Monday, December 04, 2017

Q: My son and daughter-in-law met with you a week ago and you encouraged them not to buy the house they were looking at.

They’ve been trying to buy on Vashon for a long time now and the last thing they need is to be talked out of something. We want to have them here, close to us, and now you’re chasing them away. What’s wrong with you?

A: There are probably many things “wrong" with me but I can’t let folks, especially young families, buy on slopes when the property is in a major slide area. They can buy that house, it just won’t be with me.

I encourage everyone to learn to navigate the IMap on King County’s website. You must work with it to find out what you want since it’s not intuitive. But you can find out if there are wetlands, landslide hazard, erosion hazard, history of slides, and map the topography using the tools on that site. You can find out who bought the property last and what they paid for it. You can get the square footage, the amount being paid for taxes, and a great deal of information if you have the patience to learn to use that County site.

The property your son was looking at is not only in a landslide hazard area, but there have been active slides on that road in recent history. I’m always surprised that folks who have lived here for years have forgotten the closed roads, homes that slide, red tagged homes from earth movement, etc. that have occurred over the last 20 years or less.

Your son and daughter-in-law are in a low-price range. We have almost no inventory now, and for lower priced homes it’s even less. If you really want to help them find a home, why not gift them some money to add to their down payment? It’s tax free to gift them funds and then they would have a few more options to consider. It’s common these days for parents to help children or for children to help aging parents.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Q: I saw the recent article in the Beachcomber about sea level rise and the possibility that some waterfront homes will be underwater or flooded in the future.

I think that should be disclosed when a waterfront owner puts their house on the market.  I think that would be ethical.  Isn’t that true?

A:  The seller’s disclosure has been crafted to speak specifically to the current and past issues in that specific house on that specific property only.  The attorneys who write these forms specifically exclude what could be called global issues.  We don’t ask the seller to disclose the fact, for instance, that we live in an area of active earthquakes.  Rather the form asks if this house has had earthquake damage.

It would be impossible for a seller to even know all there is to know about climate change, future weather predictions, and the potential for flooding in the future.  That’s why the form only deals with the present and past of that specific property.  Many of our low bank waterfront homes already experience flooding at high tide in the winter months.  That, of course, must be disclosed if it happens to the seller’s house.  But future things are unknown to the seller and to all of us, really, so it would be impossible for them to deal with that on the disclosure.

We live in a state with active volcanos, regular earthquakes, and heavy metal in soils in most parts of the state. In addition, the Puget Sound is sort of ground zero for any enemy attack due to our many military installations. We are an area of landslides and erosion hazards as well as potential contamination from radioactive waste disposal sites and old factories filled with hazardous waste.  No seller should be required to talk about all of that.  That would be impossible to quantify.

The good news is that we live in an incredibly beautiful area with generally mild weather patterns and in a state that requires sellers to disclose all they know about their own property.  I think that’s really good.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Q: We recently bought a rental property here on Vashon Island and have been interviewing people as potential tenants.

Some of these folks are aggressive and start telling us that we can’t discriminate against them because they have kids.  I know we can’t discriminate based on many things, but we really don’t want to rent to people with children.  Children are just too hard on the house and property.  We hope to retire to that home in a few years and want to keep it nice.  We thought you might know what the rules are.

A:  It’s easy to go online and read the landlord tenant laws of Washington State and King County.  There is, indeed, a stipulation that you cannot discriminate due to “familial status.”  That means families with children or a renter who is pregnant and about to have a child.  If there is sufficient space in the home for a family, and I believe yours in a three-bedroom house, then you can’t refuse to rent to a family with children.

It can be discouraging to be faced with repairs from damage caused by tenants.  But each tenant is different.  Years ago, when we did property management on Vashon we had plenty of families with children that kept the homes they rented clean and tidy.  Having a rental has some risks as does renting a house.  Both sides have things to gain or lose.

