Friday, December 05, 2008

Q: Could you please call me when prices hit the very bottom?

My wife and I would like to invest in some property here on Vashon, but we don't want to pay too much.
If I could predict when we would hit the bottom of the market, or anything else concerning the economy, I would probably be rich (I'm not) and be working as a six figure financial guru!
We've had recessions several times in the recent past. Americans seem to share a talent for forgetting our past, both short- and long-term, so you may not remember them.
We had a major recession that lasted from 1980 to 1982 and during that time the real estate market in our region was all but dead. The stock market plunged and people lost their retirement savings. The Seattle area was hard hit. We had a shorter recession in 1990 and 1991. Our real estate market was very sluggish because people moving here from California or even other parts of Washington couldn't sell their homes to buy here.
The last one was in 2001. This also affected our real estate market, but it was shorter and our regional economy was more diversified so we weathered it fairly well.
According to most experts I've read, our current crisis will likely be longer and could be deeper. However, Vashon continues to be a "boutique" market. For those with money, and thee are still many of these folks, we offer an exceptional community, beautiful environment, and affordable prices.
Prices have come down this year, but I can't say there are bargains to be had. I doubt if that could ever be true here. But there is certainly good value for your money available. Moreover, we have had a larger than normal inventory of homes to offer this year, which is really unusual. That has happened in past recessions, too.
These recessions are usually followed by robust growth and higher prices, so I'd recommend taking advantage of our downturn now before the market turns upward again. Once that starts, your opportunity will have passed.

Q: We just moved into our new home here on Vashon.

We've only lived in apartments in the city before this and don't really know what we need to be doing to get ready for winter. Our neighbor told us that you could give us some ideas. He has been really busy doing all kinds of things to his place, but we don't really know where to start.
It's almost Halloween and owning a home can certainly be a "treat", but there are also a few "tricks" to doing it right (sorry, I couldn't resist.) I'm glad you're asking now since the last sunny days of October are a good time to try to get things done in preparation for winter.
Probably the most important job is cleaning your gutters. Not doing that can cause serious problems. It can rot your roof, cause dangerous mold to grown, and cause flooding in basements and crawl spaces. Next would be servicing your furnace. Especially if it's oil, natural gas, or propane, your furnace needs to be cleaned and serviced annually. It's best to do that before the major heating season.
Another obviously good thing to do is to have your chimney cleaned. As you use your fireplace or wood stove be sure you use only really dry wood. Wet wood causes more creosote build up in your chimney and releases more smoke and particulates that are bad for the environment and for you to breathe.
This is the time of the year that many of our rodent population would like to come in and live in your warm house. Go around the outside of the house and be sure even tiny holes into your crawl space are sealed and that there is strong wire mesh secured at the foundation vents.
We're a friendly place, so don't hesitate to ask locals what they do to get ready for winter. Go online to and you'll find lists of items you'll need to have on hand for emergencies. You should be prepared for power outages, wind storms, and possibly freezing weather.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Q: We've been thinking about doing some remodeling to our house

and even saved up for it. With all the economic problems, maybe this is a bad time to do it. Any comments?
A: I'm glad you asked. I would say this is a great time to do repairs and remodel because, frankly, contractors are aggressively looking for work. Many are willing to even cut prices to bare bones just to keep their crews busy. Suppliers are also discounting materials to try to keep a cash flow going during the difficult times. I've spoken to several of our local contractors and they are eager for work. That's a change from even a year ago when you would have had to wait your turn, maybe several months, to get anything done.
Don't forget while you're doing this work to look for green products and contractors who are willing to make your remodel as green as possible. With energy costs so high, this is the perfect time to make your home more energy efficient. Look for local materials and products. I always recommend recycled materials, too. Our state offers some very innovative building material suppliers who offer alternative, green products.
The recent election made much of climate change and the necessity to move toward a sustainable economy. You will be doing your part to insist on green materials and local products. Plus, you will save on energy costs for as long as you own your home.
Resale value is another prime reason to upgrade your home. The market doesn't look all that great right now, but "this too shall pass."
Most of the buyers I show homes to ask about energy efficiency and utility costs. They pass up the homes with single pane windows, lack of insulation, outdated heating systems, and unhealthy mold and moisture.
I, and many of the local real estate professionals, can give you lists of good, local contractors who are eager to help and do excellent work. Best of luck with your project.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Q: I’ve been looking to buy a home for some time now but all the news abut the economy has me scared.

