Fixing Floor Squeaks

If you have carpet over a sub-floor vs a hardwood floor, take the time to walk around the way a potential buyer will and pay attention to floor squeaks. Often people perceive that these squeaks represent a structural problem with the house vs recognizing them for what they truly are. Most often they are the subfloor no longer being tightly attached to the floor joists.

To fix the squeak without removing the carpet is a fairly simple process. Unfortunately this method does not appear to be widely known in the area, so I thought it was time to offer this information. I am surprised that when new carpet is put down, the carpet installers almost never address squeaks before doing so. If you are getting new carpet, you can rip the carpet up and fix the squeaks before the installer comes. But if you already have nice and newer carpet, this method works well.

All you need is this simple Floor Squeak Repair Kit.

You locate the floor joists and use the tripod to screw in the break-away head screw to the correct height. The notch on the tripod is the tool to help break the head off just below the top of the joist. You don’t have to remove the carpet and you should see no evidence of the repair or be able to feel the screw when you are finished. The other tools are for making sure you are at a floor joist and for making sure you are at the right height after the screw is in place and before you break it off.

Here is an excellent step by step video on This Old House that you can also find going directly to YouTube.

You might be able to buy the kit in person at Rockler’s in Northgate or just order it via Amazon. I would say order this exact kit because then the step by step video above will exactly match the tools you have available in the kit.

After watching this video and seeing that you can buy this kit for $25 or less, you will wonder why you have lived with that floor squeak for so long or put your home up for sale without fixing the floor squeaks first.


DO BE SURE THERE IS NOT A HARDWOOD FLOOR
under the carpet as you don’t want to fix a squeak by ruining a hardwood floor. Fixing squeaks in a hardwood floor is a different process done from the underside vs the top, for obvious reasons.

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ARDELL is a real estate Broker with Sound Realty and can be reached at ardelld@gmail.com or 206-910-1000.

Free WA Real Estate Contract Forms

That blog post title isn’t a typo – I’m giving away free forms! When my real estate firm left the NWMLS, I had to find an alternative to the forms that it provides to its members. So I got to work! And now I’m happy to share them with anyone who needs them. If you’re interested, go to the Added Equity blog post about Free WA Real Estate Contract Forms, download the license agreement, and you’ll be off and running!

Real Estate Agent Commissions: Why They Aren’t Discussed, and the Sherman Antitrust Act

Craig is the founder and Managing Broker of Added Equity Real Estate.  Added Equity charges a 1% fee to list and sell a home, total. Not 1% plus another 3%. Added Equity is different than any other firm. This is Craig’s blog series exploring why and how most realtors don’t talk openly and frankly about the actual fees they charge, keeping real estate agent commissions at their longstanding level.

First Installment: Real estate agents – intentionally or not – hide behind the law to avoid revealing their commissions.

Real Estate Broker Commissions Kept High with Secrecy

It goes without saying that real estate brokers benefit by high commissions. It also need not be said that those commissions will go down only when the prices are effectively communicated to consumers so that they can make informed decisions. By keeping commissions secret, real estate agents can keep them artificially high. How will consumers know of a better deal? They won’t. As a result, real estate agents have a strong personal incentive to “go along” with the system, charge the same high commission as anyone else, and keep it all from the public’s view.

Continue reading

Seattle City Council preparing to regulate Vacation Rentals

It’s no big surprise that the Seattle City Council has been preparing to set regulations on vacation rentals, such as homes you find on AirBnb or Home Away/VRBO.  Typically, vacation rentals allow home owners to rent out all or a portion of a home for short periods of time. Vacation rentals have become very popular with guests in search of a different experience than what you find staying in a hotel.  Inside Airbnb states there are approximate 3,818 homes are being used as a vacation rental in Seattle that are rented, on average 110 nights out of the year. According to Inside Airbnb, 35.8% of the “hosts” or owners have more than one active vacation rental.  People who I know who operate vacation rentals do so to help cover their housing expenses or because they plan to eventually retire in the vacation/second home.

Daniel Beekman of The Seattle Times wrote an article yesterday, “Seattle may slap new rules on Airbnb to ease the rental crunch“.  The article fails to mention that Tim Burgess, who is the council member leading the charge on this issue, received a large contribution from hotel lobbyist.

The council is proposing to limit the number of days that can be rented as a vacation rental to 90 in a 12 month period. Burgess assumes that the other 9 months out of the year, these properties will be available to rent for periods of 30 days or more. This theory is flawed.

