Thursday, August 30, 2007

Going Green, Pt. 3 of 3

So here we are in the 21st century. The Internet has widened our knowledge and shrunk our world. We have politicians and scientists telling us the grave truth of global warming. And we have activist organizations trying to turn that into positive action. We have Al Gore. It’s easy to get too much information.

By reading books written by some of the pioneers of ecology and modern environmentalism, we can begin to get the background that will help us all make better decisions. None of this is new information. It’s just become more available.

The whole “green” building, sustainable development movement has grown into an almost unwieldy set of resources. Many of the “experts” disagree. There are hundreds of new products and methods out there. There are classes, organizations, books and magazines that can educate and inform. There are Internet sites, stores and consultants that can help. But you have to go slow and study everything.

There are some basics. First, use your head and think things through. What do I mean? Here’s an example: I remember a GreenBuilt Conference I attended a couple of years ago where a speaker asked the audience (there were about 600 of us) how many of us had bamboo floors. Along with a sizable number of people, I held up my hand. He said that we probably thought we had done a great thing using an easily renewable resource for our floors instead of hardwood. But, he added, “How much gas and oil do you think it took to bring that bamboo from China to Seattle and process it?” We all got very quiet. Locally harvested, sustainably-managed wood products might have been a better choice. I had just not thought that far.

Another rule that makes sense of course is to buy locally. Travel costs money, time, and energy, plus contributes to global warming. When faced with choices, I take the one that’s simple. Not necessarily the easiest, but the most simple. The door doesn’t close right? Don’t buy a new door, fix the old one. That’s simple. It all goes back to my parents era of “waste not, want not” thinking.

We all have to balance what we can afford, what we want, and what we think is good for the planet. With luck and education those choices can all be the same thing. Maybe you can’t afford to go solar right now but you can pre-wire your house to be ready for it later and become better informed about the products available. Maybe you can’t afford a new hybrid car but perhaps you can afford to have your old car retrofitted for alternative fuels.

Learn to be happy with what you have and where you are. Fight back against consumerism and the need to buy the latest toys. I just finished reading Sarah Susanka’s new book The Not So Big Life. She is the award winning author of many books, the most popular, The Not So Big House Book. I’ve heard her speak a couple of times and she stresses that what she’s discovered with her research is that people are actually happier with a smaller house and a smaller life. She quotes philosophers who have been preaching this same idea for literally centuries.

I’m happy to discuss specific building ideas, community planning issues, green building materials and all of that. But first and foremost I want to ask you to research the environmental movement. This wasn’t born yesterday, folks. It’s been around a long time. If you want to make a commitment to be a part of the solution instead of part of the problem do some background reading and get up to speed.

This article is the start of a series that will be published from time to time in the Loop. I will details, in each short piece, one or more of the ideas, products, or resources available locally that will help you become more green and your home and life more sustainable.

Going Green, Pt. 2 of 3

It may help to explain the birth of our modern environmental movement by charting it through my lifetime. At 65 I’ve seen a lot of it happen, either from afar or from the point of view of an activist. So please bear with me.

I suppose you could say that my childhood was always green. We called it being poor. Recycling and reuse? Always. Our furniture was someone else’s throw aways and we passed on to others anything we didn’t need. When you have no money, reusing is the only option. But we never felt deprived. We walked or took a bus everywhere. We didn’t own a car until I was in fourth grade which was also the year we finally got a refrigerator. We had an ice box before that.

Even after most folks had a TV, we got by without one. I do remember having an old, second hand television briefly during part of my years in high school. But without a TV, I never got hooked into hours of television watching the “boob tube”.

I was raised by a hardworking, divorced mom who had survived the depression and “waste not, want not” was our total way of life. Hand-me-down clothing from older cousins or clothes made by my mother was the norm. We almost always had a garden. I earned what money I could doing chores for the neighbors. That was my life.

