Monday, December 20, 2010

Q: My husband and I are thrilled to finally have a home of our own.

With your help we were able to finally afford to buy a place instead of continuing to rent. This was always our dream. But now, especially around the holidays, I am feeling sad and guilty because we were able to afford this place only because some other family lost it. I feel like we took advantage of someone else's misfortune. You negotiated aggressively for us so that we could qualify for this house and we appreciate it, but how do you cope with the feeling that you are hurting the sellers?


A: That's an excellent question. I do struggle with bad feelings every time I do a sale that's a foreclosure, short sale or other circumstance where the seller is in a hardship situation, but I always remember that my job as I've defined it, is to get the best possible deal for my clients, the buyers. That's why I only represent buyers. My loyalties are clear.


In the case of many foreclosures it's also important to realize that the seller is now out of the situation and we are dealing only with a lender. they have no attachment to the property and no emotional investment.


In the case of a short sale, I remind myself that by selling the house and negotiating with the lender, we are really helping the sellers move on with their life and hopefully a new start. They aren't going to get any money out of the sale, but may at least end up out from under a great deal of debt.


The recession has made everything harder and more complex, but my reward is seeing folks like you, who grew up here and are raising your family here, finally be able to afford a home of your own. It doesn't mean that I don't have moments of sadness for the sellers in these distressed situations, or that I don't care, but I try to concentrate on the positive aspects. So relax and enjoy the holidays!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Q: We moved here last summer and had no experience with winter on Vashon until that awful November storm hit.

I was appalled! Trees down, roads full of snow and ice for so long, frozen pipes, and days without power. I can't understand why it took the road crew and electric company so long to get things fixed. If this is what winters are going to be like I'm sorry we ever came here. I think our real estate agent should have warned us, don't you?


A: I'm sorry you feel that way. Your real estate agent should not have needed to tell you that we have winter weather here. Our weather patterns are common knowledge, virtually identical to Seattle and statistics are easily accessed via the Internet. The issue isn't the weather, but the fact that we are more rural and therefore have fewer services available. That should be self evident.


It may be that you won't fit into our community. That's too bad. I for one, am incredibly grateful for the hours and days that the crews of King County Roads Division, Puget Sound Energy, CenturyLink, Potelco, and all of our emergency responders put in to getting us back up and running. These courageous and hard working men and women gave up their Thanksgiving holiday to spend freezing days and nights directing traffic, answering emergency calls, digging out the roads, and hanging from power poles so that the rest of us could be warm and safe. I consider every one of them a hero and I pray for their safety.


Living in the "country" has its price. In exchange for miles of forests, beautiful open spaces, lovely ponds and ample wildlife we don't get all of the conveniences of the city. That's a deal most of us have gladly made to be able to live here. We should all do our best to be prepared for bad weather and emergencies and take responsibility for ourselves as much as possible. We also need to recognize the work of those who keep the lights on and the roads clear.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Q: We are really interested in the enclosed listings of waterfront property.

We want to put up a yurt or tent so that we can have a getaway near the water. Can you show us these parcels?

A: These are "recreational" property. That means they are not buildable. Most real esate brokers would rather not even have these listed because we have to field calls and emails about them all the time. King County will not allow temporary structures or out buildings on a property that doesn't contain a house. The health department wants to be sure you have water and septic. Using the bushes is not an acceptable option.


One of the current waterfront listings is actually in the water! Yes, you heard me right, it is underwater! No land. Sort of like buying swamp land in Florida. The other property is a postage stamp lot that is not buildable and it is a high bank cliff. It could be used for picnics. If it were closer to the water you could launch a kayak from it. That's about all it's good for.


People buy these lots at tax sales without looking at them. Then they come out to the Island and find that they have purchased an almost totally unusable property and a few years later the lot shows up at a tax sale again. It's sad.


I recall one parcel that I went out to find for a couple who were all excited that they had purchased a waterfront lot on Vashon. There was no land left! The tidal action had taken all the land away and there wasn't anything left. They bought air!


If it looks too good to be true....it is! A decent, buildable parcel of waterfront land will be hundreds of thousands of dollars not a few thousand dollars. As for yurts and tents, the hippie days have been over for a very long time. Yes, we do have a few yurts and RV's and tents still discreetly tucked away on someone's "back 40" but if there's a code enforcement complaint they'll be history.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Q: My friend says I can get some real deals buying foreclosed property and short sales.

I want to offer about 50%of the asking price since the Internet sources I follow say that's about average. Where can I get a list of all the HUD foreclosures and other foreclosures on the Island?


A: We have no HUD foreclosures on Vashon and according to the regional director of HUD there are very few in the entire state. Those few are located primarily in Eastern Washington. Virtually all foreclosures and short sales here, and this is primarily true for most of our state, are listed for sale on the multiple listing service sites accessible through most real estate companies.