And, people keep telling me that it’s almost impossible to get a loan. But I see that there are a large number of homes for sale on Vashon in my price range and some of them look really good. I’d love to buy while there is a good selection of homes but I’m afraid I won’t be able to get financing.

The media is so full of bad news that it’s easy to miss the good news. There is good news, especially for real estate buyers. There are many reputable lenders left out there who are offering excellent interest rates at reasonable fees. Even the FHA has made an effort to offer very attractive loan programs.

This is a great time to buy. I have always been prejudiced in favor of investing in real estate as opposed to the stock market. That doesn’t mean that diversifying is bad, it’s just that with real estate you have something that is…..well…….real! You can rent it out, sell it, or most important, live in it!

We have an outstanding inventory of homes in all price ranges and with a slower market you have more time to look at everything and really compare. If you have good credit and sufficient income to qualify you will find it easy to get a good, conservative, long term mortgage at a great rate.

You can still buy a home with no money down by just paying closing costs, or get better interest rates with a more substantial down payment. While we’ve been watching the melt down of many financial institutions lately, there are still those who didn’t put all of their eggs in the high risk basket. Those folks can still offer you a great fixed rate mortgage that will get you into your own home.

Remember that you’re losing money every month by paying rent and you’re not able to take advantage of the tax deduction of mortgage interest that can save you thousands every year.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

February 12, 2009

February 12, 2009 will mark the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. When our new president rededicates the Lincoln Memorial in 2009, what could it tell the world and our own children about who we are now if, 200 years after the birth of the “great emancipator”, the ceremony was led by our first black president?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Q: We saw a house with you a few weeks ago that we really liked.

My husband emailed you several times with a lot of questions. You were great at answering all of our questions, but now it ended up that someone else bought the house. How are buyers supposed to find out everything they need to know about a place before someone else beats them to it?
Most questions can be answered during the inspection contingencies. There are specific forms that give you the right to check out the neighborhood, inspect the property and house, examine and study the title documents, and complete other "due diligence" before committing to buy the home.
There are specific questions that should be asked and answered before making an offer, of course. First and foremost is to determine if the house is within the price range you're qualified to spend. Next, you should ask yourself if it meets your basic needs for size, location, and condition.
It is also common that there is anecdotal information about the property I can share that I've learned from 20 years of selling real estate on Vashon Island. I generally discuss a number of things with clients that might not be obvious to them. That might include, for instance, traffic patterns, serious slide areas, distance from each ferry, closeness to parks or schools, and any information I may know about each specific property. I am also happy to provide information on recent comparable sales that can help determine value.
All of those issues can be resolved in a day or two. Spending days or weeks trying to find out every detail possible about a property puts you at risk that someone else will come in and make an offer. Buying always includes some level of risk. I do what I can to help minimize that for you, but you need to be prepared to commit to a property if you hope to relocate to Vashon Island.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Q: We have been trying to sell our house for a long time now.

We just don't know why it's not selling. We've lowered the price, and kept the place looking good. Our listing agent is advertising it like mad. What more can we do?

In your case, the issue may be your limitations on showings. Restricting showings to certain times of day, or specific days, is a limitation. Also, requiring the listing agent to be present for all showings makes arranging showings cumbersome. With a larger than usual inventory of homes for sale, many agents won't bother with a property that is difficult to show.

Keep in mind that buyers will typically be coming to see several houses while they are here. It is rare that someone will make the time, and the trip over here, to view just one listing. Their agent must set up a number of appointments and work around the schedules and limitations of each property. If a house is difficult to show, it's a lot easier to leave that house out of the tour of homes.

My advice to any seller who is eager to sell their home is the same. Have that house ready to show with 15 to 30 minutes notice. Use the lock box provided by the Multiple Listing Service so agents can get in easily. If necessary, figure out a way to handle problem pets, day sleepers, and security issues. Remember that the lock box electronically records who has opened the box to get the key. Your agent can track all showings that way.