What makes the most sense is to be sure that you share the rules of the landlord tenant regulations with your renters.  They have legal obligation which includes keeping a property clean, and in good order.  They must get rid of garbage and keep the property in reasonably good condition.  You have the right to visit the property at least quarterly, always notifying your tenants first of course, just to see how things are going.  It’s a good idea to check the smoke alarms, chimneys if there is a wood stove, plumbing to check for leaks, etc.  This is a service to the tenants as well as keeping the house in decent shape. 

Monday, October 02, 2017

Q: We are devastated that our new neighbors cut down every tree on their property.

All that remains are just a bunch of ugly stumps.  Some of those were fruit trees that the prior owners shared with all of us.  Several neighbors used to make jam together from all the neighboring fruit trees and we are just stunned that this happened.  I know there isn’t anything you can do, but is there anything that can protect trees and landscaping beyond one owner?

A:  There are legal mechanisms to protect the living environment of a property. One can write up covenants that can be recorded on the title to property that specifies that certain things can or cannot be done on the property.  If it’s legally defendable it will stand up in court.  Most often, these covenants control a view corridor or some distinctive feature of the property, but it can include protecting trees or other natural features.

You can also form a neighborhood association that specifies that certain things cannot be done in that neighborhood.  It’s tricky to do after all the homes are built and have changed ownership a few times but if everyone commits to it, it can be done.  Extremes of this type of thing are areas of suburban development that only allow certain colors to be painted on the outside of homes or that require all cars be put in a garage at night.  Those are dreadful, in my opinion, but they do exist. Better to agree to care for the natural features and the trees in your neighborhood.  

On larger properties the King County Public Benefit Rating System gives you a property tax reduction for keeping part of your land in natural habitat. We all benefit from the lovely forests, ponds and fields that others have set aside for wildlife habitat.  That program can be enhanced by donating a conservation easement to our local land trust that can protect the habitat on your property in perpetuity.  You can even get a deduction on your income tax for doing that, plus you’ve helped keep our Island beautiful.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Q: We noticed that a house we had been interested in has gone off the market.

Was there something wrong with it?  Did it have a failed sale?  What can you tell us about that?
A:    To my knowledge, there was nothing wrong with the home.  The sellers may want to wait and put it back on the market next year hoping for a higher price, or they may just want to give it a rest for a few weeks. 

As summer comes to an end sellers often take their property off the market to wait until next spring.  They may not be that motivate to sell, or they may want more for the home than the current market will support.  Sometimes, they are simply tired of keeping it in “show ready” condition.  That’s really a mistake in my view.

I work with motivated buyers all year long.  I often sell homes and land during the winter months.  Buyers that are ready to buy often get a better deal because the market isn’t as frantic as it is in the summer and they don’t have as many other buyers to compete with. There isn’t as much inventory, of course, but we never have much inventory here at anytime of the year.

I am thrilled to have summer over.  “Tourists” who think they might want to live here keep all the Realtors here scrambling in spring and summer with little results.  We end up putting in a lots of long hours showing homes and land to folks who really aren’t that serious about living here.  It’s just part of the job, so to speak, but I love autumn when it’s cooler and less frantic.

As for the home you were interested in, I’ll keep an eye out for it to be relisted and let you know.  In the meantime, there will be other, more motivated sellers, putting their properties on the market throughout the fall and winter.  That’s when you will get more for your money anyway, so be patient. But be ready.  Keep your credit clean and keep saving money.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Q: When we bought our place no one told us that the neighbors had pigs and goats.

Somehow, we didn’t see them when we came to look at the house and we didn’t have time to do an inspection. We just reviewed the inspection that the sellers had done.  Now that we are moved in we realize that this is a big deal.  The pigs especially really smell bad in this hot weather.  The goats make an awful noise whenever anyone gets near them.  We think this whole thing was misrepresented and we would like your recommendation for an attorney.

A:  You might start your investigation by reading the form 17, sellers disclosure that you signed when you made the offer on your new home.  There is plain language on that form that indicates that you might be buying near farming activity and that you should investigate for yourself the noise and smells.  You obviously ignored that.

