Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Q: I came in to see you with my mom and she said you answer questions for people about houses and stuff.

My grandma is writing this email for me and she said you would know the answer to my question.  We don't have a chimney.  So how can Santa bring me presents if he can't go down the chimney?

A:  I think your mom and grandma have more confidence in me than I deserve.  However, I have other experts I can call on when a question is beyond my own experience.  This one is definitely in that category.  I understand, from the experts I consulted, that way back in the 1950's and 1960's when people started building more one story homes with no chimney's, Santa figured out that he could slip through several other places in these houses.

One of those places is doggy doors and cat doors.  Another is the dryer vent, and yet another is the fan vent over your range.  He can also, apparently, squeeze through the plumbing vents but doesn't really like that one much.  The point is that magical creatures can do impossible things.  So don't worry. 

The holiday season is one where magic of every kind can happen.  It doesn't matter if you celebrate Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Solstice or just enjoy the change of season, you can set aside the commercialism and the stress and instead focus on the natural beauty of the season and reach out to those you care about with love.

We wish you all a wonderful holiday and very happy new year!

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Q: I just love going to open houses and looking at homes for sale.

I enjoy it so much that I'm thinking of becoming a real estate broker.  I've always had a really good eye for decorating and can advise people on how to prepare their homes for sale and what colors would look the most appealing to get a buyer interested.  Working with buyers, I could offer ideas on how to make a crummy place really look nice.  Where would you recommend I go to school to get my license?

A:  I can recommend a school but I think you may need a little reality check first.  Real estate is not a business for the faint of heart, especially in our current market.  You will work very long hours and there is no paycheck waiting for you until you've sold and closed a transaction.  It's common to put in 50 to 60 hours a week or more for months without a closing.  You need to be prepared for that. 

  In addition, showing homes is a very small part of the business.  In fact, I would say that I spend about 10% of my time showing houses or land and 90% doing transaction paperwork.  That also includes interacting with lenders, title companies and escrow agents, and most important; negotiating for my clients.

  Then there are continuing education classes that we must take, seminars and forums on real estate regulations as well as issues of land use, water, critical areas, septic systems, title insurance and the constantly changing rules and regulations we must follow in this business.  Plus there are hours of communicating with my clients, marketing, returning dozens of emails and calls a day, doing research on specific property my clients are interested in and a thousand other things that good brokers spend time doing.

  Your interest sound far more like those needed to stage houses for sale or do interior design or decorating.  You might want to get some career counseling at one of our community colleges and see if those areas might be a better fit.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Q: We are getting ready to put our home on the market and wonder about adding granite counter tops.

Everyone seems to expect that but we don’t want to spend anything that won’t get us a better price.

A:  I wish no one had ever heard of granite counters! They can be burned, they can be cut and scratched, they are cold, and they are just rock for heavens sake! They will be “out” soon enough and some other ridiculous thing will be touted by all the folks waiting to make money off of everyone by convincing us that we must have this newest thing! (Sorry, but this is really one of my hot buttons)

If you really want to do something worthwhile, have a home inspection done by a licensed and certified home inspector. Fix everything. If you can’t afford to fix anything, then put it all in your seller’s disclosure (you are required to fill these out) and say right up front that you won’t fix those items. Then price the place accordingly.

I can’t tell you the number of homes I’ve shown with beautiful kitchen remodels but with rotting decks, leaking roofs and faulty electrical systems. You need to know what a potential buyer’s inspector will find and fix it. You could save your sale.

Buyers often walk away from a house with too many things wrong. During a recent inspection, my buyer and I admired the lovely floor tiles in the bathroom but discovered when the inspector went under the house, that the bathroom sink and tub leaked. They had been leaking so long the floor was rotted out. That means those lovely tiles will have to come up and the entire floor replaced.

These kinds of problems can be avoided by getting a complete inspection before you list your house. Be sure you get an inspector certified to do the pest inspection too. It should be no secret that we all have rodent roommates. Get them taken care of before the buyer has to hear about it from their own inspector.