Most Island real estate professionals try to work around the schedules of sellers and will set up appointments at least a day ahead of time. However, real estate agents coming over with clients from Seattle or Tacoma may not do it that way.
If you have items of great value and are concerned about security, pack those things up and put them into secure storage. You're going to be moving anyway, so that gives you a head start on packing. Good luck.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Q: My wife and I just wanted to let you know how happy we are to be back looking at real estate on Vashon.

We know that we're in the lowest price range for the Island, and had just about given up on finding anything. Last year there were so few homes available in our price range that it was very disappointing to look. Also, we didn't really like any of the few places we saw. Now there are many nice homes we can afford and the loan rates are very good too! We look forward to finally finding the right home for us on the Island.
Thanks for your note. I'm so delighted to finally see that some folks are catching on to the great market we have now. We have more than the usual selection of homes, plus great loan rates.
September and early October are a great time to buy. It's beautiful this time of year, so looking for a home is pleasant and comfortable. The summer rush is over and the tourists have gone home. That makes the pace slower and more laid back. This is the perfect time to get out and see everything on the market.
There are currently 30 homes on Vashon Island listed with the Multiple Listing Service under $400,000. That's remarkable. That is well under the average price for Vashon and even for King County. The average sale price of a home in all of King County was $478,000 as of the end of last month according to the Multiple Listing Service. The average figures for Vashon are even higher.
Of course some of those 30 homes are very small, and a few are fixers. However, many are very nice homes in excellent condition and in great locations. So, this is a good time to invest.
Be sure to get pre-approved for your loan and be prepared to move quickly once you find the right home. Even in our slower market this year there have been "bidding wars" over special places, and some home have sold in just a few days.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Q: I was going to buy land and build a little place, but land prices are just too high here!

I can’t believe how much people are asking. I’m also shocked at how much it costs to dig a well, do the septic, clear the land for a house, and all of that stuff. Where is land cheaper? I commute to Seattle so I can’t get too far away.

Alas, your problem is that you want to be in commuting distance to Seattle. That's one of the major reasons that land seems to be priced high here and around the Puget Sound region. Many people who work in and around the Seattle area want to live in the country and have some privacy. They also want horses, large gardens, and fresh air. Demand pushes prices.

I checked on prices for 2 to 5 acres of undeveloped land in the eastern, more rural, section of King County. That would include Issaquah, Snoqualmie, North Bend, Tiger Mountain, and even some parts of Kent. The prices averaged from $280,000 for 2.6 acres to over $500,000 for five acres, which is higher than our prices. The lowest I found was $179,000 for two acres in Kent.

Looking at Kitsap County to our west, among those communities that are most commutable, I found land a little cheaper. Two to 2.5 acres in Silverdale goes for $154,000 and in Port Orchard for just over $200,000. Olalla seemed to have the lowest prices. You could find 2.5 acres there for as low as $140,000. Southworth had one five acre parcel for $189,000.

Our prices are very competitive with these other areas. As an example we currently have a 2.2 acre parcel listed for $175,000 and a few 4.5 to 5 acre parcels for $244,000 to $265,000. Some properties even have some improvements already done.

If you want cheap land, you have to move to a less popular and more distant place. Otherwise it may be best to buy an existing home. There are eight homes on the market here that are on acreage and are under $400,000. I don't believe you could buy land and build a home for that price.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Q: You've shown us houses off and on for a couple of years.

At this point, we think that maybe we just won't ever be able to buy on Vashon. We're thinking of moving to Tacoma where we can afford a house. It's very sad to leave the Island, but the media has us really scared about the high interest rates and the foreclosures and everything. We can get a condo in Tacoma pretty cheap.

I would encourage you not to give up on Vashon. As I recall, you were qualified for up to $350,000 the last time you were looking. We have about 25 homes under $350,000 at this time, the highest inventory in that price range for many years. Many of these homes are in good locations and in excellent condition.

Regardless of what the media is saying, there are excellent conventional loans available at very low interest rates. In addition, the FHA has just come out with some excellent packages to help folks with low down payment still get into a home.

There is a lot of hype about real estate these days, but Washington State remains a strong market and Vashon Island even stronger. Our inventory of homes is up, which is a bonus for buyers. Properly priced homes are still selling and buyers are getting good loans.

