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.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Q: We are really discouraged after trying to buy a house on Vashon.

There were several offers on the house we wanted.  The place sold for over the asking price and now that we see what it sold for, we realize that we could have offered that much.  My parents said they would give us a gift to boost our down payment and that would have made the difference.  How can we keep that from happening next time we make an offer?

A:  There are two multiple listing forms you should consider using the next time you want to make an offer. The first is 35E, the Escalation Addendum.  In it you state that you’ll beat any other offer by a specified amount up to a final sales figure. Let’s say the price is $525,000.  You can say, via this form, that you will pay $1,000.00 over any other offer they have, up to a maximum of $575,000. You may be required to demonstrate that you have those funds available through your pre-approval letter or proof of funds letter from your financial advisor.

The other form, one that is new to the MLS, is 22AD.  This form states that if the bank appraisal for the home is lower than the agreed upon sale price, you may make up the difference in cash up to a maximum limit.  So, if the appraisal for your $525,000 house comes in at $510,000 you can agree to pay the additional $15,000 toward the purchase in cash. Again, you may be required to show that you have those funds available.

This is a great time to be selling a house, but as you’ve discovered, it’s a difficult time to buy.  At least in our area.  If you seriously want to buy, you need to use everything at your disposal to win the bid.  We still do see a few homes that don’t sell quickly or get multiple offers. There are often reasons why.  Maybe location, maybe other considerations. So, don’t shy away from something a little ugly.  Ugly can be fixed.  Good luck.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Q: My wife and I are really devastated that we were told so little when we bought our property.

It was just a beautiful parcel and we could imagine ourselves living there in a little house.  We decided to hire an architect to finalize our house plans and that’s when we found out that we had to go through getting a septic design, which requires a critical area report, and that it could take months and many thousands of dollars to drill a well. After getting quotes for all of this it’s clear that we can’t afford to build at all.  Why didn’t our real estate agent tell us all of this?

A:  First, you must understand that your real estate contract, the purchase and sales agreement, clearly states that it is your duty to investigate everything about the property before you close on the sale, (paragraph v., page 5).  That would include meeting with septic designers, well drillers, engineers, County permit technicians, and contractors, etc.  You should have read that more carefully. 

You should also be aware that although I, and some other real estate brokers, will walk folks through all of that, there is no legal obligation for us to do that.  In fact, our industry attorneys tell us not to do that research for people.  If we are sued, we would be held to the standard of the professionals who do that work.  I am not an attorney, an engineer, a well driller, etc. so I can only advise based on my years of experience.

I see that you also bought your property from a real estate broker who doesn’t live or work on Vashon.  They may have done a great job selling your Seattle home, but they probably have no experience with selling raw land or with the process of getting through King County’s regulations and requirements.  I’m so sorry that you have had such a bad experience.  Perhaps you can sell the land and start over with an existing home here or a parcel of property that is easier and cheaper to develop. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Q: I’m upset at you.

I sent my buddy to you and I think you talked him out of moving here.  He wants to buy land and build here but you really scared him about water and all kinds of limitations to building.  Don’t you want to make a living?

A:  I do want to make a living but not by talking folks into buying property without knowing all the issues.  We have critical area (landslide hazards, extreme slopes, flood hazards, wetlands) that require setbacks.  We have septic systems that cost a fair amount to design and install, plus there is the need for legal access that meets County requirements for a road and a proper turn around for emergency vehicles. So there are lots of things for potential buyers to learn.

The most pressing issue right now is a new legal decision that could be troublesome.  It’s called the Hirst decision and you should look it up on the internet and read carefully.  It’s from a lawsuit in Whatcom County but will influence building all over the state.  Basically, it says that if it can be shown that by drilling a well you will draw down a creek, stream, or aquafer, you will not be allowed to drill that well.

This issue will be coming before the state legislature this session and could be the basis for new laws.  That could go several different ways.  But until it is resolved I am warning people that they’re taking a greater risk buying land that doesn’t already have a water share, or is in a water system that has shares available to purchase.

Building is difficult enough without this added burden.  I do sell land, and enjoy doing it, but I want to keep people out of harm’s way.  I was fortunate enough to sell several parcels of property over the last year that already had water on the property or had a paid water share.  These parcels also had septic designs approved.  I can sleep better at night knowing that  my clients will be able to build their homes.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Q: My neighbor has agreed to sell me a part of his property.

It’s an area I have been gardening for years and we didn’t know it wasn’t mine until we got a survey done. I needed to do some fencing for a horse we’re getting for our daughter so that’s why we did the survey.  Who should write up the paperwork for us?

A: I am not an attorney, but in my experience with similar situations, I believe that what you probably need to do is a permissive easement or some sort of covenant from your neighbor.  It isn’t legal in our county to just chop off a section of your property and give it or sell it to someone.  You can do a lot line adjustment through King County but be sure to read though the requirements.  It will require a survey, a substantial fee and you can’t make the property smaller than it’s presently zoned for, nor can you create a new separate lot.

You could go through a subdivision process but that takes years and a whole lot of money, and that is only assuming that the properties involved are large enough and properly zoned to do it.  Any real estate attorney can write up a covenant or easement that will allow you to continue using that portion of your neighbor’s property without owning it.  These are common solutions to similar issues.  You might want to split the cost of an attorney to have it done correctly and legally.  Be sure it is recorded on the title to your property and your neighbor’s property.

It would not be unusual for the neighbor to put some restrictions on that area of the property if you do a covenant or easement.  For instance, they might want to write into that agreement that it is only good if that part of their property is being used as a garden.  Or perhaps only if you are the owner.  It’s good to research the options with a good attorney and then decide the best way to approach it.