In a rural or semi-rural area, you can expect people to keep animals.  You purchased a home on several acres and many of the homes in that area have horses, goats, sheep, chickens and yes, even pigs.  It was your responsibility to do a neighborhood review so that you understood the kind of place you were moving into.

I’ll send you my recommendations for a couple of our local attorneys but from what you’ve told me, I don’t think you have a case.  I find it hard to believe you never noticed the farm animals next door when you looked at the house. I always find it amazing when people buy a home without really studying the area, the community and the property.

The form 17, seller’s disclosure, has specific language that recommends to buyers that they do their own research and spend time learning all there is to know abut a property and its surroundings.  It sounds like you didn’t take any time at all to even look around the neighborhood.  Perhaps the pigs won’t be a problem in cooler weather, and you might learn that goats can be fun.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Q: We got our new King County assessment a while ago and the value of our place really went up.

The County records still say we have a view.  We lost that when the neighbors trees grew so tall.  We’re wondering if the assessment would go down if the County knew that we don’t have a view anymore.  We also wonder if the market value has dropped because we lost the view.

A:  It’s always worth a try to challenge the assessment.  Take photos of the front yard facing what used to be the view and compare it to the way it looked when you first bought it.  The photos on the listing at that time showed a pleasant view.  Many people are concerned about the new assessments.  Keep in mind that the property taxes don’t go up in proportion to the assessment.  That is controlled by state law and can’t increase that much. It’s also important to remember that most of our taxes are for our own community. That’s our fire protection, schools, parks etc.  All things considered, I believe that it’s a good investment.

You are correct that it’s certainly possible that the loss of a view can change the market value of your home when you sell it someday.  A home with a view is generally always priced higher. I recall that when I sold you that home many years ago, I negotiated a view easement with your neighbor.  The neighbor asked for a fee to be paid to them, which is customary, and I felt that it was a fair price. Sadly, you didn’t feel that you should have to pay for it and that opportunity was lost.

It often frustrates me when people are short sighted about their property. Making sure that you grab any opportunity to enhance and protect the value of your home with properly drawn up view covenants, road easements and well maintenance agreements will make it so much easier to sell your home when that day comes.  It will also bring you a higher price. Good luck with the County.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Q: When you came out to look at our place and give us a price opinion I was shocked at how low it was.

Our neighbor sold for way more than that a few months ago.  I asked another real estate agent to come out and look and she was even more negative.  What’s with you people?  This house is almost identical to the one that sold near us.

A:  It’s always hard to tell people the truth when you know it will hurt or insult them.  But you asked.  Your neighbor’s house is similar in size, age and style.  However, they have maintained their home well and prepared it for sale by painting, cleaning, decluttering, and tidying up their yard and garden.  It presented very well and all the systems of the home are in good working order. Your home, on the other hand, is in poor shape.  Your roof has leaked and there are water stains in several rooms.  The yard is just overgrown weeds and old car parts. It appears that the inside of the house hasn’t been cleaned in a very long time.  The kitchen and bathroom floors have deep cuts in the vinyl and the carpet has pet stains and is very dirty.  Of course, I’ve seen homes sell with those problems in our hot market but they sell for much less.  Because you haven’t taken care of your place and seem unwilling to fix things up to sell, you’ll be leaving a lot of money on the table.  Clean, well maintained homes sell for a great deal more than fixers.  Buyers assume they will have to put a lot of money into the house even after they buy it, so they don’t want to pay top dollar for the property.

I’m sorry to tell you these things.  You seem like nice folks and I wish you the best.  But a neglected home in poor condition will not bring you top dollar.  It may even be difficult to finance.  Give that some thought and then maybe it will be worth it to clean and repair before selling. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Q: I know you only represent buyers and don’t list homes, so we can’t use your services to list our place for sale, but we would like a referral to someone you trust.

How do you choose which real estate broker to recommend?

