Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Q: We want to start the New Year out right and do something with our landscaping.

We bought the house from you last year and it didn't have anything but a small lawn and an overgrown vegetable garden. We want to get the biggest "bang for our buck" so we thought we'd ask you for advice. You may recall that we are on a very tight budget, so we can't afford a designer or anything.

A: Almost every landscape consultant I've ever talked to and most books on landscaping say to invest first in trees. Trees and large shrubs are your foundation plants. These will need the most time to grow so you want to start your landscape with good, solid, native trees.

You can also add fast growing maples and other species that can give you some color and texture. I have a silver maple that I got as a whip from the National Arbor Society that we planted years ago. It's over 30 feet tall now. It's beautiful in every season and gives needed shade in the summer. Check out the Arbor Society and other non-profit plant organizations. They are a wonderful source of free advice.

Next add shrubs, particularly those that attract birds and butterflies. There are many good sources online for bird friendly plant ideas for our region. Shrubs may also need some time to get established but are well worth it. Add some ground cover, particularly to get rid of some of that lawn, and finally your flower beds.

It's always good to have a plan. Before you plant anything get some good landscape books at the library or bookstore, and don't try to do too much at one time.

My last bit of advice -- do the irrigation first! When you want a beautiful yard it's hard to start with digging up the place and laying down pipes, but a good irrigation system will save money, water, and your plants! You don't want to do it later when you're tired of high water bills and too many hours of watering. Happy gardening!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Q: We are getting all settled in the wonderful house you sold us a few months ago.

But being a couple of "city kids" as well as first time home buyers, we don't have clue about what we should be doing to get ready for bad weather and power outages. Where do we start?

A: If you haven’t done it already, be sure to clean out your gutters. If the gutters are clogged with leaves and debris the rainwater will just flow over the gutters and down the sides of the house. That can rot out your siding. Once it freezes those gutters full of leaves form an ice dam and water will not only cascade off the roof but will wick up into the underlayment of the roofing and rot the roofing out.

Be sure you have plenty of flashlights, safe candle holders and candles and even some battery powered lanterns. This Thanksgiving most of us at the south end of the Island were out of power for about six hours. We still had a good time at my house because we had alternative heat, lots of candles and lanterns, and our turkey was already out of the oven when the lights went out. We were lucky.

It’s really important that you have your chimney cleaned. Creosote build up is one of the major causes of house fires. Be sure your furnace has been serviced and the filters cleaned or replaced. We all spend more time indoors at this time of year and need to protect the quality of our indoor air. Clean off walkways and decks so that they don’t get slick and slippery. Add non-stick strips or outdoor carpeting on decks for safety. Clean dryer vents. Have your car serviced and keep ice scrappers and extra blankets in the car.

I have a list of tips to be ready for power outages that I’m happy to share with anyone. You can pick up the list at my office or ask for it and I’ll email it to you. There’s a lot to know to be ready.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Q: It's become clear that my partner and I will not be able to afford a waterfront place here, after all.

The houses in our price range are just not what we need or want. I suppose we could start looking at houses with a view, but will that even make a difference?

A: Once you eliminate the preference for waterfront in your price range, you will be looking at nicer, larger homes with a view. That also goes for the difference between inland homes that are on acreage, versus those on less than an acre. The acreage adds considerably to the market value of property. Looking at everything in your price range is probably a better way to discover for yourselves what you are willing to give up in order to have something that's more valuable and important to you.

I've been surprised many times when clients end up falling in love with a house or property that is very different from what they said they wanted. Most people really don't know what they want. They have some ideas, but those are often ideas formed by the things they don't like about their current home, or a list of preferences they've read about somewhere.

It's also common for people to want something that is just like their parent's home, or anything but their parent's homes. Sometimes their ideas of what will work for them are actually formed by what friends or family members tell them they should want. It's always worth the effort to examine those priorities you've set for yourselves to see how many of those wants and needs are really your own.

I'd like to suggest that we just look at everything in your price range. As we get into the winter months there will be a smaller and smaller inventory to choose from so it's good to see everything that's out there before you narrow your search. The most important thing for you is to become a part of our wonderful community and enjoy a slower paced, more rural lifestyle. That can happen in any house.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Q: I'm getting fed up with going out with my wife looking at houses to buy.

