Tuesday, December 31, 2013

OK folks, here are some New Year’s resolutions for your home:

In 2014:

1. I will clean my gutters at least twice a year so they won’t overflow and cause damage.
2. I will have my furnace serviced and cleaned at least once a year.
3. I will have the chimney cleaned at least once a year if I have a woodstove.
4. I will change the batteries on the smoke detector and CO2 detector at least once this year.
5. I will absolutely clean and stain my deck to prevent wood rot this year.
6. I will love my house by keeping the paint clean and repaint before raw wood shows through.
7. I will drain water lines and insulated outside spigots for winter now if I haven’t already!
8. I will clean the roof this year but not by pressure washing.
9. I will clean moss off walkways to prevent falls and mishaps.
10. I will check for water leaks in all sinks and tubs to prevent serious damage.

Plus, you will have a great New Year! Take care everybody!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Q: We’re getting ready to put the house on the market due to a job transfer.

We’re leaving Vashon and this area reluctantly and want to have one last holiday season in the house with our extended family. How can we manage that? I can’t imagine buyers coming to see the house during the holidays but if they do, how can we keep the place looking good and have our holiday decorations, etc?

A: I can assure you that there are buyers all through the winter. I encourage folks to look in the winter because they can see the property when all the landscaping is dormant rather than be dazzled by the landscaping. I also know that the sellers who are on the market through the holidays are usually very motivated.

I would suggest that you minimize your holiday decorations and displays. You’re moving anyway so just put out a few of your special things. That keeps holiday items from becoming a distraction to buyers. Minimize or forget yard decorations. Lights are always nice in the darker months so if you have them up and ready to go that’s great.

We are lucky to live in such a safe community but it’s always a good idea to lock up valuables while your house is for sale. That means money, jewelry, expensive collectibles, and drugs. I would add holiday gifts to that list too. Bring them out for your family get together but keep them out of sight before the festivities.

Your listing agent will make some suggestions that will be helpful too, I’m sure. Holiday cookies out on a plate are a welcome sight to potential buyers. I recall a lovely lady who put out home backed cookies and fresh coffee for every showing. I always had at least one cookie so that her feeling wouldn’t be hurt. (Yes, I’m being funny) I noticed that buyers would spend more time in that house. But you don’t have to go to that much trouble. Just keep the place as neat as possible and be ready to show as quickly as possible.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Q: I was in your office recently with some friends of mine who are looking for a weekend getaway.

I was frankly shocked that you said there were areas of the Island you won’t sell. I guess I’m naive but aren’t there rules or something that you have to show everything on the market? I don’t want my friend missing an opportunity because you have some sort of prejudice about specific places.
A:  I’m sorry if I gave you the impression that I arbitrarily choose areas I don’t like and exclude them from showing or selling. In fact, I am working from the specific history of substantial landslides and serious flooding in certain areas that have sort of red lined those areas as far as I’m concerned.

I really don’t have to show everything. I can’t say bad things about another Realtor or "steer" a buyer to a specific area, but knowledge of major landslides or serious floods is a material defect for many areas of the Island and I want to be sure folks know about that. I want them to have their eyes wide open.

In addition, I’m happy to refer your friends to another broker in another company if they really intend to buy in those areas that I’m excluding. I have discovered, over the years that even when everything is disclosed and buyers get inspections and engineering studies, etc. they can still come back years from now and say that I was at fault for letting them buy a seriously defective property.

More important to me is the fact that I can’t live with myself if I sell a property I know is in a serious slide hazard area or flood area. Most of my clients become my friends. I want them to be happy now and 20 years from now.

Listing agents can pick and choose as well as I can and some believe they are covered by the seller’s disclosures and public record. That is their choice and I totally respect their decision to list such properties. But I don’t have to sell them.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Q: I can’t believe that the buyer of our house is asking us to replace a cracked window and fix a leak in the kitchen sink.

We included that in our seller’s disclosure so they already knew about it when they made the offer to buy the house. What’s the deal?