A:  Generally, when I’ve been asked to help a seller select a listing broker, I like to visit the home first.  I can often help the seller by recommending things that they might want to do before putting the home on the market. Then I give some thought to the personality of listing brokers I know and trust that would be most compatible with the sellers.  Some brokers are laid back in their approach and have a calm demeanor.  Some are high energy and assertive, and there are lots of personality types in between. Some brokers specialize in certain kinds of property.  Perhaps they are more knowledgeable about undeveloped land, or possibly condos, or have more background in farms on acreage.  I try to take all that into consideration.

When selecting a listing broker, I think there are several things that you should look for.  Almost all brokers have access to the same basic marketing methods.  They all use the internet and most of them use staging specialists to help make your home more appealing.  They also should be easy to contact and ready to assist you in any way necessary. But most important is how they handle a transaction. That means how they advise you on price and negotiation techniques.  I judge listing brokers, to some extent, by the way they perform once we are in a contract.  I go out of my way to do more than my share of the work and take pride in that.  The best listing brokers are those who do the same.  The brokers who sit down with me when I represent a buyer and try to solve problems are exceptional.  Those that leave their ego at the door and concentrate on doing what works best for both the buyer and the seller in a transaction are my first choice.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Q: I’d like to convert the garage next to our house into a place for our business.

There would be three or four employees at most.  Generally, we just package software and prepare it for shipping, as well as take orders and answer customers who call with questions.  It’s a small company and it would really save us money if we didn’t have to rent office space.  Is it legal to do that and will we get into trouble with the County?

A:  You shouldn’t get into any trouble for having a home business.  The County has regulations concerning “cottage industry” and home businesses, which are allowed here.  These are found in the zoning code.  In going over the requirements it basically boils down to “thou shalt not anger thy neighbors.”  It sounds like your business shouldn’t be a problem.

What isn’t allowed makes perfect sense.  You are in a residential area so no big, noisy trucks at all hours.  You won’t be manufacturing anything so there won’t be noisy machines running to drive others crazy.  You may have several deliveries or parcel pick-ups during the day, and if that gets excessive you might need to take the parcels to a drop off site rather than have too many trips down your road from large vans and trucks.

You might consider getting a permit to remodel the garage into office space.  Many folks on Vashon don’t bother with that but it is, of course, a County requirement.  Another issue is parking for your employees.  The regulations require off street parking so that you’re not taking up all of the parking on the street.  Since you are down a dirt road not maintained by the County it may not matter as much, but providing parking places on your property would be best.

There also should be no signs advertising as if you were a retail business.  A small sign with your business name on it might be alright so that delivery people can find you.  Just remember that you can’t have a retail business, or do any substantial manufacturing.  Good luck!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Q: I don’t like the mortgage lender you recommended.

She’s telling me I don’t qualify to buy the house we saw that I was going to make an offer on.  I know I make enough money to make the payments so what’s the big deal?  I checked with my buddy’s loan guy and he said the same thing.  They’re saying I don’t have “documented” income high enough to qualify for the loan.  What kind of &%#* is that?

A:  Sadly, you have fallen into one of the two biggest traps there are when you are paid “under the table” or “off the books.”  Undocumented income, which is money you hide to avoid paying taxes, can’t be included when figuring your income for a home loan.

The other time when this comes back to bite you is when you apply for Social Security benefits.  Those benefits are based on your documented income, with W-2 or 1099 forms that show the money on which you paid taxes.  I have talked to many people who believe that they are cheating the IRS but now that they are older, see that they were really cheating themselves.  They are collecting only a fraction of the amount in social security that they could be receiving if they had not lied about their income.

There may be some folks we call “hard money lenders” who can find a way to give you a loan based on bank deposits and such, but you will pay a far higher interest rate, be required to have a larger down payment, and will have to have an excellent credit score.
We always hear a lot about caring for our “inner child” in self-help books and psychological articles.  But at some point, it’s important to take care of your inner elder.  The person you are when you are older is counting on the person you are now, when you’re a wage earner, to put as much as possible into retirement accounts, savings and social security.  Otherwise you may be setting yourself up for a sad and possibly very poor old age.

