Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Holiday message

We’ve come to the end of another year.  It’s been a turbulent year in our country and all over the world.  Due to the internet, we see too much and are manipulated constantly.  I would like to suggest that for a little while we turn all of that off or at least turn it down.  I try to stay sane and focused by concentrating on all of the good that surrounds us on this little island.
I like the stories of the runaway dogs that are often tracked by people all over the Island via Facebook or other local social media groups until the pup is reunited with his family. Or the story of a lady I spoke to recently who lost her purse.  It was full of cash for holiday shopping and all of her credit cards.  It was found and when she got it back everything was there.
I love the story of the little boy who told me he had settled for a smaller Christmas tree this year so that he could donate the difference a larger tree would cost to help the homeless.  He has good parents teaching him compassion and charity.
I hear so many stories from you.  I hear of accidents on slick roadways and the neighbors and professionals who save the day, and sometimes a life. I see the folks stopping to help a motorist in distress or give a friend a ride home.  I read the notes online that ask for, and receive, money or assistance for those suffering illness or injury.
But best of all is walking around town and seeing people talking, hugging, laughing and sharing.  There may be other places like this somewhere but I don’t know of them.  This community is open to folks of all ethnic background, color, religion, sexual orientation and political opinion. I’d say that’s rare. It’s worth defending forever.
This is a place where it’s safe to grow old.  We have our problems, of course.  Sadly, some bad things happen.  But kindness and generosity overflow here and I’m grateful. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Q: We’re thinking of waiting until spring to list our home but we’re getting nervous about the political changes coming.

Everyone we talk to says interest rates will go up, which could mean fewer buyers, and depending on what happens with a new administration, people may be nervous about spending money.  My husband spent the summer cleaning out the garage and the house has been ready for months.  Is it worth trying to sell it now during the winter?

A:  None of us can really predict the future.  But I can tell you that there are still buyers out there waiting for something and that our inventory of available homes is low and will likely go lower.  That’s the usual situation in the winter months. With low inventory and active buyers still out there, this might be an excellent time to go on the market.  The “fair weather” buyers are gone until spring and summer but the motivated folks are still out there looking.

I would recommend that you get a home inspection done before you list.  You can fix the things that are found by the inspector so that a buyer can see that it’s ready to go.  That also helps you locate any hidden repairs needed that are not obvious.  I was recently involved in the sale of a home where the sellers had an inspection and fixed all of the little things that were wrong.  The buyers did their own inspection which went smoothly and gave them confidence that the property and home had been well cared for.

I also recommend that you review the sellers disclosure form (form 17) that sellers are required to fill out before they list their property.  It will help you answer questions about your home and gives you a chance to go over the form when you’re not rushed.  You should interview several brokers and once you’ve selected a broker to list your home, be prepared to have the house ready to show at a moment’s notice.  The easier it is to show the more brokers will want to show it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Q: I am really confused about the seller’s disclosure form.

We have read some of these as we’ve been looking at homes to buy and often the form isn’t complete or the little boxes aren’t checked.  It says on the form that any answers that have an asterisk next to them have to be explained in a separate sheet of paper.  We’ve only seen one that really did that.  How are we supposed to trust what the seller says if the form is not complete or there are all kinds of scratched out answers?

A: This is one of my hot buttons, I can tell you.  Most of the attorneys for the real estate firms and associations caution brokers against helping the sellers fill out these forms.  However, I would really hope that they would at least review the filled out form and call attention to incomplete answers, obviously incorrect answers, and require that the sellers fill out a separate page when needed.
I recommend that as a buyer, you never trust these answers. Not because the sellers are lying or can’t be trusted, but because people often fill this form out incorrectly and sometimes don’t even understand the questions.  I just reviewed a sellers disclosure that had more than half of the questions left blank.  The seller is required to answer all of the questions.  A buyer can even get out of a sale based on an incomplete form.  So you would think they would be more careful. Common mistakes include things like a seller saying they are on a public water system when they really have their own well. That can make a difference.   Or stating that they did some recent remodeling but don’t know if they got permits. Buyers should do their own homework to check for things that concern them over and above relying on the seller’s disclosure.  Good examples of issues some buyers would care about that a seller might not think are important would be heavy traffic noise.  A child care or animal boarding facility next door might be another.  You get the idea. 