Often times with vacation rentals, an entire month is not “booked”. You might have someone staying one week and someone else staying a weekend in a month – not allowing a month to be available for a full 30 day rental period.

In addition, Mr. Burgess assumes that when a home is not booked for a vacation rental, that it will become available for longer term (30 days or more) rentals. Vacation rentals are furnished properties and, if rented for long term, will most likely not help those who are looking for “affordable housing”.

I do agree that vacation rentals should be regulated. Especially with some of the extreme examples that the Burgess used, citing:

“We have whole floors of apartment buildings that have been taken off the housing market,” he said. “We have entire buildings that essentially have become hotels.”

The “hosts” or owners who are gobbling up condos and essentially creating a hotel are a real minority and, in my opinion, should be treated more as a hotel and subject to zoning. However, folks who own just one property should be allowed to do so as a vacation rental without the 90 day limit restriction.

Should the regulations go through, limiting home owners from being able to use their properties as a vacation rental beyond 90 days, we won’t see these homes becoming long term rentals or helping the housing market. Many vacation rental home owners really enjoy the hosting aspect and meeting guest on vacation or business travel. What I think we will see is frustrated host eventually just sell their vacation homes during this hot market and again, that Seattle home will not be added to the long term rental stock.

Some neighborhoods, like West Seattle, lack hotels (we have one small motel) and actually need short term rentals to serve the neighborhood. Especially considering the alternative of just trying to get out of West Seattle and into a downtown Seattle hotel when West Seattle is where you want to stay.

From the Seattle Times article:

“The 90-day cutoff would affect just 20 percent of listings for entire houses or apartments in Seattle, according to a recent Airbnb report, Burgess says. The December report said almost 80 percent of entire-home listings here are rented for 90 nights or fewer per year…

“We don’t know how many of those are primary residences,” Burgess said. “But imagine if we put 300 homes back on the long-term rental-housing market. That would be worth a lot. To build 300 new units would cost more than $70 million.”

Burgess is looking at only allowing those who live on the property as their primary residence to be able to rent the homes longer than 90 days. His figures of having this impact only 20 percent of the listings is probably inaccurate.

I sincerely hope the City Council will take some time to do more research before impacting 3800 properties.  And a majority of those homes will not go back on the market as long-term rentals.

If you own a vacation rental in Seattle, I recommend that you reach out to your council member to share your story.

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.

1) THE HOUSES ARE DIFFERENT

facade

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

ALMOST NEVER DO YOU MOVE ON THE DAY OF CLOSING ON THE WEST COAST. NOR DO YOU TAKE OFF ANY TIME FROM WORK ON CLOSING DAY.

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

DO NOT MAKE ANY ARRANGEMENTS FOR MOVERS OR ANY OTHER SERVICES FOR CLOSING DAY!

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)

BUT! KEYS ARE NOT DUE UNTIL BY 9 P.M.

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.

Is Quill Realty the Only non-MLS Broker in Seattle?

Updated 9/13: Quill Realty is now Added Equity Real Estate – but everything else is as true today as when I wrote it! 🙂

I am loving life at the forefront of change in the real estate industry. My firm Quill Realty left the Northwest Multiple Listing Service on July 1. Since then, we’ve picked up some listings and sold a few houses – our first non-MLS sale closed Friday. Congratulations to this beautiful family!!! Single Broker Listings in Seattle

So we’re selling houses at a dramatically reduced cost to our seller clients. In other words, the model appears to be working. Exciting times!

But it begs the question: Is Quill the only non-MLS broker in Seattle? Or are there others, such that a synergy might begin to build. To date, I have yet to find one. I even have a friendly wager with a title representative. He knows lots and lots of people in the local industry, and so far he’s struck out.

Is that right? Is Quill the only voice calling for change in the MLS-bound wilderness? If you know of any others – in Seattle, or Western WA, or even the USA – I’d love to hear about them. Please leave a comment, and thanks much.

The Future of Real Estate? It Arrived Today

This is what the future of real estate will look like - no MLS number

This is what the future of real estate will look like – no MLS number

I could not be prouder today. Quill’s first Single Broker Listing is live and looks great! On the Quill Blog, on Zillow, on Redfin – heck, it looks great EVERYWHERE!! By my estimation, this is what the future of real estate will look like: One broker marketing a property directly to buyers via multiple channels, without offering to pay the buyer’s agent’s commission (so no MLS number). Exciting times here at Quill!!