I laugh now at the “discovery” of walking, bicycling, reading vs. TV, recycling, reusing and organic. We always raised stuff organically, because manure was free and we would never have wasted money on pesticides when we could just pick the bugs off. I was lucky that my mother had taken a year of college nutrition classes before she married. She was a great cook. In addition, my grandmother lived with us and since she was diabetic we never had too many sweets. Meat was expensive so we ate lots of fruits and vegetables as well as casseroles and soups with a minimum of meat stock. I was raised on a very healthy, organic diet.

Before you feel sorry for my poor family upbringing let me say that my sister and I never felt poor. Our life was rich is so many ways and we believed in the “waste not, want not” philosophy. My mother believed in education and the importance of bringing culture into our lives. I had piano lessons and dance lessons, regardless of the financial sacrifice. We took advantage of every free concert and lecture available (and there were many in those days) and we all spent many hours in the library.

We were encouraged to take part in the community and expand our knowledge in every way possible. The “nose bleed” sections of the opera and symphony were cheap enough in those days that even my family could afford it. For people wanting to become greener, those are good activities to do with your family today instead of video games and expensive, gas guzzling trips.

any summers we camped out and traveled the West Coast, harvesting fields at u-pick places and canning up our food for the winter. Nothing ever got wasted. We returned bottles for the deposit and bought our food as close to the source as possible. It was simply cheaper that way. I helped out at a chicken farm so that we always had eggs and we lived next to a dairy so milk was never a problem.

I always loved nature and by the time I started high school we had camped out and hiked in almost all of the national parks (they were free then) in the western United States. In the early 50’s I became a Junior Ranger in the National Park Service. It is still an active program for children today, but was far more challenging then. We learned to identify birds, animals, flowers, trees, and scat. We had outdoor classes on the geology of the region and the influence the ice age had on the fantastic formations and dramatic vistas we were seeing. We went on long hikes with rangers and naturalists. I learned about men like John Muir and other farsighted naturalists who helped save those great natural treasures for us to enjoy.

One exceptional summer in Yosemite they offered a photographic workshop and I met an old, gray bearded man who kindled my love of photography and photographing nature. His name was Ansel Adams.

I was introduced to the writings of naturalists Aldo Leopold and Henry David Thoreau. I read the poems and ideas of Ralph Waldo Emerson. The work of these and others like them set the stage for the early environmental movement and are still well worth reading today.

In the late 50’s I began to become acquainted with another stream of thought that would lend itself to environmentalism in the future: the beginnings of the “natural food” phenomena. It was these early pioneers who first began to raise alarm about additives in food, use of pesticides and the lack of nutrition in our “white bread” American society. One fortunate day I had lunch in one of California’s first health food restaurants with an enthusiastic man who has been called the “godfather of fitness”. He talked to me about natural food, exercise, and nutrition. I have tried (not always successfully) to follow his lead for most of my life and will never forget my lunch with Jack La Lanne.

Moving on into the 60’s, there was a lot going on in the world: civil rights, anti-war marches, economic changes, and my own early involvement in local politics and community organizations. Through it all, however, my love of nature never left me. With the publishing of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson in 1962, the environmental movement really got its start.

That book was followed by another eye opener. Nobel Prize winning scientist Paul Ehrlick’s book The Population Bomb, was published in 1968. Thoughtful people began to see that we were using up our resources and that something needed to be done. That was the year that my old VW bus sported the popular peace sign done in green for world peace and ecological awareness.

Another scientist who was trying to wake people up at that time was Garrett Hardin. His paper The Tragedy of the Commons published in 1968 was a serious wake up call concerning overpopulation and the scarcity of resources. He warned of the effects of pollution and the need to limit access to important natural areas to protect them. He was the ecologist who coined the term, “spaceship earth”. His ideas were extreme at the time and to some extent, still are. In 2007 we are still trying to catch up to this man.

It’s striking that in today’s renewed efforts to work toward a sustainable future, little is being said about aggressive population control, which many believe is the most important issue of all. More than anything else, overpopulation is what’s killing the earth and over using it’s resources. The political climate has become very difficult on population control issues and that’s a major tragedy.