Q: You sold us our place over 20 years ago.

We thought that by now we’d have our house almost paid for, but we refinanced about five years ago for our son’s collage money and then in 2009 my husband got laid off. He finally got a job but it doesn’t pay as well as the other one did. We were just getting by when I lost my job so now we can’t make our mortgage payments. We’ve tried everything. We cut back on all our expenses, sold stuff, even borrowed a little from my folks. We’ve run out of options. What should we do now? We’ll lose our home soon.

A:  I’m so sorry to hear about your situation. You’re not alone, I’m sure you know. Many people are struggling just to get by and are close to losing their homes. There is a new law in Washington that took effect in July that mandates that lenders negotiate with borrowers and offer options and solutions. The law created real estate counselors who can go over your situation and try to renegotiate your mortgage so that you can afford the payments.

There are many non-profit organizations that offer this counseling and we have some in the Seattle-Tacoma area. To name just a few for you to call: Solid Ground 206-694-6766 or email: Another is: Washington State Housing Finance Commission at 206-287-4449 or email: Also you can call: Fair Housing Center of Washington in Tacoma at 253-274-9523 or email: For Spanish speakers El Centro De La Raza may be able to help at 206-957-4639 or email at:

Folks, please pass this on to anyone you know that might need it.  Go to the HUD web site for more non-profit organizations that can help.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Q: We are getting ready to put our home on the market and wonder about adding granite counter tops.

Everyone seems to expect that but we don’t want to spend anything that won’t get us a better price.

A: I wish no one had ever heard of granite counters! They can be burned, they can be cut and scratched, they are cold, and they are just rock for heavens sake! They will be “out” soon enough and some other ridiculous thing will be touted by all the folks waiting to make money off of everyone by convincing us that we must have this newest thing! (Sorry, but this is really one of my hot buttons)

If you really want to do something worthwhile, have a home inspection done by a licensed and certified home inspector. Fix everything. If you can’t afford to fix anything, then put it all in your seller’s disclosure (you are required to fill these out) and say right up front that you won’t fix those items. Then price the place

I can’t tell you the number of homes I’ve shown with beautiful kitchen remodels but with rotting decks, leaking roofs and faulty electrical systems. You need to know what a potential buyer’s inspector will find and fix it. You could save your sale.

Buyers often walk away from a house with too many things wrong. During a recent inspection, my buyer and I admired the lovely floor tiles in the bathroom but discovered when the inspector went under the house, that the bathroom sink and tub leaked. They had been leaking so long the floor was rotted out. That means those lovely tiles will have to come up and the entire floor replaced.

These kinds of problems can be avoided by getting a complete inspection before you list your house. Be sure you get an inspector certified to do the pest inspection too. It should be no secret that we all have rodent roommates. Get them taken care of before the buyer has to hear about it from their own inspector.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Q: We had a home inspection done on a place we wanted to buy.

It was really scary! There were some plumbing leaks and reverse electric plugs and rot in the decks. The crawl space had been infested with rats at some point, and all the insulation was pulled down. We decided not to buy that house. 

We are new to this and want to know how we can tell ahead of time when a house is such a fixer. We can just afford the bottom price range. Is that why the house was in poor shape?

A:  You may not realize it but those items you listed are really minor. They are common to most homes that have been lived in and all of it is easy to repair or fix. Almost all homes, particularly in the Northwest, have some rodents in their crawl space or attic. There are effective ways to deal with that.

Mot homes have plumbing leaks that the owners overlook and they are easily repaired.Wood will rot over time if not kept up very carefully  but a few rotted boards are easily replaced. The reverse electrical plugs refer to reverse polarity and even brand new homes can have these and they are very simple to correct.

Perhaps you need to educate your selves more about home ownership and just learn more about the systems of a house and their care.The list of repairs you brought me from your inspection would probably amount to less than a day of work for a contractor or handy person and the cost would be low.

