Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Q: We’re excited about buying a place on Vashon.

My husband and I are very handy so a fixer is fine. We know we’re in a low price range but we can do a lot of the work ourselves.
A: I appreciate your enthusiasm but I want to be sure you understand what "fixer" really means. Many homes, even in the highest price ranges, may be outdated and need some cosmetic changes. Often buyers what to get rid of carpeting and install wood floors, redo the kitchen and bathrooms, maybe upgrade the heating systems, plus painting inside and out. That doesn’t make it a fixer.
A real fixer, particularly in the lowest price ranges, may require a new roof, drainage to fix a wet basement, replacement of non functioning appliances, pest damage repair, mold removal or even major structural work. That’s usually beyond the ability of most buyers, no matter how handy. It’s important that you know that banks and mortgage lenders generally won’t loan on a real fixer. However, there are excellent rehab loans available. FHA has a good program that can take care of most major issues. But they will determine what needs to be done, and often, who will do it. They allow for some things to be done by the owners, but within a very limited scope. They will rely on the appraiser to list the deficiencies that have to be corrected and use licensed contractors to do the work. To get one of these rehab loans you must qualify for the full package. That means you have to qualify for the purchase price plus the cost of the rehabilitation work. That often pushes lower income buyers out of the market. That’s one reason why many of our foreclosures, short sales and fixers go to cash buyers who will fix them up to resell or rent. That puts young buyers, downsizing seniors and first time buyers at a disadvantage. But there is good news! Over the last year there have been several homes in good condition that have sold for under $250,000. So there is hope!

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Q: We were really disappointed that you didn’t call our attention to that new north end listing.

It looks like it would have been perfect for us. I see that it’s now pending so there’s no chance for us to see it. We expected that you would be keeping us informed about new listings.

A: I do keep clients informed of new listings that I think might fit their needs. However, this house was priced well over the maximum that you told me you wanted to spend. I’m sorry if it would have been a possibility for you, but you should have made it clear that you were willing and able to spend more. This is an issue that comes up sometimes. Buyers, not trusting the motivation of their Realtor, tell them a lower number than they are really able to spend. They fear being pushed into spending too much. There are, I’m sad to say, still a few brokers out there that try to push buyers to the top of their price range, but I’m not one of them. If anything, I tend to be very conservative with my client’s money. You were clear that you didn’t want to spend any more than $400,000 on a new home no matter what. So, sadly, when a house that otherwise fit your requirements came on the market priced a great deal higher, I didn’t even think to call or email you. I always like to know two figures from my clients. The first thing I want to know is the most you are willing to spend. The second and even more important figure is what you would really prefer to pay. So if a house came on the market for $420,000, I would know that if it was the right home for you, that extra $20,000 on the price would be possible for you. It would also mean I might be able to negotiate that price down a bit, which would be even better. But when you drew a bright line at $400,000 I had to believe that you meant it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Some Quick Tips To get Ready For Winter!

I’m always asked to repeat this list from year to year to help you get ready for winter:

1. Clean the gutters! Water can penetrate under you crawl space and even into your walls and roofing and cause serious mold problems.

2. If you haven’t done it already, call the heating and cooling contractors and have your furnace serviced and cleaned for the year. This is critical if you use a fuel like oil, propane or natural gas. This makes your furnace safer, but also saves you big bucks by running more efficiently.

3. Be sure you’re ready for power outages. A generator is fine, especially for pumping your well and running the refrigerator but frankly, a few days without the TV is good for you! Use battery or propane lamps, a battery powered radio for weather news and be sure you’ve stored plenty of food and water.

4. Clean decks and walkways so the moss build-up won’t be too slippery. Consider putting non-skid strips or outdoor carpet on slick stairs.

5. Look around your yard for objects that can get lost under a few inches of snow. You don’t want to lose the dog’s favorite ball and you sure don’t want to step on a rake you forgot was there!

6. Have your car serviced and checked out for winter driving. Have ice scraping tools in the car as well as jackets and a warm blanket in the trunk in case you get stranded.

7. Try not to use portable heaters in the house, but if you must, then unplug them when you leave home. They are a major cause of fires.

8. Clean dryer vents and range vents which are also fire hazards.

9. Have the chimney cleaned if you have a wood stove or fireplaces. They are another source of house fires.

10. Go to online and print out their emergency readiness brochure with check lists for everything you need to know about weather related and other emergencies.

Last but not least: stock up on hot chocolate!

