Wednesday, December 23, 2015

2015 has come to an end.

I want to express my gratitude to those whose questions I have tried to answer here. Also thanks to all of you who stop me around town to comment on those answers!

I want to welcome your questions concerning real estate matters in general and Vashon issues in particular as we move into 2016. It is always my hope that people will learn from the mistakes of others. It can save you a lot of money, time and anxiety.

This has been a very busy year in real estate. Over 180 homes have sold this year in every price range from $165,000 to over $1,500,000. Land sales were also vigorous with over 34 parcels selling this year. I recall that one year, during the depths of the recession, we sold only 7 parcels of land and 75 homes. The reason for the jump in home sales this year and last is partially because homeowners were waiting out the recession, hoping for a better market to sell. We anticipate that 2016 will be a great year too. Most of our sales are a result of folks moving off the Island because of a job transfer, or because of divorce or death. Rarely have I heard of anyone leaving because they just don’t like it here.

We always have a significant number of sales involving people already living on Vashon who are just moving to a different type of property on the Island. Their kids get older and now they want acreage for horses, or the owners are aging and want to buy down to a smaller place. Then there are those people who are doing very well and want a larger or nicer home, maybe something on the water or with a big view.

Whatever the market, I want you to know I will continue to be available to show you homes and land. Moreover, I am always available to consult, answer questions and just be a resource for our wonderful Vashon Maury Island community. It’s a pleasure and an honor to serve you.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Q: We bought an investment property from you many years ago and have been very happy with it.

We’ve had a good renter in there for the last couple of years who pays on time and takes good care of the place. However, people keep telling us we should raise the rent to match the current rental market. The tenants we have in there now are not able to pay much more but we don’t really want to lose any money on this. Suggestions?

A: You probably can raise the rent and get other tenants who can pay more. However, you should do the math. Let’s say you have been changing $1,600 a month for your three bedroom rambler. You could raise it to $1,800 which would give you an added $2,400 per year. But you should also figure in at least one month’s lost rent for the change over between tenants. That’s assuming you rent it right away. That would bring your gain down to $600.00 for the year.

You also have to decide if you want to get rid of good, responsible tenants who have been paying rent on time and taking good care of the place in favor of someone new you don’t really know. In addition, you may have to repaint between tenants and do other small repairs. That could eat up any gain you might see. Of course you would get that increased income for the following years, assuming you get a good tenant who pays on time, takes good care of the property and stays for awhile.
Each time you have a turnover of tenants there are costs and losses. Of course it’s tempting to squeeze a bit more out of your investment. But you always have to consider the costs. You should also keep in mind that your rental is an excellent investment in the future since you will probably make a good profit when you sell it. That’s why it pays to take care of the property and be sure you have tenants who take good care of it too.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Q: We want to close early on our house sale so that we can close on the new home we’re buying in Tacoma, but we need to have a couple more weeks in our Vashon house to get ready to move.

We think the buyers of our Vashon place might let us rent the house back for a few weeks.  They said they talked to you and you advised against that.  Can you tell us why?

A: Most lenders won’t be happy with a rent-back to the sellers.  It can look to them as if the buyers are really buying an investment property, not an owner-occupied home, which is a different loan package.  It might look like fraud.  Next, there is insurance to consider.  If there is a fire in the house during the time the sellers are renting back, the buyer’s insurance might refuse to pay, claiming that they did not insure a rental, they insured an owner-occupied home, and the owners were not occupying it.  The sellers’ insurance won’t pay because the home is no longer owned by the sellers.  This has actually happened.

Another issue, which has personally happened to me (that may be why I caution against rent-backs), is the possibility that the rental period ends and the sellers don’t leave.  This puts the buyers in the sutuation where they may have to evict the people they bought the house from.  Nasty!  Same problem if there is damage.  Will the seller be putting up extensive damage and security deposits to rent back for just a few days or weeks?  Not usually.
It’s always very difficult to close on one sale while you’re buying another home.  Often both buyers and sellers end up storing their household goods for awhile. Both buyers and sellers should think through all of the possible scenarios when they approach a transaction.  Don’t rely on the possibility that the other party to the transaction can accommodate you, especially last minute.  You might try to renegotiate the closing dates for both your Vashon home and your new Tacoma house.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Some Quick Tips To Get Ready For Winter!
(Many people have asked me to run this the first part of November every year)

1. Clean the gutters! Water can penetrate into your walls and roofing and cause serious mold problems.

2. If you haven’t done it already, 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, and saves you big bucks by running more efficiently.

3. Be sure you’re ready for power outages. Battery powered lamps are good, flashlights for all family members and a battery powered radio for weather news. Never use portable propane, kerosene, gas heaters or charcoal grills in the house.