“Zillow Talk: The New Rules of Real Estate”: Zillow Tries Too Hard, Tips Its Hand; the Future of Real Estate Isn’t Here Yet (But It’s Close)

Zillow Talk: The New Rules of Real Estate, by Spencer Rascoff and Stan Humphries

Reviewed by Craig Blackmon

This book by Zillow’s CEO and Chief Economist, respectively, is a wonderful advertisement for Zillow. It’s also a good book. It’s easy to read – really easy, clearly written to appeal to the broadest spectrum of readers – and very informative. It does a good job of illustrating the power of data and how it can be harnessed to make the most informed investment decision possible when buying a house.

But the book aims higher. It concludes with some stirring language about the power of data (don’t worry, this doesn’t require a Spoiler Alert): “Numbers don’t lie. And they won’t lead you astray. Indeed, they’ll help you find your way home.” (The same expression dominates the Zillow home page.)

Ah, home. The term is associated with so many wonderful things: family, laughter, love, shelter, protection, and on and on. “Home” is not just a place. It’s a very special place, a destination that is both more common and more unique than any other.

Is this book going to help you find your way to your home? Probably not. In fact, I hope not. Home requires more than a well-researched financial decision. Much more. Besides, any prediction of the future is just that, a prediction, and in the meantime life marches on. A good life needs a good home, regardless of the financial future.

With its focus on the trees and not the forest, the reader is left with a sense that it is much ado about nothing. The book relentlessly promotes the web site, implicitly and explicitly, from start to finish. You’re left wondering: Is that it? Has Zillow really changed real estate? The web site provides useful insight, sure. But it hardly upends real estate, an industry that continues to operate on a 19th Century model. Does Zillow show us the final, evolved real estate industry of the modern, technological, information age?  I mean, nobody uses a travel agent or a stock broker anymore….

The answer is revealed by a closer examination of Zillow and the people behind it. I believe Zillow is an ongoing project that will change dramatically as real estate evolves. And it will be instrumental in that evolution. But Zillow itself cannot lead the change. And in the meantime, it uses a business model that keeps it in business, biding its time until the eventual evolution.

This book is a “must read” for investors and real estate brokers, but not homeowners

In other words, folks who make a business out of real estate will benefit from reading this book. It does an excellent job of demonstrating how data – available via zillow.com, a constant underlying refrain  throughout the book – can be used to calculate a property’s current and future value. So if the primary and essentially sole reason for purchasing a house is to make money (or if you sell houses yourself), this is a great book. It’s loaded with a lot of great insight.

For example, did you know that proximity to Starbucks is a good indicator of better appreciation? (Chapter 4) Or that you should list your home between March Madness and the Masters if you want the best chance at the best price? (Chapter 12) Fascinating stuff and worth considering when you are investing hundreds of thousands of dollars. A slightly better percentage return, thanks to in-depth analysis of the available data, can lead to quite a bit more money.

But if you’re looking to buy a home, don’t bother with this book. It’s myopic focus on dollar values simply doesn’t foster a good decision when looking for a home. Should you take into account financial considerations? Of course. But the primary focus should be on finding the right home for you and your family. So, while good schools may be an indicator of future value (Chapter 6), that shouldn’t be the focus. Rather, look for good schools so that your kids get a good education. This is a home. Not just an investment.

Zillow Is Setting the Stage for the Future of Real Estate

In its current iteration, Zillow doesn’t really do  much in terms of bringing the real estate industry into the 21st Century. As the book makes clear, Zillow simply wants to attract as many visitors to its web site as possible. Why? Because Zillow makes money as a lead generator for today’s real estate brokers.

In other words, Zillow currently complements and feeds off of traditional real estate brokers. The more people who use the Zillow site, the more leads that Zillow generates, and thus the more money it makes. Zillow is built on web traffic, nothing more. And it doesn’t do anything to disrupt a long-standing traditional industry, because that industry is it’s target market.  Even though that same industry is ripe for disruption.

Which is weird. Because the guy who co-founded Zillow previously co-founded Expedia. The web site that put travel agents out of business. Rich Barton is a widely recognized and highly regarded “disrupter.” His motto is “power to the people.” He believes that the internet can empower consumers in new ways that lead to better and more efficient ways of doing things. According to Mr. Barton, his companies Zillow and Expedia have “created new opportunities for new professionals to make new businesses for themselves.”

Except that Zillow hasn’t. Not yet, anyway. It’s merely expanded existing opportunities (lead generation) for a long-standing professional industry that allows it to sustain it’s dominant market position. Nothing new there.