While in graduate school in the 70’s, I heard British born economist and social activist Kenneth Boulding speak and discovered that ecology and economics do go hand in hand. Even today that concept is difficult to grasp. He was one of the founders of an entire school of thought and inquiry called Ecological Economics. He warned that nothing can grow forever and that we were going to run out of all of our critical resources someday. His line of thought, as well as Garrett Hardin’s, is still studied in many organizations and academic circles all over the world.
I started back to college in 1971 after years of working and being in business. It was there that I was introduced to Barry Commoner’s amazing book The Closing Circle. He was called the “Paul Revere of Ecology” and his work formed the backdrop for me to do a year long set of science classes called Ecology. The instructor I had was a newly graduated scientist and one of a small handful of teachers around the world introducing this new discipline to the college curriculum. I began to understand the interconnectedness of all things and the impact we make on our world with every decision we make.

In 1973, one of the great successes of the early environmental movement came to pass; the Endangered Species Act. Finally the government and the public had to come to grips with the fact that our activities in the world had caused the degradation of habitat and endangered many of the earth’s animal and bird species. The danger of DDT was well documented and the far reaching legislation that created the EPA also opened the door to decades of activities that not only saved and restored many animal and bird species, but created a nationwide momentum that gave birth to hundred of land trusts and other organizations seeking ways to protect valuable habitat.

That was also the time, in the Bay Area of California that I got a harsh lesson about the importance of water. “If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down” was the mantra for several years of drought conditions in Northern California. Saving water and being aware of all the ways I could minimize water usage was a lesson I learned well.

Why the comment about water? Because that’s what our future wars will be fought over. There are already skirmishes in other parts of the world over this scarce and absolutely required resource. Once we get solar power online everywhere we will have free, sustainable energy forever. But water is another story and one that we must look at seriously.

In the 70’s I also joined the Sierra Club, Audubon Society, Greenpeace, and many other organizations struggling to get the attention of a distracted nation. One triumph of that period was the birth of Earth Day which raised awareness and is still an annual event.

I also learned about organic gardening, worm bins, integrated pest management, composting, mulching, raised bed planting, and animal husbandry in the early ‘70’s. I studied dome homes, sod houses, use of solar energy, rainwater reuse, recycling of building materials, and cluster housing in the 70’s too. So much of what is talked about today has been around since the 60’s and 70’s. It’s just higher tech now.

The 1980’s brought us more national and international news concerning toxic waste, nuclear power issues, population explosion, environmental degradation and a growing sense that it was time to do something. Those of us paying attention were also learning about the loss of the Amazon rainforests. But it was not until the 1990’s that we began to see a huge growth in awareness and activism.

In 1992 the UN convened one of the most important international events ever planned. The United Nation Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, also called the Earth Summit. It was then that we began to see that others in the world were also waking up to the problems. In fact it is amazing to realize that many countries are decades ahead of us in sustainability and conservation. If you really want to know what’s happening in business, academia and social/policy change as it relates to the environment, look at Europe, New Zealand, and the Scandinavian countries. We have a long way to go.

Among the leaders of the new environmental consciousness in the early ‘90’s was Hunter Lovins. As co-founder of the California Conservation Project (Tree People), she and her husband, physicist Amory Lovins, founded the well known Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado. She was named Hero of the Planet in 2000 by Time Magazine. Her book, Natural Capitalism, which she co-authored with husband Amory and Paul Hawkins, shook the academic and political world. Respected award winning scientists and environmentalists, these three individuals, in great part, introduced the modern concept of sustainability. Meeting Hunter Lovins and hearing her speak has been a real inspiration to me.

