Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Q: We really enjoy your monthly newsletter and have appreciated viewing your website for current listings.


But we haven’t had the time to get out to Vashon to view any houses for some time now because they seem to sell so fast.  Years ago, when we started looking, things moved slower.  We might be out this summer for a week at a vacation rental and would love to stop in for a chat. 

A:  I’m always happy to chat with folks and answer their questions about the island, our community and the current inventory of homes and land for sale.  I should add, however, that with such a fast sellers’ market, it’s critical that you are able to move quickly.  Like many of the fine folks I call clients, you have been “window shopping” Vashon for more than a couple of years now.  It’s always good to be cautious, but until you’re fully committed to buying here and are ready to make an offer quickly, you will just stay window shoppers forever.

In looking back over the last few years, I’ve noticed a pattern with most buyers.  Those that come to me fully preapproved for their loan, have their down payment in the bank and are realistic in their search for a home usually buy within a few months or even weeks of starting their search.  Many others are looking for years.  They occasionally come by to see what’s available on the market, and often email or call regularly, but just can’t make a commitment.

In this kind of market folks like that can get left behind.  As they spend so much time trying to decide, our prices continue to climb, and our inventory continues to shrink.  I’d never recommend rushing into a purchase or getting caught up in the bidding frenzy unless you’re sure that the property and the island are right for you.  But if you really want to live here it’s time to make a real commitment of time to see what’s for sale and be prepared to make an offer quickly.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Q: We are getting ready to sell our home and things are looking pretty good.


The one thing that is slowing us down is the road to our house.  We are on a dirt and gravel road with six houses on it.  There is a road maintenance agreement, but no one wants to spend any money fixing up the road so it’s in really bad shape.  Our listing broker wants us to at least get the holes filled so that prospective buyers can drive to our place easily.  She also says that it doesn’t reflect well on our neighborhood that the road is such a mess.  Any ideas to make everyone chip in to fix the road?

A: I often say that road maintenance agreements are only as good as your willingness to sue your neighbors.  Driving all around the island I see private roads that are beautiful and easy to drive on and some that could cause major damage to most cars.  Some are hardly driveable. The sad truth is that you will probably have to pay for whatever is done to the road.  Your neighbors probably think that since you want to sell and leave the neighborhood the repairs should be paid for by you.  Your listing broker is right that this could lower the value of your home and discourage potential buyers, so it’s important that the work gets done. 

It’s far cheaper to maintain all our miles of private roadway on a regular basis than to pay for a major overhaul every five to ten years.  I’m always shocked at the condition of some of these roads and wonder how the folks who live there keep their cars in good shape. I recall one hole so large we got to calling it “the hole that ate Cleveland,” as a joke.  I helped pull another Realtor out of it when she thought it was just a puddle in the road and went in up to the top of her window. So, I’m afraid you will just have to spend the money on getting this work done. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Q: I am just stumped by the way things are selling now.

I’ve been working with you to buy a home for almost a year.  I’ve done everything you’ve told me to do to be ready.  But this whole “seller will review offers by such and such a date” and then they take an offer sooner and before I even get to see it, is frustrating!  Why bother setting a date at all? 

A: Up until recently, a seller would simply put the home on the market and wait for the best offer.  They could take one quickly if it suited them or wait for a better offer.  Then our market got busy with many buyers bidding on each property and things changed.  The idea came along to set a date a week or two out so that every potential buyer had time to see it and make an offer. That often resulted in the home selling for more than asking price.

But quickly this turned into sellers setting a date to look at offers but reserving the right to accept an offer before that date.  In my view that puts us right back where we started with sellers accepting an offer any time.  I think it’s a little crazy to even use that language.  It makes it hard to know when the best time might be to bring an offer.  Do we get it in quickly hoping it’s good enough to have it accepted, or wait until the “seller accepting offer” date?

I try to ask the listing broker for some guidance if they’re willing to share that.  They often tell me that the seller really wants to wait until that published date to look at offers, or that they’re out of town until then and want to meet with each broker who has an offer, or that they’re anxious to look at offers anytime.  It doesn’t always work, and some brokers don’t feel that they should share that information, but I try. It’s frustrating enough for buyers knowing that they have little time to make a decision.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Q: We are so totally discouraged trying to buy a home here we don’t know what to do.

We’ve made offers on a couple of places but there are always several offers, some for way over asking price, and we just can’t compete.  We’re fully approved for our loan but have a low down payment.  I think we’re just as qualified as any other buyer, but it seems cash buyers are out bidding us and sellers want big down payments if the home is going to be financed.  What else can we do?