First she said she wouldn't consider anything that didn't have a view. When we realized that there are almost no decent houses in our price range that have a view, she switched to only wanting something on acreage. Frankly, I don't know what we'd do with a lot of land.

She doesn't like the places we can afford that are on a few acres, so I just don't know what to do. I really want to get something before the prices start back up and we can't afford anything here.

A: Hang in there. This is a common problem. We all start out wanting the moon and end up settling, happily, for a decent home we can afford. Especially on Vashon, which has a very small real estate market, it's almost impossible to find exactly what you want.

As you've heard me say to her, it's best to look at everything in your price range to get a better idea of what options you have. I call it a reality check. Even for those who have an unlimited price range, the choices are few. We just don't have that much turnover of property on the Island. That's a good thing for the community, but a frustrating thing for those trying to find a home here.

Maybe coming out on a nice day and looking at everything we have available in your price range will give her a more realistic view of the market. I am always surprised to discover that people often chose a place that was the complete opposite of what they told me they wanted.

You also might consider the possibility of renting here first. That way you can become a part of the Vashon community and continue to look for a place to buy. Even in a slow economy the best homes sell more quickly. If you're already living on the island I can notify you the minute a new listing comes up and you can see it that day.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Q. The house next door has been empty and on the market for almost a year now.

We really hate having an empty house in the neighborhood. We haven’t ever had anyone break into a house in our area, but empty houses do attract problems and it just doesn’t look good. It really is a great neighborhood.

A: It’s nice that you’re watching out for that house. Yes, it’s been on the market a long time. It needs a price drop but I don’t think that’s been the problem. The price has been dropped a couple of times already. What’s needed is some time and care from the listing agent. Our best listing agents stage houses that are vacant. They regularly check up on them and make sure the house is kept clean and the yard is maintained.

In the case of this house the listing agent doesn’t seem to be concerned about the property. The weeds are growing, the house is dirty and since all of the drapes are drawn, it always looks dark inside. That look won’t sell a house. The photos should be updated to show the home in different seasons. A photo with fall leaves when its spring or snow when it’s summer is a giveaway that the house has been on the market awhile.

I’ll admit that when staging first came to Vashon I was among those who ridiculed the “Bellevue” look of it. Now I’m a believer. Well staged homes sell faster and for more money than homes that are simply vacant. Vacant homes feel abandoned when you walk in to them and if they are also dirty and dark, there is little chance that they will sell until the price is really lower than it should have to be.

On the other side of that coin, homes that are overstuffed with the seller’s furnishings and messy don’t show well either. I always recommend that when you decide to sell your home, you start packing and storing everything you don’t need for daily living. You’re going to be moving anyway, so cut the clutter.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Q: We did as you suggested and interviewed several potential listing agents, the one we really like is insisting that we get a pre-inspection done.

She said that way we can fix what’s wrong and have everything in good shape. We really don’t want to spend the money to do that if the buyer is going to do it anyway. Do you think it’s really a big deal?

A: I agree with that listing agent. There are three really good reasons to do the inspection before you put the house on the market. The first is that you do, indeed, find out what needs repair. Fixing obvious flaws will make the house show better and will give buyers the confidence that the house has been well maintained.

A second reason is that you will be able to disclose any major problems up front in the seller’s disclosure that you have to fill out. Better to disclose major defects and deal with the problem than have the buyer believe you are hiding something.

The third reason is that having a copy of that inspection for buyers to see, probably laying out on a table, is a great way to show your honesty and willingness to fix what’s wrong and disclose any defects.

The buyers may have their own inspection but because you had one first, you know what to expect and, hopefully, have repaired anything they will find. The inspection period can be very stressful for both buyer and seller. Negotiating work orders and repairs can add to that stress and slow down the transaction.

Why not deal with all that before you put the house on the market? I would also recommend that you have the house professionally cleaned inside and out until it sparkles. It is absolutely worth money in your pocket to do so. A bright, clean house that looks well maintained will sell much faster and for more money than one that’s dirty, tired looking or in need of obvious repair. It’s a little more work for you now, but you’ll be smiling all the way to the bank!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Q: We’re first time homebuyers and have been looking for a house over the summer.