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

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 your roofing and even into your walls and can cause serious mold problems. Plus, water can gush straight down into your crawl space from full gutters encouraging flooding.
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 major source of house fires.
10. Go to online for a check list for everything you need to know about weather related and other emergencies.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Q: I attended the public meeting on the comprehensive plan a couple of weeks ago and I’m confused.

It seems the committee working on this wants to "up zone" areas around town to encourage higher density. As I understand it that means a property zoned for one house can now add more. I look around town and see several large empty properties that haven’t been built on. I looked up the zoning on these and they all could have a large number of houses on them. Why can’t those be built on instead of changing zoning?  

A: What many people don’t understand is that most of the parcels of land around town that are not developed have large areas designated as wetlands. So a five acre parcel zoned for 12 to 14 houses might only accommodate one house due to the setbacks required. This has been documented. That means that those properties that were planned for multifamily housing in past town plans simply can’t be developed to their full capacity. So we need to look a bit further from the center of town to find property that may not have these limitations.

Keep in mind that there are many other barriers to development, not just zoning. District 19 has been closed to new shares for many years. Without water shares or the ability to drill an approved well, which is hard to accomplish, the property still can’t be developed. Our water district has been very conservative in their approach, which they need to be.

But we have a real housing crisis. Rents are very high and many homes that used to be rented have sold in the last two years and are now owner occupied. This is crushing local workers who can’t afford to buy but can’t find an affordable rental. We are starting to see people who have lived here all of their lives moving away or moving to a cheaper rental area and commuting back to their Vashon jobs. Many elderly folks on fixed incomes are really struggling to pay ever increasing rents. We need to do something.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Q: We’ve been looking at some lower priced waterfront that is listed as “recreational” property.

We get mixed messages from people about building on it.  We’d be happy to just camp out or put an RV there for summertime camping.  Do you have information about that?

A:   According to King County code you cannot camp in King County except in King County “approved campgrounds.”  It’s possible to create a campground but, again, according to the County it must be on property of at least five acres, and must be permitted and strictly managed. They would also require an approved water source and an approved septic system.  These rules can be found in the code, 21A.08.040 in various sections.  

Limited camping is allowed on the property where you have your home for up to 60 days a year, but only with a temporary use or conditional use permit.  That's for your kids to camp in the backyard or friends to camp while visiting you, for example.

You’ve no doubt seen property with small trailers, tents, or even small camping cabins, etc. if you’ve been looking.  These are not legal.  However, if no one has complained to King County Code Enforcement, they just stay where they are.  That seems arbitrary, I know, but that’s how it actually works.  Code enforcement has so few personnel and time that they only work on specific complaints.

We have many “illegal” dwelling units on Vashon.  People here have often just done what they want and not worried about permits or what’s allowed.  That works OK, actually, until you get caught.  I’ve heard of many code enforcement cases, and you never know what the outcome will be.  Depending on the County personnel you’re dealing with, you could pay a fine, have to remove a part of your illegal structure, tear it down altogether, or pay fines and get retroactive permits.

I caution all buyers against buying unbuildable property.  For the same price you pay for these properties you and your family could have many years of vacations in one of our waterfront vacation rentals.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Q: Each time my wife and I come in to talk to you about real estate, you keep telling us to get preapproved for a loan.

You seem reluctant to keep showing us any more houses until we tell you that we’ve filled out all that paperwork with our loan officer.  It feels like you’re being pushy.  We can get all of that done once we find a house. No sense spending the time and money (credit reports cost money) until we find something we want.

A:  Even in a slower market, which this is not, you would be well advised to get your preapproval completed.  In a fast market like this, you may not have a day to spare in making an offer; much less the several days or weeks it takes to get fully approved for a loan.  You are also working in the dark when it comes to price range. I know you feel comfortable with a particular mortgage payment, but you don’t know how much you actually qualify for until the lender does all of their research. 

In slower times we could get by with a quick prequalification letter from a lender.  It basically says, “If everything you tell us is true and checks out, you are qualified to buy a home up to this price.”  That won’t cut it in a competitive market.  Sellers and their brokers want full preapproval.  They want to know that if they chose your offer over others, you will be able to close on the sale.