A: Disclosing defects by filling in the seller’s disclosure (form 17) is critical. You must disclose anything you know about the property by filling out that form. However, it has nothing to do with the inspection done by the purchaser at their expense. They can ask for anything to be fixed that is found by that inspection. The fact that you disclosed it doesn’t mean they can’t ask that it be repaired or replaced.

Most sellers try to get their home ready to sell but often miss things they have grown accustomed to and no longer notice. Things like a broken or cracked window or a plumbing leak can lead to much more serious damage if left unattended. These are not very expensive repairs but will make a difference in cost of heat, appearance of the home and, in the case of a leak, potential for major problems with water damage to the floor.

Also keep in mind that you’ve lived in the home for a long time. The buyers are just getting to know the house and property. They will see things differently from you because this is all new to them. It doesn’t mean there needs to be any hostility between sellers and buyers or misunderstanding. You’re lucky if this is all they find that needs repair.

Most of us leave home maintenance chores for last minute if at all. Selling a home suddenly brings these unfinished projects or deferred maintenance issues into the bright lights of an inspector’s flashlight. The best thing to do, in my opinion, is to have an inspection of your home before you put it on the market. You’ll see what a potential buyer will find and can make repairs before you list the property.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Q: My folks want to buy a rental property on Vashon and you took them out looking at what was available.

I was surprised to hear that you discouraged them from buying a couple of places I thought were really a good buy. Why was that?

A: Buying investment property is very different than buying a home you intend to live in.  You have to think like a renter.  Our company did property management here on the island for many years.  We no longer do that but it was certainly an educational experience for me.
Generally, you want to have a rental that fits the requirements of the largest number of people so that you have a good number of potential tenants to chose from and have very little turnover.  You are losing money every time the place sits empty.

 In my experience most folks are looking for a three bedroom, two bath home.  That fits a variety of family sizes and is usually in the highest demand.  A small, two bedroom, one bath home will work for a single person or even a couple who don’t mind a tight fit,  but it leaves out larger families or the many people who use a bedroom as an home office. 

  You’re also better off with a home that’s not too isolated.  Many long term renters use the bus service here or walk to work.  That means you want a place closer to town and/or close the bus line.  The math also matters. If your parents bought a small, two bedroom home they might get an average of $900 per month.  If they bought a three bedroom, two bath home, they would likely get $1,200 to $1,800 or more depending on the condition of the home. 
  There are houses here that rent for $2,000 a month or much more, but those often attract higher income tenants who are just renting until they find a home they want to buy.  In that case, you  have several months of lost rent between tenants and that wipes out the value of the higher rent.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Q: My real estate broker is really hassling me to get to the escrow office and sign my closing papers.

The house doesn’t even close until next week. What’s the rush? I think he’s being pushy and I wanted your opinion.

A: Your broker is not pushing you. The closing date is the date upon which the transaction is recorded at the County courthouse. In order for that to happen the parties to the transaction, the sellers and buyers, have to sign their documents several days ahead of that closing date. Let me explain how the scenario usually goes in a typical sale.

The buyer’s lender plays the major role in the timing of everything. That’s really important to understand. The escrow company can’t prepare closing documents until they get the final loan package from the lender. That means the buyer must be very responsive to whatever the lender asks for. Waiting a few days until you can get around to sending them your latest pay stub, for instance, can put a halt to everything and delay closing.

Once the escrow company has the final loan package from the lender, they prepare all of the closing documents. You sign those documents and then the whole package has to go back to the lender for final review. That can take a couple of days. That’s why signing earlier is important. Any delay can shut things down.

I recommend that a buyer be fully preapproved for their loan before they even start looking to buy. That saves a lot of time once you make an offer. Plus, a preapproval letter is generally expected with any offer. Next, once you have an accepted offer, get the documentation requested to the lender as soon as possible. Even if it seems like they just asked for and received those same documents a couple of weeks ago, send them again anyway. I’m not kidding about that! It happens often. The best case is that the buyers and sellers are able to sign everything at the escrow office three days or so before the closing date.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Q: We’ve been through a couple of sales already and are so disappointed that there were so many problems with the houses.