I find it frustrating that after waiting for years to have a decent inventory of nice homes to sell, we are having trouble getting buyers to come out and take a look. That is especially true in the lower price ranges. Now is the time we've been waiting for! Investors are certainly taking advantage of the situation to buy up these properties for rentals, but lower income buyers are scared off by the news media.

Don't be fooled by all the hype. This is a good time to buy and become homeowners instead of permanent renters. I don't want to disparage Tacoma, which is a great city with lots to offer, but let's face it: it isn't Vashon Island.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Q: We’ve had our place on the market for almost two years!

We just got rid of the third agent that we’ve listed with. Is there anyone you recommend that can get this place sold? Is it just a slow market or what? We can’t believe there are so many dumb agents on the Island.

Since you are not in a current contract with any agent, which would mean I can’t interfere with your listing or give you my opinion of price, I can say that the problem is not with your agent. You home has been very over priced for those two years. If you had been more reasonable, you would have sold long ago and could have moved on with your life.

Often sellers simply set a price that looks good to them without ever checking on the comparable sales or the current competition. They don’t like what the agents tell them so they set their own price. Your house is in very poor condition and that means most buyers will have to consider the costs to make repairs and to up grade the place on top of the price.

It isn’t about the current market, which isn’t bad on Vashon. It isn’t about “dumb” real estate agents. It’s really about your unrealistic expectations. I suggest you take a look at other homes listed for about the same price as yours. I think you’ll be surprised.

There are several very nice homes in that price range that don’t need any fix up or work. They are in good repair, tidy, clean and show well. Several are beautifully staged to show off their best features. Those houses will sell. Yours may not ever sell.

I’m not trying to be insulting here. It always boils down to what a buyer is willing to pay. The price is ultimately set by the buyer and the market--not by the seller! Go back to your agent and list the property with a deeply discounted price and I think you’ll see results.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Q: I am really confused about "recreational" property for sale.

I see that term on several listings for waterfront land and even some inland property. You told me it almost always means that the property is unbuildable. I talked to someone recently who said that maybe that kind of property could be built on if you know the right builder, or that you could at least put a rustic cabin on it. I just want a place to build a shed and boathouse to store my boat. Can you tell me more?

A: Virtually all property advertised today using the word "recreational" property is not buildable. It could be that it doesn't perk for any kind of septic system. It also might be without a water share and too small for a drilled well. There are many reasons why it might not be buildable.

If most waterfront and view property currently for sale is priced at $200,000 to $600,000 or even more, and you see one for $30,000 to $80,000 you can almost bet it is not buildable. The price tells you the story. Even inland property will be over $100,000 unless it is a very small lot.

According to King County, you can't build an outbuilding, cabin, storage building or anything else unless you have a house on the property. That means that recreational property is only good for temporary camping or picnicking. You should meet with the King County technician at our local courthouse and find out what uses might be allowed. He's there every Tuesday morning to answer questions.

It's common for neighbors to buy such land to increase the size of their property, create a green buffer for themselves, or even to provide waterfront access for their home.

When buying undeveloped land, it's critical that you do a feasibility study. You need to find out everythink you can about the property and its potential. Many a buyer has jumped into something that sounded too good to be true, and guess what? It was.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Q: We’re getting ready to sell our house and keep getting very conflicting advice.

One agent had this huge list of things she wanted us to do before we put it on the market. Some of it was expensive. We are selling to buy down in another community and really don’t have money to spend on lots of fixing up. One of the other agents we talked to said to wait until the market is hot again. We just can’t do that. Any thoughts?

No one can tell if and when the market will be “hot”. Our local market is relatively stable and houses are selling quickly if they are properly priced so this is not a bad time to sell. You need to do what works for you and it sounds like selling is what you need to do.

As for fixing up, I would recommend you do the following, instead. Have the house cleaned or do it yourself. I mean cleaner than it’s ever been! Store most of your personal items so that it appears open and tidy. Wash the windows, cut the grass, weed the yard, and just do a general sprucing up. Get rid of any extra stuff in the yard or garage.

A tidy, really clean house that presents a good picture as a potential buyer drives up will always be appealing. If you have any really dark rooms, paint them a lighter color. Sometimes just washing the walls will restore brighter color. Have the carpets cleaned. If you can’t do all this yourself, ask friends to help. It really is that important.