There are a few very distressed states, like Nevada and Florida where homes can be purchased well under the price listed by the bank. That's not true here. In fact, the banks all too often list the house for more than the owners had been asking before they lost the house. Believe it or not.

In foreclosures, and even more so in short sales, the banks will not take just any offer to be rid of the house. Logically you would think they would, but that's not the way the way they seem to be doing it. They can reject any offer they don't like for any reason. They also have very specific requirements that mean you, the buyer, lose most of your rights. You should also be aware that they will determine if you are a worthy buyer regardless of your pre-approval from a lender.

In addition, on short sales, the seller still owns the house even though the bank must approve the sale, so the bank could agree to take your offer but the seller can refuse to accept it. These are very complicated, difficult sales that take months to close, and they are often no more of a bargain than a currently listed home that's not a short sale or foreclosure. Get competent help before you wade into this. Be sure you're working with someone who has experience with these sales.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Q: Last year the fellow who owned the house behind ours passed away.

One of his children decided to move in with his family. They seemed nice and we thought things would be fine, but now we’re not so sure. He uses an access road on the side of our property that isn’t really a legal access. We always let his dad use the road but never had a written easement. Now the son is tearing out trees and widening the road so that he can get all his big vehicles down there. He has a boat, and RV, and some kind of big truck in addition to their regular cars. We’re really upset by all of this. Suggestions?


A: I am not an attorney and will refer you to a local lawyer who can assist you. However, I can tell you that if they don’t have legal access, and you gave the dad permission to use the road, you may be in a strong position to changing what’s happening.


Remember that you own the road if it’s on your property. If there existed a written easement he might have the right to widen the road to the full extent of that easement, but he doesn’t appear to have a legal right to do anything with the road and it sounds like he is also destroying your property


Seek legal guidance first, and you may even want to contact the sheriff’s office and King County Code Enforcement. I would recommend that you negotiate a legal access agreement but you might want to put restrictions on it that preclude having him destroy a large swath of your property.


I recently had a conversation with a judge who often hears cases from Vashon. She was amazed by the large volume of disputes, particularly over easements that end up in court. She agreed that it would be so much cheaper and easier for neighbors to mediate the problem and was surprised that so many folks would rather fight it out in court at great expense to all parties.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Q: My partner and I can’t make up our minds between two houses.

We’re ready to buy and preapproved for our loan, but both houses are attractive to us. One of these places is in much better shape than the other but it’s on a tiny lot. The other home is on acreage. We’ve been hoping to have a little farm with a big garden and maybe some chickens. Our daughter is also talking about a pony someday, so the home on acreage would be a better bet. However, we are not experienced fixer upper people. What do you recommend?


A: Well, I have always had “land lust” myself, so my instinct is to go for the house on acreage. Having acreage is usually more desirable on resale and privacy is almost everyone’s first priority. Plus having chickens is really great!


If the seller is willing, I’d recommend you do a pre-inspection of the fixer. Pre-inspections are not common but they do happen. That can tell you whither the work that’s needed is a major deal killer or simply deferred maintenance and cosmetic repair with maybe some up grades needed.


We have some great rehabilitation mortgage loans from FHA that can cover the cost of fixing these problems if the seller isn’t willing or able to make repairs. Let’s say you do the inspection and the inspector finds about $10,000 worth of repair work needed. On top of that, you’d really like new floor coverings and paint. You get some quick bids for those and the total for everything comes to $22,000.


Next, you make an offer to buy the place but deduct $22,000 from the asking price to cover the rehab. You may not get that entire amount off the price but it’s worth a try. If the seller accepts your offer, the FHA rehab loan will cover those repairs and up grades and you can have all the work done, to your specifications, after closing and end up with a great house. Ask your lender about the details of this program or call me for more information.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Q: We can’t believe the hassle we’ve had with our bank during the course of our home purchase.

In the end the bank was simply dysfunctional and incompetent! It’s a wonder we closed at all. We did everything they asked and gave them the same paperwork over and over again. What is the matter with these people?


A: It does seem that the larger, national banks have become somewhat dysfunctional in their mortgage department. In order to save money, many of them have laid off workers so now you have fewer people doing the work of many. They also have the most inexperienced people doing the work since those folks cost the banks less to employ.


Over the course of the last two years I’ve been shocked at the difficulty we’ve been having with the largest banks. There are constant delays, often the loan is reassigned several times to different offices in other cities, and files are sometimes lost.


I’ve had the best luck with private mortgage brokers, however I only recommend mortgage brokers I’ve worked with for many years and can really trust. I have also been pleasantly surprised at the speed and efficiency of credit unions. They close the sale smoothly and on time.