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Q: My wife wants to turn our workshop into a rental.

It already has power and water. We got several estimates and it looks like it will take about $40,000 to $50,000 to turn it into a nice little cottage. I figure it will take five or six years to get that money back. That doesn’t sound so good to me. I’m thinking we’d get about $900 per month for it. What do you think?

A: Your idea about return on investment is one way of looking at it. Many people look at the "pay back" of improvements. But we are talking about a long term investment here. What would you make if you put that $50,000 into a savings account? How about bonds? You’d be lucky to get a thousand a year on that amount of investment.
Some mutual funds deliver higher rates of return but they can also drop fast and hard. With the rental you will get a return of 20% on that investment every year, even accounting for insurance and expenses. That’s not bad! Thinking of it in terms of getting back the money you spend on it seems backward to me. I’ve worked with many investors buying rental property here and all of them are getting a higher rate of return on their money than they would have in more traditional forms of investment. That goes for those who "flip" the house too. To me the best part of buying real estate as a choice for investing is that it is "real." You can live there, rent it, borrow on it, or sell it. In a solid market like Vashon Island you will also see a good profit after you’ve held on to it for awhile. Buyers pay more for a home with a mother-in-law unit or guest cottage. Don’t get too fancy with what you do to the place or you’ll end up spending more than necessary. Besides, you should look on the bright side. If you get too old and infirm to care for yourself you have built in caregiver housing!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Q: My property taxes went up again this year!

The County can’t spend it fast enough, I guess, but I thought there was some kind of control on how much tax we had to pay. They backed off a little bit a couple of years ago but this is getting to be just too much. Our assessment is way more than our house is worth!

A: There are several comments I’d like to share with you about property taxes. The first one is that our current assessments are still well below market value.  (Don’t tell the tax assessor I said so!)  I looked up your current assessment and can assure you that your home would sell for a lot more.  In addition, the rate does fluctuate slightly but only because of the levies and bond issues we pass for ourselves, in our own community. The County itself only gets 11.6% of our property tax money. The biggest chunk goes to our schools. When you combine the state’s base school tax and our own locally approved school taxes, that eats up 48.83% of our property taxes. Why?  Because we wanted to have a beautiful new high school. It was worth it!  We’ve also voted ourselves better fire and emergency services to the tune of 10.87% of our taxes.  It isn’t the base tax rate that goes up, it’s the cost of local services we want and we vote for.  If you check the property tax site for King County you will see that we had a dip in assessed value in 2010, 2011 and again in 2012 because of the drop in market value due to the recession. In 2013 we jumped back up in value and took an even larger jump for 2014. That is reflective of our improved real estate market. We all want low taxes but high values for our homes. That just doesn’t work. If our homes are worth more, the taxes go up. One quick suggestion; check to see if you qualify for the County’s senior property tax rate or Washington State’s low income rate.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Q: I know you don’t represent me since I’m the seller and you only represent buyers, but I think you should be the one I talk to about a delicate matter.

I’m very happy that you’re helping that nice young couple buy my home. But I feel that I have to tell you that I have a number of cats buried in the garden. I have lived here so long that I’ve lost several wonderful cats and I loved them all. I planted a rose bush over each one. I thought I’d better tell somebody so that they don’t have a bad experience if they dig up the garden and find the kitties. I’m a sentimental old woman and I know they probably won’t care but I thought I’d better say something.

A: I’m a sentimental old woman myself and I’m glad you shared this information. I spoke to my clients about your rose garden and they were touched by your story. Not only will they tend the roses and honor your little pet cemetery, but they told me they would continue the tradition when their own pets die.  Many people bury their pets on their own property and that can add to the sadness some folks feel when they have to sell. Knowing that new owners will honor those places can bring comfort to a seller. Whoever buys my home (in the distant future, of course) will be inheriting three buried sheep, two dogs, four cats and many chickens, and that’s just at this point. It’s important, I believe, to learn personal things about the property you are buying if at all possible. New owners have no history with the property so may not realize that a gnarled old tree still produces great cherries, or that a special bush was a cutting planted 50 years ago, or that some of the perennials are prize winners. It often makes me feel bad when new owners start ripping and tearing up property without taking the time to learn what’s there. Every property has a history. We should all learn it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Q: We’re grateful that you talked us out of buying that house we were intending to make an offer on.