When you interview prospective listing agents find one that is enthusiastic about your home and gives you good, inexpensive hints on making it show better. Be sure they do a market analysis for your home and price it to sell. Even if you have a number in your head that you “need to get out of the house” remember that your needs are not the deciding factor here. It has to be attractively priced to catch the buyer’s attention.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Q: We’ve been waiting to buy for a couple of years.

We needed to save up a down payment and were hoping prices would drop. It doesn’t look like they are dropping but we’ve heard that there will be a huge drop in prices in the fall. What do you think?

No one has a crystal ball and can see into the future, but according to financial publications, forecasters and industry analysts, I would not expect a major drop in local real estate prices at any point in the future. We are fortunate to live in a state that has not been as affected by the sub-prime disaster, and Vashon Island remains a boutique market that is highly desirable.

What is notable for us on Vashon is that we currently have a larger than usual inventory of homes. In addition, there are many more “affordable" homes in the lower end of our price structure. That means lots more homes for you to choose from.

Interest rates remain very low and there are new FHA programs and other lender programs that offer help to lower income buyers. I remember that you folks qualified for $375,000 the last time you were looking but we had almost no homes in that price range to look at. Currently we have 14 houses on the market for that price or less.

This is a good opportunity to take advantage of the combination of a large ( for us) inventory of homes to chose from, low interest rates and good financial packages that offer some special programs.

In our rush to make a good investment and even anticipate making money on the future sale of our home, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we are also providing a roof over our heads.

The benefits of owning a home are not just measured in money. A safe, secure home for you and your family, the chance to use the mortgage deduction on your income taxes and the pride of home ownership all should be considered in deciding that it’s finally time to buy.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Q: We own a home on Vashon but are thinking seriously about buying a condo in the city

for those days when we work really late or are attending an evening event. We have a real estate agent that we’re happy with, but we don’t seem to be able to find out about crime in the areas we are interested in. We also worry about noise, especially on weekends. Most of the condos are in the downtown area close to stores and restaurants. Any ideas?

Your Realtor probably knows the neighborhoods very well and can advise you, but there are a couple of things I’d recommend. First, check with the police department. They have a break down of crime by the type of crime and number of crimes committed in each neighborhood. That should be helpful.

Be sure and look on the Internet for comparison with other similar-sized cities. It could be a shock to find that the neighborhood you are interested in has dozens of assaults, for instance, but that number might be very low when compared to other cities of the same population.

I would also recommend that you drive around in the area, or even walk it, late on a Friday or Saturday night for a couple of weekends. That should tell you how much traffic noise, or loud music from taverns and events there is. It will also give you an idea of what’s happening on the street.

Obviously drug activity should be a major concern, so ask the police department about that. Be observant about unusual behavior around the condos you are interested in. Some of the condo buildings, especially some of the newer ones, have a lot of security and you should check that out as well.

Another idea might be to stay in a couple of hotels that are very close to the areas you’re interested in. That should tell you a lot about noise and the general street scene. Cities have their own rhythm, and it takes a while to get used to it. Best of luck.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Q: I bought a cute little waterfront cabin a couple of years ago and can’t believe how much money I’ve had to put into it.

No one told me about these problems even though I used a real estate agent. I knew it was sort of a fixer when I bought it but

I‘ve put almost $100,000 into it and none of that was to remodel or up date the house itself.

First, there were septic problems and I had to jump through a lot of hoops with the County to get that fixed, then I had to fix a leaking foundation, and then it needed a new roof. I had an inspection but none of this was really clear. Do I have a case against the real estate agent?

First, only an attorney can tell you if you have a case. What I can share with you is that legally, agents aren’t responsible for problems that they can’t see or have no personal knowledge of. A few of us go well beyond the law and investigate potential problems but we are not required to by law.

Since you had an inspection I would recommend that you go back and take a real hard look at that. Other than the septic, which is not included in a home inspection, the other issues should have been noticed by a competent inspector. Perhaps, in your eagerness to get the property, you didn’t give the inspection much serious thought.

Almost all of our waterfront cabins and cottages were built early in the 20th century with the thought of being temporary vacation getaways. Most are poorly built and have had little maintenance. I generally tell people that they are buying the land and a potential remodel permit. None of these homes could be built today with the restrictions we have.