There are also smaller, primarily regional banks in our area that are doing a good job. They don’t seem to outsource their work, but keep it local and are still using experienced staff who know what they’re doing.


I’ve had two recent transactions that almost drove me over the edge. In the first case, the bank fired the loan officer we were working with without telling my clients or me, then lost the file, and then failed to do a proper credit check or appraisal. They stopped returning calls or emails so finally we took the loan to someone else.


In the second case, the bank couldn’t get closing papers to escrow on time even with many weeks to work on it with extraordinarily qualified borrowers who did everything right. My clients found the money elsewhere. These were large national banks.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Q: You came out to our home and gave us an opinion on the value of our house, which we appreciate.

However, I don’t think you realize all the things that we have done to the place since we bought it. We’ve done a lot of remodeling and think that should get us a higher price when we go on the market.


A: We all think our home is worth more than the next guy's. That’s just human nature. Most people have done a lot to their property over the years. But I think it’s easy to confuse maintenance and up keep with remodeling. There are three categories I use to describe changes to a house: maintenance, up grades and remodeling.


Let me give you a couple of examples. If you replace you’re worn out roof; that’s maintenance. It has to be done to keep the house dry. If you replace a standard three tab shingle roofing with metal or tile or some other higher end product, that’s an up grade. If you rip out half the roof, raise it eight feet and add a bank of clearstory windows and then vault the ceilings under it, that’s remodeling.


Or here’s another example. If you replace your worn out carpet with new, that’s maintenance. If you replace the carpet with wood or bamboo flooring, that’s an up grade. If you tear out the floor, lay in heating coils for in floor heating and add a gas fired boiler to heat the coils and then cover it all with beautiful tiles, that’s a remodel.


Just painting a home, which is maintenance, or putting in nicer appliances or cabinets, which is an up grade, will not add significantly to the value of the house. Many up grades don’t necessarily add to the bottom line. But, they make your home more attractive and easier to sell quickly. A well cared for, well priced home that’s clean and inviting will always sell. A home in excellent condition will sell quicker than the competition, which is particularly important in a slow market.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Q. This isn't a question, really, it's a request.

I see that you have photos of some of the homes that are on the market up on a bulletin board in your window. My house is currently for sale and I don't want you to put the photo of my house on your board. I don't want everybody in the universe to know I'm selling. My personal business is my personal business.

A. Well I'm happy to comply with your request but you obviously don't realize that the whole world does indeed, know that your house is for sale, even if the photo is out of my own window. When you list your home for sale, the listing broker puts your home on the multiple listing service site. That instantaneously is picked up by every real estate office in the region and goes on their sites. We each pay a substantial fee to have every listing come up on our personal and business web sites.

In addition, it comes up on several private sites around the world, like Zillow, although these sites can often be very inaccurate. People looking for a home on Vashon Island form anywhere in the world, will you see your home and read about all of its features. That's one of the main reasons for listing it; to get that broad exposure. Even if you were trying to sell it without being on the multiple listing service the information would be available to the universe, as you put it, the minute you put it on any website.

I know it can feel invasive to a very private person to have their home in the newspapers and viewed on the Internet, but this is how your home will get sold and that should be your primary concern right now. People will come looking through your home, and, if you're lucky, someone will buy it. The best bet, in my opinion, is to do everything you can to make that happen quickly. Then you can move on with your life and begin to restore your privacy.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Q: I've had my place on the market for months now and I'm getting really exasperated with agents.

Some show up late, some come early, some forget to call me five minutes before they come so I can put the dog in the run, etc. Why can't you people keep to a schedule?



A: Congratulations on having a lot of showings! In our current market you are very lucky to have so much interest. There are many reasons why brokers may not be able to meet your requirements for showings. Keep in mind that almost no potential buyers are coming out to see just your home. They will be touring five to eight homes, on average, that are in the same price range.



Brokers setting up a two to three hour tour of showings, which is average, do the best we can to estimate the time we will arrive at your home. Many things can interfere with that timetable. The clients can be late or they can take far more time at a particular house than we anticipated.


We sometimes are asked to call a seller just before showing up at their home and most of us try to accommodate that. It's easy, however, to forget to so that or be so intent on the conversation we are having with the buyers that it slips our mind.


Homes that are difficult to show or make special demands on showings may end up on the bottom of our list of potential homes. If it becomes to burdensome, it's tempting to just stop going to that particular home, especially at a time like this when there are so many nice homes available.


Everyone has a different reason for selling and it's hard to try to have a normal life while your house is on the market, I understand that. But your goal is to sell the house. The harder or more complicated you make it to show the home, the longer you will be on the market and the fewer brokers will plan to include it in their tours.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Q: We’ve had our wonderful home for several years now and continue to be happy on Vashon Island.