My husband and I are probably going to look for another real estate person to work with.

You keep sending us listings that are not even close to what we’re looking for. Nothing personal, but you must not have understood what we want.

A:  I’m sorry you feel that way but what any other Realtor will tell you is that you have basically missed the boat here in terms of price.  You are hoping to find something that, in our current market, will sell for twice what you are qualified to pay.  I have been sending listings in your price range hoping that you will readjust your thinking and understand that you will not be able to get what you want in our market.

Prices have gone up substantially since you began searching for a home on Vashon Island.  Although I tried to make clear that you would have to be in a far higher price range to get what you said was essential to buying, you have failed to get realistic about what you can afford.  I wish I could refer you to another area in the region where you might find your dream home, but prices are going up all over the greater Puget Sound area and, although prices are still lower in many parts of Puget Sound, the type of property you want will not be affordable to you in any of those places.

It’s always hard for people to adjust to reality when it comes to real estate.  Although the growth in our region is exceptional now, it has never been possible to get just what you want in our tiny Vashon real estate market.  There are just too few homes and property for sale at any given time, high demand, and our population doesn’t turn over quickly.

I often say that nobody gets the house they really want here.  Folks that are highly motived to live in our community settle for the best house and property that they can afford.  The point is to be on Vashon Island, not to have the perfect house.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Q: We had a drone hovering over our property last weekend and it turns out it was a real estate company taking overhead photos for a house that’s going on the market a block away.

I really am upset that they were photographing over my property.  Isn’t there some kind of law that they can’t fly those things just anywhere?  That’s an invasion of my privacy.

A:  The answer to your questions is that the rules and laws governing drones are still being written.  According to the attorney’s representing the real estate community, there have not been many court cases yet, or definitive legislation to be positive where we stand.  But there are at least some rules governing real estate brokers and others doing drone photography for business use that say that you can only photograph within the corners of the property being marketed. 
In addition, you can only go 400 feet above the ground using a drone. Listing brokers want to show the surrounding area, of course, but that should be easy to see from 400 feet or under.  The incidental showing of neighboring property clearly happens when you are photographing from 400 feet.  You also must have a special license to operate a drone for commercial purposes and check with local air traffic control in some instances. You are also limited to photographing only during daylight hours.

Drone use is becoming standard for the real estate industry and there will probably be more rules and regulations coming along.  I am more concerned that these overhead photos give a very false idea of the property being marketed for sale.  Because we are on an island, you can see water and mountains from a few hundred feet above almost any property here.  I believe it could give a potential buyer the idea that they will have such a view from the home that’s for sale.  I believe that misrepresents the property.  As for your specific situation, I would recommend that you check with an attorney to see what your rights are concerning the drone flying over your house and property.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Q: My neighbor just had several of her tall trees topped.

They’re on a steep slope and I guess she did that to open up her view.  Is it possible that this could increase the potential for landslides?  We are close to her property and already have had a few small slides.  Is there anything we can do about it?

A:  In checking King County’s IMap for slide hazard areas on Vashon, it’s clear that you and your neighbor are in a landslide area.  Topping trees is never a good idea and there is a great deal of information online from landscape specialists, arborists, slope stability experts and the EPA to indicate that topping will kill a tree slowly by opening the top to disease. This weakens the tree so that it can slide down, pulling soil and other debris with it. 

It’s always a hard call when talking to folks who want a big view but there are trees blocking it on a slope.   What they don’t realize is that the trees and their large, intertwining root system with other trees, that are holding that slope together. Cutting them down or topping them adds to the instability of the slope and can cause some real damage.