You should consult with a good real estate attorney who can go over your contract and paperwork to see if there was culpability on the part of the agent or the inspector, but I would guess there was not.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Q: I’ve been trying to buy a house but I don’t qualify for a loan.

My credit isn’t very good and I don’t have any savings. I talked to one loan guy who said he could get me a loan with no money down but he didn’t like my credit score. Do you know of any loan people who can give loans to someone with a really low credit score?

After all of the news about sub prime loan failures across the country and bank failures among those lenders who gave such loans, I would think you might realize that banks don’t want to take on high risk clients and you’re a high risk. No reputable lender will give you a loan at this point.

You should begin working to improve your credit score and start to save some money. Even loans with no money down, and there still are such loans, will require you to pay some costs at closing.

I recommend credit counseling. There are several places where you can get free credit counseling and that can start you on the road to financial recovery. Those counselors can also help you find ways to make better decisions concerning how you spend your money so that you can get on the road to homeownership.

Part of the issue for you, it seems to me, is the problem of delayed gratification. As long as you buy every new gadget that you see and think you want, you will never accumulate savings. As long as you fail to make payments on time, you will never improve your credit score.

If you really want a home of your own you have to resist instant gratification and learn to wait, and save, for something you want more. Also keep in mind that owning a home brings with it other expenses over and above your mortgage payment such as taxes, insurance, repairs, and maintenance. Best of luck!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Q: My husband is bugging me to refinance the house to get a lower interest rate and to pull out some cash for a few things we need.

Our washing machine is sort of on its last legs, my car is getting old, and we want to join some friends on a vacation to China. I’ve been reading the news about all of the problems with the economy and I’m not sure this is a good idea. What do you think?

This is an excellent time to refinance. Rates are very low and if you can afford slightly higher payments you could get even better rates with a 15 year mortgage. What I would be very careful about is taking out cash.

Because there are so many unknowns in the economy, this doesn’t seem like a great time to buy “toys” and gadgets. You can get along with an older car, with a washer that is still working but not the latest model, and maybe take a vacation closer to home.

According to recent statistics and studies, the Puget Sound region, and Vashon in particular, have escaped the extreme downturn in the real estate market we are seeing elsewhere. However, no one can predict the future. This would be a good time to pay down debt, not incur more.

It’s always tempting to use the equity in your home to purchase things you think you need. This is what I have seen as a problem in the few foreclosures we’ve experienced on Vashon. These were not folks who had sub-prime loans; they were folks who simply kept borrowing more and more on their home until they had borrowed more than the house was worth.

A job change, divorce, family illness, or any number of things can change your life quickly. Some of those folks had to sell their house to deal with their life changes and lost money. Many also lost their credit rating. I think I’ll agree with the experts that this is a good time to stick to a modest financial plan and save.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Q: We are going to sell our house and want a recommendation for a listing agent.

We had someone we were going to use but she told us that we should put away our "religious objects." We found that insulting and now we don't want to use her.

Before you dismiss the agent you're already working with, let's talk about this. It is a very sensitive and delicate issue, I know, but I suspect I would agree with her. I'm sure her comments were not intended to be rude or hurt your feelings. What many people don't realize is that religious pictures, icons, and ritual objects from any faith can be a turn off to those of another faith.

Years ago there was a home on the market that had a very large collection of religious objects. The house was stunning and had a beautiful view. It sat, month after month, in a very active market, without so much as an offer. I showed it several times and each time I could feel my clients react to that collection.

The sellers came to me at one point and asked for a recommendation for another listing agent. They felt it was their current agent's fault that the house had not sold. I told them how their collection of objects, although probably precious to them, was putting people off. Buyers didn't even look at the house because they were almost spooked by these religious objects. The sellers took these things down and the house sold in a week.

Keep in mind that you are going to be moving anyway, so why not pack up these items along with family pictures, and other precious belongings? That way no one will be distracted by them and will be judging your house, and not your beliefs. We all have some pretty deeply held prejudices. None of us like to think we are prejudiced but we can have subconscious reactions to things even when we aren't aware of them. The goal here is to sell your house, not your religion. Best of luck to you.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Q: We’re getting ready to sell our house and have some questions.

