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 sold@windermere.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.


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: sold@windermere.com!

Multitudes of Millennials in Position to Purchase in Seattle Metro Area

According to the National Association of REALTORS® the Seattle Metro Area is one of the top ten markets in the country with the Millennial generation poised to lead the charge of first time homebuyers. Seattle, along with metros such as Austin, Dallas, Denver, Des Moines (Iowa), Grand Rapids (Michigan), New Orleans, Ogden, and Salt Lake City have strong job markets with jobs that appeal to this generation and the demand for housing hasn’t priced first time homebuyers out of the market like in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

According to NAR Chief Economist, Lawrence Yun, “NAR research finds that there are…metro areas millennials are moving to where job growth is strong and home ownership is more attainable. These markets are well-positioned to soon experience a rise in first-time buyers as the economy improves.”

The homeownership rate for young adults (under the age of 35) was 43% in 2005 (the peak) and the rate has fallen from that peak to 36% in the first quarter of 2014.

NAR measured current housing conditions, housing affordability (measured by incomes, interest rates and median home prices), job creation, and population trends across the country in metro areas that have a large millennial presence. NAR expects that as life events present themselves (marriage, kids) millennials will want to settle down and purchase a home rather than rent and live in close quarter. As long as market conditions hold and affordability is maintained, millennials are poised to be our next wave of first time homebuyers.

What does this mean for current homeowners? I expect demand will continue to be strong in our region as job growth is strong in our region. Over the next few years, if you own a home with market value under about $400,000, I expect that price point to increase in demand unless our builders complete new homes to meet that growing need. If you have questions for me or would like to learn more, please give me a call or send me an email: (206) 226-5300 or sold@windermere.com.