You'll find these same  problems in most of the houses you are looking at. But there are such issues even in very high end homes. While it's easy to say that less expensive homes receive less care, I've seen real deal breaking problems in expensive houses too.

There are serious defects in many houses, of course, and finding those is the mail reason for having a home inspection. Deferred maintenance or small, easy to fix problems shouldn't keep you from home ownership.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Q: My husband and I were planning on buying a darling little cottage on Maury that’s for sale by owner.

It’s on the top of a hill and has a nice view. It’s just what I was hoping to find for a vacation getaway. My husband called the County to find out if we would be able to add on to it, since it’s just a bit too small for our family, and the County didn’t even know about it. It turns out the cottage was built without permits, there is no “legal” water source, and the septic system was never approved. I really still want it but my husband doesn’t. What would happen if we buy it anyway?

A: Because the County now knows about the place it’s likely that the code enforcement people will be out to take a look. If the owner is really lucky the County will let him get an “already built” permit. He will probably have to bring the house up to code and if there is a “bootlegged’ septic system they will probably require that he get a septic design and put in an approved system. All of that could be very expensive.

The County may require that the owner pay double the permit fees and possibly some fines. Another question would be about your “top of a hill” comment. It could be that it is built too close to a slide prone slope. That could be a real problem. There are setbacks required from a slope to try to prevent landslides. It’s possible the house would have to be moved away from the edge of the slope. That could diminish the view.

The issue of water is the most serious. The lot would have to be large enough to drill a well or able to hook on to a local water system. Without a legal water source I’m not sure that there is any legal use for the property. It’s also likely that you won’t be able to get financing for this sort of place. I vote with your husband.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Q: I know that this a really bad time to sell a home, with the recession and all, but I’m worried abut my mother who lives alone in her home here.

I’m the only family she has left and I live in another state, so I can’t be as much help as I’d like to be. It’s really getting hard for her to do simple chores around the house and yard. She still drives a little bit but I don’t want her driving off the Island in freeway traffic. She has a specialist she goes to in Seattle about once a month and the bus doesn’t go near there. If we sell the house we would use the money to support her in an assisted living facility. I know that can be expensive so we need to get the most possible out of the sale. What do you think the place is worth?

A: You’ll be surprised to learn that the house is worth a great deal less than you were hoping for. Our prices have dropped significantly in the last few years, so once you pay all the closing costs you will only have enough to pay for your mother’s care for a few years. Since she’s basically in good health she very well might outlive those assets.

Before you sell the home and move her away from her familiar surroundings, you should check out what senior services are available on the Island that could help your mother stay in her home for several more years.

Interestingly enough, this Friday is a forum on senior services sponsored by the Vashon Social Service Network. There will be people there from many agencies to explain what they offer to help the older members of our community stay in their homes longer. You should attend. It’s 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. this Friday the 5th at the Vashon Community Care Center. There are many kinds of helpers on the Island that could assist your mother with chores, take her to her doctor’s appointments and offer many other services.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Q: We were right in the middle of the process of buying a house and the sellers took an offer from somebody else.

They claimed that because there wasn’t a legal description attached to our offer the sale wasn’t any good. Have you ever heard of that? The address was listed on the purchase and sales agreement and I don’t know why that isn’t enough.

A: A full legal description must accompany all offers according to state law. This has been repeatedly upheld by our courts. It’s not a binding agreement without the legal description. It also must be the full legal description, not some abbreviation, and should preferably be from a title company.

Many Realtors have been getting by for years with just an abbreviated legal description or none at all. As long as both the buyer and seller are motivated to close it doesn’t become an issue. However, if either party wants out of the contract they can use the excuse that there was not a full legal description attached to the contract and signed or initialed by the parties.

I would guess that your sellers got a better offer and were looking for a way out of your transaction. There are almost always loopholes that can be used to walk away from a contract. These days there are so many issues that must be addressed in an offer. The average purchase and sales contract with addenda is at least 12 to 18 pages long.