As for what you can do, there isn’t much, other than take diligent care of the slope on your own property and educate yourselves about pruning methods that can open the view a bit but not kill or damage the tree. If you are very concerned you might want to have a geotechnical engineer take a look at your property.  He or she might be able to recommend some things that can minimize any damage to your property if a slide does occur on your neighbor’s property. 

Also you need to channel any water running off your yard and your downspouts as far down the slope as possible.  Water is often the major cause of slides, as our recent heavy rains have shown. The water can undermine a slope quickly so pay attention to drain lines and keep them clean and working.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Q: You sold us our house 25 years ago!

I can’t believe it’s been so long.  We are now moving out of state to be near grandchildren, as you’ve probably heard.  My question is about what they call bidding wars.  Our neighbor sold his house a few months ago and people bid up the price.  He took the best offer but felt that he had “left money on the table”.  In other words, that he might have sold for more.   How can we price our house so that we get what it’s worth but don’t end up feeling that we could have made more if we’d waited for additional offers?

A:  Your question is a sign of the times, I’m afraid.  Close to half of our listings sell for over asking price, but you should know that the other half sell for at, or under listed price.  It’s easy to think everything is going for more.  There is an old adage in real estate that says that your first offer is usually your best offer.  I’ve found that to be true.  Waiting for a longer period to see if someone will give you more money can mean that the first buyer moves on to another property.  Plus, some buyers just won’t “play” if they feel a seller is being greedy.

We have some sellers doing what I call “baiting.” They list at a lower price than the property is worth, hoping to create a “feeding frenzy,” causing people to bid higher. That means that many hopeful buyers will look at the home thinking they can afford it when, in fact, the seller has no intention of selling at the listed price. That’s very disappointing and, I feel, even a little cruel. However, that can all backfire on the seller if there are no multiple offers and the seller gets less than the house is worth.  Too much game playing can really mess up both buyers and sellers. I think it’s a good practice to price it fairly and take the best offer you get as soon as you get it. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Q: We couldn’t believe the place we saw a few days ago during an open house.

You warned us but the photos on the internet looked so great that we just had to look.  It was not at all what was shown on the websites.  The pictures were so photo shopped!  I couldn’t believe it.  The house was musty, very dark, and the rooms were way smaller than they looked in the pictures.  There was a shot of a great view but it must have been shot with a drone camera because there was no view from the house.  What a crock!  That’s misrepresentation.  Why do real estate people do this?

A:  There’s a very fine line between enhancement and misrepresentation.  Listing brokers are trying to show the home at its best advantage to serve the needs of the seller.  But I agree that some folks do go way over the top. Our computer driven age has created the opportunity to do almost anything with an image.  I know that the Multiple Listing Service and the Board of Realtors struggle with these issues a great deal.  It’s just too easy to make something look better than it really is.  By the same token, however, some houses look a lot better in person than they do on the Internet.  I’ve often had buyers express surprise at how nice the setting is or how light and airy the rooms are compared to what they were expecting based on the photos online. There’s really no substitute for seeing a property for yourself.

Most buyers decide to buy based on the “feel” of a place.  For instance, how the light travels through the rooms or what the surroundings look like from the windows. Is there really a magnificent view or was it shot with a telephoto lens? Some people even decide based on the sounds of the neighborhood. They also care about how comfortable they feel inside the rooms and how they envision their own furniture fitting into the spaces. No photos or description online can come close to giving you that kind of information. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Q: We are getting discouraged about finding a place on the island that we really like and that totally fits our needs.

I know there will be more listings coming on this spring and summer but it’s hard to keep up our enthusiasm.  Any ideas?

A:  You may not like what I have to say, but basically you will need to stop being so picky.  I don’t mean to sound flippant, but we never have a large inventory of homes for sale here.  There are just over 10,000 people here and most of them are staying put.  We sell between 100 and 200 houses a year in all the price ranges, so there may be only five or six homes a year in your price range and with even some of your general requirements.