Our daughter says that we should paint the whole place inside and out. That would cost us a lot of money we just don’t have right now. I really think it looks pretty good but I’d like your opinion. We also wonder about re-doing our driveway. There are some potholes and it looks kind of bad.

After visiting your home I would recommend that you absolutely do something with the driveway. Some of those potholes could cause real damage to a low riding car. It will distract a buyer who, instead of enjoying the drive into your lovely yard, might be concerned about their car making it into the property and worry that they could get whiplash!

As for painting, the outside paint looks like it’s in good condition to me. What is needed is cleaning. In our climate it’s common to have moss grow on outside walls. Most of our houses in this region would look like they had new paint if we just pressure washed the exterior or cleaned the outside by hand. There are also marks from dirt and grass thrown against the house by lawnmowers and weed eaters.

The interior of your home does look a little tired. Fresh paint in a light color would add a fresh and sunny look that will make it show much better. If you’re careful, you can even do this yourself. If you simply can’t do that, then at least wash down all the walls very carefully so that you remove any grime. That will perk it up a little bit, anyway.

We should all thoroughly clean the inside and outside walls of our homes if we’re thinking of selling, or just to keep it nicer for ourselves. After people really clean and paint their homes to get ready to sell, I’ve often heard them say that they never had it looking that good all the time they lived there. What a shame.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Q: New neighbors have moved in and I am very upset about what they are doing.

I've lived in the same house on Vashon for over 30 years. Our new neighbors have taken out two beautiful big trees and are building a big fence around their yard. No one on our block has ever had a fence. We have always thought it was much more neighborly to leave all of the yards open. I spoke to the new neighbors about it and they don't seem to care what the neighborhood thinks. Do you have any suggestions?

People moving into a new community bring the values and habits of their old neighborhoods with them. Perhaps these folks lived in an area where privacy was very hard to come by and all of the houses had fences. They could also be fearful of trees falling on their house in a wind storm, or being a fire danger, and that's why they cut down the trees.

There is probably nothing you can do to remove the fence and you certainly can't replace the trees. What you can do is to back off of your negative attitude and try to slowly make friends with these folks. It may take awhile. They may be mistrustful, based on past experiences, as well as from your initial contact with them.

Most of us don't like change. We also don't like people who have different values than ours. But having a cordial relationship with neighbors is too important to let these issues drive us into a neighborhood war over every little thing. In an emergency, we need each other. Plus, life is simply more pleasant when we learn to care about others. Sorry to sound like I'm preaching, but getting clear on what really matters is important.

Sometimes, when you make the effort, you can gently educate people about the value of trees for wildlife, shade, and oxygen. It's always best to do this by example. You can also help them to trust you so that one day they may not feel the need for fences. Good luck.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Q: I just got started in real estate.

It's a whole lot more work than I thought it would be. I haven't had any training beyond what it takes to get a license, and the office I work in doesn't do much to help either. I really like to work with buyers, but my biggest beef is people who come out and look at everything for weeks, but I don't think they ever intend to buy. Are they "looky-loos?" How do I know if that's what they are until I've wasted a lot of my time?

First, I should tell you that it's very common in a market as small as ours to spend six months or even a year showing property to people before they find something that suits them. Most experienced agents will tell you that a quick sale is rare in our market.

This can be a great opportunity for you to hone your skills. Each set of clients is another chance to learn about people and to work on establishing good relationships. Keep track of peoples' questions. If you don't know the answer, do your homework and find out the answer. Then, get back to the client with the information.

Real estate is really a matter of relationship building. Buying a house or property is usually the largest single investment for most people. They need to trust you, believe you know what they're looking for, and that you are knowledgeable about the community and real estate market.

I believe most brokers would recommend that you take more classes and show homes and property to as many people as possible. Pay attention to what they say and what they want, and do more research on local issues. Perhaps one of the other more experienced agents in your office, or your broker, will be willing to mentor you.

When it comes time to write an offer, be sure to get some help from someone more experienced. I think clients will be happier to have you get some help rather than have you make a mistake.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Going Green

Here’s a very simple lesson I recently learned in doing things green. It also involved saving me a lot of money! Always a good thing! I needed an interior door replaced. It was an odd size so I knew it might have to be custom ordered. One day last week I finally figured out that I might have to hire someone to go off Island to find me the right sized door. That very day I was stopping by Granny’s Attic to drop off some clothes I had outgrown, (at my age you know
w h i c h way I outgrew them). I happened to glance over to their housewares area and what did I see? Doors. Lots of doors.