We met the people who did buy it and they’ve found all sorts of things wrong with it. A lot of what they’ve discovered wasn’t obvious and their inspector wouldn’t have been able to see it. Now we’re a little nervous about buying anything. There was some sort of disclosure from the seller but it didn’t mention the problems that they’ve found. How can we protect ourselves from having this happen to us?
A: Buyers rely on home inspections to find serious defects in the home. Unfortunately there can be things that have been covered up or problems beyond the scope of the inspection. The inspection contingency allows for additional time to have other experts examine the house. It’s always a good idea to take that time if your inspector recommends something be checked by a specific expert. It does cost more money but it could save you serious consequences.  On a recent inspection I attended, the inspector thought he saw something wrong with the electrical system. However, since he isn’t an electrician, he recommended we seek the option of an electrical contractor. The good news is that the electrician didn’t find anything wrong and explained to my clients why it could have looked like a problem. That gave them (and me) some real peace of mind. There’s a requirement in this state that a seller, with a few exceptions, must fill out a Form 17, a seller’s disclosure. But don’t rely on these too much. Many sellers don’t really know that much about their home and property. Things that might be a problem for a new buyer might not be anything the sellers notice any longer. That could include leaks, rotting wood, or even exceptional noise from a nearby factory.  No house is perfect. We use the term "normal wear and tear" to describe the common issues that can come up in any house. What you need to look for are serious defects that will cost a lot to fix.


Monday, September 08, 2014

Q: We really appreciate you coming over to my dad’s house and telling us what you think it's worth.

We’re still dealing with his death but we do have to sell the house. I especially appreciated all the hints you gave us on getting the house ready to go on the market, but here’s my problem. My sister wants to just put it on the market “as is” and not worry about doing anything to fix it up. She thinks it’s already enough work just to get rid of all Dad’s stuff. What can I tell her to convince her to just spend a little more time to clean up the place?

A: The most important message is that she will be leaving money on the table. The difference between what you have now and what you could have with just a little effort can be considerable. When a buyer sees a house that needs cleaning, has old smelly carpet from pet damage, has exposed wood on the siding, etc. they assume the whole house is in need of major repair. They will offer even less than the asking price because they assume that they will have to pay thousands of dollars to make it livable.
You could be looking at a discount of 30% or even more from the price you could get if it were cleaned up. At the very least I would remove the carpets, clean the house until it shines, and touch up the outside paint. It’s obviously an old house with a great deal of deferred maintenance, but you want potential buyers to see it as a diamond in the rough, not a hopeless fixer that they will have to pour money into for many years.
I think this is an important message to all adult children of elderly parents. If you will be the one selling your parents' home, it's money well spent to keep it maintained. Not only will this ensure a better inheritance for your family, it will add to the comfort of your parents while they still live there.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Q: My wife and I just walked away from a short sale.

I couldn’t believe we waited six months and gave the short sale lender everything they wanted and they still wouldn’t close.  What is the matter with these people?  Don’t they want to sell these places?

A:  I wish I knew the answer to that question.  I’ve been involved in several short sales and like many brokers, I hate them.  They require far more work and effort than a regular sale and many times they fail.  I always tell clients I work with that they can expect it to take at least six months and that they will have no control over the outcome or the transaction.  I won’t have any control either.  Being a bit of a control freak, that drives me crazy.
It would make sense, from a logical point of view that the banks would want to sell these short sales, get some money out of it and move on.  Not true.  I have come to believe it’s some sort of plot.  That sounds paranoid but there is no other explanation for a lender to spend many months sitting on these properties and then refusing to do necessary work ( septic failure for instance), or delaying the closing for no reason. 

For investors paying cash, with no emotional attachment, short sales can be a real bargain. These are buyers who will fix up the place and rent it out or turn around and resell it. But for folks wanting to live in the house and anxious to get settled in, it can be maddening to wait so long.  I wish I had an answer.  There is truly no sense to it and I’m sorry you’re so frustrated. 
Before entering into a short sale, ask yourself if you can really wait out four to nine months.  Be sure you have your financing ready to go as soon as you get the acceptance from the seller’s lender that they will accept the offer.  Also be sure you understand that you will have no control over the process.


Thursday, August 07, 2014

Q: My husband would not accept the counter offer from the sellers for a little bit higher price.

He just got stubborn and thought the sellers would back down.  Instead, the sellers accepted somebody else’s offer and we lost the house.  I don’t ever want to go through that again.  What can I do to get him to be better prepared for the next time we make an offer?  At least I hope there will be a next time.

