Monday, June 19, 2017

Q: I don’t like the mortgage lender you recommended.

She’s telling me I don’t qualify to buy the house we saw that I was going to make an offer on.  I know I make enough money to make the payments so what’s the big deal?  I checked with my buddy’s loan guy and he said the same thing.  They’re saying I don’t have “documented” income high enough to qualify for the loan.  What kind of &%#* is that?

A:  Sadly, you have fallen into one of the two biggest traps there are when you are paid “under the table” or “off the books.”  Undocumented income, which is money you hide to avoid paying taxes, can’t be included when figuring your income for a home loan.

The other time when this comes back to bite you is when you apply for Social Security benefits.  Those benefits are based on your documented income, with W-2 or 1099 forms that show the money on which you paid taxes.  I have talked to many people who believe that they are cheating the IRS but now that they are older, see that they were really cheating themselves.  They are collecting only a fraction of the amount in social security that they could be receiving if they had not lied about their income.

There may be some folks we call “hard money lenders” who can find a way to give you a loan based on bank deposits and such, but you will pay a far higher interest rate, be required to have a larger down payment, and will have to have an excellent credit score.
We always hear a lot about caring for our “inner child” in self-help books and psychological articles.  But at some point, it’s important to take care of your inner elder.  The person you are when you are older is counting on the person you are now, when you’re a wage earner, to put as much as possible into retirement accounts, savings and social security.  Otherwise you may be setting yourself up for a sad and possibly very poor old age.

My husband and I are probably going to look for another real estate person to work with.

You keep sending us listings that are not even close to what we’re looking for. Nothing personal, but you must not have understood what we want.

A:  I’m sorry you feel that way but what any other Realtor will tell you is that you have basically missed the boat here in terms of price.  You are hoping to find something that, in our current market, will sell for twice what you are qualified to pay.  I have been sending listings in your price range hoping that you will readjust your thinking and understand that you will not be able to get what you want in our market.

Prices have gone up substantially since you began searching for a home on Vashon Island.  Although I tried to make clear that you would have to be in a far higher price range to get what you said was essential to buying, you have failed to get realistic about what you can afford.  I wish I could refer you to another area in the region where you might find your dream home, but prices are going up all over the greater Puget Sound area and, although prices are still lower in many parts of Puget Sound, the type of property you want will not be affordable to you in any of those places.

It’s always hard for people to adjust to reality when it comes to real estate.  Although the growth in our region is exceptional now, it has never been possible to get just what you want in our tiny Vashon real estate market.  There are just too few homes and property for sale at any given time, high demand, and our population doesn’t turn over quickly.

I often say that nobody gets the house they really want here.  Folks that are highly motived to live in our community settle for the best house and property that they can afford.  The point is to be on Vashon Island, not to have the perfect house.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Q: We had a drone hovering over our property last weekend and it turns out it was a real estate company taking overhead photos for a house that’s going on the market a block away.

I really am upset that they were photographing over my property.  Isn’t there some kind of law that they can’t fly those things just anywhere?  That’s an invasion of my privacy.

A:  The answer to your questions is that the rules and laws governing drones are still being written.  According to the attorney’s representing the real estate community, there have not been many court cases yet, or definitive legislation to be positive where we stand.  But there are at least some rules governing real estate brokers and others doing drone photography for business use that say that you can only photograph within the corners of the property being marketed. 
In addition, you can only go 400 feet above the ground using a drone. Listing brokers want to show the surrounding area, of course, but that should be easy to see from 400 feet or under.  The incidental showing of neighboring property clearly happens when you are photographing from 400 feet.  You also must have a special license to operate a drone for commercial purposes and check with local air traffic control in some instances. You are also limited to photographing only during daylight hours.

Drone use is becoming standard for the real estate industry and there will probably be more rules and regulations coming along.  I am more concerned that these overhead photos give a very false idea of the property being marketed for sale.  Because we are on an island, you can see water and mountains from a few hundred feet above almost any property here.  I believe it could give a potential buyer the idea that they will have such a view from the home that’s for sale.  I believe that misrepresents the property.  As for your specific situation, I would recommend that you check with an attorney to see what your rights are concerning the drone flying over your house and property.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Q: My neighbor just had several of her tall trees topped.

They’re on a steep slope and I guess she did that to open up her view.  Is it possible that this could increase the potential for landslides?  We are close to her property and already have had a few small slides.  Is there anything we can do about it?

A:  In checking King County’s IMap for slide hazard areas on Vashon, it’s clear that you and your neighbor are in a landslide area.  Topping trees is never a good idea and there is a great deal of information online from landscape specialists, arborists, slope stability experts and the EPA to indicate that topping will kill a tree slowly by opening the top to disease. This weakens the tree so that it can slide down, pulling soil and other debris with it. 

It’s always a hard call when talking to folks who want a big view but there are trees blocking it on a slope.   What they don’t realize is that the trees and their large, intertwining root system with other trees, that are holding that slope together. Cutting them down or topping them adds to the instability of the slope and can cause some real damage.

As for what you can do, there isn’t much, other than take diligent care of the slope on your own property and educate yourselves about pruning methods that can open the view a bit but not kill or damage the tree. If you are very concerned you might want to have a geotechnical engineer take a look at your property.  He or she might be able to recommend some things that can minimize any damage to your property if a slide does occur on your neighbor’s property. 

Also you need to channel any water running off your yard and your downspouts as far down the slope as possible.  Water is often the major cause of slides, as our recent heavy rains have shown. The water can undermine a slope quickly so pay attention to drain lines and keep them clean and working.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Q: You sold us our house 25 years ago!