There are several homes in our price range, but we can’t make up our minds. I know the $8,000 federal tax credit expires soon but I keep hearing that it will be extended. Do you know anything about that?
A: We are all hearing that it might be extended but not from reliable sources. It’s more a hope than a plan at this point and I don’t think you should just wait and see. That $8,000 can make the difference between getting you into a house or not. Don’t miss this opportunity!
Your purchase must close before December 1st or you lose that $8,000. Some folks are still confused and don’t realize that if you don’t owe $8,000 in taxes you will actually get the remainder in cash! That’s too good a deal to ignore.
There is another thing that you should consider. We have historically low prices on our most modestly priced homes right now. For many buyers this is the first time in many years that we’ve had an inventory of homes that they can afford. That’s not likely to last.
Since there are several homes that you are attracted to, you should get an offer in on one of them soon, so that you can close before that December 1 deadline.
Here are a couple of ways to help you make the decision. First, is the old adage; location, location, location. It should be a location that works best for your family and also offers good resale potential. A busy, noisy street is always less desirable than a quiet one, for instance.
Next, choose the home that’s in the best condition. Buying a fixer is tempting, but you should probably do that only when you have the time, money and experience to handle it.
It’s better to buy a house that’s a little bit ugly but in good structural condition, than one that’s cute but needs lots of expensive work done. Ugly is easier and cheaper to fix.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Q: We’ve been looking at houses for a few months and I am so amazed at how many of them turn out to be nothing like the photos on the Internet.

A few are actually nicer in person than the crummy photos online, and a few are about what I expected. But some of them are just plain misrepresented. I’ve seen these glamour shots of a breathtaking view that’s really only visible from across the street, not from the house, and pictures of huge yards that turn out to be tiny. I’ve even seen photos of these great back yards but the photos don’t show that the front of the house is 20 feet from a busy road. How can agents get away with that?

A: It’s often hard to draw the line between what the industry calls “puffing” or making something look a little better than it is, and misrepresentation. Most of us in the industry tolerate a certain amount of “puffing” since we know it’s the listing agent’s job to try to make the property appealing.

What often happens, however, is that when potential buyers see the property, they not only lose interest in the house when it doesn’t look like what they expected, but they lose respect for the agent who listed the house and even the one showing it to them. In a worst case scenario they lose confidence in all real estate professionals.

There are actually a few places currently on the market where “creative photography” has probably gone far enough to be called misrepresentation. A beautiful view that’s only visible from the top of the roof is not a view. A small yard shot with a fisheye lens to look expansive is a false picture.
While I sympathize with listing agents who are trying to help a seller who has a less than attractive property, I try to make sure that my clients get the real picture. There is a buyer out there for every property if it is well priced and every property has some good features that can be emphasized.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Q: We’ve been out with a couple of different agents looking at houses over the last few weeks.

They each have showed us different things. Do agents have favorites or what? We look on the internet sites but it’s hard to really know if we would like places until we see them.

A: First, you should decide who you’d like to work with on a long term basis and make a commitment to that agent or broker. It’s common for visitors and tourists to want to just window shop houses and that can be a real waste of an agents time, so if they’re not too busy they may do a quick tour of homes that are easy to show and nearby.

You should do an interview with several agents and select the one you feel you can work with best. Once you’ve selected that agent you should have a long conversation with that person so that they know what type of property you are most interested in. That can narrow the search. You should also get pre-approved with a lender as soon as possible so that you and the agent know your realistic price range. Remember that the price range isn’t just how much you can borrow, but also how much you’re comfortable spending on a mortgage each month.

You might also talk to your agent about the many limitations we have here. You know you like Vashon and want to move here but you need to know about the challenges with ferry commuting, King County’s critical areas ordinance, problems with landslide hazard areas, water and septic issues, etc. Knowing these things will help empower you to make better decisions.

Buying a home is a serious and expensive undertaking. The relationship you have with your real estate professional is critical to making that buying process go smoothly. Choosing someone you can trust, who is knowledgeable and experienced is important. Finding an agent who will do the research and go that extra mile will create a good, trusting relationship that means you’ll end up with a positive outcome.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Q: We've been having trouble with agents who are showing our house.

Even though we have a sign asking them to remove their shoes they and their clients often don't. They also leave lights on. What can we do to remedy this situation?

Some would say that in our down economy and slower real estate market you should simply be grateful you're getting showings. There are homes on the market that have had only one showing a month for over six months! However, I want to take your question seriously so let me explain things from the prospective of those of us showing property to prospective buyers.

