Monday, April 23, 2007

Q: My dad is selling his place.

We followed your advice and contacted several listing agents. My sister and I interviewed a couple of them that we liked and had heard good things about. Each of them came up with about the same selling price for the house. Then a third agent shows up (not sure who told him about it) and told dad he can get a whole lot more money for the house. The agent brought comparable sales but they were for very different houses than the other two agents used. I think that agent is a rip-off artist, but my dad liked the price he quoted. What can I do?
There are always agents who will tell a seller what they think the seller wants to hear in order to be the agent who gets the listing (and the commission, of course.) What often happens is that the house will sit on the market for a long time because it is overpriced. In many cases that means the seller is losing money because while the house stays on the market, the mortgage, taxes, and insurance still have to be paid for those many months. Plus, they may lose out on something else they are trying to buy.
One idea might be to drive your dad by the sold homes that the first two agents used as comparables to his house. Discuss the similarities and differences. Then, drive by the places the third agent used to justify his higher price.
Keep in mind that homes should be compared by category. For instance, if your dad has a waterfront home, it should be compared with other, similar waterfront homes. If it is on acreage, it should be compared with homes that are also on acreage. If it needs a lot of work, and is really outdated, it should not be compared with homes that have been remodeled.
I recommend that you look closely at the reputation of each agent: their experience, and most importantly, their integrity. Get references! Find out how long their listings sit on the market before they sell. Choosing an agent is a very important financial decision, so do your homework.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Q: My mother wants to buy a waterfront house on Vashon and I’m trying to talk her out of it.

She has a lovely little place on the Island now where she enjoys her gardening very much. She tells me that she’s always wanted to live on the water. I want to respect her wishes, but everything I’ve seen in her price range would mean parking a long way from the house and walking down steep stairs. Either that, or the house sits on top of a bluff and then she would still have to walk down many stairs. She is still in good shape, but I worry about the future. Many of those places also have tiny lots with no space for a garden. I think she would really miss that. What are your thoughts?
A: Waterfront homes can be wonderful, and being near the water is a dream many people share. However, most of our waterfront homes (especially those that were originally built as weekend or vacation cabins) can have serious problems. A lot of these homes were poorly constructed; not meant to be lived in full-time. For example, septic issues would be especially challenging. Updating a failing or inadequate septic system on a waterfront property can be very difficult and very expensive. There’s also the very serious issue of landslide hazard. King County has maps of the landslide hazard areas, and those maps cover almost our entire waterfront. I would be concerned about that, particularly since we have had some serious slides in the last 15 years.
Here’s a suggestion that might be worthwhile: if it will work financially, maybe she could rent a waterfront home for a year and see if it would work for her. Perhaps she could rent her home during that time. This time would give her the experience of what it would really be like to live on the water. It would be best to try to find a “walk-in” situation, so that she gets a real feel for what that is like.
Once she has considered all of the drawbacks of waterfront living, and experienced it for herself, she will be in a better position to make her decision.