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

5. Look around your yard for objects that can get lost under a few inches of snow. 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. Install new windshield wipers. Have ice scraping tools in the car and keep water, a flashlight and a warm blanket in the trunk in case you get stranded.

7. Try not to use portable electric heaters in the house and if you must, unplug them when you leave home. They can cause fires. So can holiday lights and Christmas trees. Turn them off when you leave the house. I know that’s hard but many fires have started from faulty holiday lights.

8. Speaking about fire safety, be sure to clean out dryer vents and range vents to prevent fires.

9. Have the chimney cleaned if you use wood heat. Fireplaces and woodstoves are a major source of house fires.

10. Go to for their emergency readiness list. You will find that it’s a big help.

11. Drain water lines and store your hoses and tools.

12. Last but not least, stock up on hot chocolate!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Q: I missed out on a lovely home I would have bought but it didn’t have a garage.

I suppose I could build one but everyone I talk to says the County is impossible to work with to build anything.  I can’t afford to just buy a new car every year or two, so I really want to keep my car in a garage.  Any suggestions?
A:  The obvious one is to stop worrying about your car.  Losing out on a home you really want because of no garage is hard in our market.  There may not be another home in your price range like it for a very long time.  Our weather is generally mild compared to most parts of the country so leaving a car out in the weather doesn’t really “damage” it.  Most garages I see on the Island, when I’m showing homes, have been converted to workshops, family rooms, storage space or hobby rooms. Most of us don’t put our cars in a garage unless we have a very special or rare car. (1956 T bird, let’s say).
You might consider building a carport. That would be cheaper and easier and would protect your car, if that’s your only reason for wanting a garage.  Even if you build a garage, the County is not that difficult to work with when it comes to getting permits for outbuildings that are not used as living spaces.  Most Islanders have a number of outbuildings and structures on their property that serve many needs. 

I know I’ve said this many times before in answer to other people’s questions, but you just can’t get everything you want when buying on Vashon.  Our market is far too small.  There may be only 5 or 6 homes for sale each year that would fit your general preferences and be in your price range. It just doesn’t pay to be too picky.  Also remember, our wonderful Island young people have a fundraising carwash almost every weekend for one club or other so you can keep your car looking its best.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Q: I'm happy that we can pay cash for our new house but my wife is wondering if there are any extra issues that we should know about when buying for cash.

It seems like the whole transaction should be a whole lot easier and smoother.
A: In many ways it is easier to buy for cash and often much faster. You will be saving the closing costs of a loan, which can be considerable. You will also save the time it takes to process the loan which is getting longer due to new government regulations. However, you won’t have a lender checking the title and asking questions about the property. Plus, with most cash sales, there is no appraisal.

All of that means you should do even more due diligence before closing. You may actually want to get an appraisal or at least go over the comparable sales carefully to be sure you are paying a fair price. You should be sure to read and ask questions about the title to the property. There are often things a lender will ask about, like road maintenance agreements or condition of the well, which you should ask about when no loan officer is involved.

I go over all of this when I have a cash buyer but there is no requirement that Realtors do this depth of due diligence. In fact, it’s often discouraged by our industry as going beyond our level of expertise. I have been going “where angels fear to tread” for years but I don’t blame other brokers for being more cautious. Just remember that as the buyer, it’s ultimately up to you to be sure all of your rights are protected and, that you really know what you’re getting into when buying property.
If you are buying waterfront, be sure you review and understand the requirements for FEMA insurance, the landslide and erosion maps of King County and Vashon, the flood areas on Vashon and the Shoreline Management Act. Also be particularly diligent about septic issues and the ramifications of the Marine Recovery Areas.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Q: We wanted to get back to you and tell you what we’re hoping to find on Vashon.

We won’t be ready to build for a few years but we want to buy land now before prices go any higher. We plan on just putting up a yurt or some kind of tiny cabin and just coming out on weekends while we decide about our home plans. We are fine with a composting toilet and reusing rainwater.

A: You may be comfortable with no septic system or permanent water source but, unfortunately, the County is not. Legally you can’t live on the property until you have an approved septic system installed and a legal water source on the property. The County has been fairly lenient about letting folks live in an RV while they build, as long as the septic and water is hooked up to it.
You do see yurts, tents and odd shacks being lived in on the island but they’re not legal. As long as no one brings them to the attention of King County Code Enforcement, they can slip by. But you’re taking a risk. Many people think they can be completely off the grid here. Not true. We are, in fact, governed by King County and its land use laws. We are not a thousand miles from large cities, just a 20 minute boat ride away.
I’ve talked to many people over the years that think they can “go back to the land” here. It’s an illusion that’s very tempting. We do, indeed, have many hard working small farms here and an Island full of creative artists of every kind. But the hippie days have been over for a very long time. I recommend that people buy land only when they plan on building in the next couple of years. Septic rules change and what is approved now may not be in the future. Even the rules and regulations around well drilling change, so getting a water share or putting in a well as soon as possible is critical to being sure you can build.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Q: We just lost out on a home because another offer had an escalator clause.

