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.