Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Q. We’re in the middle of buying a house and have a real problem.

We had an inspection done and there were a few little things the house needed. The seller agreed to fix them so we are at the point where we have to accept the place and buy it. The house is on a bluff and the seller said that there has never been any trouble with landslides. We ran into a fellow who lives next door to this house at a party. When he found out that we were the people buying it he told us that a few years ago there was a big slide and the yard used to be double the size it is now! We really want the house but now we don’t know what to do. Is the seller lying? Should we get and attorney? We are buying direct from the owner so we have no agent to help us.

A. I don’t have to remind you that having an agent representing you might have been a big help here. However, at this point I’d recommend that you tell the seller that you heard about the slide. It’s possible that it happened before he owned it and re really doesn’t know about it. That’s unlikely, but it does happen. It’s also true, I’m afraid, that the neighbor might not be telling the whole truth so you need to check this out. Next, extend the inspection contingency, which you have a right to do if further evaluation is warranted, and hire a good geotechnical engineer to assess the slope. That will help decide if the risks are worth it.

If the owner knew about the slide and didn’t disclose it, he could be guilty of fraud and you would probably have good cause to get out of the sale or possibly other remedies. See a real estate attorney to learn your rights. Slides are common in the Puget Sound and you have to assume that if you’re buying waterfront or property on a slope, a slide has happened or might happen.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Q. I’m so frantic I don’t know what to do.

My husband just got a job transfer to another state. I really don’t want to leave Vashon, but we feel that we don’t have a choice. We’ve interviewed several real estate agents and are now totally confused. One says to move out first because the house will show better empty. Another said to leave everything here so it looks lived in. The third person said we needed to spend money on repainting and a bunch of repair work before we try to sell. We just want to sell quickly and get on with the move. Any ideas?

A.
From the comments of the other real estate folks you’ve talked to, my guess is that your house is messy and a little worn. Let’s face it, most of us don’t keep our homes looking like something out of a home design magazine unless we’re lucky enough to afford household help. It sounds like your plans were unexpected, so of course you’re not prepared.

We have an active market even though it’s winter, with buyers looking to buy. You should not have to turn your home into “house beautiful” in order to get a fair price. According to leading real estate experts, and my experience, empty houses generally don’t show well, especially in winter. They can look forlorn and cold. I would not recommend leaving the house bare. I would recommend that you do the following. First, pack up all your personal items. You’re moving anyway so get those collectibles, family photos, knickknacks and “stuff” into boxes. Next, clean the place until it shines. If you can’t do this, hire someone. Have the carpets professionally cleaned.

Most important, keep the place picked up and ready to show at a moment’s notice. List with a person who is realistic about price and ready to support and assist you every step of the way. You might make a few more dollars if you paint, repair, wait for spring, plant flowers, etc. But that’s not as important, it sounds like, as getting on with your life.