What is that? Why didn’t our real estate broker use that? I know an escalator in a store goes up and down and I suppose it’s a way that lets you raise your bid or something.

A: The escalator does have to do with going up. The clause allows a buyer to state that they will pay a certain amount over the listed price, up to a set limit, if it’s necessary to beat out a competing offer on the property. Let’s say the house was listed for $400,000 and you believed it would sell fast. Add the fact that you would be willing to pay more because it’s the closest thing you’ve seen to the type of property you want.

Let’s assume that there is another offer that will be presented at the same time as yours. If you are really motivated to get this house you could include the escalator clause. You might say that you will pay $500.00 over the highest offer the seller receives, up to a top limit of $425,000. If that beats the other offer, you are in contract to buy the house. If the other offer was $1,000 over the list price, you would therefore, pay $401,500.00. That’s beating their offer of $1,000 over asking price plus the $500 extra you promised to pay in the escalator clause.

As to why your broker didn’t suggest it, there could be many reasons. You may have mentioned that you didn’t want to get into a bidding war on a house. You may have indicated that your offer was the most you wanted to spend. It’s possible that he or she doesn’t know about the escalator but I would be surprised if that’s the case.

If you get into this situation again, the most important thing to remember is to be really clear about your own limits. Don’t let the “game” of bidding on a house set you up to spend more than you planned on or can handle. Good luck!

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Q: We are reconsidering our move to Vashon.

I’ve been going out and looking at homes for sale on my own for a few weeks. I can tell if it’s something I might want just by walking around the house, peeking in the windows and checking out the neighborhood. Last weekend a guy came out of a house and really chewed me out. He was really rude! If people are that unfriendly here it may not work for us after all.

A: You use the word rude but you don’t seem to realize that you were the one who was rude. Walking around homes that are on the market on your own is not appropriate. That’s why most real estate signs say “by appointment.” Once you get your home in Bellevue listed you may find out for yourself what it’s like to have strangers wandering around your yard and peeking in windows. That’s totally rude.

As it happens, the house you are talking about is rented. It was a tenant that you upset. Washington landlord tenant law requires that we give a tenant at least 24 hour notice before showing the home. Most tenants are happy to let us show with just a few hours notice but it’s their call. You were not being respectful of his privacy. So, I have to say, it was you who was at fault.

Vashon is a very friendly place, and folks here are always willing to talk to new people and help them settle into our community. But starting off by thinking you can just barge in on someone’s property and disturb them is not the best way to get started. Most Realtors here feel that we have a duty to protect a home’s privacy even if it’s vacant. This is for security reasons and to simply respect the fact that is has been someone’s home.

I rarely “divorce” a client but I’m afraid I can’t work with someone with so little regard for others. I don’t think we would be a good fit. But I wish you luck wherever you end up.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Q: We bought a waterfront place here some years ago and are trying to expand the house just a little bit.

Our contractor has been pulling his hair out trying to get a permit through the County. It looks like we won’t be able to do it and I’m really upset that we were not told about all of these restrictions when we bought our house. We may even have to put in a new septic system. I can’t see why it’s such a big deal.
A: There have always been some restrictions on waterfront homes, but many changes have occurred in the 17 years since you bought your home. In 1990 the state passed the Growth Management Act to provide some guidelines for growth in our state. They included some public health and environmental constraints to protect the Puget Sound and other bodies of water. These were updated in 2005 to include more strict controls over leaking septic systems and homes on the water where people had no septic systems at all.

In 2005 the Vashon Maury Island Marine Recovery Area was designated as a particular area of concern due to bad septic systems which are polluting the Sound. As an example, you may have read that shellfish can’t be harvested for much of the year due to pollution. In 2008 the County adopted an onsite septic management plan for Vashon and some other waterfront areas of the County. These newer rules are even more aggressive about getting people to install proper septic systems. All of these regulations control what you can and can’t do with your property.

In addition, these regulations control the impervious surfaces on your property. Impervious surfaces are, for instance, your house, driveway and garage that prevent rainwater from seeping into the ground to replenish our sole source aquifer. So there are a lot of new regulations that will limit what you can do with your property. Protecting our drinking water, Puget Sound, and our fish and wildlife habitat are all critical to sustaining a livable place for all of us.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Q: We're getting so frustrated trying to find a home on Vashon.