A:  If it’s any comfort, you are one of thousands of buyers in our region who are facing rising prices, small inventory and competing offers.  You have done all you can to get yourselves prepared and are responding quickly when I send you new listings to consider.  At this point there are only a few things that could put you in a better situation.  I know it can feel uncomfortable to ask for help from family, but I see many younger buyers, and even some older ones, asking for financial help from family.  If it’s possible for your parents to gift you money, which is a tax free gift, it could boost your buying power.

Sometimes it’s also helpful to simply lower your expectations on what you will be able to buy.  A home located in an area of Vashon that’s not your first choice, or one that needs a little fixing could get you a home.  Holding out for a list of things you “must” have could keep you out of the market. 

Another option is to consider Kitsap County.  The town of Port Orchard is close by and the home prices are half what they are here.  You can commute to Vashon on a 10-minute ferry ride from Southworth, or to Seattle on the new high-speed passenger boat from Bremerton.  I’m not promoting real estate on Kitsap, only pointing out that the prices are lower, and you can still be close to Vashon for work and to keep up with your friends. Just a thought.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Q: My husband and I are so anxious to move to Vashon Island.

The traffic in Seattle is unbearable and the noise from airplanes and construction all around us is awful.  We just don’t seem to be able to get out to the island fast enough when something comes on the market.  I know we’re being picky by wanting to be in town, but we want peace and quiet but not isolation.  Any ideas?

A:  The best thing you can do is move into a rental out here and get away from the city racket.  Once you’re here, you will not only benefit from living in a calm and quiet place, but you’ll be here to quickly look at anything new that comes on the market.  You can also get to know the community better and will come to realize, I’m sure, that moving a few miles away from town won’t mean you’re isolated.

I know you’ll say that you don’t want to move twice.  I hear that from many people.  But your mental health should count for something and getting away from the city will certainly improve that.  If it were me, I’d put my stuff in storage, rent a small place out here and spend every day driving and walking around the island.  I have had dozens of clients, especially retirees, do that very thing.

For many people being here is far more important than the short-term inconvenience of renting for a while.  If you couple that with selling your Seattle home first you will also become cash buyers which can give you an advantage if there are other buyers bidding on a home you want.  I can point to several clients that have done that in the last year or so and all of them are now happily in their own homes here on Vashon. Most only rented for six months or less before they found a home that met their needs.   It’s not easy to make such a major change in your life, but you’ll be happier and healthier if you just go for it.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Q: I’m so frustrated waiting for a place on Vashon.

Everything you’ve shown me over the last year was just not what I was hoping for.  I really hate where I’m living now in Seattle.  It’s so noisy and there’s so much traffic.  When will there be more homes coming on the market?  There just seems to be so few places for sale.

A:  There is no way to predict the timing of new listings. Something I tell every buyer when we start looking, is that they will not find what they’re really looking for because we don’t have it.  With 200 homes a year or less to sell here, and that’s in all the price ranges, it’s lucky if five or six homes a year come up in your price range that might even have one or two of the features that you are hoping for.

In your case, you have severely limited the areas of the island that you will consider.  You’ve asked for as quiet an area as possible and yet those areas are primarily on Maury Island or the less developed south end of Vashon and you won’t consider those locations.  You also say you don’t want to see any neighbors.  That’s not impossible but it’s very rare.  Those few homes on larger acre parcels that offer that kind of privacy are almost always in the south end of the island. Your best bet is to rent here for awhile while you continue your search and get to know our island better.  That would get you out of the noise of the city and even our most developed neighborhoods are far quieter than any area of Seattle.

Everyone who buys here must compromise.  It’s just too small an inventory to get everything you hope for.  I’m always surprised when clients tell me that the home they are buying is just what they wanted, when I know they started out with a completely different picture in their mind.  It speaks to their commitment to make something work in order to be a part of our wonderful community. 

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Q: My friend just did what’s called “flipping” of a house he bought here about a year ago.

He’s going to make a big profit and we wondered what you thought of this and if you think we should try it?  I have a little money set aside and I see fixers coming on the market from time to time. 

A:  Flipping a house has been around for a very long time.  You buy a fixer and do a quickie remodel to make it look nice and then sell it for a profit.  What’s important to understand is that this is very similar to the children’s game of musical chairs.  It’s all good until you are left with no chair.  It can be a huge gamble. No one can really predict what the market will do in the future.  It’s best not to try it unless you can afford to lose the money.

In a tight market like we have now, with very few homes to sell and lots of buyers, getting a fixer with the thought of fixing it up to sell would seem to be a great idea.  But we have had some recent sales of such property that did not work out that well for the seller.  It’s possible to run into King County requirements that cost more than you’ve budgeted for.  Since most of the Island is on septic systems, having to update or repair the septic can add substantially to the cost. Also keep in mind that you will have to buy for cash since lenders usually don’t loan on fixers. 