I often have clients who choose not to spend their last dime on a house.  I applaud that thinking.  They may be qualified to buy a home for $600,000 but don’t want to be burdened with a large mortgage payment, so they decide to only spend $475,000 on a home.  But they can’t make that decision until they know what they are qualified for.

Once we find a home that works for you I want you to be able to actually buy it.  Without the preapproval in your hands, that becomes difficult to impossible. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Q: We’ve been in our home here on Vashon for a little over six months.

We love it here but we are having a real problem with a neighbor.  He says he has some kind of easement on our property and can build a roadway across the back of our acreage.  We never heard anything about this when we bought the property.  Can he really do this?

A:  The answer will have to come from your title company.  If your neighbor has a legal easement then you’re stuck.  You should have read the title report before buying to be sure you understood any restrictions on the property.  If you didn’t understand something, your title officer would have been happy to explain it to you.

Generally real estate professionals are not supposed to interpret title reports or advise their clients about issues on title.  I have taken many classes on title and speak to title officers often so that I can try to warn clients if there is anything on title that could cause problems for them down the road.  I may be stepping out of my role as a Realtor, but I feel it’s too important to ignore.

Your Realtor may be a careful broker who also studies title and tries to have a full understanding of any restrictions or potential problems on any property he sells, but he’s not obligated to.  I try to always include a title addendum with my offers to be sure that my buyers have time to review the title documents and get their questions answered.  The seller is obligated to disclose any defect or restriction on the property, so you may have some recourse against the seller if this will cause some real hardship. 

It’s important to read everything having to do with the purchase of land or a house carefully.  There really is no such thing as “boiler plate” language.  Forms and agreements are changed all of the time so it’s vital to read and understand everything before you sign something. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  After all, it’s your money.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Q: I was so surprised to see the maps you gave my daughter when you showed her that waterfront cottage.

I’ve never seen these before.   One was marked flood map and one was marked landslide hazard areas. Where did you get those?  It looks like the flood area goes completely over the house!  She didn’t like the place anyway, but the maps really shocked us.

A:  Those are some of the newest maps available to the public via King County IMap.  Go to King County on your browser and put in IMAP and you can navigate through many maps and property information.  I give folks these maps so that they are aware of issues with the property, but also so that they realize they may have to get FEMA flood insurance.  That’s very costly and pays only up to $250,000 if the house burns down or is severely damaged.

Just because the map shows the flood line above the house doesn’t mean there has been a flood there.  It’s just an indicator of potential.  Many of the low lying cottages and cabins in the Puget Sound region have experienced flooding, but not all.  I think buyers should be fully aware of what they are getting into.  They still may want to buy but it’s with full knowledge of the risks.

Another issue with these homes is that they are all in what the County calls Critical Areas that could not be built on today.  That may mean that if the house is destroyed or damaged, the County will not let you rebuild.  Again, this doesn’t apply to every cabin but could apply to many so it’s important to check that out.

Our funky old cottages and cabins close to the water have become very expensive in the last few years.  Of course some of these places have been standing for over 100 years without major incident but people should be aware of all of the risks.  The King County site has a great deal of information available for the public.  You should carefully check out any property before you buy. 

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Q: Our son is thinking about buying a business and we want to help out with that.

We don’t know where to start.  What information should we ask a seller?

A:  There are three things that you should look at when considering buying a business.  The first is a list of the fixtures and inventory.  The sellers should provide you with a list of equipment and fixtures that they own and will pass on to the new owner.  That would include things such as shelving, desks, computers, etc. For a food business you would expect that list to include the serving items, dishware, stoves, cooking containers, etc. For retail you’d expect to see a current list of the inventory.  That would be the items for sale.  If you’re lucky that list should include wholesale cost and retail mark up. 
The second thing you should ask for is the lease.  The lease is critical.  It should state the rent, how many years are left on the lease, a provision that the business owner can extend or renew the lease and a schedule of rent increases anticipated.  Without this you could spend a lot of money to buy a business and end up losing the space or spending more on rent than you budgeted.

