Moving to Seattle from the East Coast

Everyone who is buying a home comes to the marketplace with some preconceptions as to how things will proceed. If someone is selling a house in the area and buying a different house in the same area, there are not as many surprises that cause a lot of confusion. If someone is moving here from California, the process of buying a home is not different and the home styles are often so completely different that the expectation of what they will find is not carved in stone.

When someone is moving here from the East Coast, especially the Northeast, there are a few differences best known before you head out to buy a house.



The main difference in the home style is what is called “Craftsman” style. If you are building a house, they often will ask “Traditional or Craftsman?” when asking for the main styling of all of the millwork in the house. While “Traditional” will resemble an East Coast Colonial style a little bit…”traditional” does not mean “colonial”. The floor plan may or may not be different, but the facade will definitely be different.

The four homes in the photo are basically new homes by the same builder with the two on the left being on the East Coast and the two on the right being in The Seattle Area.

Some of the main differences:

1) Wood or wood facsimile products vs Brick A lot of people moving here from other States and other Countries like the more solid look of brick. But know that one of the reasons this area avoided brick for the most part is due to earthquake activity. Wood has some flexibility. Brick and mortar joints do not. There are plenty of old brick tudors still standing that have been through earthquakes. But I have seen many where there are patches over time from the brick cracking in a step pattern. I had some pictures in my phone of a house over in Montlake with this issue recently. If you do buy a brick house, examine it carefully, not just for cracks but for sections where the mortar is wider and often in a step pattern. Do use a structural engineer in addition to or as the home inspector as well. The new homes the brick is just a “facade” and not part of the construction. Still, brick doesn’t move well, even to a small degree.

That said, many of the homes today are built with a wood-like cement product as the siding. More expensive and custom homes still use wood. But most tract homes use the wood-facsimile product that may not have more movement than brick. You just don’t have to deal with the mortar issues.

2) Shutters Most of the time you will feel like the shutters are missing. Often, especially when buying older homes of the exact same style you can find on the East Coast, people will remark that they need to add shutters. Colonial homes had shutters going back centuries of the type shown on the homes in the photos on the left. Once in awhile you will find a form of shutters here that are more of a tudor style shutter. Same with the uneven pitched roof on the bottom photo on the right. There is a tudor influence. But no shutters has been more common for a very long time and because the homes were built that way it may not be easy to add them.

3) Closing and Closing Day


This has always been the most significant difference in the process, and one that often confuses people who are buying homes.


This is vastly different from the East Coast where closings happen all day and several times in a day, usually every hour or so.

Whether or not you are moving here from the East Coast, it does seem a bit odd for the seller to be signing over his house to a buyer before it is paid for. It also seems a bit odd to sign all of your closing paperwork as the buyer and even bring your funds to closing, and not get the keys to the house. Even more odd that the day of closing is not the day you can tell your movers to bring your belongings to your new house.

The difference is that on the West Coast (and several other States) “closing” means the County has actually recorded the Deed to the property in the buyers name. On the East Coast that is not the case and the Deed is often recorded “in due course” and sometimes a month or so after closing. HUGE difference. On the East Coast they do a table funding and the buyer and seller are often in the same room with the agents and the closing agent. They buyer brings their money, the lender sent the money early in the day, the seller gets a check and hands over the keys to the buyer. All that within one hour. So if the signing is at 10 you can usually have the movers start moving things in around noon. If your closing is at 1 you can usually have the movers ready to move things in by 3 ish.

NOT so on the West Coast. On the West Coast the seller sometimes signs the new Deed over to the buyer a couple of weeks before closing. The buyer most often signs a few days before closing. Closing Day is too late to do much of anything. If it all wasn’t done before Closing Day, or at least most of it, less likely it will close by end of day. Closing is a phone call saying “we have recording numbers”. That means the new Deed has been recorded in the buyer’s name and that usually happens between 4 and 5 p.m. (not always; but often)


Once in awhile the seller is not completely moved out by the time that phone call comes in. Technically they have until 9 p.m. to be vacated and hand over the keys. I have only seen it go all the way to 9 p.m. a couple of times in a dozen years. But neither is it practical to want the keys to the house as soon as you get the phone call that it is closed.

The Seller gives the keys to their agent. Their agent gives the keys to the buyer’s agent. The buyer gets the keys from their agent. Most always the Agent for the Buyer can’t get the keys until after it closes. There are a dozen different ways we arrange this depending on the agents and parties, but do know that having cleaners or movers standing outside the door at 5:30 p.m. can end very badly.

Things are changing a bit because of the new rules that lenders must follow as of October 3rd. We are seeing more table funded loans and more buyers signing the morning of closing. We can’t move to a system where all buyers sign the morning of closing. It just wouldn’t work for the Title Companies.