However, the house next door to us sold recently and we’re having some issues with our new neighbors. The first thing they did after they bought the place was to cut down the line of trees that separates their place from ours. That was a real shock for us, but they said it was to get more light into their yard. We have tried to be understanding about that, although we miss those trees. Now they realize that the trees created some privacy for them and so they are starting to build a big, ugly fence along the property line. We worry that it’s not really on the property line and we wonder if there is anything we can do to stop it.


A: I sympathize with your situation. It’s always difficult when new neighbors move in and change everything. I would recommend you have a survey done to be sure that everyone concerned knows where the property line is located. You might try talking to them calmly and see if they would split the cost of the survey. It is in their interest as well as yours to be accurate.


As for stopping them, I can’t think of anything you could do if they are determined to build a fence. If it were me, I would go out and find some nice, fast growing shrubs and plants and get those planted this fall. With luck and care they will hide the fence and add some nice landscaping to your yard.


You can’t always control what someone else does but you can control your reaction to it and your response. Concentrate on what you enjoy about your home and property instead of your neighbors fence, and think about enhancing your yard with some new landscaping. Get some help from our local Master Gardeners or other folks who know plants and can make recommendations. That way you can turn this into a more positive experience.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Q: I am so thrilled that there are finally some affordable homes on Vashon.

I've been trying to get my granddaughter and her husband over here for years. They have two small children and I'd love to have them nearby. I want to be able to help them find a place but I don't know much about how to assess the value of a house or how to find out what condition it's in. Where should I start?

A: There are some things I can recommend. First find a good real estate broker that you can trust. Interview several. Ask friends for referrals to those they've worked with. Buying a home is a big step and you'll need professional guidance.

Next. be sure to have your granddaughter and her husband get pre-approved for a mortgage. I can make some recommendations for lenders I've worked with and trust if they don't have someone in mind. If they don't have much money saved for a down payment but have a stable income and good credit, you might look at some of the FHA loans available.

You should be sure to take a look at all the homes that are available in their price range. That way you will be better able to compare properties to get the best buy. Once they find a home they like and make an offer, be sure they have a good home inspector go through the place with them. No home is perfect and there will be things that need some attention, but it's the big repairs you are looking for. Often, the seller is willing to make those repairs and sometimes the bank will insist on it.

I know you want the best for your granddaughter and her family. My last piece of advice is to step back a bit and let them make their own decisions. It's tempting to be involved in every step of the process, but it's going to be their home. Find a good Realtor to help guide them and then trust them to make the right choice.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Q: You told me that Vashon has not experienced as many foreclosures as most other places.

But I keep hearing stories about local people who have lost their homes. I think you were wrong.


A: Me? Wrong? Oh, surely not. I’m kidding of course, since I can be wrong just like anyone else, but in this case, I don’t thing so. Some markets around the country have had as much as 50% of their housing stock foreclosed on. That’s tragic. Although our region has done much better than that, we have still had too many foreclosures.


However, in looking at the sales figures for Vashon, by my calculations less than 4% of all homes sold on Vashon last year were foreclosures. So far in the first half of this year, the figure for foreclosed homes is only 1% of all sales. While each of those individual sellers faced an agonizing situation, they represent a really small part of our market. That’s reassuring I think. In case you’re interested, there are currently only five foreclosed or bank owned properties for sale on the Island.


There is another kind of situation, called a short sale, which may account for some of the rumors you hear. These homes are not foreclosed on by the bank. Instead, the bank cooperates by negotiating the mortgage so that they take less than what is owed. That becomes part of the negotiations that the agents involved must handle. In a few cases, sellers may simply pay the short fall owed on the mortgage, which is one of the reasons that it’s called a short sale.


The tragedy of so many of these short sales is that many of the sellers got caught up in thinking their homes were really an ATM machine. They kept taking out equity loans to buy things they wanted and then ended up owing more than their homes were worth. Hopefully, we’ve all learned a lesson from watching that happen.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Q: We tried to sell our house last year but there were no offers.

Of the agents who showed the house, only one said anything specific to our agent. She said that we didn’t really have waterfront as far as her clients were concerned because there was no access to the beach. We sure pay higher taxes because we’re waterfront so I don’t know what she was talking about. We’re thinking of trying to sell again this year but that statement keeps bugging me. What do you think?


A: The good news is that the market has improved significantly so you may have better luck this year. However, most buyers expect to be able to get to the beach from a waterfront house and so, if you have a high bank home with no access to the beach, I can see why buyers would be less impressed.


