Staging

Q:

I hope you can give me some advice. I’m getting ready to sell my house and the listing agent I’m working with is insisting that I stage the house. I didn’t even know what that meant but she explained that she brings in furniture and art work so that the home looks inviting and attractive. Frankly, I don’t think that’s necessary and I don’t want to pay extra for it. Do you think it’s really needed?

 

A:

 

 

 

 

When we started to stage homes here many years ago, I also thought it was unnecessary. But I learned that it makes a huge difference. Many buyers can’t visualize well, and the furniture and art work make it clear what could be done with the spaces and the intended use of each space. I have actually had buyers stand under a chandelier, in an empty room next to the kitchen (which is obviously a dining room) and ask me what that room is used for.

Empty houses can feel cold and unwelcoming. Buyers often find it hard to understand how their furniture will fit in the rooms. A well-staged home that is light and warm absolutely sells faster than a cold, dark, empty one. I’ve seen it many times.

The staging companies have good quality furniture and art work that gives a home a very gracious appearance. Even having them work with you if you keep your own furniture in the house can make a huge difference in how it feels to a potential buyer. They can rearrange your belongings to achieve a look that will appeal to the largest number of people even if it isn’t how you have lived in the house.

Don’t forget to pack away personal belongings. Some buyers can even be offended by something you have in your home. The photos on the refrigerator, the wall full of collectables, the funny posters, political or religious objects, and even the cat toys should be out of sight. Buyers should spend their time imagining their own furnishings in the space, not being distracted by your stuff. Good luck.

Picky Buyer

Q:

I know you’ve been saying, nicely of course, that maybe we’re being too picky, but we really want our dream house and we’re willing to wait for it. We have a lot of friends on Vashon and they all seemed to have found something that they really like. We don’t understand your negativity and wonder if maybe we should find someone else to work with

A:

 

 

 

 

Of course you are free to find another Realtor to work with anytime, but reality is hard for many people to grasp when it comes to our small real estate market. According to my count, we sold fewer than 175 homes total, even counting “for sale by owner” properties, in 2018. That’s a tiny market. Every broker on the island has clients ready, willing and able to buy when something new comes on the market. That’s a tight, competitive race for one of those few homes.

Unlike most real estate markets, ours is fast even during a slowdown. I was speaking with a Realtor from another county in the northern part of the state recently, and he told me that their general timeline for a house to be on the market was at least 9 months. Another Realtor from a county in the Puget Sound region mentioned that 4 to 6 months on the market is common in her market. If a house sits here for even 6 weeks, we expect a price drop since that’s a long time to sit without an offer.

In reviewing my year for 2018, I noticed that I have many clients who have been looking for over a year for their” perfect” place. I have doubts that they’ll ever find exactly what they’re looking for. The sales I’ve had over the last 12 months were almost without exception folks who came into the market fully pre-approved for their loan, motivated to buy as soon as possible, and willing to consider remodeling or at least making some changes to a home to make it their own. They are all currently settled in and living happily on Vashon Island.

Details of Closing

Q:

We’re very confused about the closing of our sale. The escrow people are telling us that we must come in and sign days before the closing date. We expected to be on Vashon to sign on the closing date. I know you explained that, but I don’t remember what you said about it. Now we’ll have to take extra time off work and we hadn’t planned on that.

A:

 

I always try to be clear about the closing process because people are so excited or stressed throughout the transaction that it’s easy to forget what happens at closing. Plus, every state does it differently, so even if you bought property before, if it wasn’t in Washington, your may have different expectations.

Cash sales are the easiest since there’s no lender involved so there are no loan documents to sign and travel back and forth between escrow and the lender. When there is a home loan involved, it takes longer. It’s important to stay in touch with the escrow folks so that you’re ready when they call. I’m sorry you’ll miss work but it’s worth it to buy your home.

Once the lender has fully approved the loan through all their processes and underwriting, the final documents are created and those must be reviewed. Then they send those documents to the escrow officer who also reviews them to be sure everything is accurate. You’d be surprised how often there are mistakes. Once the escrow officer is satisfied that everything is in order, they call you in to sign. After you sign, the escrow officer again reviews everything to be sure you signed correctly and in the right places.

Then the escrow office sends the documents back to the lender for a final review. That can take a day or two. Once the lender is totally satisfied, they will allow the transaction to close and the funds to be transferred to the escrow company for distribution. Once the funds are all accounted for the escrow company “releases” the sale to the County who records it. That’s when it’s closed.

 

Real Estate Closings

Q:

We’re very confused about the closing of our sale. The escrow people are telling us that we must come in and sign days before the closing date. We expected to be on Vashon to sign on the closing date. I know you explained that, but I don’t remember what you said about it. Now we’ll have to take extra time off work and we hadn’t planned on that.

