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.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Q: I’d like to convert the garage next to our house into a place for our business.

There would be three or four employees at most.  Generally, we just package software and prepare it for shipping, as well as take orders and answer customers who call with questions.  It’s a small company and it would really save us money if we didn’t have to rent office space.  Is it legal to do that and will we get into trouble with the County?

A:  You shouldn’t get into any trouble for having a home business.  The County has regulations concerning “cottage industry” and home businesses, which are allowed here.  These are found in the zoning code.  In going over the requirements it basically boils down to “thou shalt not anger thy neighbors.”  It sounds like your business shouldn’t be a problem.

What isn’t allowed makes perfect sense.  You are in a residential area so no big, noisy trucks at all hours.  You won’t be manufacturing anything so there won’t be noisy machines running to drive others crazy.  You may have several deliveries or parcel pick-ups during the day, and if that gets excessive you might need to take the parcels to a drop off site rather than have too many trips down your road from large vans and trucks.

You might consider getting a permit to remodel the garage into office space.  Many folks on Vashon don’t bother with that but it is, of course, a County requirement.  Another issue is parking for your employees.  The regulations require off street parking so that you’re not taking up all of the parking on the street.  Since you are down a dirt road not maintained by the County it may not matter as much, but providing parking places on your property would be best.

There also should be no signs advertising as if you were a retail business.  A small sign with your business name on it might be alright so that delivery people can find you.  Just remember that you can’t have a retail business, or do any substantial manufacturing.  Good luck!

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.