The shoe issue comes up a lot. It's common here for people to remove their shoes before entering a home. That's unheard of in many other parts of the country. Many people feel very uncomfortable doing it and for some, it's very difficult. Except for the winter when they could be bringing in a lot of wet mud into a house, I try to cut them a little slack, although I always ask them to remove their shoes.

Buyers can show up in shoes that are difficult to untie or they wear special orthotic shoes and can't walk well without them. It's also hard to deal with children who may need help getting shoes off and on. Some homes provide booties for people to slip over their shoes but there's no guarantee that folks will use them.

I try to go back through a house and turn lights off, but sometimes a client will go back for a second look at a room and leave the lights on. It's also possible that the house is too dark. Most agents will go through a house ahead of their clients and turn lights on in dark rooms. You might consider leaving the lights on when you expect a showing. A dark house is almost always less desirable for most buyers. Just remember that a well priced, open and sunny home that welcomes potential buyers will sell, even in our current market.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Q: We moved here for some peace and quiet.

Now a neighbor has chickens and the rooster is driving me nuts! He crows all the time, not just at the "crack of dawn". Is it legal to have roosters here? We're on acreage but it doesn't seem to make a difference.

Well, you probably are asking the wrong person since I have chickens and that includes a vocal rooster, Mr. Tom. Chickens, including roosters are allowed on Vashon Island in all but a few neighborhoods that have restrictions against livestock. Those neighborhoods are those few on the Island where houses are on city sized lots and folks are very close to their neighbors.

Part of the reason that certain sounds may be a problem for you, is that unlike the city, we don't have much in the way of ambient noise, sometimes called "white" noise. White noise includes things like the constant drone of traffic from heavily traveled roads and freeways. It also includes the hum of large electrical transmission lines as well as the noise of thousands of people talking. Throw in sirens, large trucks, televisions, lawn mowers and other machines in dense areas and you have a real racket.

Living in an area without that ambient noise means you can clearly here everything around you. You can hear bicyclists talking to each other as they drive by, a weed wacker miles away, the train whistle in Tacoma and the songs of birds. Between these sounds you hear nothing. That's part of why most of us live here.

What I suggest is that you quickly learn a method called "re-framing". You re-frame an experience in your mind to change how you perceive the experience. For example, each time the neighbor's rooster crows, imagine the sound of a police siren on top of a street full of talking people on top of the roar of a freeway. Sort of puts it in perspective, don't you think?

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Q: I've talked to several real estate agents on Vashon and figured maybe I could finally get the straight scoop from you.

None of these other agents will take me seriously. I've written up a couple of offers and these agents aren't even trying to make a good case for me to the seller. I figure in these hard times sellers would be thrilled to get any kind of offer.

As an exclusive buyer representative, I generally encourage people to make an offer under asking price. It's hard to arrive at market value when it's such a moving target, but I analyze the comparables and judge the value based on the desirability of the location, condition of the house, style and other factors. In some cases, even in our down market, something is so desirable that it still goes for asking price.
Of course, if it's over-priced or has been on the market a long time, it always makes sense to offer less. However, reviewing the information you sent me, I see that you made very low offers. One was on a very desirable home in a great neighborhood that has since sold for the asking price. The other was such a low offer that it wouldn't have covered the seller's mortgage and closing costs.
We do occasionally have what is called a "short sale" where the seller actually comes up short at closing and has to pay the remainder owed or negotiate with the lender to take less. If the lender won't take less, the seller will have to come up with the difference at closing, end up still owing the debt after the sale, or reject the offer.
In the case of the offer you made, it's possible that the sellers had enough resources to wait for a better offer to come along. Being a smart shopper and taking advantage of our current market is good, but we haven't dropped in value as much as other areas and you're probably not going to get the extreme bargain you expect here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Q: We bought our house about two years ago and knew when we bought it that there was some doubt about the boundary lines.

We didn't really want to spend the money on a survey and the seller didn't either so we just let it go. Now the house next door has sold and the new owners are cutting down bushes and trees we think are on our property. We talked to them and they seemed friendly, but said they want to get rid of the trees because they really want more sunlight. Now we're suddenly very exposed on that side of the house with those trees and shrubs gone. We don't want a big fight, so what can we do?