The third item to look for is the most important.  The real estate industry calls it “the goodwill of the business.”  It means the money.  You should be provided with three or more years of tax returns or a summary from whomever is doing the taxes for the business.  It should be very detailed so that you know all of the costs involved and can easily see what net income the business produces.  You might have ideas that will increase business, but for a start you need to know that you can pay all of your expenses and still have a little for yourself.
I’ve bought and sold businesses of my own and sold a few businesses as a real estate broker.  You need to look very carefully before you jump.  Good luck to you and your son.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Q: My dad died recently and my sister and I are trying to get his place ready to sell.

It’s been hard because he had a lot of stuff.  We’ve managed to go through everything and get rid of most of it. We think we’re just about ready to sell.  Our main question is about painting. Do you think we should paint the house or not?  It looks sort of tired but my sister doesn’t want to spend any money on it.

A:  I did go by the property and would highly recommend that you have it painted.  Tell your sister that you will be leaving money on the table if you don’t.  It is a very unpopular color and some of the paint is actually peeling.  The impression potential buyers will get is that it’s in bad shape and a real fixer. They won’t want to pay as much for it if it looks like that so you won’t end up with as much money after you sell it.
The real estate industry has always talked about “curb appeal.”  It is still true today.  People judge a home by how it appears as they walk or drive up to it.  Is the yard tidy and the grass well mowed?  Is the house painted an attractive color and does it present itself as well cared for?  These are questions buyers ask themselves as they take their first look.
You can get help picking colors from the folks at the local stores that sell paint.  They are knowledgeable and can help you select a color that will look clean and fresh.  If some of the interior rooms are dingy or stained you should paint those too.  It isn’t just for looks.  Sometimes homes that have been lived in a long time harbor lingering odors that put people off.  Paint can fix that. The reward for all that work is that you’ll get more for the house when you sell it and it will sell faster if it looks good. Try to look at it through the eyes of a potential buyer.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Q: You sent us a listing to a sweet little house a few weeks ago and now we heard that you sold it.

We would have really been interested in that one. Why didn’t we get a chance to bid on it?
A: As I’ve mentioned to you before, you must be ready to buy in order to be competitive. You didn’t make time to see it until after it had been sold. Our very heated market has created a situation where only those buyers totally prepared to buy have any chance at all. I’m happy to show you every new listing in your price range, but it’s up to you to be fully prepared to buy.

Sadly, you have resisted getting fully preapproved for a loan and that’s absolutely a requirement to making an offer as well as knowing your financial limitations. You have to be ready and willing to look at a new listing as soon as possible, sometimes even the first day it comes on the market, just to have a chance to bid on it. You must be willing and qualified to pay over asking price, if you really want the place, if it becomes a bidding war. You should also be prepared to accept that the sellers will probably not do any repairs. That makes it more important than ever that you know the market, understand the comparable sales and feel comfortable making a fast decision.

This is not a good market for buyers but it’s what we have. I hope things cool off a bit but there is no way to know the future. Casually looking at every new listing is a good way to get a sense of the market but until you are fully motivated buyers there is no chance you can actually buy something. We have seen some homes linger for a few weeks on the market which gives me some hope that we could be slowing a bit. But some of those homes were simply overpriced. Once the prices were dropped, buyers were standing by ready to make an offer.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Q: I don’t know who to ask so I’m hoping you can help me.

My mom died a couple of months ago and I’m here on Vashon trying to sort out all of her stuff and deal with getting her house ready to sell. I am stunned by how much junk she accumulated. I live in another state and, although we visited her often, we just didn’t realize the magnitude of the problem. It’s hard enough to grieve such a loss without the huge burden of all this stuff to deal with!

A: I have sent you a separate list of folks who do estate sales, cleaning, hauling and listed some locations to drop off usable items. Your comments remind me of a recent visit I had with a friend. She is very near the end of her 89 year life and she knows it. She has given most of her belongings, slowly over many years, to friends and family.
In the last few years she was able to put treasured photos and letters on CD’s so that she can look at them any time she wants on her computer. Then she gave those items to her children. She has given away furniture she no longer needs, clothing she no longer wants, books, garden tools and so many other things.
She told me that this is her last, best gift to her family; to leave no big mess of stuff for them to deal with. She said that it was her way of showing them how much she loves them by making her passing as easy as possible and not a burden.
Everyone in real estate has had to deal with selling homes where the owners have passed away. We see the massive amount of work and trouble family and friends must go through to clean up a lifetime of collections, clothing, furniture, and just plain junk. I believe that as we age, we should thin out our stuff regularly and do our families a favor. We get attached to stuff but in the end, it’s not really that important.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Q: What is going on with rentals here?

