With median sales prices continuing to rise (median sales prices for Seattle residential in February were 26.3% over February 2015 and 38.9% over February 2014). There is speculation about a bubble developing in the real estate market with over-inflated prices that are going to pop. Continue reading
Category Archives: Tips for Seattle Home Buyers
What To Know When Buying an Older Home in Seattle
Oh the charm of Downtown Ballard! The allure of Phinney Ridge! The dramatic views of the Greenlake neighborhood! There are so many amazing older homes in this city and you may be craving a Craftsman or beholding a bungalow. However, before you fall in love with an older home, there are a few things to keep in mind before you become the new steward of an older home in Seward Park:
Wiring – Wiring has got to be one of the biggest challenges when dealing with an older home. Some of the house may be rewired, some of it may still be knob-and-tube, and some may be in dangerous disrepair. I say dangerous because house fires are something to be concerned about when we are looking at a home with older wiring. If you are considering a home and aren’t sure about the status of the wiring, it might be a good idea to call in a separate electrical inspector so you can make a plan for repairs or rest assured.
Plumbing – If wiring is #1 then plumbing is #2. Plumbing may be even more problematic because it is more difficult to replace and repair than electrical in many cases. Older pipes may not be up to code, may be corroded, and can leak. Furthermore, some older pipes may contain lead. Again, it is a good idea to call in a separate plumbing inspector to learn more about your plumbing systems.
Sewer Pipes – Speaking of plumbing, homeowners are responsible for maintaining the sewer pipe from their home to the sewer pipe in the street. Many pipes have issues, cracks, and roots sneaking in disrupting the flow. This can be a very expensive repair and I recommend a sewer scope for many would-be homeowners.
Insulation – Houses of the past were not insulated well – if at all – making heating bills downright terrifying! However, innovations in energy efficiency may help ward off those drafts. Blow-in insulation and insulating in crawlspaces and attics may be an option. This may be an extra expense to incur but well worth it when the power or gas bill comes!
Windows – Many homes these days have had the single-pane/storm windows replaced with modern windows, but not all homes. According to energy.gov, having a storm window on a single-pane window can reduce heat loss up to 50%, but many older homes are missing storm windows or they no longer fit in the allotted space. Older wood single-pane windows do have charm, so depending on whether or not you want to keep them, I suggest being aware of your heat loss prevention options.
Chimney – If you plan on having a fire in your wood-burning fireplace, I also suggest having the chimney inspected. Years of creosote, rain, and earthquakes are not kind to chimneys and chimney fires are something to watch out for.
Permits – Have improvements been done to the home? Were all the correct permits obtained and final inspections done? This is something to be on top of because you don’t want to buy a home, love the back patio addition, and then learn it was not permitted, finally inspected and does not meet code.
Oil Tanks – Many homes in Seattle used to utilize oil as a heating source. There may be remnants of that oil system today on your property.
Lead Paint – Before the 1970s lead was used in some types of paint. Of course now we know the dangers, but we didn’t then. However, lead paint may be lurking in an older home, so before you begin any renovation work, you need to know how to deal with it. Additionally, if you have flaking paint you need to seal it up. It is not unusual to have leaded paint in a home, but it is important to know how to safely work with it if you do.
Older homes in Seattle can be full of character and charm. Getting to know the home and having multiple inspections is key to eliminating as many surprises as you can so you can thoroughly enjoy it! If you would like to learn more, give me a call at (206) 226-5300 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!
Home Heating Systems in Seattle: What Home Buyers Need to Know
Brrrr!! It is a cold one out there. This morning I am thankful for an advanced heating system that keeps me toasty. Do you know about all the different types of heating systems we have in Seattle? As a home buyer, it is important to learn more about your system and have a good understanding of how it works, what maintenance is involved, and what to watch out for to keep your system in top shape. According to Seattle City Light, “space heating represents the single largest energy consumer in the typical Seattle home.” This can get expensive! Below is a summary of what we might see out on the market:
Furnaces – Furnaces with forced air are the most common type of heat system used in our area. These utilize natural gas or electricity (most commonly) but some systems still utilize oil.