We just can’t drop everything and get out there fast enough from Seattle to put a bid in on a house. My husband wants to be close to the ferry so we are just looking at the north end. It seems like everything sells so fast in that neighborhood and is more expensive. Any suggestions?
A: This may sound flippant and I don’t mean it to, but if you can’t possibly deal with a drive of 5 to 20 minutes to the ferry from further south on the island, you may want to just stay in Seattle. Most of my clients move here for a slower pace, a more rural lifestyle that includes great schools, a wonderful cultural environment, beautiful natural areas and a friendly community. To become a part of that community you may have to actually live more than a couple of minutes from the boat.

Our north end homes turn over at a faster rate than other areas. Some of the busiest roads see the same homes coming on the market every two to four years. That tells me that those folks couldn’t handle the commute. There are other reasons to sell, of course, but there does seem to be a pattern.

I’ve been fortunate that in 26 years in this business I have had only one client who bought at the north end and sold a few years later to go back to the city. Of course, other clients who buy at the north end often end up buying a place elsewhere on the Island to get into a more rural setting.

Living in the city, with its traffic congestion, can mean it takes 15 minutes just to drive a few blocks. For others folks it’s a 45 minute bumper to bumper drive on the freeway to or from the east side. I would think a drive through beautiful rural Vashon, and a relaxing trip on a boat talking to friends, working on a laptop or reading a book would be an easy tradeoff.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Q: We lost out on the home we really wanted because the appraisal was too low.

Our real estate agent gave comparable sales to the appraiser but he said he would use his own. His comparables were really off the mark. It’s a four bedroom house on a really big lot and he even used small, two bedroom houses that closed last year! We’re heartsick and, it seems, our lender can’t do anything about it. There is no way we have enough money to make up the difference, so we’re getting out of the sale. How can this happen?

A: Very often the appraiser has far more power in a transaction than, perhaps, they should. The laws changed a few years ago so that lenders can’t choose the appraiser. They must go with the next person on a list. So, like a lottery, you never know who you’ll get. Although the appraisers must sign a statement saying they are familiar with the market in the area they are appraising, they often have no idea. I’ve spoken to appraisers who have never been to Vashon in their life but are doing an appraisal here.

We have a small market on Vashon and it’s never easy to find comparable sales. There are also subjective issues that someone from off the island may not understand. Generally people pay more for a house that’s close to the ferry or in some other particularly desirable location. Only our local appraisers know that. An older house that has had no updating may sell for more than a really lovely remodeled home because of its acreage, or great out buildings or location near a park or trails.

There are lenders who seem to be able to challenge a bad appraisal and get it reviewed and reconsidered. Other lenders don’t seem able to do this. In a fast paced market, prices can change too fast to keep up with for appraisers who don’t know and watch our local area. You might consider switching lenders for your next purchase and discussing this issue with them ahead of time.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Q: All of this hot weather has really upset me.

I have a beautiful garden and the property is wonderfully landscaped. Many of my plants are dying and some are getting a fungus and look awful. I had a landscape expert out and she said I should switch to more drought tolerant plants. I don’t want to have a cactus garden! We plan on selling in a couple of years and I just know that will hurt our resale value. Any suggestions?

A: First, may I suggest you get online or go to the library and do some research on drought tolerant plants. There are many northwest natives that can handle some heat and large families of plants that are in no way cactus.  Keep in mind that unlike that phrase the landscape industry uses; “plant material” as if it were interchangeable fabric, plants are living things and do a lot of work for us as well as being beautiful. They offer food and habitat to birds, butterflies and other wildlife, they hold the soil from sliding or blowing way, they hold water which then percolates into our aquifer instead of just running off, and they can cool us in summer. You just need to find plants that can handle more heat. The fungus you speak of is probably one that comes on in warm weather when you over water.  Always check the soil before watering to be sure it’s dry before you do any watering.  Do a little homework to better understand your landscape and discover plants that can tolerate our changing weather. WSU Extension offers great online information.  As for resale value, we’re not talking about a quick change like painting your house. When you’re ready to sell, your listing broker might suggest toning down a less popular house color before putting it on the market, for instance. But plants are not like that. You can’t just rip out an entire landscape overnight and replant. Plan a gradual change rather than a huge makeover and your yard will stay looking lovely. Plus, don’t forget to amend your soil.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Q: We’ve been looking for a home on Vashon for over two years and we’re getting very discouraged.