A:

 

I always try to be clear about the closing process because people are so excited or stressed throughout the transaction that it’s easy to forget what happens at closing. Plus, every state does it differently, so even if you bought property before, if it wasn’t in Washington, your may have different expectations.

Cash sales are the easiest since there’s no lender involved so there are no loan documents to sign and travel back and forth between escrow and the lender. When there is a home loan involved, it takes longer. It’s important to stay in touch with the escrow folks so that you’re ready when they call. I’m sorry you’ll miss work but it’s worth it to buy your home.

Once the lender has fully approved the loan through all their processes and underwriting, the final documents are created and those must be reviewed. Then they send those documents to the escrow officer who also reviews them to be sure everything is accurate. You’d be surprised how often there are mistakes. Once the escrow officer is satisfied that everything is in order, they call you in to sign. After you sign, the escrow officer again reviews everything to be sure you signed correctly and in the right places.

Then the escrow office sends the documents back to the lender for a final review. That can take a day or two. Once the lender is totally satisfied, they will allow the transaction to close and the funds to be transferred to the escrow company for distribution. Once the funds are all accounted for the escrow company “releases” the sale to the County who records it. That’s when it’s closed.

Preparing for Winter

Q:

With the holidays coming up I realize that winter is just around the corner. This is our first year in our new Vashon home and we don’t know what to expect for weather. Are there special things we should be doing to get ready for winter? We’ve always lived in cities and just don’t know what we should be doing now that we are out in the country.

A:

 

Rural living is different than being in a city, although some preparation for winter is good no matter where you live. Here are some hints I have offered over the years that might be helpful.

  1. Clean the gutters as soon as the trees have lost all their leaves. Major damage can occur if water from rain and snow can’t be discharged through gutters.
  2. Have your furnace serviced. That should include filter changes and cleaning. If you have a gas or oil furnace, the flame should be adjusted for more economical and efficient operation.
  3. Collect garden tools and roll up hoses to store over winter. Hoses can break if they still have water in them when we get a freeze and tools can rust if left outside during winter months.
  4. Cover garden beds with mulch to protect them from freezing.
  5. Bring tender hanging planters and potted plants into indoor space.
  6. Prepare emergency “away” kits for everyone in the family in case you must vacate quickly due to an extreme weather event.
  7. Be sure outdoor lights, especially motion sensor types, are working properly.
  8. If you have a wood stove or fireplace have the chimney cleaned. That is very important. Creosote build up is a major cause of house fires.
  9. Be prepared for power outages. Have flashlights handy everywhere in the house and be sure to have battery powered lights available and stock up on batteries.
  10. Clean off outside steps and decks to prevent slipping on rotted leaves.

Other than those things, enjoy the winter! Remember that we need winter rains to keep our lovely island green. I wish you a happy Thanksgiving!

Successful Landlord

Q:

I heard that you were going to do a class on being a successful landlord. That’s great. I have made almost every mistake I think you can make so I hope you tell people that being a landlord isn’t easy. I’ve had to go through evictions twice and it’s a total pain! How can you be sure that you’ll get good renters? I’ve given up and plan on selling the house.

A:

 

There are no guarantees, of course, but doing a good background check is critically important. You should hire a professional firm that can do a complete check of rental history, credit, criminal background, and verification of employment. A credit check alone doesn’t tell the story.

Sometimes an otherwise good renter gets passed over because they are occasionally late with credit card payments or behind on student loans. That can show poor financial habits, perhaps, but most important is that the rent was the priority and always paid on time. It’s also important to talk to the current landlord and, if possible, talk to the one before that. The current landlord may give someone a good recommendation just to get rid of them. That doesn’t happen often but the deeper you can go the better.

A big mistake, and I’ve made it myself, is to rent to a friend or relative or “good buddy” of a friend without fully checking them out first. Just because you know someone or think they are a nice person, or they are recommended by someone you trust, is no reason to fail to run a complete background check on them.

By the way, the class is November 10th, this Saturday, from 10:00 to 12:00. It will be held at the Land Trust building and there is no charge. Maybe after you attend the class and get more hints on how to do it right, you will reconsider selling your rental property. Real estate is a great investment. Putting out the effort to do it right can not only give you income now, but it can build equity for you in the future.

Rental Home Inspection

Q:

We plan on selling our rental property next spring because we’re retiring out of state and want to buy a rental near the community we are moving to. We don’t want to have to throw a lot of money at it just to get it sold. How do we determine what has to be done instead of what would just be nice to do? All our friends say we should redo everything to get top dollar.

A:

 

The first thing I would do is hire a good home inspector to do a full inspection. You’ll end up with a list of possible safety problem that must be done, out dated things that need replacement or repair, and a few items that he or she will point out that just look tired.

My point of view is that you shouldn’t do a whole house remodel! You will probably not get that money back when you sell. Plus, in my experience, most buyers will want to do their own upgrades. So, unless it really looks shabby and dated, just tidy up and clean. Clean every inch of the place inside and out like it’s never been cleaned before. Be sure the windows are cleaned, and any carpet is cleaned or replaced. The place should shine. Tidy up the yard so it looks beautiful from the street. A few new plants, getting rid of weeds and a well-maintained lawn go a long way to making it appealing.