We’ve been looking for months and can’t find anything we can afford. The few things that have come up are double what we’ve paid in the past. I grew up here and now that I’ve returned to Vashon with my husband and baby we are appalled at the prices.

A: There are several reasons for the huge jump in rent costs here. One of the main reasons is that investors who owned rentals were waiting for values to climb back up after the recession so they could sell. At this point our market has not only recovered, but prices have pushed past the values we saw before the recession.

I recently took a look at the properties that have sold over the last 12 months. By my count 70 homes that had been rentals sold to home owners who will live in them. That’s a huge number of rental units to lose in a short time even though it’s great that those buyers are now homeowners. We hear stores almost every day from renters who have been in their place for years, suddenly being given notice so that the property owner can sell the home.

It can be very discouraging to come "back home" and realize that you can no longer afford to live here. I hear that story often. We also have a large population of seniors, some on very low fixed incomes, who are renters. They are hard pressed to find something they can afford.

There are no easy solutions. Part of the problem is although rents go up on a regular basis, incomes do not. We have a large population of people who work on the Island or are retired here and are paying as much as 50% of their income for rent. I wish I had a solution. There are folks here trying to find some answers. Vashon HouseHold and our social service organizations keep working on ways to provide help. Our community does respond when there is a need. Let’s hope they respond to this problem.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Q: We really love the home you sold us.

However, we were a bit shocked when a neighbor came over and announced that our dogs were driving them crazy.  Apparently, the dogs run through the neighbor’s garden, and I guess they have pooped in their yard a few times. But one of the reasons we moved out here to the country was so that our dogs wouldn’t be locked in a kennel all day or only allowed out into a tiny exercise yard.  We want them to have freedom to roam and play and now it looks like we have to fence the property.  Can we ask the neighbor to help pay for the fence?

A: Not really.  What they are asking seems reasonable to me.  Part of the responsibility of a pet owner is to keep their animals safe and also out of other people’s property.  I have two dogs myself and they are full of energy and playfulness.  But their freedom is limited by the rights of others.  We provide a fenced yard for them as well as taking them out for excursions to parks or trails whenever possible.
One of the other issues is simply the safety of your pets.  Dogs can get carried away and chase squirrels or other wildlife right out into the street. I have known some very sad folks who came home to a dead or dying cat or dog because they wanted them to roam free and their pet was hit by a car. We owe them a safe environment. 

Data from around the country has shown that the most common complaint from citizens is about barking or loose dogs.  They can ruin other people’s property, leave their poop everywhere and harm wildlife and other people’s pets.  Knowing that, we all have to make it our business to take care of our own pets and be sure they don’t become a nuisance. After you build a fence for your dogs, invite the neighbor to come over and get better acquainted with you and your pets.  Build a friendship instead of a feud.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Q: I can’t believe what just happened to us in regard to the house we were buying.

There was some kind of paperwork we were supposed to deal with and we were just so busy packing and getting ready to move that we didn’t get it back to our Realtor for a few days. He called and told us the deal was off! We lost the house! Someone else was in second place or something and got to buy it instead of us. Is that legal?

I’ve looked over the paperwork you brought in and can tell you that your failure to deal with the document sent to you was the reason you lost the house. Your financing contingency (Form 22A) allows the seller, after 30 days, to terminate the transaction by giving you a three day notice to waive the financing or lose the house. You got the notice, had three days to respond, and then because you didn’t respond, you lost the house.
Sellers will usually not do this unless they had a firm back up offer that was for a significantly higher price. That could be what happened here. Especially in our current market, with bidding wars, multiple offers, cash offers, etc., you have to be vigilant about responding to notices, signing addenda, and generally performing in strict accordance with your contract. Your lender will also have some strict deadlines to meet, as well as the escrow company.
One of the frustrations for those of us in the real estate business is having buyers or sellers fail to take deadlines and timetables seriously. This is a legal contract. If you don’t follow the rules of that contract you can lose the opportunity to buy or sell. You can even lose your earnest money. A common error on the part of a buyer is not responding to the inspection contingency during the required timeline. That results in waiving the inspection. Therefore the seller is under no obligation to make repairs and the buyer can no longer get out of the sale based on the inspection.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Q: I think you were a little hard on my husband when he asked for your opinion on what we need to do to get our rental property ready to sell.