I called a handyman friend of mine and said, “Can’t we just recycle a used door?” He said that maybe we could if he found one that fit. He called me later that day to tell me that he found a door that was exactly the size we needed and it still had all the hardware on it and was in excellent shape! “How much?” I asked. He laughed, “four bucks.” What a deal! He painted it to match the rest of the room and it now is hanging proudly.

Saving money is good but being able to reuse appliances, home furnishings, and building materials saves natural resources and is also doing your part to help save the Earth. There are several used building supply places in the Seattle and Tacoma area in addition to our own Granny’s. All it takes is a little time.

Built Green is a recognized program of the Seattle King County Master Builders Association. They certify green building and remodeling. They also do training and promote the use of environmentally sound design and construction. If you check out the Built Green handbook for contractors you will see that they recommend resources for the reuse and recycling of building materials, deconstruction debris and site preparation materials. They offer resources for places that accept almost everything for recycle. If you want to find that list go to their website at and check out their resource library or go to the construction recycling directory at When doing a construction project or remodel project, participating contractors get bonus points toward green certification for recycling and re-using materials. The certification plan includes obvious stuff like sinks and light fixtures, but also gives credit for roofing material, sheetrock, metal, and cardboard. They also get points for reusing materials in the new project. I recently toured a home for sale that had been remodeled entirely with recycled material. It was stunning! Beautiful glass tiles in the bathrooms and kitchen counter tops, recycled Mexican floor tiles, wood flooring, railings, lighting fixtures, cabinets and some one of a kind items like hand made ceramic sinks. It was all the more beautiful because no trees were cut, no oil and gas burned for materials to travel from other places, and no factory toxic waste created from the manufacturing of goods. Think about it folks, it’s worth the effort.

Q: We had an inspection before we bought our home several months ago during the nice weather.

The inspector said everything under the house looked OK. I looked under the house the other day to be sure we have insulation on the pipes and found about 8” of water under there. Should we call the inspector and find out what he thinks, or call the company and say that he did a bad job?

A: First, read the fine print in your inspection contract. Many of the companies have disclaimers that state that they are not responsible for issues that come up later if they were not visible during the inspection.

For example, if you have carpenter ants you might not know it in the winter when they are in hibernation. Unless there’s evidence of past damage or pest activity, the inspector can’t be held liable when the ants show up in the spring.

Look at his comments about the crawl space. Did he mention water staining on the foundation? If it is a basement, did he see watermarks up the walls? If it’s a post and pier system, was there rot on the posts that would indicate sitting water?

If this problem has been present in the past, I’d expect to see evidence of it under the house. If there is nothing in the report, you might go under there yourself and see if there is any indication of staining from sitting water. If so, the inspector failed to note it. Some inspection companies have a warranty on their inspection and they may be liable.

You may have a totally new problem that’s a result of something that has changed on your property or a neighboring property. Have you worked on the driveway, dug a pond, or rearranged the soil near the house? Have you or a neighbor done anything that could change the slope of the property?

Most inspection companies I work with are happy to come out and take another look if they think they made a mistake. Call them to check it out.

A Homeowner's New Year's Resolutions for 2008

1. I will clean the gutters at least twice a year.
2. I will remember to get the furnace cleaned and serviced before next fall.
3. I will go under the house (or find someone to do it) to make sure I have no major pest infestations or water in the crawl space.
4. I will check to be sure my decks and porches have no rot and are clean, slip-free, and safe to walk-on.
5. I will look for plumbing leaks and have them fixed quickly so that they don't rot out the floor.
6. I will have my roof cleaned in the spring, not by pressure washing, to preserve and extend its life.
7. I will deal with drainage problems before they rot the house.
8. I will train all family members to always use the fans in the bathroom to prevent mold and mildew.
9. I will keep bushes and plants cut back at least a foot from the house to keep them from rotting the siding.
10. I will have the chimney cleaned in the fall.
11. I will do everything I can to protect my home and its value by maintaining its systems in good working order.
12. I will plan upgrades to my home that make it more energy efficient so that it save me money and helps to save our planet!