I judge listing brokers, to some extent, by the way they perform once we are in a contract.  I go out of my way to do more than my share of the work and take pride in that.  The best listing brokers are those who do the same.  The brokers who sit down with me when I represent a buyer and try to solve problems are exceptional.  Those that leave their ego at the door and concentrate on doing what works best for both the buyer and the seller in a transaction are my first choice.