A: I would say a survey is the first step. You can't defend a border until you know where it is. Talk to these people again and ask that they refrain from cutting down any more trees until you both know whose property they are on. I think I would offer to pay for the survey since asking them to pay half might antagonize them. Keeping things friendly is important.
Once the survey is done, and if the trees were on your property, you might want to consult with an attorney. An attorney might counsel you to ask for restitution for the lost trees and shrubs if it turns out that they were on your side. However, it's up to you to decide how far you want to take this issue. Perhaps the neighbors will feel badly enough that they will offer to plant new trees, build a fence or otherwise try to make up for the loss to you.
If it turns out that the trees and shrubs were on their side of the property line I suggest you invest in some nice, fast growing trees or shrubs that you can plant on your side of the boundary to restore some of your lost privacy. Or you could fence in a courtyard closer to your house which will shield you from the neighbor's house.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Q: We want to buy a home this year but my husband says he wants to wait until the economy really hits bottom.

That way we will get the best deal. In the meantime, we’re paying rent and I think that’s just wasting money. I want that money to go toward a home of our own. What do you think?

A: First, of course, is the simple fact that no one knows when we’ve hit bottom until we aren’t there anymore. Once prices start to stabilize or even start upward, it’s too late. I’ve always believed that the best time to buy is when you want a home.

We all learned, sadly and dramatically, what trying to outsmart the market will get you. If the stock market crash, the banking melt down, and the real estate disaster have taught us anything, it should be that we can’t really predict the future. We can only try to learn from the past.

The real estate market is actually changing for the better at this very moment. The news out at the end of May indicated that pending sales of homes in the US had risen three months in a row and that in April, sales jumped 6.7% the highest leap in eight years. That report, from the National Association of Realtors, also stated that in several states, bidding wars were becoming common on foreclosures as speculators and first time home buyers flood the market to find bargains.

The $8,000 tax credit for first time home buyers has also helped to turn the real estate market around. Many banks are now allowing these funds to be used as part of the down payment and closing costs. According to investment analysts, looking state by state at many economic indicators, the recession will end in Washington state by the fourth quarter of this year.

Even if these predictions don’t come true, it’s a ray of sunshine to those hoping for better days. With our inventory at an all time high and prices reduced dramatically I would say this is a great time to buy.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Q: How important is the Form 17, Seller's Disclosure Statement?

Our listing agent has asked us to fill it out so she can put it online with our listing and we want to wait until we get a buyer.

A: I agree with your agent the the Form 17 (a form put out by the multiple listing service that sellers are required to fill out) is very important. Not having it available for potential buyers is a serious mistake. It may lead buyers to wonder what the seller is hiding when the form isn't available. Having the form online shows buyers that you are willing to disclose what you know about your property up front.

You should go over it carefully and be sure you know what you want to say before you fill it out. I see these forms all the time with answers crossed out and other answers checked. That's a red flag to potential buyers. They often ask if I think you lied, changed your mind, or just didn't know anything.

You should also remember that some answers require explanation. You can add a sheet of paper with comments on it to explain any answers that require it. A good example that I saw recently was, "Has the roof ever leaked?" The sellers marked, "I don't know." The first reaction my client, who was interested in the house, had was, "Of course they should know if the roof has leaked. What are they hiding?"

I think that question is not well-worded and that the seller probably meant that he wouldn't know if the roof ever leaked in the past, before he owned it. It would have helped to explain his answer by adding language that the roof hadn't leaked during his ownership.

I saw another Form 17 today that had dozens of answers crossed out and other answers inserted. That would give a buyer pause. Did the seller not know his own mind, or was he just sloppy? Many buyers would think that he reconsidered his answers to hide defects.

So, yes, I think it is a very important document.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Q: I'm confused about this new $8,000 first time homebuyer's deal.

I owned a home five years ago but don't own one now. Can I still qualify? Where do I sign up to get the money?

You are considered a first time home buyer if you haven't owned a home in the past three years, so you should qualify. You don't get the $8,000 in cash. What you get is a tax credit. When you file your taxes for this year you get to deduct up to $8,000 off the top! However, if you owe less than $8,000 in taxes, the government will send you a check for the difference. So if you owe only $5,000 in income taxes the government will send you a check for $3,000!

There is an income limit of $75,000 gross income for a single person and $150,000 for a couple, but you can still get a partial credit if your income is up to $95,000 for a single person or $170,000 for a couple.

This is not a loan and doesn't have to be paid back like some programs in the past. That means that you are basically getting a gift of up to $8,000 for buying a home. You must, however, close before December 1, 2009, to take advantage of this program. If you are building a home you may still qualify but you have to occupy the home before the December 1st deadline.