The inspector found all kinds of issues. Is there any hope of finding a house that’s really in good shape?

A:  Keep in mind that no one goes under their house. A beautifully remodeled home can be full of wood destroying insects slowly eating away the structure of the home. They can also have rats in the attic (common here) and small leaks that are not apparent but have slowly rotted out the kitchen floor. The smartest sellers have a pre-inspection before they put a house on the market and then fix the things that are problems. That’s all too rare.

Deferred maintenance in all of our homes is also common. The back porch stairs that you walk down every day could have rot at the bottom and you wouldn’t notice. The light switches could all have reverse polarity (common) and you’d never know it. The water heater could have been installed improperly and you wouldn’t have a clue. The bottom line is that there are no "perfect’ houses. Even brand new homes have issues that have to be fixed.

You will never buy a home if you want to wait for the perfect home. Your best bet is to have your broker negotiate repairs that actually are health or safety issues, and then move in and fix the small things over time yourself. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sold homes that I sold years before and found the same problems that had been on the inspection then. We live in our homes. They are not museum objects. Some wear and tear is expected.

For sellers, I suggest you get an inspection or at least get yourself under the house and see what’s there. Rotted beams, wood destroying organisms, rats, debris and junk all are common. Fix it now, before you put that for sale sign up. You’ll make more money on your house and it will sell faster. Get real folks, nothing is perfect.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Q: We want to sell but we don’t want any of our friends to know we’re moving.

It’s sort of a delicate situation and we want to keep it quiet. Any suggestions on how we can list it but not have it on the Internet or a sign out front?

A:  I have to say that the days are long gone when you can expect any privacy. Keep in mind that when a house is listed it not only goes to the local multiple listing service but it’s picked up by dozens of online real estate sites as well as the web sites of every agent in the MLS. The legal description of the property is part of that listing. Potential buyers can look that up and find out what taxes you pay, the County assessment on your property, photos of the house and all the information the County has on the property.

Also, in this day of transparency, your names will be listed on the legal description, even if your listing agent uses a term like "not disclosed" for the owner. There are no secrets! Using that information people can look you and your husband up on the Internet and find out facts like, where you work, how much you owe on your house, where you’ve lived in the past, where you went to school, and often, see your photo.

I don’t mean to scare you. This is just a fact of life. If you really want to sell, tell everyone you know that you’re listing your home. Broadcast it to the world. That will bring the most potential buyers to your door. If you really don’t want anyone to know why your selling you will have to come up with something to tell folks that works for you.

I should also add, as a note to buyers, that not everything you read on the Internet real estate websites is accurate. (Like Zillow, Trulia, etc) If you’re window shopping homes, use only the sites from local real estate brokerages. That will have the most accurate information.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Q: We intend to buy for cash but part of the cash is from the sale of our house in Kansas.

We have it listed and priced to sell fast. We made an offer on something here but the seller wanted something called a "verification of funds to close."  We didn’t want to fill that out. Our finances are private. How can we work around this?

A: When you buy a house your finances are not private. The seller has the right and the listing agent the obligation; to be sure you can actually come up with the money to close on the sale of the house. To represent that you can pay cash and not really have that ability is fraud. If you have to sell your house in Kansas first, then you will need to make an offer contingent on that sale.

Frankly, most sellers will not accept a contingency offer. It could take months for your house to sell and they are basically off the market during that time. You can make a non-contingent offer once you have a buyer for your home in Kansas, which is a good way to go. You would use a different form that allows you some time to wait until your house in Kansas closes before closing on the home here. As for verification of funds, that will be required in any cash sale. A third party, usually a banker, stock broker, money management firm or trust attorney, will have to verify that you have enough cash to close the sale.