A:   First, he needs to understand that this is a fast market.  For certain kinds of properties there are often bidding wars.  A well-priced property will sell in days so he can’t be too stubborn about shaving a few dollars off the price if he really wants a home here.
   More important is understanding that this is not a contest to see who can hold out the longest.  It’s not a competitive sport, it’s buying a home.  While he is trying to “strategize” (his word) someone else will buy the house. I’m sorry to say that I’ve seen many buyers who get tangled up in one-upmanship.
    I think it’s also helpful to put that price difference in perspective.  He was trying to cut $4,000 off the price.  At the current interest rate that would have saved only about $20.00 per month on the mortgage payment.  That’s about the same price as six lattes a month or two glasses of wine at most restaurants.  I think having the home you want is far more important, don’t you? 
   Stubbornness can really backfire for buyers in a seller’s market. Of course, since I only represent buyers, I don’t like this kind of market.  But the best way to approach an offer is to know the highest price you would be willing to pay for the home.  If there are no other offers you might be able to offer a bit less.  Otherwise be prepared to pay asking price. There are still some bargains out there, but they may not be the location or type of property that you’ve been hoping for.



Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Q: I’m getting really frustrated with my lender.

She keeps asking for the same paperwork over and over again and won’t take my word for anything. Can you recommend another lender I can work with?

A: One thing you should consider is that because you’re in the middle of a transaction and buying a home, you must seek the seller’s permission to change lenders. Many buyers never remember that part of the financing contingency although it’s important. This is intended to protect the seller for many reasons. So if you change lenders mid-stream, so to speak, we’ll have to get the seller to agree.
More important is the fact that all lenders will be asking you a lot of personal financial questions. They’ve been burned in the past by trusting that the buyer is truthful. They have also been far too sloppy in the past as our recent recession demonstrated. So they want written proof of everything.
In addition, your financial situation must be updated on a regular basis. You may show a large amount of cash down payment in your bank account and then spend it on something else before closing. I’ve actually seen that happen. Or you may have your hours cut at your job and really can no longer qualify for the home loan.
I always recommend that when someone starts looking to buy they get preapproved. That preapproval letter is almost a requirement when making an offer these days. In addition, it gets your financial paperwork together in one place so that you can send it to the lender right away and also update it regularly.
Don’t think of these paperwork requests as mistrust. Think of it as a protection for you and the bank, credit union or mortgage company you choose to work with. You don’t want to bite off more than you can chew in mortgage payments and neither does your lender. I’d be happy to recommend other loan officers to you but I think the one you’re working with is doing a fine job. Try to be patient with the process.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Q: We just lost out on a home we made an offer on and really wanted and we’re feeling angry.

Some other buyer snuck in while we were making changes to the contract and the sellers took that other offer. Didn’t they have an obligation to finish working with us first?
No. This is one reason I insist that buyers read the purchase and sales agreement and ask questions before making an offer. Any change to the original purchase and sales agreement becomes a counteroffer. I noticed that you wrote in a couple of small changes to the contract after the sellers had sent it back with their acceptance. That meant that you did not have a contract and that gave the sellers the opportunity to accept another offer. If you had left it alone the house would be yours.  It’s really critical, especially in our current fast market, that you read what you sign. In the purchase and sales agreement it specifically states that any change creates a counteroffer. The sad thing in your case is that the changes you made appear to be very minor. Changing your mind about a timeline or any such small change is not worth losing the home you want to buy.  Sellers often have a second offer come in after they have responded to a first offer. In that case it’s even more important to respond quickly and decisively. Let’s say the seller counters your offer with a slightly higher price. You should already have determined, before you made the original offer, what your bottom line price would be. That way you can accept, decline or counter back to them quickly, before another offer comes in that they might prefer. Many people, buyers and sellers, don’t realize that the purchase and sales agreement, and their addenda, become a binding contract as well as instructions to the escrow officer. Writing in small changes on those documents means the other party must initial that change to create a contract. Hopefully you will be better prepared next time you make an offer.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Q: We were a little surprised that you disagreed with the work order list we sent you concerning our home inspection.

We just listed those things we thought the seller really should fix. Part of the reason we decided to work with you was that you only represent the buyer and we thought you would be totally on our side with the decisions we made. I guess we just don’t understand your point of view on this.

A: Representing the buyer often means giving them good advice they may not want to hear. Sometimes it’s obvious stuff like not buying on an active landslide and sometimes it’s more subtle. Your list was very long and included items I would call normal wear and tear. It’s should be expected that a home that’s been lived in for some time will have a few flaws.