This program, combined with incredibly low interest rates, gives a great boost to first time home buyers. Prices have pretty much stabilized in our region but they are still affordable and offer those who have not owned a home in the past three years a really great opportunity for home ownership.

For more details go to the IRS web site and type in: first time home buyer to credit, or try www.federalhousingtaxcredit.com. This is really too good an opportunity to pass up, in my opinion.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Q: I’ve been a renter for the last 10 years because I just don’t see the value in home ownership

when prices can be as volatile as we’ve been seeing in the last year. Plus, I don’t want to be tied down. In my business I could be transferred anytime. I assume you disagree.

Well I can’t speak to your fear of being tied down, but I can argue that your thinking is flawed about the value of home ownership. Let me give you an example. This is a real client of mine. I pulled him out of my files at random. Let’s call him Jack.

Jack bought a nice rambler on a large lot with a bit of a view in 1999. He paid $257,000 for it. Like all real estate on Vashon it went up in value every year. By this year, ten years later, King County has his home valued at $557,000. The home has more than doubled in value. Even with the decline of 10% in property values we saw on Vashon last year, he would still make a tidy profit if he were to sell.

Just as valuable is the tax savings he would have had each year he owned it. He was making about $50,000 a year when he bought the property and his wages went up about 3.5% every year since, so he now makes approximately $70,000 a year.

Using a spreadsheet to figure his tax saving--based on deducting his mortgage interest and property taxes every year--he would have saved over $43,000.00 in real money over the ten years! That’s money he could spend in other ways instead of giving it to the IRS. That’s impressive.

I probably haven’t convinced you, but if I have you should know that this is a great time to buy on Vashon. Interest rates are at an all time low, the government is offering an $8,000 buyer bonus this year, and real estate prices are stable. If you had your saving in the stock market, I would guess you didn’t come out half as well as Jack did.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Q: I had my house on the market for a while but decided to wait a year so that I could get my price.

We already moved so the house is empty. Friends are telling us we should rent it out but I don’t want it trashed. What do you think?

There are a couple of issues here. The first is the issue of renting out your house. Unless you don’t really worry about money at all, you’re throwing away a lot of it by having your house sit empty. There are mortgage payments, utilities, insurance and taxes to pay, plus the cost in time and/or money to keep up the yard. Renting would get you some money to cover those costs.

If you do a proper job of screening tenants you won’t have your place “trashed”. Trust one of the property management firms on the Island to find good, responsible tenants and that shouldn’t be a worry.

The other issue is holding on to your house to “get your price”. I’ve said many times before that the price is set by what a buyer is willing to pay. You can hold out all you like but if your expectations are too high, you’ll put a lot more money into the house with little hope of recovering it.

The real estate market here on Vashon is really not bad. Sales of homes actually went up 14% in the first quarter of 2009 over the first quarter of 2008. The average price of those homes did drop, but only by about 10%. That’s well below what most markets have experienced.

It almost seems that we have only two kinds of property on the market: homes that sell in a few days or weeks, and those that have been sitting for months or even years. It’s all about price. The well priced properties have been selling quickly, some even with multiple offers.

If you don’t want to price your house to sell now, then getting a renter in there to help offset your negative cash flow would be good.

Q: I don’t know how you real estate people ever come up with the prices that you do.

My neighbor’s house is for sale and it’s a total dump! I don’t even think it could be remodeled into anything. But their real estate agent has it priced at half a million! That’s crazy. No one will pay that much for it.

There are many things to consider when pricing a property for sale. Certainly the listing agent would have had to come up with comparable sales of similar homes, adjusting for our dip in the market over the last year. Other things to consider are location, condition of the house and property, and the obsolescence of the style and floor plan.

Some considerations are just an issue on Vashon, like the distance from the north end ferry. But most issues are the same as elsewhere and include things like the condition of the house, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, yard or garden, size of the parcel, closeness to recreational areas, and for families with children, the closeness to schools.

It’s important to consider the value of the land. Buying land and building is a very long and frustrating process for many people and it’s often more cost effective to remodel an existing house. The land your neighbor's house sits on has a spectacular view and spacious grounds. The landscaping hasn’t been tended for awhile, but, as the landscapers say, “it has good bones.” Just the land itself would sell for close to the asking price they have on the house.