Special Note: We just want to thank all of our many clients and friends for 20 years of support! Yes, Amiad & Associates is 20 years old this year. We intend to keep working for buyers and doing all we can for this wonderful community for many years to come.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Q: We’ve missed out on a few houses this year because they sold so fast.

I don’t know how people can make up their minds in a day that they want to buy something. We were pre-approved with our lender but now she is saying we have to update all of that information again to stay pre-approved. How can we buy if things are moving so fast and the lenders want more and more paperwork all the time?

A: It can be very frustrating to be in such a busy market. Part of the reason for this market is due to pent up demand and low inventory, plus concerns that interest rates and prices are going up.

  I recommend that you go see everything in your price range on a regular basis. The more you see the better you will hone your skills at judging a house and property. Many people fall in love with a home that was nothing like what they thought they wanted. You don’t know until you look. Once you’re clear about what will work for you, it should get easier to make up your mind quickly.
Remember that nothing will be perfect. You have to be flexible or you’ll end up never having a home here at all. No home will have all that you’re looking for so narrow down the field to the one or two most important things. You can create the rest as you live in the house.
As for getting a loan, the lenders all have more regulations now than ever before and they have to know that you are still in the same position financially that you were months ago. You may have lost a job, changed jobs, charged up a credit debt, or any number of things that will change the picture for your home loan. Be patient and keep the lender informed and updated all the time. You will need that preapproval letter to go with any offer to buy.  Get organized so that all of your financial information is at your figure tips. Good luck!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Q: We have looked at a couple of manufactured homes on the Island because they are affordable and some we’ve seen are very nice.

Friends keep telling us that it’s impossible to get a home loan for them. They also say you have to pay a lot higher interest rate. We’ve heard you have a lot of experience with manufactured homes so we wanted your opinion.

A:    I just sold a very nice manufactured home on acreage and the buyer got a 3.5% interest rate.  Closing costs were also very low.  It’s not hard to get a loan for a manufactured home but there are some differences.  There are only a few lenders who will loan on a manufactured home but they do a fine job.  In addition, no lender that I’m aware of will loan on one as an investment (rental) property.
It’s OK if it’s going to be a second home, but not if you intend to rent it out as an investment.

There is a great range of quality in manufactured homes as there are in any houses.  You want to be sure that it’s a high quality home and, if possible, that it’s less than 20 years old.  You can’t get a loan on any manufactured home build in 1976 or older.  They also won’t lend on a single wide home.
Manufactured homes have to be well maintained just like any home.  If properly cared for and built by one of the top manufacturers it will be an excellent home for a very long time.  I’ve sold homes as old as 1978 that were in excellent shape.

Some years ago the state began requiring that manufactured homes be built to the same basic HUD standards as “stick” built homes.  The same 4x6 exterior walls etc. as well as upgraded plumbing and electrical.  The best manufacturers offer hardwood floors, clearstory windows, skylights, vaulted ceilings, large beautiful kitchens and lovely bathrooms and all the other bells and whistles.
Work with a broker who understands and has experience working with manufactured homes and with the lenders who loan on them.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Q: We just got a refinance on our home which went well.

But we had never read our title policy before and the lender pointed out that we have an easement along one side of our property to allow for a driveway to the undeveloped land behind our lot. I was so shocked and upset! If anyone ever decides to build back there we will lose a huge part of our property and privacy. I think it’s a 20 foot wide easement. Is there any way to fight this?

A: Such egress and ingress easements are common on Vashon and in most rural areas. If it’s a properly written legal easement then there isn’t much you can do. You should speak to one of the attorneys for the title company to be sure it’s defendable. You can also check with a good real estate attorney. I’m sure your lender was trying to be helpful but you shouldn’t just settle for his opinion.

Since you’re lucky that no one has actually built the road, you have some time to do some major landscaping. Have a survey done so that you know exactly where the boundary of your property is and where the easement is located. You can then plant fast growing trees and bushes a few feet back from that potential driveway. Fast growing plants can screen the future road so that at least you don’t have to see it. It might be many years before that parcel’s developed.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Q: I’m really sick of you recommending that people go see a lawyer.