You sold us this property as an investment a long time ago and now that we want to sell it we just wanted a bare bones list of the most pressing things that would have to be done. I can’t believe the list you gave us! It sure doesn’t need to be perfect to sell in this hot market.

A: You’re right that it’s been many years since I sold you this home. However, it doesn’t appear that you have done even basic maintenance on it since. It needs a new roof, paint on the outside and inside and the carpets are beyond being able to be cleaned. Everything looks worn and tired. You don’t have to do a major remodel. Leave that to the future buyers. But you are leaving a lot of money on the table if you put it on the market as is.

I’m always surprised that people invest in a rental property and then don’t take care of it. It’s like driving a car without doing any maintenance for years and then expecting a high price when you try to sell it or trade it in. Buyers judge a property quickly by its obvious flaws and will discount their offer accordingly. If it appears worn out, buyers will assume there are serious problems they can’t see.

If you don’t pay attention to a rental you can lose money. A small bathroom leak that isn’t attended to can easily rot out a floor and the supports under it. I’ve seen that many times. Lack of paint can expose the wood siding to the weather and rot the wood, requiring extensive repair. A shabby, unkempt yard can devalue a house by tens of thousands of dollars. If you want to get a good return on your investment, fix up the basic problems and clean the place up. You’ll end up selling faster and for more money.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Q: My wife told me about your conversation concerning drilling a well on undeveloped property but I think she got some of the facts wrong.

It sounded like there was something new that could mean we can’t build on our land at all if the well doesn’t pass some test. Please explain.

A: When you buy property that doesn’t come with a water share in a water system, or if it’s not in an area where a water share is available to buy, you have to drill a well. The first thing to find out is whether the property is large enough to fit a septic system, a septic reserve, and the 100 foot radius around a well that’s required. That means a circle 200 feet wide that can’t be close to the septic system or your house.

Next, you have the costs of drilling the well. That’s based on the depth of the well. It could cost $2,000 or $20,000 dollars depending on how far down the driller has to go to get water. The water also has to pass a purity test. The big change in regulations I was discussing with your wife, has to do with the allowable amount of arsenic in the water. The state just tightened up the requirement to only allow .01 milligrams per liter of arsenic in the water. The older regulation was .05.

The problem is that the County has added to the state’s requirements, saying that if the reading is higher than .01 you can’t use that well at all. It’s possible to treat the water to get rid of the arsenic but the County will not allow you to do that and you have to abandon the well. That’s serious. I am personally hopeful that this rule will change so that it doesn’t render property unbuildable simply because the County won’t allow a treatment system for the water source.

It’s best to be sure you allow time to get an approved water source, a full septic system approval, and a good outcome on the well water test before buying the property.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Q: My listing agent keeps telling me to pack up my stuff and store it before we go on the market.

I still have to live here! Houses are selling fast right now so why does it matter so much if I have my stuff out? I feel insulted.

A: I think your listing broker is trying to make sure you get top dollar for your home. Buyers are distracted by a house that has a lot of stuff lying around. They often interpret messy homes as being in poor shape and not worth the asking price. I know that sounds ridiculous but it’s true. A home that is very clean, with only a few personal items left out, gives buyers the impression that the home has been better cared for and is in better condition than a house that is crowded with items, dirty or just messy.

Keep in mind that you’re going to be moving soon. Starting to pack things up now will give you a head start. I am always amazed at what sellers will leave out for buyers and brokers to see. It’s best to put away personal items that might not make the best impression. If you have pets, try to keep the house from smelling badly. Be sure their bedding is clean and fresh and things like litter boxes are kept especially clean.

Some of the things that have totally turned off buyers when I’ve shown homes include gun collections, hunting trophies like taxidermied animals, bad smells, dirty clothes on the floor, risqué or sexist calendars or pictures, religious symbols or art work, barking dogs, dirty dishes, messy rooms with too many collections on shelves, etc.