As a neighbor, possibly with different standards of neatness, this property may seem “trashed”. But the house is structurally sound, has a good floor plan and a good location. It needs to be remodeled but just cosmetically like paint, newer appliances, nicer floor covering and yard clean up. The home offers many things that buyers are looking for and I think it’s priced well and will sell quickly.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Q: I'd like your list of all the cheap foreclosures on Vashon.

I've seen ads on TV saying you can buy houses for just a few hundred dollars and that's what we want to do. We see ads for house that are only $75,000 or so on TV. Even if it's a fixer, I think my wife and I can do the work.

There are very few houses for sale here that are in foreclosure, but I can send you those listings. I must warn you however, that you won't be buying any house in Washington for a few hundred dollars down. That may work in Florida or Alabama, I don't know, but the banks that have foreclosed on these houses want well-qualified buyers with good credit, a reasonable down payment, and sufficient income to cover the payments.
You need to meet with a reputable lender to find out what you are qualified to spend on a house and to get pre-approved. A pre-approval letter is almost always required on all offers on properties owned by banks.

Although prices have dropped here, like elsewhere, our lowest priced homes are in the mid to high $200,000 range, but most are over $300,000. That's still a bargain for Vashon but certainly not the prices you're seeing on television.
We experienced a drop of about 8-12% over the last year, and for Vashon, that's significant. Some of the few foreclosed homes we have are listed even lower. It's possible to get a house here for well under its assessed value, but that's still likely to be over $250,000 at the lowest end.

Some of the foreclosures we have are high end homes. That means you might be able to buy a house that would have sold for $650,000 a year or so ago, but can be purchased today for $525,000. That's an incredible deal.

You should also be sure that a lender will be comfortable helping you buy a "fixer." Some fixers will need a construction loan and that's a different kind of loan with different requirements.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Q: In these bad economic time and awful real estate market I was surprised when a neighbor’s house sold in just a couple of days.

What’s going on? I thought no one was selling now? It was a real crummy place too. Are things just better on Vashon?

To start with, Vashon is something of a boutique market all of the time, so we don’t necessarily follow national or regional trends. However, our market has been slower over the last 10 months or so than usual and we have suffered a set back in prices and values.

What you saw with your neighbor’s property was a very well priced property for this current market. Yes, it was a “fixer”, but priced a one. It was in a prime location and had a great potential which is what a lot of buyers are looking for.

Any house will sell, even in a slow market, if it’s priced right. That has always been the secret to a fast sale. There have been more sales in the last few weeks than even at this same time a year ago, and that’s hopeful.

The listing agents have a responsibility to price the property to sell in this market and to be sure their sellers are well prepared. If the house is clean, tidy, is in a desirable location, and priced well, it will sell.

Many sellers are hoping that their particular home will be worth more than competing properties. That’s rarely the case. Their agents can take them to see their “competition” and that can help them see their home in a more realistic light.

There are lots of buyers out there, but they are looking for a really good deal. They also read the newspapers and watch the news so they expect to find a real bargain or, at the very least, a very good value for the money.

Your neighbor was well advised. It’s also good to remember that since they’ve owned it for many years, they still made a tremendous profit over what they paid for it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Q: We’ve had our place off and on the market for a long time now and aren’t getting any offers.

We keep it neat and our agent holds open houses regularly but there is just no traffic. I see that other houses are selling, even in this depressed market, and I wonder why ours isn’t. Any ideas?

You do keep your house looking very nice for showings, which has to help. However, it has a very poor floor plan that buyers don’t usually like. It’s also on one of our really busy roads and most buyers want some peace and quiet in their lives, that’s why they want to move to Vashon Island.

I see from the records that when you bought your house, you paid about 15% less for your home than competing properties. It’s possible that the busy roadway and the odd floor plan were an issue then too.

Since nothing has basically changed in the house over the years, and the road is even noisier now, you may have to price your home at least 15% lower than other houses of similar size and general category. At this point, your house is actually priced for more than a competing home nearby that is larger and has been recently remodeled.

Keep in mind that your goal should be to get it sold and move on with your life. While it sits there unsold, you are still paying taxes, insurance, and mortgage payments every month. That is money lost that won’t be regained regardless of when your house sells.

We all think our home is better than anything else out there for sale. But the truth is that if your house was less than desirable when you bought it, and therefore you got it for a bargain price, it will also have to be set at a bargain price today to sell.

