Helping Veterans and Active Military in Real Estate Transactions

Happy Veterans’ Day!

As we thank and remember all our veterans and active duty military today we are preparing for a day-trip to Sequim to visit Papa Pete, our closest veteran hero.

I am proud to say that I recently obtained my VAMRES – VA and Military Real Estate Specialist designation and hard at work on the national MRP – Military Relocation Professional – certification. These two designations are training me to better understand military needs when it comes to real estate, the ins and outs of VA financing and how to assist in a military relocation. With all the bases around Seattle and active Coast Guard, I hope to enhance my ability to serve those who have served us!

 

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Looking for 2014 Real Estate Trends

The trending for 2014 has already started. Always interesting to read the predictions for the next year and then follow along to see if they come true. Many of the lists are just fluff but I randomly found one that had some points that have been more thought out. It is from “experts at the Urban Land Institute” and you can read it at CBS News.

It’s all very interesting and makes sense to me, especially point number two “second-tier cities will lead to recovery.” Yes – I just toured Seattle with a big time Los Angeles developer. He is VERY interested in Seattle due to the lack of available land in LA.

Also “condo development is on the back burner” rings true. Living in Ballard I see all the many, huge apartment buildings going up, some completed and available at high rents, some still in the works. I am certain if condo prices keep climbing in Seattle and the supply stays tight, some of these developers will choose to convert the buildings to condos for sale, as the article suggests.

I love “the suburban is going urban” part. I don’t think of Seattle as having ‘suburbs’ per se – having lived in Chicagoland I experienced the true sense of the word – and no land to really develop new communities. But I do see nearby communities, like Bothell, buiding their own urban centers which makes them great choices for those commuting to Seattle but wanting to stay home for activities.

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Seattle Sewer Lines – Post Two

In my last post I wrote about Seattle sewer lines and issues that homeowners are finding in sewer scope inspections. I wanted to give a little update for the situation my buyers found in a recent sewer scope of a home they were going to buy – the scope found a crack in the sewer line right before the City connection and we thought it was a toss up whether the City would fix it or not.

The City IS going to fix it!  Great news for the seller of this home. My buyers decided not to purchase the home for various other reasons but fortunately the seller can put the home back up for sale without costly repairs.

How did this all happen?  When my clients decided not to buy the house they gave me permission to give the sewer scope report and video to the listing agent. He submitted the video to the City and after viewing the video the City decided that it would take responsibility. I did have a lengthy talk with a helpful employee of the City who told me that the goal for a homeowner is to get a letter from the City that says the City will take responsibility. This does NOT mean the City promises to fix the problem immediately. If they feel like it is not an emergency they will continue to monitor the issue and fix as needed / there are resources available.

If you are a homeowner in Seattle and you get a sewer scope where there is question of homeowner vs. City responsibility, call me (206) 412 4663, I will get you a short explanation, list of contacts and information for where to send the video.

Oh sewer is fresh on my mind….  just got back from another sewer scope for a different client. This one has dips in it, two of them, under the driveway about 8 feet deep. Oh well, better to know now than after purchase, after all NOW everything is negotiable!

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What to Know About Seattle’s Sewer Lines When Buying a Home

Most of Seattle’s homes are served by old sewer lines. With time the sewer lines start to experience issues, anything from tree roots growing into them to cracks and holes that let debris in to cause back-ups, worst case filling your basement in sewage.

When purchasing a home in Seattle I recommend a sewer scope. The inspection costs about $225 – $250 and is well worth the money. The inspector sends special equipment down the sewer main and makes a video of the sewer line. As he is making the video he can view it instantly and note any issues. My preferred company for this inspection is Hydrophysics, they do a great job and even give you microwave popcorn to enjoy while you watch your video.

A common element in the report is tree roots growing into the line. This is not always a problem, usually comes with a recommendation of using a regular treatment to kill the roots. Sometimes larger problems are found, cracks or holes from larger roots, general failure of the line due to it’s age or recently I had a buyer find that the home’s shallow sewer line ran into the neighbor’s yard and the neighbor had likely made a hole while gardening.