It’s always a good idea to carefully read every word in those documents and get a clear answer to any questions you may have. Consulting an attorney is a good idea if you are not sure you understand everything. You might consider having an attorney look over the customary forms used by the Multiple Listing Service before you make an offer just to be sure you understand them. Most experienced, knowledgeable real estate brokers are, of course, very familiar with these forms and can give you some guidance as well

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Q: My wife and I really liked that property you showed us last week but I think the price is too high.

I looked it up on Zillow and they say that it’s worth a lot less. We might still want to make an offer but it would be for about 20% less than the asking price. I was surprised that you didn’t suggest a lower offer. You have on other property we’ve looked at in the past, so why not this one?

A: First I should tell you that it sold last weekend, probably for full asking price. I understand there were multiple offers. Determining value, especially in our small localized market, is very challenging. What I can tell you is that the house you looked at, like some of the others that are selling quickly, was well priced for our local market.

I should also caution you against using Zillow, or any other similar online site. These sites operate on computer generated information that is often wrong, and they attempt to give values for markets all over the country with no knowledge or understanding of the issues in each local area.

Currently, Zillow is showing homes for sale on Vashon that have sold and closed. They even have some homes that were taken off the market weeks or months ago still showing up on their site. They simply can’t be relied on to give accurate information, especially on market value. There are homes for sale that they don’t list on their site and incorrect information about many properties. People should really only use the websites of local Realtors in each market area.

Buyers are wise to research everything they can about housing, local schools, issues in the community and anything else that helps them make an informed decision. But please, don’t rely on these online companies to be accurate.

Using a Realtor with experience and knowledge in their local market, one that’s properly representing you, is a far better way to determine when a property is over priced or when it’s a good deal. Better luck next time.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Q: I just want to let you know that you were right and my husband was wrong about the price we would get for our house.

You met with us over a year ago and were very helpful telling us some things to do to get ready to sell. You also gave us a price opinion. My husband didn’t believe you and I think he was even a little rude. Well, you were right.

     After having the house on the market for a year and dropping the price several times, we finally sold it for just about what you said it would go for. I thought by writing this maybe it would be a warning to other people not to over price their houses. We paid out another $20,000 in mortgage payment waiting to sell.

A: I appreciate your comments and hope it does give other sellers something to think about. Most active Realtors are happy to give anyone an opinion of value and help them figure out what needs to be done to make the house more attractive.

     I recently sold a home where the sellers priced it very well to sell quickly. The house looked really clean and nice and it was priced exactly right to get more than one offer in just a couple of days. Those sellers won’t have any further mortgage payments, insurance or taxes to pay and can move on to their next home. That’s much smarter, to me, than sitting on the market for a really long time. They still did very well on the sale and my buyer clients are very happy.

     What I often hear from sellers is that they get sick of keeping the house in ready to show condition and get tired of having to leave quickly for showings that don’t seem to result in an offer. Many homes have poor floor plans or other issues that make them more of a challenge to sell and the price needs to reflect that. But remember that every place will sell at the right price.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Q: My husband and I are retired and are both in our late 60’s.

We worry that we won’t be able to stay in our home because of the high property taxes. Our children live in another part of the state where the taxes aren’t as high and are encouraging us to move there. We love our kids and would like to be closer to them but we really want to stay on Vashon. All our friends are here and we are active in a local church and several clubs and organizations. My daughter says there is some sort of tax relief for seniors in King County but I’ve never heard of it. Do you know where I can call for information?

A: Funny you should ask. Your timing is perfect. There is actually a presentation scheduled for next week, on Tuesday June 14th, that will explain the local tax deferral programs. This event will take place at the Senior Center at 6:30 p.m. I don’t usually use this space to publicize classes or programs but this one is really important.