The next time you list the house for sale, sit down with your listing agent and do some math. Figure out what the price has to be to get that home sold. Best of luck.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Q: Is there any rule or County regulation about blocking someone’s view?

My neighbors just planted a row of trees along the back of their lot. They are down hill from me a little bit but those are going to be big trees and will block my view. I don’t want to sue them or anything like that, but I paid more for this house because of the view and it doesn’t seem fair that they can take that away. It will also devalue my property.

A: Unless there is a view covenant in your neighborhood or on your deed that protects your view, you probably have no legal protection. When selling a view property I always tell a prospective buyer that without covenants they have no legal way to protect that view.

I’ve checked, and you are not in an area with covenants or restrictions for view protection. Your neighbors probably have the right to plant anything they want on their property. I can’t give legal advice so you should check with an attorney, but it’s unlikely that you have any case for a lawsuit. To my knowledge there is no County code or regulation that would protect your view.

You might want to simply meet with the neighbor and find out what is motivating them to do this. Maybe they want more privacy or don’t want to look at your place from their property and were hoping that the trees would obscure the view of your house or yard. That could be achieved with different plantings that would grow tall enough to block their view of your house without blocking your view looking out over their house.

You could offer to pay to take out the trees and put in lower growing evergreen shrubs. You might also offer to buy a view easement or covenant from them. That could protect your property for the future. You’d be surprised at what people will agree to if you approach them with an attitude toward mutual benefit and neighborliness.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Q: I can’t believe what we’ve been through in the last month.

A water line broke under the bathroom and flooded the crawl space, we got some kind of mold growing in our living room from something wrong with the roof, and a big tree branch fell on our storage shed and ruined it. Somebody should be warning people about this stuff! We didn’t have a clue that this could happen. How are we supposed to know how to get prepared?

I feel badly for all that you’ve been through but I have to say that there were many opportunities for you to become prepared. The Beachcomber carried detailed preparation guidelines from Vashon Be Prepared, an organization that helps Islanders get ready for disaster. I always make sure to put out a detailed list in this column every Autumn with instructions to insulate pipes, clean gutters, etc. There are also many resources on line to help you prepare.

Winter isn’t over yet so here’s what I’d do now. Be sure the plumbing repairs are made and that pipes are insulated. Even after doing that you might want to run the water just a bit in all the bathrooms and kitchen during weather that’s well below freezing.

Clean out gutters and keep them clean. If you can’t do this yourself find a good handyman who can (contact us for a referral if needed). Have a roofer take a look at the roof and make necessary repairs. Often, if the flashing isn’t done well, water from overflowing gutters will seep under the roofing and rot the plywood decking. That can cause mold to grow fast.

I am a real tree hugger and probably have some trees in my yard that could cause damage. However, I am willing to risk it as long as they are healthy. If there are unhealthy or dangerous trees around your yard you should consult an arborist to see if they should be thinned or taken down. The fire marshal recommends a 30 foot buffer, free of trees, around all buildings. Good luck with the next storm. We all have to be prepared.

Q: I'm worried about the value of my home.

I read all these stories about how real estate in the Seattle area has dropped so much. Is there any way to know when the decline in values will stop? I was hoping to sell in a couple of years and move closer to my children.
There's no way to really predict when we will hit "bottom" in this current financial crisis. Keep in mind that although this is a record setting recession and a truly global financial crisis, it isn't the first time we've seen values decline.
We had a stock market meltdown in the mid 1980's that lost many people their retirement money and saw a significant drop in real estate prices. We were hit with another big recession and the savings and loan disaster in the early 1990s. Prices froze and money was lost. Our current crisis is worse, of course, but our region is doing far better than most.
Let me go over some figures that may help you see the picture on Vashon. According to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service, the average price for a Vashon home that sold in 2007 was $576,560. The average this year was $566,000; that's less than a $10,000 difference. The median price in 2007 was $549,000, and in 2008 was $523,750; a slightly greater difference.
The real change locally was in number of sales and length of time on the market. In 2007 it took an average of 71 days on the market to sell. In 2008 that shot up to an average of 133 days. The number of homes sold in 2007 was 139. The number this year (2008) was only 83. THAT is a huge change.
Another issue is that sellers have been pricing their homes higher than last year's prices. That won't work when prices are dropping. As for your concerns, your home is worth a great deal more than you paid for it, which is good, and will likely appreciate even more before you are ready to sell.