As a buyer you don’t get much notice as to when you will be signing. More and more people are paying an extra cost for a mobile signer so they can sign after business hours or very early in the morning before work.

Just know that Closing Day on the West Coast is very, very different and once your loan documents get to escrow, there will be a signing appointment scheduled with very little advance notice. It’s a bit chaotic, but, it’s just how it is done here.

If you have moved here from the East Coast and have some other observations as to the differences, do note them in the comments along with where you moved here from.

13 thoughts on “Moving to Seattle from the East Coast

  1. Love that you write about shutters!

    Once you’ve lived with them, houses without seem ‘naked’. Last three we have lived in we’ve had them installed and they definitely make it feel more comfy, warm and like home. In each case, we feel that the investment paid off and not only made our stay more comfortable, but was also recouped in the resale.

    • Thanks for commenting! I like shutters because I like being able to update the look simply by changing the shutter colors ever 10 years or so. I have had a brick house with a black door and white shutters and a stone house with a red door and very dark, almost black, indigo blue shutters. I painted the blue ones myself and I look at the house on Zillow from time to time, since I sold it back in the mid 90’s, and they still have the shutters I painted. 🙂 I had to climb out onto the lower roof to paint the top ones on the 2nd floor. Lots of fun really.

  2. Great post Ardell!! I counted five cranes this morning while walking the pooch in Victor Steinbrueck Park, and a sixth is coming soon. The town is growing, and people are moving here. Nice job with the heads’ up.

    One thing you ignore entirely: The role of a lawyer. Here in WA, they are rarely involved in a residential sale. On the East Coast, just the opposite. Both buyer and seller have an attorney, I believe. Is it better here, where lawyers aren’t involved? Gosh, I’ve never considered it before… 🙂

    • Hi Craig. Hope you are well.

      Actually it is a misnomer that “the East Coast” uses attorneys or that each party has attorneys as the norm. This is usually isolated to NYC and spills over a bit. Remember they don’t have Escrow as Closing Agent so the choice becomes attorneys or The Title Company doing the closing.

      Almost all of the East Coast uses the Title Company as the Closing Agent and there is also no separate “owner’s title” and “lender’s title” but one inclusive policy. So Title can be one fee for Owner’s Title plus Lender’s Title plus handling the closing with no need for any additional fees.

      NYC has always been lawyer closings with “no time is of the essence clause” in the contracts. North Jersey operated more on the NYC basis, but South Jersey and all areas south of NYC did not use attorneys as the norm for closing and do have “time is of the essence” clauses. CT or MA you may run into some that want to do an NYC type closing, especially if the buyers are from there.

      As to better or not…it is the “no time is of the essence” clause when attorneys are handling the closings that becomes the problem more so than the attorneys themselves. Not knowing exactly when you are going to close is not really a good fit for residential housing most of the time. Hard to hire movers, as example. Also a real can of worms when you have buyer A buying buyer B’s house and buyer B buying buyer C’s house (but only if closing A-B goes off on time), etc.

      I remember one I had where the first closing of the day was NYC attorney based and there were 5 interdependent closings in NY, NJ, PA all on the same day. If first sale gets pushed to “tomorrow”, usually not a big deal. But when there are attorneys and you don’t close on the day and time expected, attorneys often can’t and won’t do “tomorrow” and everyone’s closing gets pushed out a couple of weeks. You may recall some NYC people mentioning this in questions to you on other posts over the years. Since paying for the house IS the “closing” on the East Coast and not “recording” the Deed, you have a string of closings all day long, every hour or so, and often the 4 p.m. closing is dependent on a 10 a.m. closing and a noon closing actually closing. The first one of the day failing sets off a chain reaction. Attorneys can’t free up their schedule usually without notice to be able to maneuver through that type of system and that is why when attorneys are the closing the “time is of the essence” clause is removed from the contract at the outset and added later if and as needed.

      So no, “East Coast” is not “attorneys” as the norm. Only NYC and nearby.

      HOWEVER and this we have talked about before, I as the agent for the buyer or seller or both was able to hire an attorney to oversee a transaction representing and assisting me. I am told that is not doable here. I do a workaround sometimes here on the seller side by using an attorney based escrow company, especially when it is an Estate Sale or POA for an incompetent owner. But there is no good method to work this in for a buyer except as to Title Review or a specific point in the transaction.

      I remember your telling me that agents can’t call in an attorney as the attorney has to represent the buyer or the seller. On the East Coast I could have an attorney involved to be a neutral party the same as escrow here, since they don’t have escrow there. I often paid an attorney to come to closing on the East Coast. Can’t do that here, but I don’t think that is a West Coast issue as much as a WA issue since in CA you can hire one attorney to handle both parties in a divorce or to look over a contract for me and not the buyer or the seller. Not sure why agents can’t involve an attorney in a transaction here, but I’m told it’s just not done since the agent is not a party to the contract.