If you don’t know the answers then why do you put yourself out there as some kind of expert? I had some specific questions and you said I should consult an attorney.  That cost me a lot of money.  If I have to ask an attorney every question then who needs a real estate broker?

A:  First, you have to understand that a real estate license is not a license to practice law.  We can answer certain kinds of questions, discuss property issues, fill in forms, and give our own opinions based on experience.  But we can’t give legal advice.

It’s critical that for as large an investment as buying a home, you get the best advice you can.  For instance, title companies answer specific title questions and have their own attorneys.  I can read and understand most title policies and have had training to do so.  Many real estate brokers have also had that special trained.  But beyond a certain point we simply do not have the expertise and must refer you to the title company attorney.

There are issues with lending and loans that are beyond our knowledge too.  I can help you understand the basic structure of lending and your loan documents, but there are many things that only an attorney can explain. There really is no such thing as “boilerplate” language. All contracts should be read and fully understood.   I want you to have the best information possible.  I would be doing you a great injustice if I just spouted off anything that crossed my mind without really having the knowledge, experience or training to be accurate.

I don’t often recommend that you get advice from an attorney but when I do you can be sure it’s for something important.  After 25 years in this business and a substantial education, I feel I can answer basic questions and give reasonable advice.  But when I’m in doubt I want to be able to send you to whatever expert I think you need, including an attorney.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Q: We’ve been looking at land to buy and hope to build our own home.

My husband and son are totally capable of building it themselves but we’ve been told the County won’t let you build your own house and that you have to use an architect. We already have house plans and don’t need an architect. What’s the story?

A: I’m sorry that you’ve been told such erroneous information. You can build your own home here. The County just requires you to file an affidavit and show proof that you know what you’re doing. You don’t have to use an architect. However, it is always wise to share your plans with a qualified contractor and/or designer to be sure that what you want to build complies with King County and Washington state requirements.

The County has an extensive website that will tell you each permit you will need, what the requirements are, and how to get a complete package together for the County building folks. It is straightforward but involved, so be prepared. You will need a detailed drawing of the property and everything that will be on it. You might find it easy to develop that off the septic design drawings.

There will also have to be engineering drawings but those often come with plans. Be sure to have a local engineer take a look to be sure the specification fit King County requirements. The place to start is the septic design. It’s always a real bonus if you find a property that has already had a septic design done. If it hasn’t, you should do one before closing on the purchase. That will tell you so much about how the property can be developed.

Water is also an issue, of course, so be sure a well can be drilled on the parcel or that there is a water share available. Again, the best option is finding a parcel that already has a water source. The land must be of a certain size to allow for a well and septic so be sure you understand the requirements.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Q: We’ve seen several places with you and we’re getting excited about finding a home on Vashon. I have a question about this business of staging.

My wife says not to bother asking you about it but I just don’t get it.  Some of these places, especially the vacant ones, look weird with phony fruit in a bowl and the table all set like someone lived there.  What’s the point?
A:  Staging a home for sale is a fairly recent phenomenon in our local market.  Real estate professionals in cities have been doing it a lot longer.  There are several types of staging.  One is to make the house looked lived in when it’s really vacant.  It makes the place look warmer and more inviting and allows potential buyers to imagine their own furnishings in each room.  The best of these make the home look as if the sellers are still there, but just very tidy.

Another form of staging is working with a home when the family really is still living there.  The listing agent helps them decide how to de-clutter their home and remove distracting items.  They may suggest adding some bright new color or rearranging furniture to have the place look larger and roomier.  This is actually the hardest form of staging since the sellers have to be convinced to change the way they have been living in the house.

Another type of staging is sort of suggesting the uses for the rooms.  This could be a child’s chair and teddy bear against the wall of a small bedroom to suggest a child’s room.  It could mean a single, nice piece of furniture in the living room or a TV and chairs in a family room.  You’d be surprised how many buyers aren’t sure of the use of some rooms.