(Continued in Pt. 3)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Going Green, Pt. 1 in a series

I’ve been asked to write about what is happening in the world of “green” and sustainable building and remodeling. I’m happy to do so, but after much thought, I realize that recommending a specific book or magazine, class to attend, or even online resource to help educate anyone about sustainability, is like handing them a steering wheel and saying, “this is a car.” There is just so much more to it.
Everyone has on opinion about what constitutes green. Many people know about global warming and have decided, without much thought or research, who they want to blame and what they think can fix it. Many people say that only private business can turn things around. They believe that corporations were the major contributors to the problem and have the deep pockets and the technical know-how to find solutions. Others believe that business cannot be trusted and only the government has the resources to look for solutions to the problem. Other folks mistrust the government AND business, and believe only a citizen-led revolution can change the course we’re on.
I believe that all of these players must cooperate. It will take concerted effort by business, the government, and citizens. Individuals can make a difference in so many ways. First and foremost by changing our own individual habits and lifestyle to be far more green. Next, we must work with thoughtful business leaders to encourage and even demand change in the corporate mentality to begin solving our environmental problems. In fact, this is actually happening at an accelerated rate in many places all over the world.
Of course we also need to work with our political leaders, especially those running for office, to demand that our government become a world leader in fighting global warming and environmental degradation. So far we haven’t made much progress there but we must continue to persevere. Last, we should work with citizen activists to make change at the local level as well as in the global arena.
There are decades of research and writing about ecology, environmental activism, population control, economics, planning, and ethics. All of these play an important role in understanding the scope of what sustainability might look like.
Most of us today, in a world newly charged by the “inconvenient truth” of global warming and all that this implies, are looking for ways to change our lifestyle. We want to discover ways to lessen our “footprint” on the earth. That’s all well and good, but we also need to know that there is an entire world of information and study devoted to the issue of saving our planet. I can’t begin to talk about all of that, but I feel compelled to try. Knowing how to make choices that have the least impact on energy use and resources, as well as choosing what is healthiest for you and your family, is important. But if you have no historic context, then it’s just one more shopping decision.
If you will indulge me, I’d like to speak from my own experience and try to use that to discuss at least some of what has come before our current “green” revolution. I only know what I’ve personally learned, but I’m happy to share that knowledge if it can help you. It’s just the tip of the iceberg, but it’s a start. There are wonderful experienced mentors in our community and I urge you to seek them out to learn more.
To begin, I believe that becoming “green” is not just buying fluorescent light bulbs or reading the right books. It’s changing who you are, how you think, and how you conduct even the smallest detail of your daily life.
Do I do it perfectly? Hardly. I have many “sins” that leave me far from my goal of keeping a low carbon footprint. But I constantly work on keeping a constant respect for the planet at the forefront of my thinking.
Let me give you a simple example of what I’m talking about. I’m in a very paper intensive business; real estate. We buy reams and reams of paper every year. As better choices in products have become available, we’ve come to the following formula: first, we buy only 100% post consumer recycled paper. Next, we reuse every piece of paper at least once. We make copies on the back of already printed pages, and then use the rest for scratch paper. Last, we recycle all of our paper back once again to be further recycled. As technology has changed we can now download material onto disks for storage which saves using paper in the first place.
This may sounds burdensome, but we got into it gradually and now it’s simply a part of how we work throughout the day. How we decide what we buy, how we dispose of waste, and how we educate our clients about these things are a part of it too. Any business can do this; it just takes the will and the commitment. It’s not hard to make the office coffee with shade grown organic coffee. It’s not hard to be sure everyone in an office recycles. It’s not hard to encourage everyone to use alternative transportation or at least drive a bio diesel or hybrid car.
Another example that speaks to how we think concerns automobiles. A friend gave me this story and I must share it. She owns two cars. One is a small, two seat, sporty car that looks efficient and cute. The other is a large van. She explained that she gets nods and smiles of approval when she’s driving alone in her little car which actually only gets 25 miles to the gallon. But, she gets scowls of disapproval when she’s driving the van even though it actually gets better mileage. The other critical piece is that in the van she is carrying seven people who are not driving their own cars! Do you see my point? We need to think and analyze, not just react.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Q: I’m getting ready to sell my house and I’m wondering about your opinion on doing an inspection before I try to sell it.