What you have to realize is that probably won’t get the same price as a similar home that does have access to the water. Most waterfront buyers are looking for a beach. Frankly, many of our beaches are rocky and filled with barnacles anyway, so getting past that is often difficult enough with waterfront buyers. To add the complication that they can’t even reach the water makes it particularly challenging.


I always stress the value of controlling the view when showing high back waterfront homes. To know that nothing can be built in front of you and that the view is protected is a great selling feature.


Be sure that you have your listing agent tour you through all the homes you will be competing against once you go on the market. Be as realistic as possible about how your home stacks up against the competition. Plus, you’ll really need to deduct for the high bank location and lack of access.


Being realistic about price is the key to selling a home. We’ve had some well priced homes sell quickly, even in these days of a depressed market. The sellers priced it right and were able to move on with their lives.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Q: What is going on with appraisers?

When we tried to sell our home the appraiser gave a value way lower than the King County assessment. The buyers walked and now we don’t know what to do. The real estate people who looked at it agreed it was worth what we were asking.


A: The world of appraising has been turned on its head by new regulations intended to put a stop to some bad practices of the past. Unfortunately, in the opinion of most people in the lending and real estate industry, they sort of “threw the baby out with the bath water.”


On a recent sale I was involved with, we had a sales price that reflected a recent appraisal done to set the price as well as several real estate brokers price opinions. We all agreed it was a fair price and the buyers and sellers were happy. Then the appraiser showed up. He was from a completely different part of the state, had never been to Vashon Island in his life, and had no clue about our market.


His appraisal was almost 30% under the sales price! We were stunned. The buyers knew that wasn’t right even though they would have loved to have paid less for the house. The sellers were unwilling to sell at that price and even the lender involved knew that something was seriously amiss.


After much stress and disappointment we decided to ask the mortgage broker to go to another lender and order a new appraisal. The new appraiser was from the local area, knew Vashon very well, and had no problem appraising the house for the sale price. He understood that in our small market disparate properties can still be comparable. He also knew that certain locations on the Island, construction styles and property types bring a premium price.


I don’t know if that solution would have saved your sale, but if you read the financing contingency form you’ll see that as a seller, you have the option of paying for a second appraisal if the first one is unsatisfactory.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Q: I’ve been working with another agent on the Island but she told me I should call you for a second opinion.

I was going to buy a little house here but it had rats. I won’t live in a place with rats. I have a condo in Seattle right now. I really like Vashon but as much as I want to retire out here I just can’t handle rats. The sellers were going to do some kind of extermination but the rats could come back later. My agent says that rats are no big deal here and that everyone has them. I’m shocked by that. So what do you think?


A: Well first, I will agree with your agent that most homes have some rodent activity. Our “furry friends” are very clever, are omnivores and opportunistic. That’s why they’ve been here forever and will likely outlive our species. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t effective ways to control them and keep them out of your house.

A good pest control person can find all of the pathways and entrances that are allowing rodents to enter a home attic or crawlspace. We have mice here too, and they are very different than rats and take different approaches to control. If the seller was willing to complete the extermination and if you had been willing to follow the pest company’s recommendations, you would have been fine.

It might surprise you to learn that Seattle is full of rats and mice. Even condos. In fact, the city has the large, rather ugly (no, I’ll change that to really ugly) Norway or wharf rats. We have the more attractive looking roof rats. We also have several varieties of mice, most of them very cute, except in your pantry.

In my opinion you should learn more about rodents and how to control them. They really are everywhere. Just because you don’t see them living in a condo doesn’t mean they aren’t in the basement, roof and other places. At least if you have your own house you can have some control over them.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Q: My neighbors just sold their place.

It seemed to take a long time. Is real estate selling much at all on the Island? One of my friends told me the market was really slowing down on Vashon according to one of those Internet sites.


A: First, keep in mind that some of the Internet sites can be significantly off in their statistical analysis and even with their basic facts. Let me give you some actual statistics for the Vashon market. The truth is that home sales were up 17% in the first quarter of this year over the same time period last year. Even more interesting, April sales so far this year are up 40% over last year! Some of that had to do with the deadline for the first time homebuyer tax credit, of course, but most of it reflects buyer confidence.


We’re also seeing a return of second home buyers and investors buying rental property. That tells me that these folks are feeling optimistic about the economic recovery and feel comfortable enough with their own finances to pick up some of the bargains that are still out there.


There are some general reasons for fast or slow sales. There are often reasons why a particular house takes forever to sell. Good examples include; a very poor floor plan, a home interior that’s really out of date, poor curb appeal, or even a neighborhood eyesore nearby.


But the main reason is almost always price. In the past few weeks we’ve had several homes come on the market and sell within a couple of days. They were nice homes in good condition, but they were also perfectly priced for our current market. That’s hard to do but it sure works well. Overpriced homes will sit for months or even years.