There just never seems to be anything that really fits our criteria.  You’ve been very patient with us and we appreciate it, but do you think we will ever have a home on the Island?

A:  Maybe, or maybe not.  It’s really up to you.  I tell all of my clients that with such a small inventory of homes for sale each year, they just can’t be that choosy.  The goal is to live here in this wonderful community and have at least a few of the things you were hoping to find in a home.  We sell, on average, about 165 homes a year here.  That’s everything from unlivable shacks to glorious mansions. In each price range and category we have maybe five or six homes a year. So that means if you can afford up to $500,000 and you want a nice home on acreage, you may have three to five homes a year to look at in all locations on the Island.  That requires that you reduce your list of the 10 things you want in a new home down to maybe two.  Add to that the fact that it’s a fast, sellers market and you can see that taking your time to consider a place and having unrealistic expectations will keep you out of our market.  I’m sorry to sound so blunt and unfeeling.  I know it’s hard to make such a big decision in a hurry.  My partner and I went through some similar soul searching when we were looking to buy our “dream home” here.  We finally got the picture and narrowed down our “must haves” to two things; sunny acreage with some forest buffer.  It also had to be in our price range, of course. We didn’t care about the house. It was a fixer and the property needed work. We worked hard and turned it around. We’ve been on that property for over 25 years now and still absolutely love it. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Q: We keep seeing these tiny waterfront cabins priced really cheaply and we want to start looking at them.

We hadn’t thought about waterfront but at these prices, why not? We can always enlarge it later; maybe even do some of the work ourselves.

A: Not really. These tiny cabins have many drawbacks, thus the low price. It is not likely you could add to them at all. I would say virtually impossible. Most are on steep slopes. You could not build those same homes today, due to flood and landslide hazards. In almost every case, the Critical Areas Ordinance of King County would not allow major additions or tearing down and rebuilding. You also need to be very careful about the septic situation. Many of these places have little or no approved septic system and you may be stuck paying for a very expensive septic system installation in order to live in the cabin. Often they have such poor access that any new system must be installed using a barge since there is no way to get heavy machinery to the site from the land. Very expensive.

The other issue to consider is that most lenders will not loan on these cabins and you may also be faced with challenges getting insurance. Certainly FEMA flood insurance will be required as it is for most waterfront property now. That really adds to the monthly cost. Living on the water is a dream shared by many people, and in general, our waterfront prices are very attractive compared with the rest of the greater Seattle area. But I’m talking about substantial homes, primarily less than 50 years old, that have been upgraded and well cared for. You won’t see those in the bargain category of pricing.

I always tell people that one of the advantages to living on an island is that we all live five minutes or less from waterfront. We can walk to one of the marvelous waterfront parks on Vashon as well as see the water every day driving around the Island. That’s not too shabby.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Q: We went back to that house you showed us last weekend.

We found a dead hummingbird under a feeder and another dead bird in the bushes near the back door. Do you think there is something wrong with the water there?

A:  There should be nothing wrong with the water at that home since it’s in a good water system that’s checked regularly.  What you probably saw was the result of spoiled birdseed and sugar water that had mold and fungus in it.  It’s not uncommon, I’m sad to say, for homes that are vacant to leave behind their half filled bird feeders.  The seed spoils and can kill birds if they eat it.  With the hummers, the feeders develop molds and fungus that can kill these lovely little birds.
Most people are not aware of the danger of dirty feeders.  In addition, many people who feed birds do not properly clean the feeders before they pour in new seed or, with hummingbird feeders, add sugar water.  They think they’re doing the birds a favor but they’re literally killing them. Seed gets stuck in the bottom of feeder tubes and rots, turning it deadly. Folks should read about the proper way to feed birds and clean feeders. Even mixing the sugar water needs to be done properly.

This is not really a real estate issue but I am a birder (birdwatcher) and this sort of thing bothers me.  Particularly in spring and summer the birds will do just fine without the feeders, so unless a person plans on keeping their feeders really clean they shouldn’t have them.  Our Anna’s hummingbirds are here year round as well as many varieties of other birds, so in the winter it helps them out to feed them, but only if you take responsibility to keep the feeders clean. Most experts will tell you that the hummingbird feeder should be clean enough that you would drink the sugar water out of it.  It must be changed and cleaned very often to prevent the fungus that can kill these beautiful little birds.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Q: Thanks for coming by the house to advise us on getting ready to sell.

My wife is having a hard time with your suggestion to pack up all our personal stuff.  We’ve got photos of the grandkids and some special other stuff on the refrigerator, as well as a lot of the collectable keepsakes from our travels set out around the house.  She’s sentimental about that stuff so I’m not sure we can do what you suggested and pack it up.