An inspection is intended for three things, in my opinion. First, is to find any real "deal killers" that are too expensive, too difficult to fix or even impossible to repair. Those mean you walk away and don’t buy that house. Next would be items that are reasonable to ask a seller to fix or compensate you for, like a bad roof or serious pest issue. Last is the opportunity to learn more about the workings of the structure and potential maintenance needs for the future.

Most of the things on your long list are relatively small and don’t relate to the real workings of the house. Scuffed up baseboards can be painted later or replaced. I don’t consider that a work order. They just reflect the fact that people have lived there. Replacing a solid exterior door just because you don’t like that it has a cat door is another item I wouldn’t consider a major flaw. Besides, you may get a cat someday!

The bottom line is to ask for the really important items and consider the rest cosmetic flaws you can deal with over time. You have some remodel plans anyway and that will take care of many of the smaller issues.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Q: We wanted to see a particular house that’s on the market and you told my wife we probably couldn’t get a loan on it and that it would be really expensive to repair.

I really want to see it and I don’t appreciate you prescreening things before I have a chance to see them.
A:  I am basing my comments on 25 years of experience in real estate on Vashon and would recommend that before we spend the time looking at that property, you ask your lender a few questions.  Will they fund a home on a non-conforming spring fed water system when the water is all above ground with no filtration system?  Will they finance a home in a major landslide area?  Will they let you buy a house that has no real foundation?  Last, but not least, will they finance the loan on a home with no heat?

This place, like many still found off in our woods, was probably someone’s hideaway for a long time.  They probably built it themselves out of what they could scrounge.  No lender was involved.  Today, lending institutions take a dim view of houses that are really shacks thrown together.  Moreover, I take a dim view of homes inches from a serious cliff, especially one with no real foundation. It’s sitting on old boards and rocks.  It also may be impossible to get insurance.
I know I can be over protective toward my clients.  I often go overboard to try to keep them from making what I consider a mistake.  However, I’m always working on trying to let folks make their own mistakes, but it’s hard.  Even taking every precaution, things can go wrong and I always feel badly that there might have been more I could have done.
You do have an alternative and that’s working with another broker on Vashon.  We have a lot of good people in the real estate business here and perhaps one of them would be willing to take on this particular property.  It won’t hurt my feelings if you decide to go elsewhere.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Q: We really liked that house you showed us last week but my husband is worried about the basement.

He says the floors have all been recently painted and that might mean the sellers are covering up proof of standing water on the basement floor. How can we be sure the basement is dry?

A: I’m not a fan of basements in the Northwest. With the exception of the daylight basements that are above the grade of the ground, most basements are wet. I’ve seen very few basements that aren’t wet part of the year. Fortunately, many people here use sump pumps and drainage systems to try to keep the floors dry.

There are several things to look for when viewing a basement in a home that’s for sale. First, does it smell musty and is there a mold or mildew odor? Sometimes that can be fixed with just better ventilation, but if you’re sensitive to mold and mildew it can be a problem. Next, watch for what looks like salt deposits along the walls which could indicate standing water is often in the basement. Sometime people do paint the floors and even walls to cover up water staining but there are often deposits on pilings or joist that show that water has been standing in the space. There can even be water marks on water heaters or furnaces in basements.

Look for extreme settling cracks. All homes, even new ones, settle after they are built. We also are surrounded by earthquake faults in our region so cracking is common. However, a large crack, especially if it’s been patched or filled could indicate water has caused more than normal settling.

Outside drains that take water away from the foundation are very important to keep a foundation or even a crawl space dry. A small amount of water is often in the basement or crawl space of the best constructed buildings, but a large amount of sitting water is a problem. There are often solutions to these issues but it would be best if those are paid for by the seller.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Q: I sent you one of my best friends and you refused to show her the house she was interested in.

What gives? I trusted you when I bought my place and thought you’d do a good job with my buddy. Obviously you’ve changed.

A: I have changed. I am now even more phobic about landslides and septic issues, flood zones and permitting. The house your friend wanted to see is not livable. It’s in a location that doesn’t even have real access and it will not qualify for a loan. In addition, it’s in a landslide hazard area and a flood zone.