In addition to that limitation, we also have a lot of eager buyers.  It’s not unusual for a home to sell in a day or two with multiple offers, as well as sell for higher than asking price. That means you must be totally ready to make an offer.  That includes being approved for a loan with full approval through underwriting, or proof of cash to close for a cash sale. Believe me, as one who represents buyers exclusively, I am not happy with this accelerating sellers’ market, but I must do what I can to prepare my buyer clients to compete.

No one gets everything they want in a property on Vashon.  I would guess that no one gets everything they hope for even in Seattle and the surrounding area since the competition is even greater in the city.  You should pick the one or two things that are most important to you and stick to that.  My advice to buyers is to find the most structurally sound home you can afford and plan on doing the fix up, updating or remodeling later.  Waiting for the perfect house is not really going to work with our limitations. Being a part of our wonderful Vashon community is worth some sweat equity, believe me.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Q: I’m confused.

You talked me out of making an offer on what is called a “recreational” lot a few months ago, because you said I probably couldn’t build on it.  Now I see a couple of other such lots listed, very cheaply too, that are being marketed as a place to camp or build a cabin.  How can I find out more information to know the facts?

A:  There are a couple of things I would recommend.  If you can wade through the zoning code for King County, which is available online, you will find the regulations and rules governing camping.  Camping is only allowed in authorized King County camp grounds.  Sadly, we don’t have any.  The County does have a special permit that allows short term camping on your property when you have a house there.  So, if relatives show up for the Strawberry Festival in the summer, and you want to put them in a tent in the backyard, you’re supposed to get a special use permit. Most people don’t of course.

Another way to get this information is to visit the King County building across the street from the main fire station on Tuesdays, from 9:00 to noon when permit technicians are available from the county to answer questions. I always find these folks helpful.  Another part of the code says that you cannot build any structure on a property that doesn’t have a house on it.  So even though there are such things on Vashon, they are not actually legal. You’re just lucky if code enforcement doesn’t know about it.

Truly buildable lots on Vashon currently sell for $100,000 or more, so it should be obvious that a lot listed for $25,000 to $50,000 may not be buildable.  We have a lot of unbuildable properties so there are always a few for sale.  Keep in mind that you need a water share, a critical areas review, and an approved septic design to have a buildable property.  Without having those before you close on the sale of land you are taking a great risk.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Q: We are really discouraged after trying to buy a house on Vashon.

There were several offers on the house we wanted.  The place sold for over the asking price and now that we see what it sold for, we realize that we could have offered that much.  My parents said they would give us a gift to boost our down payment and that would have made the difference.  How can we keep that from happening next time we make an offer?

A:  There are two multiple listing forms you should consider using the next time you want to make an offer. The first is 35E, the Escalation Addendum.  In it you state that you’ll beat any other offer by a specified amount up to a final sales figure. Let’s say the price is $525,000.  You can say, via this form, that you will pay $1,000.00 over any other offer they have, up to a maximum of $575,000. You may be required to demonstrate that you have those funds available through your pre-approval letter or proof of funds letter from your financial advisor.

The other form, one that is new to the MLS, is 22AD.  This form states that if the bank appraisal for the home is lower than the agreed upon sale price, you may make up the difference in cash up to a maximum limit.  So, if the appraisal for your $525,000 house comes in at $510,000 you can agree to pay the additional $15,000 toward the purchase in cash. Again, you may be required to show that you have those funds available.

This is a great time to be selling a house, but as you’ve discovered, it’s a difficult time to buy.  At least in our area.  If you seriously want to buy, you need to use everything at your disposal to win the bid.  We still do see a few homes that don’t sell quickly or get multiple offers. There are often reasons why.  Maybe location, maybe other considerations. So, don’t shy away from something a little ugly.  Ugly can be fixed.  Good luck.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Q: My wife and I are really devastated that we were told so little when we bought our property.

It was just a beautiful parcel and we could imagine ourselves living there in a little house.  We decided to hire an architect to finalize our house plans and that’s when we found out that we had to go through getting a septic design, which requires a critical area report, and that it could take months and many thousands of dollars to drill a well. After getting quotes for all of this it’s clear that we can’t afford to build at all.  Why didn’t our real estate agent tell us all of this?