Heat Pumps – Although heat pumps are run on electricity, according to Seattle City Light they can be 200% efficient because they draw heat from the air outside. Unless the temperature gets down very low (in the 30’s or below generally speaking), the heat pump can still draw heat out of the air and move it into the house.
Boilers – Boilers heat water and pump it through the house through pipes – some of which may be located underneath the floor while others have baseboard pipe systems (which look like baseboard heaters, but actually are radiators). Boilers can utilize natural gas, oil, and electricity.
The above systems are usually designed to heat entire homes. There are also systems that heat room by room such as:
- Electric baseboard heaters: These produce a good amount of heat, but distributing it through the room can be tough. Furniture placement can also be a challenge.
- Electric recessed wall heaters: These, like baseboard heating, can produce a good amount of heat with distribution challenges. However, some contain a blower which helps.
- Electric radiant heat: There are whole-home systems and systems that can be installed in individual rooms such as under tile (where heat is then stored).
- Fireplaces (gas, electric, or even wood-burning): These not only provide nice ambiance, but they are a great option to heat individual rooms. Unfortunately, they are not a very efficient option due to the heat loss up the chimney.
- Pellet or wood burning stoves: Pellet stoves work similarly to fireplaces in that they primarily heat the room they are in. However, blowers can help distribute the heat into different rooms in the house.
- Ductless heat pumps: These are beginning to climb in popularity because they are even more efficient than a ducted heat pump (as there is heat loss within the duct system) and they only heat the room you need to have heated (or have different rooms heated to different temperatures). Furthermore, in the summer, they can cool!
When buying a home, I recommend having the heating system inspected and learning what you need to do in terms of maintenance. This might include duct cleaning, filter replacement, or an annual tune up including topping off fluids. Some older systems may be so inefficient that replacement actually makes better financial and environmental sense. In some cases, rebates from the Department of Energy, Cascade Natural Gas, Puget Sound Energy, or Seattle City Light (or another local gas or electricity provider) may be available. And a new system will improve your home value!
Don’t be left in the cold this winter. I can put you in touch with someone who can help you determine how to keep your system in tip-top shape and add dollars to your bottom line. Give me a call at (206) 226-5300 or send an email to email@example.com.
Hot Times in Seattle
Whew! Although our weather has decided to cool off a bit in the last week, I have been thinking about our homes in Seattle and how many of them are ill-equipped to deal with the heat we have had over the last few months.
Back in the days before air-conditioning and subdivisions, homes were constructed to take advantage of the natural breezes and cooling physics which included wide eaves on south-facing windows and large trees to filter the sunlight onto sun-porches. Fast forward to the turn of the century up and upwards to the 1950s. The urban and suburban landscape with smaller lots and few natural cooling innovations meant that the single family bungalow turned into a stuffy hotbox during the long arduous summer months.
In fact, according to the US Census Bureau, a 2013 survey from the American Housing Survey indicated that only 15.9% of occupied units in the Seattle-Tacoma Metro area had central air-conditioning.
As a real estate professional, I encourage any buyers I work with to think about all the seasons when buying a home. From that home with the steep driveway that can become an ice rink during the winter to the home with the master that faces due east taking advantage of the sunrise – whether that is at 4:00 in the morning or 8:00, it is critical to look at your potential home with an eye for considering what may come when the calendar turns a page.
As I write this, it looks like it is going to creep back up into the high 80’s by Thursday. If you are thinking of taking the air conditioning plunge, take note! According to The Nest.com, central air conditioning may increase the changes of selling a home faster in hot weather depending on the season and whether air conditioning is valued in your particular area. In Seattle in summers past, people adhere to the adage, “Well, you only need it a few days per year.” This year (and perhaps next according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration), I predict that central air will be valued higher. But if you are selling in the winter or during a cooler summer, it may not be valued as highly.
