In Seattle, upkeep of public sidewalks is homeowner responsibility

I recently had the misfortune of tripping over a “lift” on a public sidewalk in my West Seattle neighborhood. Although I wasn’t seriously injured, I fell hard and even scraped my cheek on the sidewalk. My right shoulder and hip absorbed most of the impact, leaving my quite sore for the next couple of days and contributing (I suspect) to an attack of bursitis in my right hip.

When I was telling a friend about the incident, she informed me that (in Seattle, at least) homeowners are responsible for the upkeep of the portion of public sidewalk connected to their property. Sure enough, when I went on the City of Seattle website, I discovered that not only are homeowners responsible to maintain the sidewalk, they are also charged with care of planting strips, RainWise rain gardens and cisterns, unimproved roadway shoulders (i.e. where there are no sidewalks), and unpaved alleys.

This could come as a nasty surprise if someone injures themselves on an area you are responsible to maintain. The words “potential lawsuit” come to mind.

You can bet that I went right out to check the condition of my own sidewalk. Especially when I read the part that says, “a fault or other discontinuity greater than 1/2 inch in the sidewalk” must be remedied.

In the case of my fall, the obstruction was caused by tree roots that forced the sidewalk to lift; a common occurrence we’ve all seen all too often. As you can see from the photo, the roots had created a bulge that was substantially more than 1/2″.

photo of bulge in sidewalk

Tripping hazard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I sent the homeowners a letter informing them of the incident and the city requirements, but so far, they haven’t taken any action to mitigate the situation.

What does the sidewalk in front of your home look like?

Posted 1/1/2017

Seattle Real Estate Recap: 2016

What will the new year bring for the real estate market in Seattle? If only I had a crystal ball!

I can, however, give you a quick recap of 2016, which may be the best predictor for 2017. It’s both good news and bad news, depending upon whether you are a seller or a buyer.

November (2016) marked the second straight month that the Seattle area was crowned top in the nation in home-price growth.

That’s a dubious honor when you consider that the typical single-family home across King, Snohomish and Pierce counties cost 10.7 percent more in October than it did a year ago.

Brisk job growth and a continued sparseness of homes on the market continues to drive prices higher as buyers compete for a dwindling number of houses for sale. The typical single-family house now costs $550,000 in King County.

The surge in home prices does seem to be slowing, at least a bit, compared to the dizzying pace seen last spring and summer.

Meanwhile, interest rates have crept up, but are still incredibly low.

If you’d like to discuss your plans to buy or sell in the coming months, please give me a call. 206-708-9800.

Posted 12/31/16

Home design trends: 2016

DAILY REAL ESTATE NEWS | FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 2016

BUILDER recently asked real estate professionals to share their thoughts about the top design trends their clients are currently requesting. Here are some of the top design trends that real estate pros said are in demand:

  • Open layouts
  • Neutral color schemes
  • Multigenerational floor plans
  • First-floor master suites
  • No dining rooms
  • White kitchens
  • Extra-large garages
  • Big closets
  • Finished basements with 9-foot high ceilings
  • Barn sliding doors

Source: “REALTORS®’ Most In-Demand Design Trends,” BUILDER (Nov. 16, 2016) and “15 Things REALTORS® Want Builders to Know,” BUILDER (Nov. 14, 2016)

Take Inventory of Your Home’s Contents

If you are a homeowner with a typical mortgage, then you most likely have homeowner’s/hazard insurance because lenders require it before approving your loan. They want to ensure that you can repair or rebuild your home in the event of a catastrophe such as fire or flood. This ensures that the bank can continue to collect mortgage payments.

The cost of the insurance is rolled into your monthly payment so you probably don’t even think about it, which may be a good thing.

If you ever need to file a claim, however, you might be surprised to discover how difficult it is to list all the belongings you lost. That’s why you should shoot digital video of the contents of your home.

Why shoot video rather than take photographs? Because video also captures audio and it’s easier and more efficient to verbally describe the objects as you pan the room to record.

Once you have the video recording, be sure to transfer it to a cloud and/or send a copy to a trusted friend or relative. If the video only exists on your hard drive, it may go down in flames with your house!

Lastly, be sure to take video of the exterior of your home as well in order to document its condition.

Following these simple tips could save you headaches as well as money.

Posted December 7, 2016

Automated Home Valuations

Safe to say that every homeowner wants to know, “What’s my home worth?” And the easier it is to get that information, the better. Zillow, for one, built a multi-billion dollar business based on that assumption.

Now you can get THREE free automated home valuation estimates by going to my website and entering your home address ONCE!