      But know that most all of the East Coast does not use attorneys with no time of the essence clause, as the norm. Only NYC and some spill over areas. I’ll do a quick poll on that in case it has changed recently, but I don’t think so.

  3. That is so weird because that is not what my sister-in-law has told me about real estate in Boston, where she lives. And where she has purchased and sold her home. Hmmm.

    As for this state – is it hijacking if its your own post? 😉 – you are of course free to “call in” an attorney whenever you want. You clearly misunderstood me if you thought I said otherwise. I believe I was saying,: Don’t misunderstand the attorney’s role and who is the attorney’s client.

    Many brokers believe they can – and perhaps even should – consult an attorney about a client’s situation in a transaction. In that instance, the lawyer is being asked to give legal counsel to one person that concerns another. No competent attorney will do so. An attorney speaks with and counsels the client directly, for many reasons. If the broker’s client has a legal issue, then the attorney needs to speak with and represent the broker’s client.

    That doesn’t mean you can’t rope in an attorney, I’ve helped lots of folks with issues that arise while under contract. And you, the broker, can consult an attorney. But when you do, the attorney is counseling YOU about YOUR interests, and not those of your client. While they can align, they can also be in significant conflict. Particularly if the agent has screwed up already in the process of trying to fix the original problem.

    • “NYC has always been lawyer closings with “no time is of the essence clause” in the contracts. North Jersey operated more on the NYC basis, but South Jersey and all areas south of NYC did not use attorneys as the norm for closing and do have “time is of the essence” clauses. CT or MA you may run into some that want to do an NYC type closing, especially if the buyers are from there.”

      Yes, I wasn’t sure about MA or CT per my quote above. I saw some movement in that direction and I do think MA went full State attorney-only closings only about 5 years ago.

      I’ll check and get back to you, but I doubt I’ll find more than a handful of States on the East Coast that require attorney closings vs Title Company Closings. Though it is a common misperception that all of “The East Coast” requires attorney closings and for all buyers and sellers to have an attorney.

      I’ll try to get an update on all States for you.

      In the middle of something else but will read you comment more in full as soon as I get a chance.

    • I’ll post the answers here as they come in. This first answer is funny. “Long Island NY does. And a bank attorney. In RE school they were affectionately referred to SATTY, BATTY and LATTY.” But this does not seem to be State-wide in NY with “upstate” not needing attorneys. Getting clarification.

      Does the State require the seller have an attorney and the buyer have an attorney and the closing be handled by an attorney was my question. Any attorney at all “required”? If yes how many attorneys required?

      “NC yes, but same attorney can do both sides if agreed by both sides.”

      Georgia seems to require one to do the closing in a neutral capacity like escrow but does not require the buyer or the seller to have an attorney. I think that is what NC was saying above. Actually most are saying the Attorney Represents “the lender” and they go to the lender’s attorney’s office to close.

      More replies:

      Alaska – No
      Alabama – No
      Arizona- No
      California – No
      Colorado – No
      DC – No
      Florida – No
      Idaho – No
      Iowa – No
      Indiana – No
      Kansas – No
      Kentucky – No (note someone said yes but if other says no than not likely a State requirement – checking)
      Louisiana – No
      Maryland – No
      Michigan – No
      Minnesota – No
      Missouri – No
      Montana – No
      Nebraska – No
      Nevada – No
      New Jersey – No
      New Hampshire – No
      New Mexico – No
      New York – No
      North Dakota – No
      Ohio – No
      Oklahoma – No
      Oregon – No
      Pennsylvania – No
      Puerto Rico – No
      Rhode Island – No?
      South Dakota – No
      Tennessee – No
      Texas – No
      Virginia – No
      Washington – No
      West Virginia – No
      Wisconsin – No

      Most all of the States below require the closing be done by an attorney, but do not require that a buyer or seller hire an attorney. It’s as comprehensive of a list as I’m going to get. Many areas have attorneys by common practice even when not required, most notably parts of New York and New Jersey.

      Arkansas – Yes
      Connecticut – Yes
      Delaware – Yes
      Georgia – Yes
      Hawaii – Yes
      Illinois – Yes
      Maine – Yes?
      Maryland – Yes? (still getting conflicting answers there)
      North Carolina – Yes
      South Carolina
      Vermont – Yes?

  4. Hi Ardell,Thanks for sharing this great journey from Seattle to East Coast.You have shared the informative blog with beautifully explained differences between tradition and craftsman style houses.

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