Monday, October 29, 2007

Q: We’ve been looking for property to build a house on and can’t seem to figure out what the expenses will be.

Is there a sort of “ballpark” number that we can use?
A:
It’s very difficult to estimate development costs since each parcel of land has its own set of issues. I can give you some estimates that I use which are not exact, but might give you some idea.
First, you’ll want to find out if there is a well or water share that comes with the property. If not, you will be looking at about $40 per foot to drill a well, plus the cost of setting up the pressure tanks, well house, and any filter system you might want. You won’t know until you start how deep the well driller will have to go. A water share, if it is available, will cost about $10,000 in most systems on the Island.
You’ll also want to do a septic design. This is critical to finding out if the property is buildable and what type of septic system it will require. Figure at least $1,200 for the design. You will also have to do a critical areas review, which will cost several hundred dollars. If there are significant wetlands, you will probably need a wetland biologist and engineering firm to do a study which will add about $2,000. Once you begin developing the land, the cost of installing the septic system will run about $8,000 to $20,000 depending on the type of system required.
Once you begin development you will be paying approximately $3,000 to $15,000 to bring in utilities, depending on the distance from the utility main; $2,000 to $5,000 for clearing and grading; and at least another $2,000 for a simple gravel driveway.
I think it’s a safe bet to assume about $50,000 for development costs on top of the cost of the land before you add in the cost of construction. If it works out to less, good for you.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Going Green

In his book, The Toyota Way, author Jeffrey Liker tells the story of a small Japanese auto manufacturer who overcame great obstacles and dramatic setbacks to become the eighth largest company in the world. In 1993 Toyota put together a team of experts to start designing the cars of the future, the cars for the 21st century. From those meetings came, among other ideas, the Prius hybrid. Now rated by the EPA as the most fuel efficient car selling in the United States, it was ridiculed when it went on sale in the US in 2001. Today the Prius is the largest selling hybrid in the world. By anticipating the need and choosing to take a path toward sustainability, this car manufacturer took a huge gamble. Other manufacturers, primarily the American ones, laughed when they saw the Prius until they began to see the headlines that talked about the number of people signing up on waiting lists to buy the car. Those companies have been playing catch up ever since.

I believe that Toyota is a company that may have a corporate culture worth investigating. At a recent conference I attended, a speaker talked about two vital “mantras” that are a part of Toyota’s corporate culture. He believes these same daily “rules” could make a big difference in our individual lives. Those mantras are these:
(1) every day, search out one small way to reduce waste
(2) every day, search out one small way to improve what you do

We could use these same strategies when it comes to making decisions around living more “green” with a goal toward sustainability. Trying to reorder our lives to save our money and our planet can be daunting. If we just took those two steps every day, we could see the same level of success as Toyota. Let’s think of some examples of small steps that could reduce waste and make our homes more green. How about switching to florescent light bulbs, adding more locally grown food to our shopping list, becoming better about recycling everything possible, and buying more items used instead of new? How about putting in soaker hoses instead of wasteful sprinkling and adding weather-stripping which saves enormously on energy costs?

Those are simple steps to take but they can make a big difference. When it comes to making our home green taking small steps is a great way to start. I am often surprised by people who say they want to “go green” and their first impulse is to throw out what they have now and go buy new “green” products. The greenest thing you can do is just use or re-use what you already have! Why add to the waste stream when adding new paint, a good clean up, or finding a different way to use something will save it from the garbage heap?

Today’s green adventure tip: Visit the Second Use store in south Seattle. You will be surprised by what’s available, the great prices, and the fun you’ll have finding things for home improvement projects. Check it out: http://www.seconduse.com/.

Q: The Internet shows a whole lot of houses on Vashon that are in foreclosure.

I've been waiting for a chance to really make a killing in real estate and want to buy up a couple of these places for way under market value. I think I could flip them next year when the market recovers. I've included the list and I'd like your opinions of these homes.

A: There are many foreclosure websites right now and they are a rip off. They just copy the records from city and county sites and charge you a premium for the information. You notice these sites are sponsored by agents and lenders looking for business.

Of the homes you sent me, three are already sold and foreclosure didn't happen. Two are currently in a sales transaction and the lender will be paid out of the sale. Two of the homes are owners who stay a few payments behind all of the time but always make their payments just before the home would go into foreclosure.

In fact only two of the homes on your list appear to actually be about to go into foreclosure. Keep in mind that the banks don't want the house, so are usually willing to work with the owners if the owners can redeem the house by paying back payments. That can happen even if the property is up for auction.

Most of the foreclosures in our area are not the result of the sub-prime problems nationwide, but rather from people who have borrowed too much on a home equity line of credit. They often owe more than the house is worth. That means they can't sell for "pennies on the dollar" since they owe so much. If the lender takes the house back, they will put it on the market for what is owed on it, in most cases. That means there aren't any "steals" out there.

However, there are some homes for sale right now that are a good value for the money. Well-priced homes that are in good condition and in good locations are still selling briskly here.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Q: I’d like to open a little dress shop in my home and my neighbor says he doesn’t think I am allowed to have a business out of my house.

There seem to be other businesses around the Island that work out of their homes so I’m not sure what he’s talking about. Can you shed some light on the subject?

A: We are allowed to have “home occupations” in our rural zoning here on Vashon Island but with some rules and common sense regulation. You might want to check in with the King County technician that is available every Tuesday morning at our courthouse, to answer questions and deal with permitting issues.

In general, I believe the best way to describe the rules and regulations are simply the “golden rule” principle. Don’t make life more difficult for your neighbors. That means no big delivery trucks or heavy traffic tearing up the roadway. It would mean no loud or obnoxious noise.

The King County Code specifies the requirement for licensing of some businesses, even in residential zoning, although I don’t believe that would apply in your case. A home occupation must also be subordinate to the primary use as a residence.

It has been my understanding that you are not allowed to hang a business sign out in front of your property and that you cannot advertise your location as if it were a retail business, which must be located only in business zoned areas.

We have many small home based businesses on the Island. The County and the community have always supported such efforts. If what you hope for is a small shop in an extra room or out building where you design and make dresses by order, or have special order products available to a small clientele of people, you will probably be just fine.

However, if what you envision is a retail dress shop with business hours and customers coming and going all the time, you may not be in compliance with the law and the County could shut you down.