I think the wax fruit and the wine glasses set up in the dining room is going a bit overboard.  It doesn't fool anyone and often makes potential buyers laugh.  But well staged homes do show better and sell faster.  You can't argue with that.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Q: I know we have rats here in the Northwest and most homes have at least a few, especially under the house.

We’ve been keeping them down with rat poison in those little containers so that our dog can’t get at it.  Now our neighbor is claiming we poisoned her cat because he ate one of the dying rats.  I know this isn’t exactly real estate related but since you sold us our house I thought I’d find out what you think.
A: It’s very possible that the neighbor’s cat died from eating a rat that was dying from poisoning.  Poison is not a humane way to kill rats in the first place.  They die a slow and painful death.  As they become disabled from the poison and unable to move fast, they become an easy target for dogs, cats, eagles, owls, hawks and other raptors.  The poison is ingested by the predator animal and can sicken or even kill them.
   I recommend traps.  This is more humane and the rat’s not walking around for days as it is dying or crawling into your walls or under you house to die.  If you’ve had that happen you know the smell will drive you out of your home.

   There are many kinds of traps.  The old fashioned metal traps work fine but can kill squirrels, chipmunks and harm curious dogs.  Try the newer heavy plastic traps that are easier to handle and not as attractive to other animals.  Even better are those traps that electrocute the rodents.  They are fast, humane and effective.
   The best way to take care of this problem is to stop attracting rodents in the first place.  Don’t leave pet food or garbage out where it attracts them and be sure your basement or crawl space has no small holes where rats can enter. All of that also protects you against raccoons and other animals that are out looking for a handout or a comfy place to have babies.

   NOTE: This isn’t a fun topic but it’s one that people keep asking about over and over again. 

Friday, May 03, 2013

Q: We were very disappointed that the sellers refused to repair everything on our repair list after we did the home inspection.

There were a lot of things wrong and we don’t want to have to move in just to do a bunch of repairs before we can be comfortable in our home.

A: I think you’re making the same mistake many buyers do when it comes to the home inspection. The inspection is, in my opinion, good for three specific things. First, is to find out if there is something seriously in need of replacement or repair that should be done before you buy the house. This would include things like major plumbing leaks, dangerous wiring, leaking roof or major structural problems. These can be a "deal killer" and if they’re not dealt with by the seller you might not want to buy the home.
The second reason for the inspection is to get acquainted with the house. Things like: where is the water shut off, how does the dishwasher work, or how often should you change the filter in the furnace? It’s an opportunity to measure rooms for your furniture, visualize different room colors you might prefer, and understand how all of the various systems of the home work.
The third thing is to complete a list of maintenance items that you might need to deal with on a regular basis. A common one in our region is cleaning gutters. They need cleaning several times a year. If the gutters are full of leaves when you buy it, that’s just a routine maintenance issue, not a serious defect of the house. If the decks and porches are in relatively good shape but could use a new coat of stain, that’s routine maintenance, not a "problem" that you have to have the sellers fix.
I’m not trying to discourage you from asking that the sellers fix something that’s really wrong with the house; I’m just suggesting that minor deferred maintenance issues, things that you’ll have to do while you live in the house anyway, are not worth fighting over.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Q: I have a savings account that is earning almost nothing.

Even a money market or CD is less than 1% interest.  I’m thinking I might buy a rental property but my friends all tell me they are too much trouble.  People trash the house or don’t pay the rent and the place can be empty for months, etc.  I’d like to know what you think about it.
I can’t think of a better time to buy rental property.  Our prices are going up but there are still good deals to be made.  Let’s do some simple math.  If you have $300,000 in various saving instruments you are not even keeping up with inflation.  A decent home at that price will usually get you $1,500.00 to $1,800.00 per month in rent.
The simple math works out to be $21,600 return per year which is better than 6% return.  That’s even taking out the taxes, insurance and a reserve for repairs.  It could even include management fees.  Not a bad return and you have something “real” that can be rented, sold, lived in by you or family, etc.  That’s instead of the volatile stock market or low interest savings.
You do not have to experience trashing of your property or non paying renters if you screen tightly on the front end.  A management company can do this and will interview potential renters and keep tabs on the property.  We used to do property management and handled a few commercial properties and over 40 homes.  We were very tough on the screening and never had a trashed property or non-payment problem.

