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?

A:
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?

A:
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?

A:
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.