I can’t believe it’s been so long.  We are now moving out of state to be near grandchildren, as you’ve probably heard.  My question is about what they call bidding wars.  Our neighbor sold his house a few months ago and people bid up the price.  He took the best offer but felt that he had “left money on the table”.  In other words, that he might have sold for more.   How can we price our house so that we get what it’s worth but don’t end up feeling that we could have made more if we’d waited for additional offers?

A:  Your question is a sign of the times, I’m afraid.  Close to half of our listings sell for over asking price, but you should know that the other half sell for at, or under listed price.  It’s easy to think everything is going for more.  There is an old adage in real estate that says that your first offer is usually your best offer.  I’ve found that to be true.  Waiting for a longer period to see if someone will give you more money can mean that the first buyer moves on to another property.  Plus, some buyers just won’t “play” if they feel a seller is being greedy.

We have some sellers doing what I call “baiting.” They list at a lower price than the property is worth, hoping to create a “feeding frenzy,” causing people to bid higher. That means that many hopeful buyers will look at the home thinking they can afford it when, in fact, the seller has no intention of selling at the listed price. That’s very disappointing and, I feel, even a little cruel. However, that can all backfire on the seller if there are no multiple offers and the seller gets less than the house is worth.  Too much game playing can really mess up both buyers and sellers. I think it’s a good practice to price it fairly and take the best offer you get as soon as you get it. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Q: We couldn’t believe the place we saw a few days ago during an open house.

You warned us but the photos on the internet looked so great that we just had to look.  It was not at all what was shown on the websites.  The pictures were so photo shopped!  I couldn’t believe it.  The house was musty, very dark, and the rooms were way smaller than they looked in the pictures.  There was a shot of a great view but it must have been shot with a drone camera because there was no view from the house.  What a crock!  That’s misrepresentation.  Why do real estate people do this?

A:  There’s a very fine line between enhancement and misrepresentation.  Listing brokers are trying to show the home at its best advantage to serve the needs of the seller.  But I agree that some folks do go way over the top. Our computer driven age has created the opportunity to do almost anything with an image.  I know that the Multiple Listing Service and the Board of Realtors struggle with these issues a great deal.  It’s just too easy to make something look better than it really is.  By the same token, however, some houses look a lot better in person than they do on the Internet.  I’ve often had buyers express surprise at how nice the setting is or how light and airy the rooms are compared to what they were expecting based on the photos online. There’s really no substitute for seeing a property for yourself.

Most buyers decide to buy based on the “feel” of a place.  For instance, how the light travels through the rooms or what the surroundings look like from the windows. Is there really a magnificent view or was it shot with a telephoto lens? Some people even decide based on the sounds of the neighborhood. They also care about how comfortable they feel inside the rooms and how they envision their own furniture fitting into the spaces. No photos or description online can come close to giving you that kind of information. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Q: We are getting discouraged about finding a place on the island that we really like and that totally fits our needs.

I know there will be more listings coming on this spring and summer but it’s hard to keep up our enthusiasm.  Any ideas?

A:  You may not like what I have to say, but basically you will need to stop being so picky.  I don’t mean to sound flippant, but we never have a large inventory of homes for sale here.  There are just over 10,000 people here and most of them are staying put.  We sell between 100 and 200 houses a year in all the price ranges, so there may be only five or six homes a year in your price range and with even some of your general requirements.

In addition to that limitation, we also have a lot of eager buyers.  It’s not unusual for a home to sell in a day or two with multiple offers, as well as sell for higher than asking price. That means you must be totally ready to make an offer.  That includes being approved for a loan with full approval through underwriting, or proof of cash to close for a cash sale. Believe me, as one who represents buyers exclusively, I am not happy with this accelerating sellers’ market, but I must do what I can to prepare my buyer clients to compete.

No one gets everything they want in a property on Vashon.  I would guess that no one gets everything they hope for even in Seattle and the surrounding area since the competition is even greater in the city.  You should pick the one or two things that are most important to you and stick to that.  My advice to buyers is to find the most structurally sound home you can afford and plan on doing the fix up, updating or remodeling later.  Waiting for the perfect house is not really going to work with our limitations. Being a part of our wonderful Vashon community is worth some sweat equity, believe me.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Q: I’m confused.

You talked me out of making an offer on what is called a “recreational” lot a few months ago, because you said I probably couldn’t build on it.  Now I see a couple of other such lots listed, very cheaply too, that are being marketed as a place to camp or build a cabin.  How can I find out more information to know the facts?

A:  There are a couple of things I would recommend.  If you can wade through the zoning code for King County, which is available online, you will find the regulations and rules governing camping.  Camping is only allowed in authorized King County camp grounds.  Sadly, we don’t have any.  The County does have a special permit that allows short term camping on your property when you have a house there.  So, if relatives show up for the Strawberry Festival in the summer, and you want to put them in a tent in the backyard, you’re supposed to get a special use permit. Most people don’t of course.

Another way to get this information is to visit the King County building across the street from the main fire station on Tuesdays, from 9:00 to noon when permit technicians are available from the county to answer questions. I always find these folks helpful.  Another part of the code says that you cannot build any structure on a property that doesn’t have a house on it.  So even though there are such things on Vashon, they are not actually legal. You’re just lucky if code enforcement doesn’t know about it.

Truly buildable lots on Vashon currently sell for $100,000 or more, so it should be obvious that a lot listed for $25,000 to $50,000 may not be buildable.  We have a lot of unbuildable properties so there are always a few for sale.  Keep in mind that you need a water share, a critical areas review, and an approved septic design to have a buildable property.  Without having those before you close on the sale of land you are taking a great risk.