Buyers these days are far more sophisticated than in the past. They can find out all kinds of information about a property through King County’s vast website. They should also be receiving additional analysis from their real estate brokers who can help them decide what a home is worth.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Q: My neighbors just sold their place.

It seemed to take a long time. Is real estate selling much at all on the Island? One of my friends told me the market was really slowing down on Vashon according to one of those Internet sites.


A: First, keep in mind that some of the Internet sites can be significantly off in their statistical analysis and even with their basic facts. Let me give you some actual statistics for the Vashon market. The truth is that home sales were up 17% in the first quarter of this year over the same time period last year. Even more interesting, April sales so far this year are up 40% over last year! Some of that had to do with the deadline for the first time homebuyer tax credit, of course, but most of it reflects buyer confidence.


We’re also seeing a return of second home buyers and investors buying rental property. That tells me that these folks are feeling optimistic about the economic recovery and feel comfortable enough with their own finances to pick up some of the bargains that are still out there.


There are some general reasons for fast or slow sales. There are often reasons why a particular house takes forever to sell. Good examples include; a very poor floor plan, a home interior that’s really out of date, poor curb appeal, or even a neighborhood eyesore nearby.


But the main reason is almost always price. In the past few weeks we’ve had several homes come on the market and sell within a couple of days. They were nice homes in good condition, but they were also perfectly priced for our current market. That’s hard to do but it sure works well. Overpriced homes will sit for months or even years.


Buyers these days are far more sophisticated than in the past. They can find out all kinds of information about a property through King County’s vast website. They should also be receiving additional analysis from their real estate brokers who can help them decide what a home is worth.

Q: My neighbors just sold their place.

It seemed to take a long time. Is real estate selling much at all on the Island? One of my friends told me the market was really slowing down on Vashon according to one of those Internet sites.

A: First, keep in mind that some of the Internet sites can be significantly off in their statistical analysis and even with their basic facts. Let me give you some actual statistics for the Vashon market. The truth is that home sales were up 17% in the first quarter of this year over the same time period last year. Even more interesting, April sales so far this year are up 40% over last year! Some of that had to do with the deadline for the first time homebuyer tax credit, of course, but most of it reflects buyer confidence.

We’re also seeing a return of second home buyers and investors buying rental property. That tells me that these folks are feeling optimistic about the economic recovery and feel comfortable enough with their own finances to pick up some of the bargains that are still out there.

There are some general reasons for fast or slow sales. There are often reasons why a particular house takes forever to sell. Good examples include; a very poor floor plan, a home interior that’s really out of date, poor curb appeal, or even a neighborhood eyesore nearby.

But the main reason is almost always price. In the past few weeks we’ve had several homes come on the market and sell within a couple of days. They were nice homes in good condition, but they were also perfectly priced for our current market. That’s hard to do but it sure works well. Overpriced homes will sit for months or even years.

Buyers these days are far more sophisticated than in the past. They can find out all kinds of information about a property through King County’s vast website. They should also be receiving additional analysis from their real estate brokers who can help them decide what a home is worth.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Q: My neighbors just sold their place.

It seemed to take a long time. Is real estate selling much at all on the Island? One of my friends told me the market was really slowing down on Vashon according to one of those Internet sites.

A: First, keep in mind that some of the Internet sites can be significantly off in their statistical analysis and even with their basic facts. Let me give you some actual statistics for the Vashon market. The truth is that home sales were up 17% in the first quarter of this year over the same time period last year. Even more interesting, April sales so far this year are up 40% over last year! Some of that had to do with the deadline for the first time homebuyer tax credit, of course, but most of it reflects buyer confidence.


We’re also seeing a return of second home buyers and investors buying rental property. That tells me that these folks are feeling optimistic about the economic recovery and feel comfortable enough with their own finances to pick up some of the bargains that are still out there.


There are some general reasons for fast or slow sales. There are often reasons why a particular house takes forever to sell. Good examples include; a very poor floor plan, a home interior that’s really out of date, poor curb appeal, or even a neighborhood eyesore nearby.


But the main reason is almost always price. In the past few weeks we’ve had several homes come on the market and sell within a couple of days. They were nice homes in good condition, but they were also perfectly priced for our current market. That’s hard to do but it sure works well. Overpriced homes will sit for months or even years.


Buyers these days are far more sophisticated than in the past. They can find out all kinds of information about a property through King County’s vast website. They should also be receiving additional analysis from their real estate brokers who can help them decide what a home is worth.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Q: We have a very nice rental house that we’ve had for a few years now.