I’ve heard from friends in Seattle that it’s getting to be more common for the seller to have an inspection ahead of time.

I’m glad you asked about that. I encourage sellers to do an inspection before they put their home on the market. There are several reasons. First, you will see for yourself what any buyer will find out if they have an inspection done. If there are major problems, you can have those repaired which might result in getting more money for your house.
It’s common for a price to be reduced during a transaction based on repairs needed. Or, the seller will have to hire someone to do the repairs. Better to do all of that ahead of time and proudly present the buyer with your inspection and proof that the work has been done. In my experience, that will get you top price and a quick sale.
Another reason for doing an inspection is that you can disclose problem issues on the required seller’s disclosure form even if you don’t plan on making repairs. This adds to the transparency of the transaction and makes it clear to potential buyers what you will or will not repair.
I’ve had experience with a few sales in which the seller had already had an inspection and completed the work called for in that report. The buyers felt more confident that the seller was not trying to hide anything, which caused them to be much more willing to make an offer.
Another tip I would add: call your insurance company and ask for a C.L.U.E. report (Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange). It’s a history of any home insurance claims you’ve made. There has been a great deal more attention paid to this report in the last few years, and having that report up front can help a potential buyer say yes to your home.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A Letter to Incite the Community

I have given very serious thought to what I'm about to write for at least two years. Some of what I'm going to say will be controversial, but my goal is to incite a community dialogue.

For those of us in the real estate or construction business, our Island's rapid gentrification is no secret. Our home prices have skyrocketed due to consistently small inventory and a constantly high demand. We have a high quality lifestyle, a wonderful caring community and a beautiful natural environment that is the envy of people everywhere. That's what's driving up the prices and changing the face of the island.

A person must have a fairly high income to afford a home here. To some extent we are reflecting a national trend which seems to be dividing us into just three classes of people: the poor, the rich and the filthy rich. There is a disappearing middle class and working class that are surprised to now find themselves qualifying for low-income status.

Here's a sobering statistic from the National Association of Realtors; 40% of all homes sold in the US in 2005 were second homes! Second homes are defined as vacation homes and investment purchases. Amazing isn't it! Least you think I'm just bad-mouthing wealthy people, let me ten you that my real concern isn't about money, but about values.

We have always had wealthy people on Vashon island, or as my grandmother used to say, "The well to do." If it were not for these people we wouldn't have Vashon Allied Arts, the Heritage Museum, Vashon Community Care Center, our wonderful parks and open space, the Land Trust and dozens of wonderful non-profits. These people are the backbone of our community and we would be a poorer, sadder place without their generosity.

What I'm talking about is echoed in what I hear from people around the Island who ask: How do we keep the soul of our community as wonderful as it is now? How do we keep the character of our island the way we know and love it? How do we ensure that everyone, regardless background or of income, will find a place here? How do we keep our community values over time?

I've been thinking about this a great deal. I've been reading about similar issues in communities all over the country. Many towns and villages are facing the same problem There are many reasons for these changes, but the one thing that they all seem to share, which many define as the most basic problem, is the increase in mega-mansions. The McMansions, as they are called in many places, are huge, over-size homes being built in established communities all over the country. They come with an attitude.

According to a recent Article in the magazine Utne, Mega houses are "ostentatious symbols of America’s class divide." As a new generation of very wealthy people flaunt their wealth, community after community is struggling to come to grips with this phenomenon and the changes it brings.

In an interview discussing the McMansion problem in Connecticut, a local town planner for Greenwich stated, "It used to be that for old money, the more money you had, more you hid it." That has been very true for Vashon as well. Many of our citizens with older money choose to live simply. They eschew ostentatiousness and use their money to do good things in our community and the world.

One way many cities and towns all over the country are beginning to address this issue is by limiting the square footage of new construction major remodels. Now, before the property-rights folks get all over my case let me say that I believe strongly in private property rights. HOWEVER, "your rights end where my nose begins" as the saying goes. What I mean by that is simply that using far more than your share of our water and other natural resources is doing me, and our community, damage.