Buyers get distracted by a lot of family photos too, and begin to feel as if they are visiting you rather than mentally moving into your home. You want them to imagine their own things in the house not get stuck looking at your stuff. Trust your real estate broker to make suggestions. Have the house staged to look its very best. Then your home will sell fast.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Q: My husband and I have lost out three times in “bidding wars” on homes we wanted to buy over the last few months.

When is this craziness going to end?

A: I wish I had a crystal ball and could answer that question. This is a stressful time in real estate. The main issue is inventory. We have had no more than about 15 houses on the market at any given time for many months now, and most of those are very expensive waterfront homes. We’ve also had a very mild winter, so buyers have been out looking during what is usually the slowest time of the year. With so few homes for sale, anything well-priced and reasonably desirable is selling in days, often with competing offers.  The best advice I can give you is to be totally prepared for the next time. First, you have to be able to get out and see the home immediately. If you’re traveling here from out of state you may just have to wait for our inventory to be large enough to slow this market a bit.

Next, if you are going to need financing you need to be fully pre-approved and your down payment should be sitting in your bank. If you’re paying cash, that money should be readily available and you will need a letter from your bank, financial advisor, stock broker, etc. attesting to your ability to pay cash for the house you want to buy. 
You also may want to consider a pre-inspection of the property, if there is time, so that your offer isn’t burdened with the requirement for a home inspection. But most important is to know what you are willing to pay. If you offer over the asking price or use an accelerator clause, you must be comfortable with paying that extra. An accelerator clause says you will exceed the highest offer by a certain number up to a set final dollar amount. If all of this is too much for you handle, it may be best to wait for a slower time.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Q: A friend suggested that we ask your advice about a home we bought on Vashon last year.

It turns out that we can’t make any of the changes we expected to make in order for the home to work for us.  Now we have “buyer’s remorse,” I guess you call it, and want to sell it.  How can we be sure we’ll be able to make the changes we want on the next house we buy?

A:  To start with, you should work with a broker who lives and works on Vashon Island.  Spend time interviewing local agents and asking questions. Local real estate professionals are far more experienced with the issues we have here and the regulations that King County imposes.  You worked with an agent from off island who had no experience here and that didn’t help.  Next, you should consult with King County and read through their online site to get some idea of the restrictions we have. Particularly with waterfront and view properties on slopes, you will have to understand that you can’t just tear down a house and rebuild.
I realize that in our very fast seller’s market you might not have time to go through the necessary due diligence in order to make a wise decision. That’s all the more reason to do your research ahead of time before finding another home.  I generally advise my clients “What you see is what you get.”  It would simply be best to assume that you can’t enlarge, add on, tear down or rebuild.  Probably only modest changes to the existing home will be allowed.

You also have to be committed to living on Vashon Island.  Most of us settled for something that wasn’t our dream home in order to live in this wonderful community.  If that’s not where your heart is, you might consider looking somewhere else.  Making major changes to a home is easier in some parts of Puget Sound that are outside of King County.  Ultimately, your desire to live on Vashon Island must outweigh your desire to have the perfect house here.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Q: We are considering buying land and building since we can’t seem to find a house that will work for us.

How do we figure out what the total costs will be if we buy land and build?

A:  First, be sure you have a certified water source and that it can pass all of the County’s purity and flow tests.  Next is a King County approved septic design.  Those are essential to knowing that the land is buildable.

The costs for building include three elements.  The cost of the land, the cost of the home and the cost of the infrastructure.  Infrastructure includes clearing and grading, developing a driveway and drainage, the septic installation, the cost of bringing utilities to the site, and foundation work.  Those costs are primarily dependent on the type of septic and the amount of work required to prepare the land.
Septic installation can run from about $6,000 to $7,000 for a simple gravity system, to at least $60,000 for a proprietary or more complex system.  Clearing and grading can easily run $5,000 to $20,000 depending on the amount of land to be cleared and prepared.  Our local septic installers and clearing and grading operators can give you a bid once you know the type of septic system you need and the amount of clearing to be done.
The cost of construction is also varied.  A modular company or “on your lot builder” can build a home for around $125.00 per square foot or less.  A high end custom builder will usually start at $200.00 per square foot and can go much higher.  If you use a designer, engineer and/or architect, add on a considerable amount to that.  Any of these professionals should be able give you a ballpark estimate easily and quick.
Be sure to figure about a third of your budget for finish work.  All houses are basically built to the same code.  It’s the finish work that adds greatly to the cost. Plus you should leave a bit in the budget for landscaping.  Otherwise the place can look pretty bare.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Q: We’re really disappointed in our Realtor and wonder if you’d care to comment.