(Here is a shortcut to the same site: www.bit.ly/yourhomevalues)

When you see the results, you may wonder why the three estimates vary as much as they (usually) do. It’s because they lack human sensibilities.

Automated valuations produce their results by gathering statistical data from a variety of sources such as tax records. Then they take that data and apply algorithms comparing square footage, lot size, numbers of bedrooms and bathrooms, etc.  The algorithms may even include some (very subjective) information about location, neighborhood desirability, views, etc.  What the algorithms can’t account for is the condition of the homes. That is their biggest problem, and a limitation none of them have been able to overcome.

It takes the visual observations of a live person such as a real estate broker or an appraiser (hopefully, not your neighbor) to provide vital information about the condition of the homes being used for comparison. Without that input, your home may be compared to one that is in significantly worse or better condition, which greatly skews the results.

The moral of the story? Have a little fun using the automated valuation tools on occasion, but when you get serious about selling your home, call a professional to determine the current value of your home. Of course, our estimates aren’t always on the nose either. That’s why it’s best to get a CMA (comparative market analysis) from two or more experienced agents.

You might also be interested in downloading my mobile app. One of the really cool things about it is that when you are out walking the dog and you come upon a house with a new “For Sale” sign in front, you can tap the app and hit “Nearby For Sale” and it will bring up info for that house and others. Download my mobile app here.

Posted December 6, 2016

How’s the Seattle Market in December 2016?

We are still firmly situated in a sellers’ market. New (appropriately priced) listings typically sell in less than two weeks. Many receive multiple offers that push the price above asking.

That being said, we are seeing a surprising number of homes stay on the market long enough to require price reductions. Why?

Although it is partly a seasonal phenomenon, the most common reason is that sellers listen to the wrong advice. Friends, neighbors, relatives, co-workers — all think they know what price you should ask for your home. This often results in overpricing, which eventually leads to a price reduction.

That’s why it’s important to hire and work with an experienced Realtor® who will do careful research and provide you with an educated evaluation of your home’s current market value. Better yet, consult two or more Realtors® until you find one you trust and who gives you confidence in your pricing decision.

Posted December 4, 2016

 

Winter “Do’s & Don’ts” for Homeowners

For all the perks of home ownership, property maintenance is a never-ending job, and each season brings its own list of special chores. Here are a few to keep in mind.

DO: Invest in outdoor faucet protectors. Many styles cost less than $2  and are easy to install. Without these covers, cold air can enter your pipes and cause them to burst at the most inconvenient times (not that there is even a convenient time for a pipe to burst). Better yet, wrap any exposed pipes with foam plumbing insulation — also cheap & easy to do.

DON’T… forget to clean out your gutters. Yes, it’s a nasty job and it’s no fun to do, but if your gutters are so full that rain water cascades over them instead of flowing through them, the water is likely to reach your foundation and will eventually cause some serious, expensive damage.
DO: Play detective. Investigate the nooks, crannies, cracks and crevices where cold air can sneak into your house, robbing you of the warm you crave on winter days. The most common offenders are window sills, baseboards, fireplaces and dryer vents. Once you find the culprits, buy a tube of caulk and seal them off.

DON’T… forego a fireplace inspection. A dirty flu won’t just irritate Santa, it may cause a fire you didn’t intend.

DO: Schedule a furnace inspection. Servicing your furnace is NOT a DIY project. Most furnaces have a life expectancy of about 15 years. Failing to service it regularly can reduce that life span by 5 years!
(This next one may surprise you.)

DON’T… level your fridge. Refrigerators have adjustable feet to allow for uneven floors, but you should adjust them so the front feet are slightly higher than the hind feet. That way, the door will never be left open accidentally; it will close itself.

DO:  Invest in a programmable thermostat — or pledge to use the one you already have. Why heat your home when you’re not there?

Want more information and resources concerning your home and real estate? Visit my agent website: www.SingleMindedRealEstate.com

Posted December 3, 2016

 

Beware the HELOC

Does this rapidly-inflating real estate market look suspiciously familiar?

With many communities in our country still feeling less than financially recovered from the recession, we have to wonder if the more fortunate (i.e. prosperous) communities have learned any lessons from the bust.

Some financial analysts insist that we are NOT headed for another bubble because banks are no longer giving away money as feely as they were in the early 2000’s. However, another reason that we (collectively) got in trouble is because homeowners used their property as ATM’s by borrowing against their equity from an inflated market. It seems as if that part of the equation might repeat itself.