A:  First let me remind you that you’re going to be moving anyway.  Starting your packing may get you a bit more focused on looking forward, not back.  Second, you may recall that I mentioned that when all of your stuff is visible, potential buyers often end up “visiting” you, and not thinking about buying your house.  If they’re local they may even know some of the folks whose pictures are up around the home.  They can even start talking about the time they visited a place that you have photos and keepsakes from.  They are no longer imagining the house with their belonging in it or thinking about the spaces in the house and how they would use it. I’ve always thought that the first things to be packed when you’re going to move should be your most treasured items. You don’t want to have these things get lost in a packing frenzy once you have a sale. It’s also usually recommended by listing brokers that you have the home as clean and clear of excess items as possible to make it easier to photograph. That always shows better on the Internet.  I know you have many fond memories attached to that home.  But now that you have a new plan for your lives, it’s time to start packing so that you can move on.  Soon you’ll have a new refrigerator for those photos to live on and a lovely new house close to family members and friends. You can unpack all those lovely mementoes of your life and let them become a part of your future.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Q: As you suggested, we have interviewed a few lenders to see who we want to work with to get pre-approved for a loan to buy a home.

There isn’t too much difference in rates and fees and we’re having trouble choosing. I know it sounds funny but we really like one woman we’ve talked to and feel we can trust her. Is it foolish to make such an important decision based on personality?

A: Not at all. One additional step I would suggest is to ask for references. See what others think of her work. There are also online reviews that might be available. Keep in mind that the loan officer is the “front” person for the process. There are underwriters and processors as well as assistants who may be the ones doing the bulk of the work on your loan.  Like most Realtors, I’ve had good and bad experiences with lenders. Recently I had two transactions with two different loan officers through the same bank. It’s a regional bank I’ve worked with in the past. One transaction went very smoothly. The loan officer kept my clients and me informed at all times and was clear about what she needed. Her assistant was professional and helpful and the underwriting process didn’t come up with any last minute surprises.  The other transaction was a nightmare. The loan officer in that case didn’t communicate well and we had a last minute rush to come up with documents the buyers had not been asked to provide during the six weeks of the transaction. Documents were lost by the bank and there were last minute requirements from the underwriter due to errors on the part of the loan officer. Same bank!  I’d be happy to share the names of the folks in the lending community that I’ve worked with that have done a great job. It isn’t that they don’t have good days and bad, like everyone else. It’s that they stay focused on the job at hand and communicate effectively so that we don’t all end up with stressful last minute hassles.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Q: We’re getting ready to put our house on the market and we have a question.

Last year the septic system backed up and we had to have a new drainfield put in.  We didn’t get any permits but we think it was all done right and it’s working fine.  Do we have to disclose that?  What if the County finds out we did it without a permit?  Can they come after us?

A:  You will have to disclose that you had a septic repair.  I would recommend you contact our local septic certification technician and have the system tested.  You will be required to do that as a part of any sale anyway.  If all is well you will have that report to show to prospective buyers.  You should also have the tank pumped and cleaned while you’re at it.  That certification should be good for six months, so if you price your home well it should sell and close well within that time.
The issue of what the County will do is more difficult to answer.  Most, if not all, issues that come up with code enforcement and the health department are the result of a complaint.  The staff of the code enforcement office has told me that they don’t have the personnel or time to check every property out to see if it’s in compliance.

It’s rare that King County code enforcement gets involved in a real estate transaction.  Sometimes a potential buyer will call the County to see if they can do certain things on a property they intend to buy.  That can sometimes trigger an investigation.  In my experience, that’s rare. We have so many properties that have had unpermitted repairs and additions that I can’t see the County ever trying to get everyone properly permitted.
I would also recommend that you have a home inspection done ahead of putting the house on the market.  You can get a real head start on issues that may come up when a buyer does their inspection.  Anything serious can be taken care of ahead of time.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Q: I’m upset that we missed the chance to make an offer on that house we saw online last week.

It was sold before we could get out to Vashon to see it.  We can’t just drop everything and run out there on a moment’s notice.  I don’t think I want to try to buy this year if it’s going to be a dog eats dog market!

A:  That may be a good descision for you.  This spring has already shown us that it will be a year of multiple offers, with some folks paying over asking price, and many hard feelings.  I hate this kind of market but we have to work with what we have.  I believe that you and all potential buyers have three choices.
First, if you even think you are a serious buyer this year you must have your preapproval from a lender (or proof of funds for cash buyers) in your hot little hand at all times.  You must have your check book with you to write an earnest money check.  You’ll have to be able and willing to make a fast decision.  There will be no time to bring your folks out to look or your best friend who isn’t available until next week.  I’m serious.