He told us about a new listing but then wrote up an offer on it for someone else before we could even see it. Isn’t there a rule or protocol about that? We have lost out on several places in Seattle and are desperate to find something, so he brought us over to Vashon and we thought he was going to help us find something here.

A: There are really a couple of issues here. The first is you’re belief that your Realtor should be working exclusively for you. There is no protocol or rule that says a Realtor has to work for only a specific number of clients. Most active brokers have several clients in the same price range with similar interests and requirements. We all decide on some plan for ourselves and try to discuss that with people as we make a commitment to work with them.

I try to tell all of my clients that there may be other people I’m working with that are looking for the same thing. With such a tiny inventory of homes to sell every year, competition is always tough. I notify every client I have in a specific price range as soon as a new listing comes on the market. Whoever gets out to see the house, and commits to making an offer, will be the one I represent in a transaction. If a second client is also interested I will refer them to another broker I trust.

Your second issue is working with a broker from Seattle. There are some great folks working there, but you should be sure that they really know the issues on Vashon. I spoke to someone recently who made an offer on a home without even understanding that it had a major landslide issue. Fortunately, they were able to get out of the sale. Brokers who live on Vashon Island work with these and other local issues every day. It’s just a safer bet to work with a local broker.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Q: I don’t see how I can ever afford a home of my own on Vashon.

I’m single and prefer to stay that way so I can only qualify for a loan based on my own income. I would really like to buy a home of my own but just can’t afford it. Any suggestions?

A: One idea might be to consider buying with friends. There is a little used form of taking title to real estate called "tenants in common." Two or more people can buy a home together; even hold different percentages of ownership, without being related, in a relationship or married. Our daylight basement style homes and ramblers can often work as two separate spaces to share a home.

I would recommend that you work with a lawyer to draw up any agreement you may need. You will only need to qualify for your portion of the mortgage, but all of the owners together must be able to qualify for the entire amount. You pay your portion each month and that way you develop equity in the property.

With tenants in common, instead of the more common joint tenants, you can sell your share or your heirs can inherit your share. It’s also possible to draw up an agreement between you that would allow each party to have the right to buy out the other if one of you wanted to leave or sell. I’ve known of several people who have done this with friends, sometimes with three or even four friends. The trick is that you do still have the responsibilities of ownership. It’s not like just having roommates. Be sure to draw up an agreement that details who is responsible for which home maintenance chores and how you intend to split utility costs before you begin living in the house.

Talk to an attorney about all of this and ask among your friends if any of them would be willing to share a place. It could mean the difference between being tossed from rental to rental and having a stable place of your own.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Q: My mom lives on Vashon and I live in Olympia.

I try to get up there a couple of times a month but I don’t always get to see mom as much as we both would like. I’m concerned about her. She is still very active but she seems to be spending a lot of money on home maintenance issues. I do what small repairs I can, and her house seems in good shape, but I balance her checkbook every month and there seems to be a lot of unusual expenses. I’m sending you some of the bills to take a look. You helped her buy the house and she trusts you.

 A: I’m happy to help and glad you sent the bills. I believe your mom is being taken advantage of. You might want to suggest for her to allow you more oversight of her expenses. An example is a company that is testing her drinking water every month. There is no need for that since she is connected to one of our larger water companies and they are required by law to regularly test the water for bacteria and nitrates. Even those of us with private wells rarely check our water quality more than annually.

Another thing I noticed is a monthly spraying for wood destroying pests. She has a split level home! It’s a solid cement slab with four foot high cement foundation walls. No wood destroying pests in beams or posts on that house! The siding is well off the ground so there is not even wood contact with the dirt to encourage wood destroying pests.

She also paid a contractor from Seattle a tidy sum to wrap all of her plumbing pipes so they wouldn’t freeze. It’s a fully insulated house with no pipes exposed to the elements! No need to wrap pipes. She also heats the house at all times so freezing pipes seems very unlikely.

It’s such a shame that many unscrupulous people take advantage of the elderly. I hope you can intervene and get rid of some of these expenses.