Because interest rates have remained so low for so long, most homeowners who want to refinance to a lower loan rate, have already done so. That means that financial institutions need to find a way to replace the income they were making from refi’s. Some of the large banks have begun encouraging homeowners to once again tap into their equity by applying for a HELOC — Home Equity Line of Credit — to finance things like second homes, vacations, college tuition, etc.  The beauty of a HELOC is that it can be used for any purpose you wish, or simply left as an open line of credit. Much like a credit card, there are no payments to make until you access that credit. Unlike a credit card, your home is used as collateral.

Bankers know that most people who apply for a HELOC, even if they don’t intend to access the credit, will eventually do so. It’s simply human nature. Make no mistake, a HELOC is the equivalent of a second mortgage.  When home prices stop their drastic rise, or perhaps even go down, those who have added a HELOC to their first mortgage could find themselves underwater. I.e. the total of the loans against the property could be more than the property is worth. Or, at the very least, the lack of remaining equity could thwart plans to purchase another home.

I’m not saying that it is never a good idea to utilize a HELOC — it may very well make financial sense for you — but I am cautioning homeowners to consider how it might impact you if home prices don’t continue their current meteoric rise.

If you’d like to know more, give me a call at 206-708-9800, or talk to a trusted lender.

If you know of anyone who is thinking of selling their home, I would appreciate the opportunity to tell them about my services!

Posted 4/1/16

Multiple offers from a home seller’s POV

If you haven’t sold your home recently, you might be interested to hear a bit about what that experience is like in the current Seattle market.

Once a home has been prepped for sale — which takes very little work in such a strong seller’s market — the agent and homeowner agree on a list price based on sales of comparable properties. This is easier said than done when homes are selling so quickly at ever-escalating prices.

If the agent and seller anticipate multiple offers, they often set an offer review date. That date is usually 5-7 days after the home goes on the market. This strategy typically nets a higher sale price for the seller than if they accept the first offer that comes in.

Appropriately priced homes in West Seattle currently receive anywhere from 3 to 15 offers that meet or exceed the list price and are not contingent on inspection. I.e., buyers have either pre-inspected the property or waived inspection. This essentially results in “As Is” sales.

It is not unusual to receive all-cash offers and/or offers with down payments of 30-50%.

The agent then prepares an analysis of all the offers to determine which are the strongest.You may be surprised to hear that the highest offer price doesn’t always constitute the strongest offer.

Each agent goes about this analysis in their own way. My process consists of creating a spreadsheet showing a side-by-side comparison of the offers on 24 separate criteria!  

A “strong” offer is one that has the best chance of closing quickly and without incident. For instance, if there is a loan involved, the lender should have a good track record for closing on time. The chosen offer will typically have a combination of a high purchase price, reliable financing, and a contract with few, if any, contingencies (i.e. “outs” for the buyer).

The seller also wants to ensure that the buyer will go through with the purchase even if the house does not appraise for the full amount of the offer price. This means that the buyer has the financial means to pay the difference between the appraised value and the offer price, in cash.

Once buyers and sellers have reached Mutual Acceptance — and disappointed the 2 to 14 other buyers — the sale will usually close in 30-45 days when a loan is involved, or as quickly as one week for an all cash sale.

After that, the seller often gets to experience the process in reverse, which is why many homeowners are reluctant to sell.

Any questions? Comments?

If you are ready to buy or sell, give me a call at 206-708-9800

Posted 4/1/16

Homeownership still linked to wealth building

In good times and in bad, homeownership consistently maintains a strong link to the building of personal wealth for Americans. This is the conclusion reached by researchers at The Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, after revisiting their previous study from 2009.

 

The report citing the updated analysis, “upholds the bottom-line result from the earlier paper: that homeownership was associated with significant gains in household wealth, even when viewed across the tumultuous housing crisis period of 1999-2013.”

 

The authors reached identical conclusions from both generations of the report.  Namely:

  1. Even during market downturns with extremely volatile house prices, a majority of the home owners who were able to stay current on their mortgages, created substantial wealth for themselves in the process;
  2. Renters who bought homes and stayed current on their mortgages through the recession had some of the largest gains in wealth; and
  3. Renters who bought homes but weren’t able to maintain their payments, were no worse off financially than before they purchased a home.

Content of the updated report can be found at Update on Homeownership Wealth Trajectories Through the Housing Boom and Bust.

Authors of the report commented that, “Taken together, the study’s findings of both the remarkably and persistently low wealth levels of the typical renter and the potential for wealth accumulation when homeownership is maintained underscore the need for policies both to support sustained homeownership as well as to help renters find ways to build wealth outside of homeownership.”

To quote Yogi Berra, “It’s deja vu all over again.”