Second choice: you can sit out the market and just wait until it calms down.  Don’t actively look for awhile.  By next winter it could be relatively quiet again.  However, we will probably have higher interest rates, less inventory and prices could also be higher.
Third, you can try to find a home that isn’t going to sell fast.  Maybe a fixer or just ugly.  Ugly can be fixed. Really!  Those homes may not sell as fast.  Just remember that your lender won’t go for a home that can’t appraise for the sale price.  A rehab loan may be an option. 

I wish our lack of inventory and high demand were not pushing prices up and creating bidding wars.  But thousands of people move into the Seattle area every day.  Many of them find our beautiful Island.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Q: We really had a lovely time touring the Island with you last week but I do have a question.

I hope you don’t take offense but I was actually appalled by the way people dress here. Even in the shops everyone looks like they just fell out of bed. Their clothes are not really appropriate at all! Mix matched and not ironed and some of them look just plain odd. I even saw a woman in bedroom slippers at the grocery store! There are so many young people with odd hair styles and the children look just wild. I don’t know if I can adjust to a place where people look so weird. Is that just the way it is?

A: Well, bless your heart. You actually answered your own question. You probably wouldn’t be able to adjust to living here. First, remember that Washington is far less formal than the rest of the country and the Seattle area is far more "laid back" than the rest of the state. Vashon Island is even more informal than Seattle and not as concerned with appearances as most places.  In our defense, we try to be a "live and let live" community that is accepting of everyone. Of course folks who commute to jobs in the city look very different on the ferry than they do on the Island. I rarely see local women using much make up when on Vashon, and no one wears a suit here unless they are going to a funeral or heading off Island.  As for the children, I agree that some are wild. Their parents think that’s the way to raise them. There is a strong belief here that raising children in a rigid, disciplined way is basically not good for the adults they will become. There is disagreement about that, of course.  I’ve also seen folks wearing slippers and even a bathrobe in the grocery stores. I think it's fun that people can be that unconcerned about "keeping up appearances." My dear grandmother, a Midwesterner through and through, would say we’ve "let ourselves go."

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Q: We are really confused.

We were not as ready as we should have been to make an offer, but we thought we had some time with that last one you showed us.  The listing said that they would look at all offers on a certain date.  We rushed through the preapproval process so that we could make an offer and then found out that the house sold days before the date offers were supposed to be reviewed.  What’s that about?

A:  This is what I would call a gimmick and I hope people stop using it.  Legally the seller can take any offer at any time they chose, even if they have stated that they will review all offers at some future date.  Frankly, that sucks!  The goal, I believe, is to try to create a frenzy among potential buyers who might bid the house up to a higher price.  There are a couple of glaring things wrong with this scenario. First, there are many buyers who refuse to play games.  I have had many clients over the years that simply will not make an offer if they perceive that it’s going to go into a “bidding war.”  That means an otherwise interested buyer may simply not make an offer at all.  Second, it makes the sellers appear greedy.  That is probably not what they intend, but it does make it appear that their goal is to sell for even more than the house is worth. Another big drawback is that often the house doesn’t receive any offers on that specified date.  We see homes still listed months after they were going to “review all offers.” I would think that would embarrass a seller and I know it makes buyers assume it’s over priced.  Frankly, that’s often the case.

I totally believe a home should be properly priced and go on the market without these silly gimmicks that can drive everybody crazy.  Sellers deserve to receive a fair price for their home but buyers deserve respect and a clear path to making an offer.  Better luck next time.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Q: My landlady told me I had to move by the end of the month because she’s going to put the house on the market.

I have a lease that goes until next September but she says that doesn’t matter, and she wants me out now.  Do I have any rights?

A:  You certainly do if you have a written lease.  That is a contract and it can’t be broken just because the property owner wants to sell.  I am not an attorney, and I recommend you consult one or meet with one of the tenant’s rights organizations you can find on the Internet.  However, like most professional Realtors, I have enough experience with landlord tenant law to tell you that your lease would still be in effect even if the property is sold.  A new owner would be required to give you their contact information, the address to send your rent, and the location of any deposits you made at the start of your lease.  The current owner would have to pass those deposits on to the new owner who will have to create a special account for those funds.  It’s odd that your landlady would give you such trouble when your attitude and willingness to help is so vital to selling the house.  The state law says that you have to be given 48 hour notice for any showings and that both the owner and real estate professionals showing the house must act reasonably.  That means they can’t expect you to drop everything and show the house on a moment’s notice or at odd hours.   You can make it harder or easier to sell the home by your cooperation.  Your landlady can make things unpleasant, so I would recommend letting her know that you are aware of your legal rights and offer to work cooperatively.  The next owner may be thrilled to have a good renter in the house already if they are buying for investment.  Go online and print off the Washington State Landlord Tenant law.  Read it carefully and then share it with your landlady.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Q: As you suggested, we read over the sellers disclosure form (Form 17) and now we think we may want to withdraw our offer on that home.