I offered to show her other places, but when it comes to the obviously dangerous and unlivable “bargains” I’m just not going to go there. If something is a real bargain you can bet there is a reason. Particularly with waterfront places today, you have to be over $300,000 to find a tiny place that’s livable and be willing to spend well above that figure to find a “real” house. If the price is lower, watch out.
When you’re talking about other categories, like view, or inland homes, there is also a price point below which you are asking for trouble. I sometimes sell “fixers” to investor clients who fix them up and rent them or sell them for a profit. But these folks are experienced and sophisticated about the costs involved in repairing or remodeling a house. I would not feel comfortable selling a serious “fixer upper” to a first time home buyer or someone who doesn’t have the funds to really make the place livable.
Our prices are climbing again. That’s great for sellers but not for buyers. When you add that we always have a small inventory of homes to sell as well as rising prices, it means many people will be priced out of our market. That’s bad news for younger buyers, retirees and lower income families. However, your friend is qualified to spend a little more and get a decent home. She just needs to be realistic about what she should buy.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Q: I’m frustrated with house hunting.

My wife keeps saying no to places because she doesn’t like the counter top in the kitchen or thinks the flooring is too cheap or she hates the colors in the house. I just want to buy something and get settled in while we can still afford to buy. Do you have any suggestions?

A: Judging a house by its finish work or the colors on the wall is very limiting, in my opinion. These things are easily changed. The important things are location, structural integrity, the condition of major elements like the roof and septic system, not the color of the bedroom.

It’s very unlikely that you’ll find something that exactly satisfies your wife. Try to convince her that it’s easy to change the cosmetic things she is judging the house by. Most people paint to match their own taste and do minor remodeling of the home to fit their own preferences. I’ve had many clients over the years that have judged a home by insignificant things. I always try to point out to them that they need to see beyond the obvious. It seems difficult for some people to visualize. The good news is that if the house is off putting for most buyers, you might get a better deal.

I recall a home some years ago that had a big, black, rock wall in the entryway. Everyone I showed it to just couldn’t get past that. The price kept dropping and I finally sold it for less than I felt it was worth to a man with vision. He knocked down the ugly wall which opened the living room up to a lovely view. He also painted the home light colors and put in a beautiful bamboo floor. It changed everything.

You might make some suggestions to your wife the next time you look at a home. You could try saying things like "This flooring would really look good if it were sanded down and refinished." Or, "Think how this room would look in that peach color you like so much."


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Q: We just bought a piece of land and didn’t use an agent to do it.

We just paid the seller direct. We went to a contractor we know to start planning a house and he did some research for us. It turns out there isn’t what he calls an ingress/egress easement through a neighbor’s parcel to get to our property. We also didn’t realize that there is no water department there and we have to dig a well. We wouldn’t have bought the land if we’d known all of this. How do we get our money back?

A:  It would have been prudent of you to have examined the title to the property before you bought it to see if there was an access easement. It also would have been an easy matter to call the local water purveyor to see if they have water shares available and their cost. This is where working with a Realtor would have helped.
I’m not an attorney, and you might want to talk to one, but I don’t see that you have a way to get your money back unless your seller is willing to do you a big favor. If he didn’t point out the flaws in this property he probably will not feel “honor bound” to buy the place back just to be nice. You could try to sue him, of course, but that’s an expensive venture and might not work out for you.
When buying raw land, it’s very important that you identify the water source as well as its cost and get a fully approved septic design done for the property. You also need to review the title to be sure that you have legal access and that there are no encumbrances. All this should happen before you close on the sale. It’s really up to the buyer to do this. I wish I could say something helpful, but the fact is that there’s not much you can do now except negotiate an easement with your neighbor, start the septic design process and hope it all goes well.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Q: We have an offer on our home but the buyer wants us to re-caulk most of the outside of the house!

We just don’t see the point.  There have been no leaks.  They also got all crazy about caulking the bathrooms.  What is the big deal?  We have lived here for years and had no problems with leaking. 

A:  Most homeowners don’t seem to realize that caulking is not a forever thing.  Especially if you’re siding is LP or other composite materials, particularly if it’s over 20 years old, it can swell and start to delaminate.  This is also common when you have upgraded your windows and the installer doesn’t properly caulk around the windows.  That can allow moisture to enter the house and sometimes rot out window sills and siding.  All homes should be checked periodically for dry and crumbling caulking. 
   That’s also true of bathrooms and kitchens.  All sinks or tubs in the house should be re-caulked from time to time.  If you see the caulking pulling away from the tub or sink it is no longer sealing the floor against water intrusion.  I’ve seen many totally rotted out bathroom floors because the owners never re-did the caulking and water has been going under the floor covering and rotting the subfloor.
   Caulking is not hard to do.  You can actually do this yourself.  Some products are even available in large toothpaste looking tubes that can be used indoors to seal around tubs and sinks.  Be sure and dig out any loose or crumbling old caulk before you start. As for the siding, this can be done by a home owner but is a bit more difficult.  You can find many handypersons and contractors who can do this work. 
      I know that no one wants to do this boring but necessary maintenance.  But please understand that most of us in the real estate business have seen far too much major damage to homes because of the simple reason that the caulking failed.   As for your sale, discuss all the options with your Realtor.  

