Monday, December 04, 2017

Q: My son and daughter-in-law met with you a week ago and you encouraged them not to buy the house they were looking at.

They’ve been trying to buy on Vashon for a long time now and the last thing they need is to be talked out of something. We want to have them here, close to us, and now you’re chasing them away. What’s wrong with you?

A: There are probably many things “wrong" with me but I can’t let folks, especially young families, buy on slopes when the property is in a major slide area. They can buy that house, it just won’t be with me.

I encourage everyone to learn to navigate the IMap on King County’s website. You must work with it to find out what you want since it’s not intuitive. But you can find out if there are wetlands, landslide hazard, erosion hazard, history of slides, and map the topography using the tools on that site. You can find out who bought the property last and what they paid for it. You can get the square footage, the amount being paid for taxes, and a great deal of information if you have the patience to learn to use that County site.

The property your son was looking at is not only in a landslide hazard area, but there have been active slides on that road in recent history. I’m always surprised that folks who have lived here for years have forgotten the closed roads, homes that slide, red tagged homes from earth movement, etc. that have occurred over the last 20 years or less.

Your son and daughter-in-law are in a low-price range. We have almost no inventory now, and for lower priced homes it’s even less. If you really want to help them find a home, why not gift them some money to add to their down payment? It’s tax free to gift them funds and then they would have a few more options to consider. It’s common these days for parents to help children or for children to help aging parents.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Q: I saw the recent article in the Beachcomber about sea level rise and the possibility that some waterfront homes will be underwater or flooded in the future.

I think that should be disclosed when a waterfront owner puts their house on the market.  I think that would be ethical.  Isn’t that true?

A:  The seller’s disclosure has been crafted to speak specifically to the current and past issues in that specific house on that specific property only.  The attorneys who write these forms specifically exclude what could be called global issues.  We don’t ask the seller to disclose the fact, for instance, that we live in an area of active earthquakes.  Rather the form asks if this house has had earthquake damage.

It would be impossible for a seller to even know all there is to know about climate change, future weather predictions, and the potential for flooding in the future.  That’s why the form only deals with the present and past of that specific property.  Many of our low bank waterfront homes already experience flooding at high tide in the winter months.  That, of course, must be disclosed if it happens to the seller’s house.  But future things are unknown to the seller and to all of us, really, so it would be impossible for them to deal with that on the disclosure.

We live in a state with active volcanos, regular earthquakes, and heavy metal in soils in most parts of the state. In addition, the Puget Sound is sort of ground zero for any enemy attack due to our many military installations. We are an area of landslides and erosion hazards as well as potential contamination from radioactive waste disposal sites and old factories filled with hazardous waste.  No seller should be required to talk about all of that.  That would be impossible to quantify.

The good news is that we live in an incredibly beautiful area with generally mild weather patterns and in a state that requires sellers to disclose all they know about their own property.  I think that’s really good.

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.