How Much Does it Cost to Fix a Broken Sewer Line in Seattle?

The first reason this inspection is so important is that you likely will not know you have a problem until there is a major back-up. Way cheaper to fix the problem now than also have a clean up issue on your hand if sewage backs up into your home. The problem can be minor, like the shallow sewer line broken by the neighbor – about $1,000 to $2,000 to repair because there was very little labor for digging required. The worst case, so far, that I have experienced in my business was a home in West Seattle that my clients were buying that ended up with about $36K in work. We negotiated the seller to pay for this. The reason the bill was so much is because the break was in the street where it had to be closed off and bus traffic had to be re-routed, the street also had to be restored. The point being, it all depends on where the problem is located, what street the home is located on, how deep the sewer line is and of course the extent of the work needed.

What Part of My Seattle Sewer Line is the City’s Responsibility?

Hydrophysics also provides you with a map of the street’s sewer line system. You can find it yourself on the City’s side sewer maps. First, take a look and see if you share a sewer line with your neighbor, this is very common. You are responsible for the line up to the connection with your neighbor. From the connection out to the street you are both responsible. Where the City takes over is at the connection with the City sewer line. Even though your sewer line reaches into the street, you are responsible for the entire line all the way up to the connection. You can read the City’s side sewer line brochure for homeowners for more information. You may ask, what if a problem is found right at the connection? I just had this happen, it still stands unresolved but I’ll fill you in on the details in couple days. In the meantime, if you have any questions about sewer scopes or sewer lines in Seattle you can always call me (206) 412 4663 and I’ll do my best to get you answers.

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Thinking About Earthquakes when Buying a House in Seattle

NPR often traps me inside my car for longer than I want… there is always some interesting topic being discussed. This morning it was earthquakes. Sandi Doughton, science reporter for The Seattle Times, was talking about the inevitable mega quake, perhaps 9.0 magnitude, that is ‘due’ to hit the Pacific Northwest. I find this fascinating so I spent some time researching and thinking of how it might affect the location where you buy a house and what type of house you choose.

What Areas of Seattle Should I Avoid if Concerned About Earthquakes?

We can’t live in fear of what ‘might’ happen… but seriously, if the ‘Big One’ hits I am not so sure I would want to own a house on a cliff or hillside. As the earth gets moving, landslides are a huge concern for homes near cliffs… just look at what happened on Whidbey without any EQ activity.  Actually, for you cliff house owners, eventual erosion is probably more of your daily concern than anything else.

Another desirable spot that I might avoid is living next to the shoreline. The danger from a tsunami is small, Seattle is on the Sound, but if a tsunami hit the Olympic Coast it would cause rising water levels in Seattle. Cory and I joke that if this happens then maybe our house in Ballard would become waterfront… ha ha… OK the water would likely not reach as high as Whittier but Golden Gardens would be washed out as would buildings by the ship canal and what about condos below Pike Place or even Lake Washington water front homes? Lake WA is connected to the Sound!

If you are really concerned about areas that may be more affected by seismic activity, King County has maps you can view where they have estimated the areas of largest and smallest ‘ground acceleration’ from an earthquake. The map I find most interesting is the liquefaction, “Liquefaction is a phenomenon in which strong earthquake shaking causes a soil to rapidly lose its strength and behave like quicksand.” There are also maps for landslide hazard areas, flood, fire…

What Type of House to Avoid if Concerned About Earthquakes?

I don’t really know what makes for a ‘safer’ house in an earthquake but basically you wish your house to move with the motion of the earth, not be too rigid, but be firmly held together. I have had people ask me about brick houses and how they stand in earthquakes. I also don’t have a great answer for this but as I do research it seems that brick houses do not fare as well because they are so rigid. I suppose there is a reason why so many brick chimneys fall down in quakes. Then again brick houses stand better in fires…. so there are benefits. I have heard that some insurance companies charge more for earthquake insurance on brick homes.