There are a lot of things wrong with this property and some of them look really scary. 

A:  I also reviewed the disclosure and saw that some of the answers, particularly the environmental issues, didn’t make sense given my knowledge of the area.  I contacted the listing broker for clarification.  The listing broker acknowledged that he had not read the disclosure nor had he discussed it with the seller.  He stated that his office has a strict policy that listing brokers can’t help their sellers fill out the form.  I asked him to speak to the sellers about their answers.  He did and they have redone the form to reflect the correct answers.  They simply misread the instructions.  I think you should reconsider withdrawing your offer in light of their new disclosure form.   These forms are often full of mistakes and misunderstandings and I wish there were a way to make them more helpful.  Sellers often don’t give it sufficient thought when they fill them out, and mistakes and misrepresentations can happen too easily.  I believe listing agents should at least go over the form and explain terms to the sellers so they realize what they are saying about the property. 

I counsel buyers not to rely too heavily on these disclosures.  Sellers often don’t really know their property that well or don’t realize there is a problem.  Most people don’t go into their crawl space, for instance, and yet there can be some major problems there. The form also asks questions like “has there ever been any flooding?”  The seller may not have knowledge of past flooding or other major problems that happened before they owned the property and yet these are issues that would be vital for buyers to know.  This is the reason that having your own inspections is so essential.  A home inspection, septic inspection and often a geotechnical engineering inspection should tell you what you need to know.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Q: I’m getting nervous about the rising tides around our place.

Our bulkhead is only about four feet high and can’t be made taller. During normal high tides the water washes over it and comes close to our lower floor door. The "king tides" they are talking about come up even higher and can do some real damage. I’ve read a little about the climate change issues and see that the water level in Puget Sound is predicted to rise significantly in the next couple of decades. We had hoped to leave this place to our kids but now I’m not so sure it will be there for them. If we try to sell it will anyone want to buy a low bank cabin like ours?
A: First let me say that there is a buyer for everything if the price is right. Particularly for those looking for a seasonal getaway, low bank cottages and cabins are still in demand. However, there are many issues with these places, and I must admit, I am less and less enthusiastic about them. First, as you mention, during very high tides and storm events water comes up over the bulkheads and often, into the house or under the crawl space to create a perfect environment for mold, wood destroying pests, and rot. In addition, there are often septic problems because there may be no drainfield or very little drainfield. If there is a complete failure of the system, it will be incredibly expensive to find a solution. As you know, the King County Marine Recovery Act now requires the monitoring of some of these low bank drainfields. It can also be a bit scary to look at the landslide hazard maps of the state and County and realize many of these cabins are in major landslide areas. It can feel like the question is not if, but when the hillside will come roaring down on top of you. The question of selling is up to you, of course, but I believe the "better safe than sorry" idea is a good one.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Q: We’re getting desperate to find a place we can afford on Vashon.

We’ve been looking for awhile now and feel that we won’t ever be able to buy here. I know we’re in a low price range for the Vashon market but is there ever going to be something we can afford?

A: Please don’t despair. It’s never been easy to buy here because we have such a very small inventory of homes for sale at any given time. There were only about 185 homes sold on the Island last year but the good news is that 30 of those were decent, ready to live in places for under $300,000. Even though our prices may get pushed up a bit this year, I feel confident that there will be more choices for you in that price range.

I’ve always used the metaphor of a spider, since I can’t think of anything more appropriate when it comes to Vashon real estate. A spider sits, virtually motionless for a very long time, but when the fly hits the web, he moves very fast to capture his meal. Desirable homes sell here that fast. You have to be ready to pounce! Keep looking at everything and keep your loan pre-approval current.

Also remember that the first "rule" of real estate: "location, location, location," is still the best rule to follow. Vashon is a very desirable place but you still want something without a glaring negative like too much traffic noise or a very dark, wet yard. Everyone has their idea of good and bad features, of course, but you want to be able to sell it someday so be sure the flaws are fixable.

I also want to add another caution. Everybody needs to get away on a break from time to time, but when you are seriously looking to buy it’s not a good time for lengthy vacations. I can’t tell you how often over the years, I’ve had clients miss out on their perfect place because they were away. The good stuff sells fast, remember, and so make yourself available.