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.