     I’ve spoken to many people over the years that are 61 or older who could have been paying less in property taxes, but they simply didn’t apply for the tax exemption. This can make such a huge difference in keeping folks in their homes. It also applies to people under 61 who have had to retired early because of physical disabilities.

     There’s also a state program that’s not limited to seniors, but is for anyone who has lived in their home at least five years, has at least 40% equity in their property, and makes $57,000 or less per year.

     It sometimes seems that governmental agencies create programs that can be helpful to us but then they don’t publicize them. In these days of severe shortages in state and county funds, I can understand that they need money, but here are a couple of programs that can bring tax relief to thousands of people and I think we should all know about it. I hope you’ll attend this presentation.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Q: We bought this cute little cabin on the water a few years ago.

Frankly, we didn’t buy it from you because you told us you didn’t recommend buying in this area because of slide hazards. We didn’t like your attitude, telling us what we should buy, so we went to somebody else. Well, sadly, we’ve had two big slides here and it was only because we were on top of the situation that we saved our house. Now my husband has been transferred and we have to move. Do we have to disclose about the slides if no permanent damage was done?

A: Yes, you must disclose it and explain it. Just checking the box on the sellers disclosure form asking if there have been any slides is not enough. The form requires that you explain the details about the slides. I would guess that by doing this you might actually help yourselves. Giving the details may suggest to potential buyers that there are ways to protect the house from serious damage if those methods worked for you.

Because these issues often result in lawsuits, I would recommend that you check with an attorney who specializes in real estate, to help you fill out your disclosure. Real estate brokers are not really supposed to help you do that, although they should check the form to be sure you filled it all out.

I realize that I can be self righteous at times and I apologize if my manner offended you. I just hate to see folks get into problems, particularly if they may not know the right questions to ask to get at the truth. Even using all of the tools at our disposal it can often be hard to get the full story about a property. With waterfront I think it’s even more critical that you dig deep for information.

Just a tip to those considering waterfront property. Be sure to check early with your insurance carrier. Many of our waterfront areas are considered flood zones and will require government flood insurance. That’s pricey so you need to know.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Q: Can you tell me what the customary routine is for showing homes?

My husband and I were out with an agent over the weekend and he seemed to be running in circles. Some places were empty and we could go to those anytime but some homes we could only see at a specific time. He had conversations on the phone with some of the owners about taking dogs with them and one made a big deal about locking a gate or something. Why is this so difficult?

A: Showing homes, especially if they’re occupied, can be a real choreographic nightmare sometimes. Most sellers want to be notified of the showing a day ahead and want the appointment made for a specific time. That’s often hard to accomplish when showing several homes to clients that are located in different parts of the Island.

We often run into other challenges when our clients miss the boat they were planning on getting and we have to call everyone back and reset the time of the appointment. Another problem is trying to guess how long a client will spend in each house. Some folks are interested in everything and want to walk the property, see the garage, and even spend time measuring rooms. Others just pop in and out in just a few minutes to get a general idea of the place. That can mean that by the time you get to house number six on the list, you’re an hour late or an hour early.

Many listings have special instructions for closing a gate or leaving a back door open for the cat, or calling ahead just before you get there so the seller can scoot out with the dogs. We all try to be respectful of people’s time and requirements but it isn’t easy.

Cut your broker some slack. He is juggling many issues as he’s trying to show you everything in your price range that you’d like to see. His thoughtful handling of seller’s often difficult requests can pay off when you make an offer on one of those homes.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Q: My husband and I loaned our son money years ago to buy a home on Vashon.

We let him pay small payments all these years to help him out.  My husband has since passed away, and I am almost glad he isn't here to see what a mess this has become. I found out that my son is about to lose the house. He hasn't paid his taxes for three years and the County is going to foreclose. In addition, he went out and got a loan on the place somehow and hasn't been keeping up with his payments, so the bank is going to foreclose on him too. The money we loaned him was part of our retirement so I need to know how I can get it back if the bank sells the house.