We’ve always been able to get $1,500 a month for it. Our last tenant moved out in September and we haven’t had a renter since. We pay a mortgage on it and are losing both the rent we are used to getting and are now paying the full mortgage payment. We’ve had many people look at it but when we call them back they all say they’ve found something cheaper. Some have even tried to bargain us down on the rent. We really don’t want to have to lower the rent. Any suggestions?

A: Lower the rent. Rentals are not bringing in what they were a couple of years ago for the same reason that housing prices dropped. We are in a recession and all of us have taken a hit in the pocketbook as a result.

The critical thing is to get a good tenant in the house and get some cash flow. I know it seems like fifth grade math but let’s do the numbers. Let’s just say that you are paying out $1,800 per month on the mortgage, insurance and taxes. If you had rented it in October for $1,200 a month you would have had a negative cash flow of $3,600 up to the end of March after paying your mortgage payment. As it is, you’ve experienced a $10,800 short fall in that timeframe! Think about it.

You should also know that some insurance carriers will cancel your policy if they know the house has been left unoccupied. In addition, leaving a house empty can set you up for break-ins even in our relatively law abiding community.

I know it’s hard to lower the rent after having it higher for a long time but it’s better to have a good tenant in there taking care of things and paying you a reasonable rent, than having it sit empty, draining your bank account. Best of luck.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Q: I’m really excited that the prices have come down on Vashon enough that I can finally buy a home of my own.

Ever since my divorce my two kids and I have been at the mercy of landlords and I’m sick of it. Plus, I can’t have pets and the kids really want a dog or cat. My question is this; how do I find a reliable lender in these uneasy financial times? They all seem to offer the same basic interest rates. I applied at my bank but they haven’t really been forthcoming with what the true cost of the loan will be and that makes me nervous.

A: You’re wise to shop around for your loan. These days it’s almost a given that an offer to purchase a home will be accompanied by a pre-approval letter from the buyers lender. It’s always best to have that all sorted out before you make an offer. Interest rates are an important part of deciding on a loan, of course, but you’re right that most lenders, banks, credit unions, and mortgage brokers offer close to the same rates.

What can be very different are your closing costs. I just had a client pre-approved with a lender for 1.5 points. That represents one and a half percent of the loan. Banks will call these points, fees, or other names but they all mean a percent of the loan. In the case of this client that would have cost him $6,375.00. Add to that his pre-paid taxes, insurance and reserves of one kind or another, plus the cost of the credit check and the appraisal, as well as miscellaneous fees the bank charges and his total cost would have been just shy of $10,000. I recommended that he check with other lenders and he found one that charged him less than half that amount. That’s a huge difference!

Find a lender who comes highly recommended and one with whom you feel comfortable sharing all of your financial information. You’ll be working closely with this person so you need to trust them.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Q: I’d like to buy a house but I’ve been told that the $8,000 buyer credit is expired.

I really can’t buy a place without that. Will the government do something like that again? It would be great if they did it before the prices go up and while there are houses for sale in my price range.

A: As it happens, the first time home buyer credit was extended and you have until April 30th to get into a contract to buy a house, and you have up until July 1st to close on the sale. There is even a new provision that allows someone who has been living in the current home they own at least five years to purchase another primary residence and receive up to a $6,500 tax credit.

Also remember that if you don’t owe that much on your taxes the government sends you the difference in cash! You can apply it to 2009 taxes or 2010. There are some income limits to receive the full benefit. You must make $125,000 or less for a single person and $225,000 for those filing jointly. If you make more you get a smaller benefit.


We have an active market right now with new listings coming on the market almost daily. Several of those listings are in your price range so there is reason to hope that you could find a home that will work for you before the April 30th deadline.


I am happy to say that I have sold several homes in the last several months to first time home buyers. The $8,000 benefit was a real help in all of these cases. Because we finally have some inventory in the lower price ranges, these young families as well as many single individuals have been able to buy a home in what has been an expensive and out of reach real estate market.

If you have been on the fence about buying, have your lender figure out for you how that tax credit can help you finally own a home of your own.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Q: My husband and I bought a property last summer direct from the owner.

Because it was just raw land we didn’t really think we needed to do any kind of inspections or anything. We signed something with the seller that said we understood that the land was a “recreational property”. Now we find out that’s some sort of code for not buildable! We didn’t pay a huge amount for the land, but when we recently met with a staff person from the County, we discovered that we can’t legally even put up a yurt or any kind of structure. I’m sick about it and wonder how we can sell it.

A: Even buying raw land requires some due diligence on the part of a buyer. If you intended to build on it you probably should have made your offer contingent on finding out if it was a legally buildable lot, if there were critical area issues to consider, if there was a water share available, and if the property would “perk” for a septic system.