According to the National Association of REALTORS®, central air can add about 12% to the value of the home. Of course, cost to install must be taken into consideration. Ductless air conditioners are also rising in popularity and they are a bit cheaper to install than a full central unit, especially if you live in an older home which would require a lot of retrofitting.
If you are going to be selling your home, it is also important to take that eye and turn it inward when determining market value for your home. If your home doesn’t have air-conditioning, but the home for sale down the street does, that needs to be taken into consideration.
Common Home Selling Myths
Although everyone seems to be talking about the current inventory challenges in the Seattle market, I want to instead devote some blog time to dispelling some of the myths around home selling – in any market.
Ask most people about selling a home and you will likely get diverse stories around the individual listing and selling experience. Homeowners who may have bought or sold love to recount their experiences by way of providing advice for your upcoming listing, but since each listing and transaction is different, their experience may be completely different from yours. Furthermore, since there can be a lot of information that goes back and forth during a transaction, it is easy to mis-remember the events… hence myths are both.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common myths when it comes to selling a home:
Myth #1: The longer a home is on the market, the higher chance it will sell.
Fact: The longer a home lingers on the market, the more likely it is to raise a red flag in the minds of potential buyers. Instead of flocking to view the home, buyers regard it with a cryptic eye wondering, “Why isn’t it selling? Is there a hidden flaw in it? Is it overpriced?”
The first few weeks of a listing represents the period where there is most viewing traffic from potential buyers. However, if a buyer perceives the price to be out of their range, they may choose not to view it.
The fix for a lingering listing is systematic price reductions, but that is not a fix for pricing it right in the first place. However, if a potential buyer sees the seller steadily dropping the price, they may assume that the home was overpriced when it first listed, explaining the long market time, and now the seller is ready to be reasonable.
But beware! Even when the price has dropped, the buyer may perceive it is still overpriced due to long market time. In my experience, sellers tend to have a tougher negotiating time when the home has been on the market for a while.
Also consider that new listings come on the market all the time. Competition doesn’t go away, leaving your listing the last one standing.
Myth #2: Buyers will be wowed by the condition and amenities. Price is secondary.
Fact: Price is king. Period.
Condition and amenities aren’t completely irrelevant. They can make the difference between a buyer loving your house over another. However, price is a much more important factor for most buyers.
Let’s liken this to a car. The features and amenities in, say, a Ferrari, are impressive. If a Ferrari were priced the same as a Honda, we would see more Ferraris on the road. However, most buyers cannot afford a Ferrari, regardless of the features and amenities. The same principles apply to your home.
Myth #3: Although my agent did a Comparative Market Analysis, my home doesn’t compare with those homes and should be priced higher.
This is something you will need to discuss with the agent who did the CMA. A thorough agent will try to choose homes that are most similar to yours, in a similar area, which have sold recently, there usually aren’t exact matches available. What an agent will do instead is find similar homes and make accommodations for condition and amenities.
I do extensive research when I do my CMAs, and the resulting price range is usually the market price range for the home.
I currently have nine listings, seven of which are pending. The average days on market for those that are pending is 8.85 which is indicative of pricing at market – the result of a CMA and extensive market research.
I would love to share additional information with you regarding myths you may have heard about selling your home in this market…or any market! Just give me a call at (206) 226-5300 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Could Rent Control be coming to Seattle?
According to the National Association of REALTORS®, over the last five years in the Seattle Metro area, rents have increased a whopping 22.26% between whereas wages for 25-44 year olds (which comprise a good number of renters) only increased 15.3%. This time period reviewed was quarter 3 2009 to quarter 3 2014 for the rents whereas wages were reviewed 2009-2014. According to Dupre+Scott Apartment Advisors, that number is even more staggering when looking only at Seattle and since spring of 2013 – 18% higher.
This disparity along with comparisons to tech-driven job markets such as San Francisco have many wondering if Seattle could be the next city to jump on the rent control bandwagon.