A: I am so sorry to hear your story. The sad truth is that you will probably not see any money out of the sale of this property. The County will probably get their money first. That will include the back taxes and penalties, which really add up. Then the bank that holds the first trust deed will get the rest. Your son owes more than the property is worth so the bank won't even get what is owed. It's also possible that he owes the IRS who will certainly be in line for money.

I checked with a title company and it appears that when you loaned him the money you didn't secure the loan with the property. You made an unsecured loan. I would recommend you see an attorney right away, but it doesn't look good, I'm afraid. Your son clearly owes you the money if you have any kind of a written contract, but if he has no assets there's not much chance you'll get paid back.

When family members loan each other money it's always a good idea to treat it lake any other business transaction. If you had a recorded contract secured by the real estate you would be able to see some return on your loan. I'm so sorry.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Q: This is probably a stupid question, but we're getting our home ready to sell next year and trying to fix things up.

We want to paint both the outside and inside of the house. How do you choose colors? We always hear you should paint everything white or beige when you are going to sell, but we still have to live here for awhile and I hate white and beige. Any suggestions?

A: I also dislike all white and find that it can seem institutional or cold. It also gets dirty faster. Beige is okay, especially with an attractive trim color, but can be overdone, We are all led by the nose when it comes to color. For the most part, colors are chosen by a very elite team of decorators and color professionals that tell the various industries what the hot colors will be for each season. The largest, I believe, is the Color Association of the United States.

These folks tell decorators, hair colorists, fashion designers and furniture and carpet manufacturers what colors will be popular. For industrial uses the color has to be "in" longer. A large hotel chain will not change its carpet every year, so those large institutions are given color ideas that are expected to last for several years.

If you want to know the new colors that will last awhile check upscale hotels that have recently put in new carpet or painted their interiors. We are currently (thank goodness) moving away from the dull colors that decorators call "chalky". I call them baby poop colors. (Just my personal opinion). The greens look like baby food peas or asparagus, for instance. I'm thrilled to see those go!

I feel the best bet for resale is to use colors that are harmonious, not garish or too dark. Use colors that give the place a warm, soft feeling. You can find color guides online or talk to the paint people in one of our local home supply stores. If you use a decorator or colorist, that can be even better. Best of luck.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Q: For some reason this winter we've lost more trees and big limbs than any year in the past.

We called several logging outfits and they said they wouldn't even come look at the fallen trees unless we had acres of them. Then we called lumber companies and were appalled at how much they wanted to charge us to cut down a couple of dangerous trees and cut up the fallen ones. It was in the thousands! We can't afford to pay someone to cut these trees up and we don't want to watch them rot. What can we do?

A: It seems that the lumber companies and loggers are not interested in residential property much these days and will charge you to remove the trees. It used to be the other way around and they would pay you. I suggest a couple of things that won't make you money but might at least clean up the mess and make you feel better.

One option is to contact Vashon Forest Stewards on the Island. Their manager, David Warren, can be reached at 463-9405. Check out their website: You may be able to get a tax write off for donating the trees to this group and they will do the cutting and hauling. They provide Island jobs and recycle the trees into finished lumber to support their education programs.

You might also consider offering the wood to some of the local organizations who cut, split and deliver wood each winter to house bound elderly folks, very low income families and others in need who heat with wood. These volunteers do the work so that people in our community can stay warm in the winter. These groups include the local St Vincent DePaul, several island churches, Vashon Rotary Club and others. You can call Kris Hvatum, at 408-7267, who helps to coordinate these efforts.

One last thing. Leave a few downed trees and snags for the woodpeckers. They make quick work of turning those trees into sawdust and, along the way. provide nest sites for owls and other birds

Monday, March 14, 2011

Q: We have been so happy with the little farm you sold us!

We're all settled in and have already started a garden and have a few chickens. We think we'd like to have some goats or cows and start making cheese. I'd love to work from home and we might be able to make enough selling cheese that I could do that. Are there County regulations we have to know about?