Monday, March 24, 2014

Q: We just love the house you sold us a few years ago. We have also loved all of our neighbors, up until now.

The couple next door became our best friends but the husband died last year and his wife moved back east to be near family. So new people bought the house. They’re awful! The first thing they had to do was to start bugging us about the fence. They claimed that our fence was on their property. After spending a bunch of money on a new survey, it turned out the fence was right where it belonged, on our side. Then they started complaining about our dog. They claim she comes over and digs in their yard. That can’t happen because we have invisible fencing for her and she never leaves our yard except with us and she’s on a lease. What can be done about people like this?

A: Unfortunately, the world is full of folks who don’t seem happy unless they are causing other people grief. I don’t want to sound like a psychologist here, but I believe those are very unhappy people, wouldn’t you agree? They’re never satisfied. They obviously lack something important in their lives and to compensate for that they fight everybody over everything. Sadly, your story is all too familiar.

As far as the boundary and dog issues are concerned, you will just have to deal with whatever they come up with unless you want to talk to an attorney about legal options. That’s very serious and could cause more trouble than it’s worth. Be sure that you are, indeed, doing everything you can to keep from fueling their complaints. Maybe they’ll get tired of picking on you and move on to someone else.

As for the way this makes you feel, a little meditation on the good in your own life and some sympathy or pity for these difficult neighbors may help. It’s hard to be charitable when you’re being picked on for no good reason, but gratitude for your own happiness can ease the situation.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Q: We’ve only been in this house for a couple of years but the last few weeks of rain are creating a huge pond in our front yard for the first time.

We can hardly drive down the driveway because it’s become a river! What can we do? What damage does this do to the property! Will the house flood?

A: Let me begin by saying welcome to the northwest! Many parts of the entire western portion of our state get flooded annually, some years worse than others. We have a very high water table so it doesn’t take much to flood. It isn’t always low areas either. However, it is a normal part of living in western Washington.

As for your yard, as long as the water isn’t causing any major issues with your home, like flooding a basement, it should recede as soon as the rain stops for awhile and do no harm. I have flooding on my property in heavy rains but it’s absorbed in a day or two and replenishes our aquifer.

If the water sits a long time or is causing damage to your house you should consult a good local contractor or a drainage expert to see if "French" drains, or curtain drains would be a good idea to protect your home. On small lots, a sump pump under the house might be a quick and relatively inexpensive fix.

Many people new to our region get upset because of rainwater issues. Please keep in mind that all that rain is why we have such a lush and green environment here and part of the reason we can grow pretty much any fruit and vegetables except citrus. Channeling and saving that water is both an art and a science. Many Vashon folks are saving rainwater and using it for irrigation or even as an integral part of their home water system, like using it for flushing toilets. Even our local school district is doing that at our new high school.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Q: We bought a nice piece of property two years ago with the intention of building our retirement home there.

We just met with a King County technician to find out how we start the building permit process, and he informed us that we can’t build without a water share. No one said anything about a water share when we bought it. We just assumed that the property would have water. We talked to the people who run the water system yesterday and they said there might not be any new shares for years, if ever! I think we were taken advantage of by the seller. Could you recommend a good attorney? We intend to sue the man we bought it from for false representation.

A: I can recommend an attorney for you, but before you head into a lawsuit it’s important to ask yourself some questions. From everything you told me in our follow up conversation, the seller made no specific representations about the property. You bought it directly from the seller without a real estate broker to represent you. That might have helped in this case. You didn’t check with the local water purveyor to be sure water shares were available. You also didn’t have a septic design done which would have alerted you to the need for a water share and is prudent when buying land.

This seems to be what we call "recreational" land. That means it’s not buildable for some reason. Looking at the map of your parcel it appears far too small to drill a well. That means you really can’t do much of anything with it. Had you done your due diligence before closing you could have avoided this costly mistake.