What Can I do to Make My Home More Safe from Earthquake Damage?

Regardless of house type, you might have to earthquake retrofit for your home to get earthquake insurance. Even if you opt not to get insurance, you may want to retrofit… which is essentially bolting your home to it’s foundation.

Besides that, all you can do is be prepared! Do some research on building Emergency Supplies and Kits. My family lived in California when the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake hit. Our small, stucco house was fine but bookcases fell over, dishes flew out of cupboards and the place was a huge mess. Because of worry of aftershocks and gas leaks, we had to sleep in the car… good thing we had a family van, all five of us and the dog. Utilities were off and the neighbors emptied their fridges to share food. It was like one big block party, I actually remember it fondly, but what if there was not enough water or food? Make sure you have at least three days of water (about a gallon per person), non-persihable foods and first-aid kits available. It’s a little bit of work to put together, hopefully you never use it!

Well, that’s enough of that… after reading many articles and scientific reports about the Mega Quake I have this insane disaster movie playing in my head. I’ll forget about it soon but in the meantime I’ll make a disaster kit for my basement and it will make me feel better.

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Building a Backyard Cottage in Seattle

I am now a self proclaimed expert on backyard cottages!  Save yourself some time if you have questions about DADUs or ADUs… call me!

In hopes of luring my parents back to Seattle, I decided to explore the possibility of building a ‘Backyard Cottage’ over our detached garage. Backyard Cottage is another name for detached accessory dwelling unit or DADU. There are also ADUs – which are attached to the home, like a basement apartment. Both are encouraged by the City of Seattle to help with density.

For our DADU I imagined an open, airy one bedroom unit with many windows and skylights, little kitchenette, maybe a deck or big balcony for some outdoor space. My first trip was to City planning and land use. I eagerly presented my ideas to the help-desk guy only to find out that what I could actually build was much smaller than I thought. The entire structure can only be 800 square feet. Our garage is huge, only leaving 316 square feet for the unit.

One bedroom unit is probably out, will have to go for a studio. Yes, tiny, but there are apartments smaller than that in Paris, if the Parisians can live in a small space stylishly and comfortable, so can we!  It was at this point that I decided I should consult an architect. After speaking with Michelle at Atelier Drome I felt confident that we could make the small square footage work for a nice living environment.

But how much would building a backyard cottage cost? Conventional wisdom is to get three bids. In the interest of time, and because we don’t even have the money for this project yet, we only consulted with one contractor. At least now we have a general idea that it will be about $65,000 for us to have a finished product.

If mom and dad move here it will be more than worth it to build the unit but even if they don’t move here we may decide to build this in the future. With interest rates low and Seattle rents on the increase the unit would pay for itself. We could have a nice investment right in our backyard!

After looking at the numbers I wonder why more people don’t build DADUs and ADUs? There are many different options for this type of housing like above a garage, attached to a garage, converting a garage to a living space, building a new free-standing mini house, apartment in a basement, addition to the back of a house…. But of course there are many rules and regulations, like lot size requirements, size limits, height restrictions, etc…

So yes, I have already done my homework, if you have any questions about the process I am happy to get you started!

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How to Make a Profit Investing in a Single Family Rental

Totally charming Cape Cod style home with just over 2000 SF, thrSeattle prices are through the roof (again?) so how does one make a profit investing in single family rentals around here?  Well, you either have to get a heck-uf-a-deal on the house and have the cash to fix it up OR you just have to have a large enough down payment to get the monthly mortgage payment below the what you are charging for rent.

True, Seattle rents are also through the roof so plenty of people are putting up the cash to purchase single family homes as rentals, I think LONG TERM they can be wonderful investments… call me if you want more elaboration… but here is the reason I really posted this: Check out these investment opportunities!!! Sure, you will want a property management company since you are not in state and there are multitude other considerations, but for little money out of pocket one could get (relatively) big time profits! I just love this stuff… http://blogs.wsj.com/developments/2013/04/04/bang-for-the-buck-where-investing-in-rental-homes-is-most-profitable/

 

 

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