According to the Puget Sound Business Journal, there was a town meeting at City Hall on April 23rd to discuss this hot topic and Mayor Ed Murray has even created a housing affordability task force to tackle the problem. The hurdle is a big one – rent control is currently illegal in Washington State.
Seattle Magazine reports that renters make up 52% of Seattle’s population, so the effects of such a law – or not passing a law – will be felt by the majority of Seattle’s residents. With the average market rent for a one bedroom, one bathroom apartment in the city of Seattle going for $1,445 per month, there are a number of renters and would-be renters who are going to have to start finding housing further away from the city center.
People for rent control point to issues like transportation that become a bigger challenge when workers cannot afford to live near where they work and have to commute in. However, those who oppose it indicate that rent control will hamper development and reinvestment in the buildings that may be in need of updating.
Whether you are a proponent of rent control or not, this debate and rent increases are driving some to turn to home ownership, even with the inventory shortages that challenging the real estate market.
However, the economics of it make sense. If you are paying $3,000 per month for a three bedroom apartment in Capitol Hill and you can buy a 3 bedroom home in Wallingford for $600,000 (even taking into account multiple offers driving up the price from $500,000 to $600,000), depending on your down payment, that mortgage and principle may only come to $2,300 per month. Add taxes and insurance on there and you might be at $2,800 per month. Remember, this is just an estimation, and prices vary, but if you are pounding your fist, hoping rent control is passed before your landlord decides to raise the rent again, you owe it to yourself to take a look at home ownership.
And remember! If you have a 30 year fixed rate mortgage, your monthly mortgage payment is your monthly mortgage payment – next year and 25 years down the road. Furthermore, you are building equity which could mean money in your pocket when you are ready to sell. Try doing that while renting!
I would be happy to give you additional information on how to make your housing dollars go further. Give me a call: (206) 226-5300 or send an email to: email@example.com!
Furnace? Who Needs a Furnace?
Our fortunate weather patterns have given us a gorgeous Seattle summer! We Seattleites tend to have a short memory when we are basking in the late-setting Northwest sun and inevitably, when we are having a summer like this, asking sellers about their winter utility bills slips as a home buying priority. This is likely also a factor of our very fast market, but buyers, I urge you to do your homework and find out more about your potential investment.
Luckily most inspectors will do a cursory investigation of the heating system if the buyer has ordered an inspection. The inspector will report back on the age and condition of the system and make recommendations. Occasionally, they will recommend the system is serviced which can then be an item that the buyer and seller negotiate on regarding post-inspection repairs. However, in a market like this, buyers are opting to forgo asking for work like this to be done and often, it isn’t until that first cold snap and the subsequent huge bill arrives for the issue to be thought of again.
Buyers, here is a checklist of home heating items to find out from the seller. Remember, especially in older homes, you may have more than one system that you need to be aware of. There may have been an add-on that uses electric baseboard heating whereas the rest of the home is on propane or a heat pump.
- What are the different ways this home is heated?
- How does each system work? (wall-mount gauges, automatic temperature control, etc)
- Is there something I have to do when it gets cold? (switch the system on, light the pilot light, etc)
- When were the different systems installed?
- When was the last time they were serviced?
- Where do I get the filters? (or other items that the homeowner is responsible for replacing)
- Who provides the fuel? (Puget Sound Energy, Seattle City Light, Cascade Natural Gas, etc)
- What were your utility bills for the last 12 months? (ask for the total of each fuel – electric, gas, oil, propane, wood, etc – by month)
- Where is the warranty information and operations manual?
Sellers, I recommend getting your heating system serviced before putting the home on the market and changing out the filter. The summer is a great time to ask your repair company for a tune-up special which is just one less thing for an inspector to have a challenge with.
You can bask in the sun, but don’t forget to plan for the frigid months ahead, especially if you will be wintering in a new home. Please contact me to learn more: (206) 226-5300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.