Choose something with the eye of a renter, not owner.  Renters care about number of bedrooms and bathrooms, utility costs, location to town or ferry, closeness to the bus line and ease of maintenance. A good rental is seldom empty in our tight rental market. I’ve sold many rental properties on Vashon and the owners are all reaping the rewards of these investments.  Interview management people and locate someone you trust and then sit back and enjoy the return.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Q: You're always talking about landslide hazards so now I can't find a buyer for my house!

We have had a few small slides in this neighborhood but I've lived in this house for over 30 years and I'm still here.  Why do you keep scaring people away?

Well, first I must say that I’m flattered that you think every potential buyer for Vashon Island property reads what I write.  But I don’t think so.  Slides do happen here, as they do throughout the Puget Sound region, and some of them have resulted in major damage and injury.  I always warn potential buyers to seriously consider the ramifications of being in a slide hazard area.
   I have not spoken to anyone concerning your specific house, so your lack of buyer interest may have more to do with the price than the location next to a slide prone cliff. Since you are currently off the market I’d like to offer you an idea that may be helpful. You might consider hiring a good geotechnical engineer to do an assessment of the property.  You can offer the results to potential buyers.  If the results are generally positive, you will ease their mind about buying your place.  If the report is very negative, you can get a bid for whatever work the engineer recommends to protect your home.

   There are some engineering ideas that can be very helpful.  Anchors, foundation reinforcements, retaining walls, etc. could ease a potential buyers mind.  These things are not cheap.  But they could make the difference between selling your home or not.  Even with no one specifically calling their attention to slide hazards, buyers have online resources that identify soil types and slide problems.
   I have a friend who had to do some major engineering work to reinforce the bank below her home.  It was costly, but when it was time for her to sell, that work went a long way toward getting her top dollar for her place. She felt that she wouldn’t have done that well if the slide area issues had not been solved.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Q: We were involved in a “bidding war” sort of deal with several offers on the same property.

We thought we had put in a really good offer at the asking price. We were even preapproved for our loan. Someone else got their bid accepted. We’re upset because we really liked that house. Do you think the people who got the house were friends of the seller or agent or something? Ours was also the first offer and should have been the one to get the deal, don’t you think.
A:  First, the seller has no responsibility to accept a particular offer over another no matter who was "first". It’s typical that they can collect offers and then decide which one gives them the best deal. It isn’t always about money. Some cash buyers, for instance, can close in a couple of weeks. Getting a loan requires more time.
I doubt that the seller or agent gave a special deal to friends or family. The most important thing to most sellers is that they get the best price and the best terms. It’s very possible that each of the buyers could have offered full price and had preapproval for their loan. One of them may have offered a faster closing and/or higher than the asking price.
Due to a very low inventory, our region is experiencing multiple offers on well priced homes. Some are selling in just a few days. Personally I hope that changes soon. We need more inventory and we don’t want to spiral upward into a bubble of quickly increasing prices. That wouldn’t be a good thing. Notice that I said well priced homes. The price is still the secret.
We have houses that have been on the market for a year or more and others that sell is a few weeks. Almost without exception that’s because of price. Sellers have to be realistic and it can be very hard to get that number right. They just have to watch what’s selling and for how much and adapt. Good luck on your next try.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Q: My wife and I are ready to buy a home but we keep hearing how hard it is to get a loan.