A: Yes, there are regulations concerning how many animals you can have on your land, as well as other regulations regarding farming. Check the King County site, Department of Environmental Services, bulletin 41A. For your site, which has about three acres of pasture, I believe that you can have up to nine cows or fifteen goats in a fenced area. However, you will need a livestock management plan to have that many. The County wants to encourage small farms in the rural areas so you should be able to get some help from them on the management plan.

To sell your products you will need a special permit and will have to adhere to County food safety regulations as well as those from the State Department of Agriculture's food safety program. All that information is online.

I'd suggest you start with the Washington State University (WSU) Extension and their program on making safe cheese. They are here to help small farmers get started, trained and operate in such a way that they protect public health at the same time they build a successful farm business.

I know your place so I know there are no neighborhood restrictions against having livestock. However, for others who might be thinking of doing something similar, they should check their title documents and be sure there are no local restrictions against keeping livestock.

It would also be helpful to talk to others around the island and around the region who have done similar small farm projects to find out what they went through and learn from their experience. It's better to do your homework and save yourself from preventable mistakes.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Q: We're taking our house off the market.

We think that the price was right and we had lots of showings but I guess the economy is just so bad that no one is buying. When do you think the market will improve enough that we can sell our place?

A: I wish I had a crystal ball and then we'd all know what's next for the economy. What I can tell you is that sales have improved steadily here since the recession started. There have been twelve homes sold and closed so far this year and there are ten more with sales pending that should close soon. That's a 50% improvement over last year! In our small market that's good, especially for winter.

All of those homes were well priced and most were clean and very presentable. I know it's difficult to have your home on the market and also try to live there, but I showed your home a couple of times and the place was very smelly and dirty. It was often hard for potential buyers to even go through the entire house because of the smell.

I would suggest that you consult with someone who stages homes to talk about ways to make your place more appealing. Your listing agent will know who to call. You should also have the place professionally cleaned and then keep it as clean and tidy as possible. The outside of the house should receive some attention too. The siding is covered with mold and is very unattractive. It should be pressure washed.

Keeping the yard looking its best could really give the place a boost, especially going into spring. You have a couple of old non-working vehicles in the back of the property and that really turns people off. Find a place to store them or sell them. Having those in the yard tells the world you don't care how your place looks. That's OK if you are going to continue living there but it won't work if you want to sell it. I wish you the best of luck.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Q: You sold us this house 10 years ago and we've really been happy here.

One of the nicest things about this property was that it felt so private. Now the neighbors have cut down three magnificent Douglas fir trees which we loved, and we no longer have the same privacy. I'm just sick about it. I didn't think people could just cut down trees. Who can I call to make a complaint?

A: I receive more calls and emails about people upset about neighbors cutting trees than any other subject. We all have to remember that what we are talking about is somebody else's property. They get to decide what to grow or cut, no matter how we feel about it.

There are restrictions on when and how trees can be cut based on King County ordinances, but cutting a few trees, especially (as in this case) when they pose a serious hazard, doesn't generally require permission or permits.

It would have been nice had the neighbors come over and at least warned you that this was going to happen. It would have been less traumatic for you. By the same token, it would be nice if you went over there and gently told them how much you loved those trees and that you're sorry they had to cut them. My guess is that they'll explain that they were upset to have to cut them but that the trees posed a hazard.

Many trees on the island are sick or dying. I've spoken to arborists who've explained about the diseases the trees can get especially our Madrone and Douglas fir. If a large tree is sick or weak and could drop on your house, you probably should take it down. Of course it's sad, but it's better than losing your home.

I'a a conversationist and "tree hugger" and I have very large trees close enough to my home to crush me if they fall in a storm. But when I look at my lovely trees, I just can't bear to cut them. But that's my choice, after all.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Q: Our house has been on the market for over a year now with no offers.

The listing has expired and we are thinking of switching to another broker and want your recommendations.