A:  First, you must understand that your real estate contract, the purchase and sales agreement, clearly states that it is your duty to investigate everything about the property before you close on the sale, (paragraph v., page 5).  That would include meeting with septic designers, well drillers, engineers, County permit technicians, and contractors, etc.  You should have read that more carefully. 

You should also be aware that although I, and some other real estate brokers, will walk folks through all of that, there is no legal obligation for us to do that.  In fact, our industry attorneys tell us not to do that research for people.  If we are sued, we would be held to the standard of the professionals who do that work.  I am not an attorney, an engineer, a well driller, etc. so I can only advise based on my years of experience.

I see that you also bought your property from a real estate broker who doesn’t live or work on Vashon.  They may have done a great job selling your Seattle home, but they probably have no experience with selling raw land or with the process of getting through King County’s regulations and requirements.  I’m so sorry that you have had such a bad experience.  Perhaps you can sell the land and start over with an existing home here or a parcel of property that is easier and cheaper to develop. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Q: I’m upset at you.

I sent my buddy to you and I think you talked him out of moving here.  He wants to buy land and build here but you really scared him about water and all kinds of limitations to building.  Don’t you want to make a living?

A:  I do want to make a living but not by talking folks into buying property without knowing all the issues.  We have critical area (landslide hazards, extreme slopes, flood hazards, wetlands) that require setbacks.  We have septic systems that cost a fair amount to design and install, plus there is the need for legal access that meets County requirements for a road and a proper turn around for emergency vehicles. So there are lots of things for potential buyers to learn.

The most pressing issue right now is a new legal decision that could be troublesome.  It’s called the Hirst decision and you should look it up on the internet and read carefully.  It’s from a lawsuit in Whatcom County but will influence building all over the state.  Basically, it says that if it can be shown that by drilling a well you will draw down a creek, stream, or aquafer, you will not be allowed to drill that well.

This issue will be coming before the state legislature this session and could be the basis for new laws.  That could go several different ways.  But until it is resolved I am warning people that they’re taking a greater risk buying land that doesn’t already have a water share, or is in a water system that has shares available to purchase.

Building is difficult enough without this added burden.  I do sell land, and enjoy doing it, but I want to keep people out of harm’s way.  I was fortunate enough to sell several parcels of property over the last year that already had water on the property or had a paid water share.  These parcels also had septic designs approved.  I can sleep better at night knowing that  my clients will be able to build their homes.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Q: My neighbor has agreed to sell me a part of his property.

It’s an area I have been gardening for years and we didn’t know it wasn’t mine until we got a survey done. I needed to do some fencing for a horse we’re getting for our daughter so that’s why we did the survey.  Who should write up the paperwork for us?

A: I am not an attorney, but in my experience with similar situations, I believe that what you probably need to do is a permissive easement or some sort of covenant from your neighbor.  It isn’t legal in our county to just chop off a section of your property and give it or sell it to someone.  You can do a lot line adjustment through King County but be sure to read though the requirements.  It will require a survey, a substantial fee and you can’t make the property smaller than it’s presently zoned for, nor can you create a new separate lot.

You could go through a subdivision process but that takes years and a whole lot of money, and that is only assuming that the properties involved are large enough and properly zoned to do it.  Any real estate attorney can write up a covenant or easement that will allow you to continue using that portion of your neighbor’s property without owning it.  These are common solutions to similar issues.  You might want to split the cost of an attorney to have it done correctly and legally.  Be sure it is recorded on the title to your property and your neighbor’s property.

It would not be unusual for the neighbor to put some restrictions on that area of the property if you do a covenant or easement.  For instance, they might want to write into that agreement that it is only good if that part of their property is being used as a garden.  Or perhaps only if you are the owner.  It’s good to research the options with a good attorney and then decide the best way to approach it.