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.