Very large houses take more of our precious resources to build in the first place, and way more of our resources to sustain. If we put a limit on square footage we could save those resources. One example that illustrates this point of view is the fact that the construction industry nationwide contributes 40% to our waste-stream annually. Did you know that? That’s according to the Seattle King County Master Builders Association. Much that is generated by the construction of mega-houses.

Popular books talk about the fact that really large houses are not only a huge waste of material and energy but are not even comfortable to live in. Many of their huge rooms remain empty while the family really lives in only a small part of the structure. It's sobering to realize, for instance, that some of the private homes on Mercer Island and in nearby Medina are larger than the White House in Washington D.C. as well as several Seattle hotels!

California, according to a recent news program, is moving vigorously to control the size of new homes since they learned that air conditioning these behemoths is the major cause of the rolling brownouts that their state has been living with these last few summers.

Cities and .towns all over the country are voting to limit home size. Maryland, Connecticut, Idaho, Colorado, and many other places are outlawing mega-houses and, in many cases, not allowing tear downs of average sized homes being replaced by a 10,000-square-foot house.

I am clearly prejudiced here, but frankly, if your ego is so large that takes 10,000 square feet of house or more to contain it, you may not be the kind of person who cares about our community or its values.

What are some of those values? Well, to me they include both a sense of live and let live and, at the same time, a deep concern for each other and our Island family. It's been my observation that we believe in sustainability and protecting the natural environment that brought most of us here in the first place. We care very much about our independence. We do our own studies, form our own committees, direct our community will to solving problems. We don't like to rely on an outside force to make decisions for us. We value our old Island families with all of their quirks and take pride in our ability to integrate people of different needs and backgrounds into the streetscape of our town.

It isn’t just the use of resources and the esthetic considerations that concern me. It's really my own (yes, I'll admit it) prejudicial attitude about what kind of people need a mansion. I recently went into one of the data base programs I use as a real estate broker and starting looking at the names of well over 20 or so households that have homes over 5,000 square feet on Vashon. There were only a couple of names I knew. It's not that I know everyone on the Island to be sure, but I think I do know most of those involved in our community in some way.

Keep in mind that many of these huge homes are second homes. Several are empty for most of the year. Some estates have two or three houses on them. There is the main mansion which is more than 5,000 square feet and then there is a 2,000-square-foot guest house and, of course, the maid's quarters at 1,000 square feet. Are you surprised at this? There are even a few homes that are well over 10,000 square feet! With a few exceptions these are not folks you see at the local fundraisers or community events. Many of them live very much apart from the rest of us.

Now clearly these folks have the right to live here and not be involved with the community in any way. We have always been a destination for summer people who came and went to their private hideaways and may or may not have interacted with the rest of us. I don't mean to say that only those who want to be involved can live here. I'm just using that as one way to measure values. I hope that as a community we can talk about this and further define what it is that we want to save and come up with ideas for doing so.

My hope is not that we end up with complicated restrictions and conditions like many communities on the Eastside of King County. I don't think anyone here wants to be told what color they can paint their house or how many cars they can have in their driveway. (Yes, there are several places within King County where those rules and more are enforced.) But we have to find a way to draw a line of some sort if there is any hope of preserving what we have.

In my own business I take some care to work with people I feel will be an asset to our community, people who will buy locally, serve on nonprofit boards and cherish our diversity. My own belief is that those kinds of people don't feel the need to own a 10,000-square-foot mansion in order to feel important and successful. Am I wrong about this?

I hear from people in the community more and more that things are changing. That Vashon is changing. I hear more complaints about rude customers, demanding clients and people who treat the help at our local businesses with contempt. More telling even than that is uniformed workers. As I drive around I see yard crews in uniform and visit homes with a uniformed maid or cleaning person. Does that seem like Vashon to you?