I believe that any rental property should always be sellable within 60 days. Does that sound too extreme? I have worked with clients who had an unexpected job transfer, illness in the family that required them to move closer to parents, or serious financial set backs that meant they had to sell fast. It cost them a great deal just to get the place moderately presentable and I know they left money on the table. If it’s in good shape and always ready to sell you will make top dollar and not be totally stressed out when it comes time to sell. Good luck.

 

Disclosure Issues

Q:

When we bought our house a year ago no one told us about all the highway work that went on forever, or the possibility that the ferry schedule could change and have fewer boats, or a whole lot of other things we’re just now learning. Isn’t all of that suppose to be in the seller’s disclosure? Don’t the real estate people have to tell us about those things?

A:

 

What must be disclosed is a very tricky subject. There are real estate classes and seminars on this topic all the time. The bottom line is that a Realtor is “obligated to discover and disclose adverse factors reasonably apparent to someone with” a real estate license. In other words, anyone paying close attention. Potential future changes in the ferry schedule are not even possible to know, much less disclose. Plus, sellers generally must only disclose those issues that relate to the specific property.

Road work is sometimes announced only a few weeks ahead of time but there is really no way that it’s impact can be predicted. The good news is that now we have a great, new roadway! Likewise, the Washington State Ferry system makes changes to their plans constantly and it’s hard to keep up, even if you’re paying close attention.

It’s critical, in my view, that buyers spend some time researching the issues concerning the ferries, particularly since they are planning to live on an island. It’s also important to go online to look at projects underway or planned by the County. Buyers should check out crime statistics, school ratings, County regulations, etc. That should happen even before buying here.

There’s no way anyone can anticipate what may happen in the future. It falls to the buyer to research those things that concern them. For instance, is there a County sign announcing a zoning change or new building permit? Then go online and find out more. Have you checked out the changes to the schedule planned for the ferry service from the state’s website? If not, do that research and attend local meetings about the proposed changes.

 

Challenge of buying land

Q:

I was a bit surprised by how negative you seemed to be during the discussion with my son about buying land. He saw a few parcels he found interesting, but you spent all your time warning us abut how difficult and expensive it would be to build. He has built a house before, in Colorado, and knows what he’s doing. Why all the warnings?

A:

 

I’m sure your son can build a house. That’s not the issue at all. This is not Colorado. What I always stress to folks looking to build, is that the requirements and costs of doing so in unincorporated King County are daunting. I have three different sets of clients right now to whom I sold land two to three years ago. In each case, they purchased property with a water share and septic design approved (the only safe way to buy, in my view) and none of them are in a completed home yet.

There are many challenges in going through the permitting process. The County always seems to have too few people working in each department, so everything moves very slowly. There’s drainage review, health department review, critical areas review, fire flow review, etc. and each of these can take many months. Work can be stopped along the way even once you have started construction if you or your contractor have missed some step in the process.

Taking on a property without a water share or already certified and approved well is even more difficult. You must wait your turn for the few well drillers in the region that will even come to Vashon. In addition, the well must pass very stringent purity tests. It’s very expensive to drill a well and often requires expensive filtration systems.  If you don’t have a septic design in place you are also taking a chance that the property doesn’t “perk” for a septic system or that it will be a very costly system. I do sell land, but I simply want to be sure everyone knows what they’re getting into in terms of cost and time.

 

Inventory Issues

Q:

I know that my husband was upset the last time you spoke to him and I just wanted to apologize. He thinks that you didn’t really properly represent us when we made an offer. We lost the bid and now he wants to blame you. I’m sure you did everything you could to help us get the house.

A:

 

He may learn, after he makes more offers that are well below asking price, that most of our homes sell for over asking price, some for significantly more. He seems to think he can get a real bargain if the home has been on the market more than a few weeks. There are a few good buys out there, but most of those are fixers, which you specifically said you didn’t want. At this point, I’m afraid that you’re out priced for the type of home you require. The home you offered on sold for well over asking price. I wish that wasn’t true, but it is the market we have.

Buying here is always difficult because we have so little inventory. In each price range and general category there may be only five to ten homes a year that come on the market.  Had you purchased a home a year ago, when you first started looking, you would have been living here a whole year and would have been able to afford your perfect home. That’s no longer true.

I’ve had to “fire” several clients who don’t understand that if you want to own a home on Vashon you must make that your priority. So many times, I send a new listing to a client, one that I think will fit their specific needs, but they are on a vacation, or too busy with their social life to come out and look at the house before it sells. If you continue to expect to get a real deal as well as find the exact home you require, you may have a better chance to find what you’re looking for if you widen your search to other Puget Sound areas.