We’re almost afraid to apply in case we get turned down.  Can you tell us if we would qualify?
A:   I’m not a loan officer so I can’t prequalify you for a loan.  However, given the information you’ve provided to me I think you’ll be fine.  You have a good down payment, good credit and both have steady employment.  Those are the essential things that lenders look for. 
   The reason that people say it’s hard to get a loan is that the banks and lenders have tightened up the requirements to the level that they probably should have been years ago.  The real estate “bubble” was the result, in part, of loans being made to people who were not really qualified.  The basic question is; can you afford the payments?  Many people couldn’t and that was a problem. There are currently FHA loans and some other products that allow for very low down payments if you are otherwise qualified, so that’s not a limitation.  You would just have to pay mortgage insurance.   
  Interest rates continue to be extremely low.  That enables you to qualify for more money and gives you more flexibility in choosing a home.  You should interview several lenders, in my opinion.  Interest rates are one of the things you want to compare, but closing costs are another.  Do the math.  Sometimes a lower interest rate with higher closing costs ends up costing more in the long run. You also want a loan that can be paid off at anytime without a penalty.
   Look for hidden costs when you get a good faith estimate.  All lenders will have some of the same costs, but others have odd little administrative fees and processing fees that can add up.  Read all of the fine print and don’t be afraid to ask questions. This is good time to buy, before prices start to climb too much, and getting preapproved for a loan is an important first step.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Q: My neighbor has been making a fuss over trees in my yard. He says they block his view and that we need to have them cut down.

He said there is a County ordinance that says you can’t block someone’s view.  I love those trees and don’t see any reason to cut them down.  I have bird feeders up and there are always lots of birds in those trees, which I love.  The trees also shade the west side of our house which gets really hot in the summer.  Is there really some kind of law about this?

A:  As far as I can research there is no such rule, ordinance or regulation. In fact, the County encourages people to plant trees. There are, however, some view covenants on Vashon. The primary ones cover homes in Gold Beach and in parts of the north end of Vashon.

View covenants are agreements that are recorded on your deed. You should contact your title company to be sure there are no such covenants in your neighborhood. There are a few such agreements for individual properties around the island but it is my understanding that they have to be recorded on your title for them to be enforceable.

If your neighbor gets really obnoxious you might want to consult an attorney. At the very least the attorney can write your neighbor a letter including a copy of your title to prove that there is no such covenant. You can also consult King County to get a definitive answer to show your neighbor.

It’s common to find these covenants and agreement in cities where a significant number of houses have a view. From a buyer’s point of view, they feel that since they paid to see the mountain or the water they want that to continue. We have very few places on Vashon that offer that view protection.

However, there are those who appreciate all that trees do for us, including giving shade, providing oxygen, offering wildlife habitat and being simply beautiful. For some of us, trees are the view.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Q: We're offering to buy a really nice house. The sellers are retiring to their second home in Hawaii.

They have a fully furnished home in Maui and don’t need the furniture they have here. The furniture and all the interior design is perfect as far as we are concerned and we’d love to have everything. Our agent tells me that we can’t include that in the offer and that the bank won’t let us include it in a loan. I sure don’t see why not. What do you think?

A:  I normally don’t make comments concerning other broker’s statements when there is a transaction underway, but in this case he is right and I support what he told you. Banks and other lenders don’t loan on furnishings when doing a real estate loan. A real estate loan is for property and homes. Furnishings are personal property and not covered under the term real estate.

This also puts the brokers, escrow, lender and title folks and everyone involved with the sale in the position of selling furniture. That’s not what we do. Of course, it’s not unusual to have buyers purchase personal items from sellers. This is done "outside" of escrow. You need to offer to buy personal items, negotiate a price, and pay the seller directly for those items.

It’s wise to wait until the closing to pay for the items simply to be sure you actually have the house. Common items sold to buyers may include ride on mowers, garden tools, and furniture in the home. It would be wise to photograph the items and make an inventory list so that both you and the seller remember what you have purchased.

Keep in mind that this saves you from going out and purchasing all new stuff so it’s a time and possibly even money saving way to get a house full of nice things. It’s also important that the seller understand that this saves them doing a big garage sale and all the time it takes to get rid of stuff, so they should be flexible on price.