At a few events over the last year or two I've begun to notice that the help are becoming invisible. One drops their dirty dishes on a tray without even looking at the person carrying it. One doesn't need to pick up after oneself because "the maid will get it" or "the cleaning crew will manage that." I thought I left that sort of distain in Los Angeles 40 years ago. Maybe it's just that my working-class background is becoming transparent below the thin surface of "respectability" bought with a master's degree in education and many years in business.

As a contrast, I recently attended a wonderful anniversary party for an Island couple I know and love. As I walked in to drop something off in the kitchen, I got in line to hug the dishwasher and cook who also happen to be good friends. They were busy preparing food but stopped a moment to talk to guests and hug friends. That's Vashon to me.

I know my words will upset and anger people, even some of my friends and clients and certainly some of my fellow Realtors. But my goal is to get something going here, folks. I worry about this stuff. I want to see discussions, planning meetings, public commentary. I want to get this ball rolling and see where it lands.

I would like to live here the rest of my life and that could be a while. I'd like to feel as comfortable here in 20 years as I do now. I vote for a 5.000-square-foot limit to any single family residence built on Vashon Island. I believe that if your ego can't fit into that size space then maybe this just isn't the place for you. It can be done if we have the will and the desire to do it. What do you think?

Friday, August 03, 2007

Q: My house has been on the market for three months without an offer.

My agent keeps talking about “staging” it. I think that looks phony and I’m not really ready to pack up a bunch of my stuff yet.

Most buyers are sophisticated today and expect a home will be staged. There are several different levels of staging. Since you’re still living in the home your agent probably wants you to pack up all of your personal items and maybe take out some pieces of furniture. A house looks more open and rooms look larger if there are fewer pieces of furniture in it. You want the potential buyers to imagine their personal items in the home, not get stuck looking at the pictures of your family.
Sometimes agents will bring in plants, art work or special items that add to the charm of your home. All of that can help sell it. Ask your agent to take you around to see the houses that are in the same price range as yours. You may be surprised to see how nicely staged some of them are. If those homes show better than yours, it means you’re not being competitive.
There are also several ways to stage an empty house. Some agents have complete households of furniture that they move in. Others use a “suggestion” of furnishings in each room to make it appear warmer and more inviting than an empty house. Perhaps a child sized rocking chair with a teddy bear sitting in it to make an otherwise small bedroom seem charming. Some of our local agents are very good at it. These houses are sparkling clean and attractive and usually sell more quickly. There are many unconscious thoughts and feelings generated by walking into a house. If it’s crowded and messy the buyer may be anxious to leave and not really look at everything. By staging the house to feel open, spacious, clean and attractive you’re making yours the “pick of the litter”. Remember, it’s no longer your home; it’s just a house you want to sell.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Q: I've been hearing that there have been some foreclosures on Vashon.

I’ve read about foreclosures happening in other parts of the country but I thought that with our good real estate market, it wouldn’t happen here. Does that mean there will be some real bargains now?
We have a good market, but that doesn’t help if folks owe more on their home than it’s worth when they need to sell. Far too many people have been enticed by lenders to refinance and borrow more than 100% of the value of their home. In addition, many people who have purchased homes in the last few years got stuck with a type of adjustable rate mortgage that adjusted upward several times, very quickly, making their payments too high to keep up with. People with poor credit scores, or those that fall prey to predatory lenders, can easily get stuck with this type of mortgage.
There are situations where people may lose their job, have a devastating illness, or a divorce; all of which could have put them in a financial bind. That can cause a family to lose their home through foreclosure. When those houses are put on the market, they should be priced to sell fast in the hope that the seller can beat the foreclosure and retain some credit-worthiness.
As for bargains, I rarely see anything that looks like a real bargain here. What I am seeing is a slow down in the huge price increases we’ve seen for many years. Many listing agents are getting the message that prices are not going up as quickly as in past years, so they are pricing homes accordingly. Those well-priced homes are selling quickly.
However, many over-priced homes are sitting on the market longer and going through price drops before they sell. That can be demoralizing to a seller and can make them feel that they are losing money, when in fact, proper pricing in the first place would have seen a quick sale and they could have moved on with their life.