A: Switching brokers or agencies will probably not solve the problem for you. There are times when a broker may not be doing a good job of marketing a home but in your case, you have an excellent listing broker and the house has been well advertised. It is also well staged and there have been many open houses. She has followed up aggressively on any showings and has, I believe, shared feedback with you from the brokers who showed your home.

The problem, as is often the case, is the price. I can't interfere with another broker's listing, that's against our code of ethics, but since you are currently not actively listed I can advise you. I recommend that you stick to your current broker but take her recommendation as to the best price to get the house sold.

No seller wants to hear that they are going to have to lower their price. But in our current market the houses that are well priced are going relatively quickly for at or close to their asking price, but the over priced listings are sitting on the market for a very long time.

We have had many homes over the last year that went through several price drops. The sellers kept taking a small amount off the price hoping for a buyer who would offer that price. When those homes finally sold, they sold for well under what they probably would have sold for if the price had been right in the first place.

Many sellers are losing money when they sell, especially if they purchased in the three years just before the recession. However, in you case, you've owned the home for a long time and are blessed with a low mortgage balance. Bite the bullet and drop the price significantly and then you can move on with your life and still show a good profit.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Q: With all the snow we’re been having this winter I’m getting worried about my roof.

When we bought the place a year ago the inspector said it needed a new roof. We negotiated for a drop in price instead of getting the sellers to replace the roof but didn't ever actually get a new roof. I know this is a bad time of the year to replace the roof but it could be leaking in the attic by now. What do you think?

A: You've hit on one of my pet peeves. In many transactions the sellers prefer to lower the price by approximately the cost of repairs and work orders to avoid the delay of waiting for the work to be completed. That's fine but then sometimes the work never gets done and the conditions just get worse over time.

Winter is not the ideal time to replace the roof but I would strongly recommend you do it anyway. Line up bids from local roofers and have them order your roofing material. They can wait until there is a break in the weather. It should take no more than a day or two days to do your roof. Then you can rest easy that your house is protected.

I would also recommend that you call your inspector back and pay him to check the attic for leaks as soon as the new roof is on. If there have been leaks you could have a problem that should get fixed right away.

Be sure that the roofer installs a proper drip edging on the roof to prevent moisture from wicking up into the plywood sheathing. That's a major cause of mold and leaks. If the gutters and downspouts are not the best or have been damaged have those replaced too. They are a vital part of keeping your house safe and dry.

For anyone buying a home who decides to take an allowance from the seller or price drop instead of having the work done, please get to those work orders quickly. These conditions only get worse with time.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Q: We want to start the New Year off right and really start looking seriously for a home to buy.

The prices are attractive and the interest rates are staying low. We've decided on Vashon Island but we're not sure where the best neighborhoods are or the areas we should avoid. We intend to stay put for a long time but we want to be sure to buy in an area of the Island that will appreciate. What do you suggest?

A: Unlike most cities, Vashon doesn't have necessarily have "better neighborhoods" or areas to avoid. Most of the preferences that are reflected in pricing have to do with location issues, like distances from the Seattle ferry or closeness to town. However, there are a few areas that tend to sell more quickly because they are perceived to have special characteristics. Examples might include Burton which most people find charming, or the south end of Vashon, which is more rural. or Dockton, that has more sun.

The size of the property also plays a part in values here, as in most suburban and rural areas. Folks moving here often want acreage. They may want to have horses, or a large garden, or orchards, or they may simply love the idea of owning a large property.

Another plus, of course, is having a view. View properties tend to be more expensive, as you would expect, but many buyers want to be able to see the mountains or the Sound from their island home.

Historically all homes have appreciated here. There have been no areas to my knowledge, that have dropped in value while other areas have increased. Obviously, as with the entire country , all our values have dropped during this recession. That's why this is such a good time to buy.

The main thing to remember is that we have a very small real estate market. That means you won't have a lot of choices. But most people who live here gave up some of their choices in order to be a part of this wonderful community.