The price you paid for this land was far below the average price for a similar buildable parcel. That should have given you a clue that something was wrong. We have a lot of unbuildable land on Vashon and often the owners don’t know it’s not buildable until they try to sell it or build on it. I’m really sorry.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Q: My son and his wife really want to buy a home and I’d like to help them.

They asked me if I could be a co-signer for their mortgage and, of course, I said yes. It just means they combine my credit score with theirs to get a good loan, doesn’t it? I’m happy to do it but not sure what it really means.

A: I’m glad you asked before you sign any documents. It’s very important that people know exactly what they’re signing up for. You will be equally responsible for the mortgage should your son and daughter-in-law be unable to make the payments. As a co-signer you are guaranteeing the loan. If, let’s say, your son loses his job and they can’t make the mortgage payment on just your daughter-in-law’s income, you would have to make those payments.

I’m not a financial advisor or a loan officer, but I would recommend that you have a talk with the lender involved and read through your documents carefully before you sign anything. If you aren’t acquainted with legal documents it would be money well spent to have an attorney review everything and explain your responsibilities.

It may be that you will feel comfortable enough to go ahead with the co-signing of the loan but it’s best to do so when you really understand your financial exposure. This isn’t to cast doubts on your son or his wife. It very well may be a great idea to step in and help them purchase a home. Just be clear about it all before you sign anything.

Keep in mind that you can also give them a gift of money. That’s legal and can often be free of tax implications for either party if done correctly. That added cash can make their down payment larger which may get them a better interest rate. It will also lower their monthly payments and that might make all the difference as to whether they can afford to carry the mortgage on their own. Do some exploring and talk it over with trusted advisors.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Q: We moved into our new home a couple of months ago. Now we’re having a problem.

We had no idea that the neighbors raised dogs. Not just dogs, but some kind of hunting hounds. There are several of them out in a kennel (which we think is cruel) and they howl together at odd times, day and night. It’s driving us crazy and our cat is so scared she dives under the bed every time the dogs start making a racket. Wasn’t it the agent or sellers responsibility to disclose this? We regret moving here and we may just try to sue them over this.

A: First let me remind you that lawsuits are expensive and often don’t have the outcome hoped for. You probably should speak to an attorney about this, but my suspicion is that the lawyer will tell you there is little in the way of legal intervention that you can do.

There is a clause in the inspection contingency form that allows for something called neighborhood review. It is there for the obvious reason that people may want to get a better idea of what the neighborhood is like before they buy. If you didn’t take advantage of that option it is assumed to be waived.

The neighborhood issues are not required to be disclosed. Material defects of the home or property are all that the disclosures address. I’m surprised that you never heard the dogs while you were looking at the house or during your inspection. If they howl at odd times, day and night, you should have heard them.

It’s possible that the dogs are reacting to you. You are strangers to them, after all, and maybe getting acquainted with the neighbor and the dogs might make a difference. I would start with getting acquainted with the neighbor. They might not know how bad the howling is for you.

It is not unusual to keep trained hunting dogs in a kennel situation. Some consider this cruel but seeing the owners interact with the dogs may tell you if they are healthy and happy.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Q: When will there be more real estate inventory on Vashon?

We’ve been looking with you and checking online every day.  Nothing new!  We’ve seen and passed on the few things available in our price range but it’s getting frustrating.  When will there be something to buy?

A:  Good question.  I wish I could predict the market!  This is an unusual winter for real estate.  Perhaps because of the mild weather we’ve had, there are still lots of buyers out there eagerly looking.  Sellers often wait until spring (April) to put their homes on the market believing this is when buyers are active.  Plus, some homes that have been for sale for awhile take them off the market through the winter months.  But this year we really need the inventory and this is a good time to have that for sale sign up. 
Pent up demand is driving prices higher, too.  Prices on Vashon grew 18% in 2013 and it looks like it will continue to inch up this year as well.  It would behoove a seller to get their place on sooner than later.  With less competition, they may actually come out way ahead selling earlier in the year.

We currently have only 44 homes on the market and that includes some places that are not livable.  Some categories have only a handful of homes.  Price ranges vary, of course, but the low to middle of our market is very sparse. 
All I can tell you is to get ready.  That means being fully pre-approved with a lender, prepared to write an earnest money check, have your down payment in the bank, and be clear on what you will give up in order to have the most important one or two things you’re hoping for.

I know I’ve said it before, but you really can’t be too picky when we sell only 100 to 150 homes a year here in all price ranges.  That means in any category and price range there are only five or six houses a year that would work for you.  Good luck and keep looking!