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."