Those of us in real estate have seen the glitzy kitchens, bamboo floors, granite counter tops, etc. many times.  They’ve started to look alike.  The most important thing to remember when fixing up a house is that there will probably be an appraiser looking at it for a future buyer and they’ve seen all that stuff before too. You want to be sure the house is structurally in good shape and that you fix the real problems, not just put “lipstick on a pig.”

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Q: This isn’t a question.

I just want to warn others.  My wife and I are dealing with my dad’s house, trying to get it ready to sell.  He died a few weeks ago and now we have the job of sorting through his stuff and trying to get rid of things. I can’t believe all the junk he accumulated. Even though we have an estate dealer taking the big stuff that’s sellable, we’re left with tons of useless things that no one wants.  Please, encourage people to get rid of their junk while they are still living. I loved my dad, but this is so stressful.

A:  I’ve had several people come in recently to talk about getting their parents home ready to sell.  The parents have passed away or are in an assisted living situation.  Every one of these adult children appeared stressed, confused and totally overwhelmed with the burden of dealing with their parent’s stuff.

There’s much talk these days about downsizing. Unfortunately, very few people really do this with their belongings. They may move into a smaller home or condo, but they often bring a lot of stuff that gets packed into the garage or a storage unit. We always think that there’ll be a time when we want to go back over old letters, photos, school yearbooks, etc. But I think it rarely happens. Many people keep family “heirlooms” for their children or grandchildren but most young people today don’t want the family china, grandad’s rocking chair or old photos. Not to mention dead cars, broken appliances or useless collectables.

It’s important to have a frank conversation with your elderly parents about what you may want to have after they die.  It’s equally important for your parents to understand that someday you’ll be stuck sorting through those boxes and shelves of stuff in their garage. It’s a painful conversation but if parents are willing to be realistic and understand the burden they are leaving for their children, it can save everyone so much stress and anxiety. Plus it will give you the time to simply grieve your loss.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Q: Mom passed away last year, and my brother and I have decided to keep her house and rent it for a few years.

Our kids are still young and it makes sense to sell the house when they reach college age and use that money for college tuition. We don’t know anything about renting and have heard horror stories about property being trashed or renters that don’t pay. Where do we start?

A: First, I would download the State of Washington landlord tenant law as well as the same information from King County. There are specific rules you must follow and certain responsibilities you have as a landlord. You can also share this list with any future tenant so that they understand their duties and responsibilities. Next, go through the house with a home inspector so that you know what needs repair or replacement and do that before putting the rental on the market. That could save you a great deal more expense if something goes wrong later. You will need to do a walk-through with any tenant so that you both know, in writing, where every scratch and dent or problem exists before they move in. That way when they leave you can be sure it’s in as good a shape as when they moved in, other than normal wear and tear.


You can hire a property manager to screen tenants for you or you can arrange to do that yourself. Be sure to get references from former landlords. Credit checks are important, but the most important thing is that they paid their rent in full and on time every month. You should also plan on doing a walk-through of the property from time to time, after giving the tenant proper notice of course, to make sure things are working well.


One hint I should add is that you should screen everyone, even friends or relatives of friends. The worst horror stories I’ve heard are from folks who let someone move in to “help out a friend” and didn’t really check them out. They regretted that later.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Q: Prices have just gone through the roof here on Vashon in the last year or two.

Is that just my imagination?  Do you think it's another bubble?  I'm worried that my son, who is currently serving in the Navy, won't be able to buy a home here by the time he gets ready.

A:  From all that the "experts" tell us, there is no bubble as far as Puget Sound real estate is concerned.  Perhaps if all the tech-related industries left at once, which seems highly unlikely, there could be a downturn.  In addition to our growing commercial sector, extreme weather in the rest of the country (fires, floods, hurricanes, etc.) is bringing "climate refugees" here.

You're correct that our prices have skyrocketed.  Looking at homes sold in 2017 that had sold even just a few years before, we see a price difference in many of them as high as 40 to 60% increase in just a couple of years.  Our  challenge on Vashon is that we have such a tiny inventory of homes for sale in any given time.  There are a sizable number of homes that have stayed in one family through three generations on Vashon.  The demand is very high, and the supply is very low.  that has driven our price increases even when it wasn't such a hot market.

As for buying a home here for your son, all I can recommend is that he save like mad, keep his credit score high, and stay in touch with what's happening in real estate.  I was thrilled to get a family into a lovely home just weeks ago using a VA loan.  For many years these have been scorned by the real estate community because they implied that the buyers couldn't really afford a house without down payment assistance and that the loan process would be harder and take twice as long as a normal transaction.  Happily, that's not true.  My clients were able to save their money for other expenses, the veteran was able to use his benefits and we closed in record time.