The seller might be culpable if he or she knew that you really thought it was buildable. That’s for an attorney to advise you on and a judge to decide. But for now, if you want to sell it, you can always approach the neighbors, who might be willing to buy it to add to the size of their property. Often I’ve been able to get two or more neighbors to go in together on a property just to create some open green space, or a play area, garden or view corridor for all of them.

If the neighbors don’t want it you should list it for sale. Just be very clear in your advertising that as far as you know, it isn’t buildable. We have a lot of small parcels on Vashon that are not currently buildable. What you paid should have been a clue to the real value of the land. I believe the old adage that if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Q: It’s been almost three years since you sold us our house and we’d like to ask your help in suing the seller and home inspector.

After the last big rain we had several small leaks in our roof. We’ve been taking very good care of it by having it pressure washed twice a year to get the moss off. We think the roof was in much worse shape than the sellers represented in their disclosure and we also think the inspector should have noticed if there were any leaks.

A: Before you pay for an attorney there are a few things to consider. First, if you read the seller’s disclosure form closely you will notice, as I pointed out to you during your purchase, that the answers sellers give are simply to the best of their knowledge. They don’t guarantee anything. Most people don’t get up on their roof so they can’t report any problems unless they have experienced leaks. So you may not have a case against them.

Another document you should review is your inspection report. It also doesn’t guarantee anything beyond what the inspector can see on the day of the inspection. The forms most inspectors use also generally have a short timeline for complaints and three years would be too long to justify a complaint now.

The third and most important issue is that, sadly, you did not follow my advice to never, ever pressure wash your roof! Pressure washing can remove the granules that are the protective surface of the shingles. If you’ve been doing this twice a year for three years I’m surprised you have any roofing left. No matter what somebody selling this service tells you, virtually all manufacturers of roofing materials and roofers will tell you that pressure washing is very bad for shingled roofs.

The bottom line, folks, is that I believe you probably did this to yourselves. I always stress to buyers that they refrain from pressure washing and I know it’s even in the inspection report that you received when you bought the house. I’m truly sorry.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Q: I can't believe you recommended my daughter and son-in-law buy that little house you showed us last week.

It's not in any of the neighborhoods that I recommended to them and it's really kind of crummy and way too small. We really want to have them live here so that they can be near us, but I don't want to see them living in a dump.

A: There seem to be several issues here. First, I would suggest that you and your husband drive around and take a look at everything available in your daughter's price range. Our prices are lower than they've been for many years and it's only been in the last six months or so that we've seen a few homes come on the market that your daughter and her husband can afford. Looking at everything available should give you a sort of "reality check" about what they can expect to find.

In addition, you should realize that the needs of a young couple just starting out will be different than those of us that have owned several homes over a lifetime. I sometimes have to remind myself that my first house was a real disaster. It was in a "marginal" neighborhood and looked awful, but it was in my price range, in a good location for my job, and was something I could fix up myself. It turned out to be a great home for me and I have many fond memories of my time there.

I would also add that if you want something better for your children you might consider giving them a gift of money to help them move up to a higher price range. It's common for parents to help their children buy their first home and there are some tax advantages to doing so. Check with your accountant.

It's hard not to want the very best for your children. But I think it's important to let them make their own decisions, hopefully with some suggestions from you and the help of a few well recommended professionals.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Q: At your recommendation, we bought a condo in Seattle some years ago so our son could live there while in college.

He graduated and took a job out of state. We've decided to keep the condo and rent it out. We contracted with a property manager to handle it and that is the problem. The guy has done a really lousy job. We decided to go to another, better manager but now the first manager is dragging his feet getting us our money. He has deposits that belong to us and we've been waiting weeks and still don't have the money. What do we do? Our new manager seems reluctant to go after this other guy.

A: Property management is one of the most difficult parts of the real estate industry, and it's heavily regulated. You need to go to these regulatory agencies about your problem. There are strict time lines on how long funds can be held after they have been requested.

First, be sure this manager is licensed. Only those holding a valid Washington State real estate license, working under the supervision of a real estate brokerage firm, can legally do property management. The only exception is for an on site manager in an apartment complex.

If you believe this person has not followed the law, or has been self serving or is illegally holding or using your money, you should report his actions to the following:
Enforcement Division of the Washington State Department of Licensing (360-664-6484); Washington State Attorney General (800-551-4636); and an ethics complaint to the Seattle King County Board of Realtors (800-540-3277).

No one in the real estate industry really wants to "turn in" another agent. Most of us work every day to act in full accordance with all the rules and regulations of our business and the ethical standards of the Association of Realtors. However, one bad apple can sour things for everybody, so don't hesitate to file a complaint if this property manager has mishandled your funds or many be guilty of other questionable practices.