But what if Zillow is a work in progress? What if, in only the highest level strategic planning documents, there is a plan for Zillow 2.0? That would start to make some sense.

What the Future of Real Estate is Going to Look Like

Today, there are two ways to sell your home: FSBO, or using the traditional cooperative real estate broker system. Home sellers can market their properties via many different channels other than the local MLS. Including, of course, Zillow, which shows both “Make Me Move” and true “for sale by owner” listings. So an owner is empowered by the internet and can forego using the real estate broker system, which includes payment of a commission to a cooperating agent.

But what if the home seller wants the professional insight and counsel of a real estate broker? From advice on preparing the home to market, to staging, to keeping the seller informed and educated, a real estate broker provides substantial value. And the broker is a trained marketing professional who will efficiently and effectively utilize the full array of marketing channels available in the 21st Century: yard sign, flyer, and open houses and tours, of course; but also web sites and social media.

Today, that real estate broker can exist, thanks to Zillow. With its brand recognition and size, it is used by a large number of home buyers. A “listing” on Zillow can lead buyers to the home, without paying for other agents to bring them. So a home seller can sell for a fraction of the cost, as they will no longer need to pay the 3% buyer agent commission.

In other words, Zillow has positioned itself to be one of the successors to the multiple listing services maintained by cooperating real estate brokerages all over the country. And by positioning itself there, it provides the platform necessary for meaningful change in real estate. But until that change happens, Zillow will sustain itself (and its shareholders) by working within the existing system.

 

Multiple Offer Situation versus Bidding War: What are they, and why do they happen?

Ardell recently posted on this subject. She noted there really isn’t that much out there about this now-common aspect of buying or selling a home (common, that is, for MLS-listed homes, you can avoid the frenzy by looking for homes on MLS alternatives). She and I then engaged in some typically spirited discourse, which in turn helped me to further frame and analyze the issues raised.

Multiple Offer Situation and Bidding War defined

First, some definitions.  A “multiple offer situation” is where a seller receives two or more written offers on the property. A “bidding war,” in contrast, typically refers to oral negotiations between the listing agent and two or more of the buyers’ agents. A bidding war typically erupts, if at all, after the seller has received several written offers. The listing agent then “shops” the best offer in an attempt to negotiate the absolutely best contract possible. (Note that a listing agent can also “shop” the first offer received and before receipt of others, particularly where the seller will not be looking at all offers on a specific date.)

Sellers encourage multiple offer situations by telling buyers that the seller will look at all offers on a particular date in the future. In response, most buyers will submit an offer that includes an escalation addendum (which automatically escalates the offer amount above some competing offer) as well as waive some or all of the usual contingencies (inspection, financing, title, and information verification). So the seller can expect to receive better offers that bid against each other, resulting in a winning offer at the highest offer amount. The seller can sign the winning offer, and the house will be under contract.

If you’re looking for information about how to win a multiple offer situation or bidding war, I’ve written about the topic on the Quill blog.

When a Multiple Offer Situation becomes a Bidding War

Sometimes, the seller might counter one of the buyers in an effort to get even slightly better terms. If it stops there, not a  bidding war. But if the seller – or more accurately the listing agent – then calls ANOTHER buyer’s agent and gives THAT buyer the chance to beat the first buyer… Well, that’s a declaration of “war.”

It sucks to lose a multiple offer situation. For the losing buyers, of course, but also their agents who invested time and effort in the now unpaid endeavor. Bidding wars? That’s acid in the face of buyers and their agents. They are inherently unfair, as not every buyer is included in the bidding war negotiations. So buyers and their agents frequently cry “foul!” when they are subjected to a bidding war.

So is a Bidding War legal? Or ethical?

But is it a “foul” for the seller to instigate a bidding war? No, it is not.

First, the law. A real estate broker owes very few legal duties to the other parties to the transaction. And a broker has no legal obligation to keep the amount or the terms of any offer confidential. So can a listing agent legally shop an offer? Absolutely. Can a listing agent legally call one buyer’s agent, then another, then another, revealing details along the way in order to extract the best offer possible? You bet.

OK, well, what about ethical considerations? Does a broker have a professional ethical obligation to not shop an offer, or not instigate a bidding war? Nope, no formal ethical obligation either.

In the world of real estate, professional ethics are generally set by the National Association of Realtors. Most – but not all – real estate brokers are members of this association, thus earning the title “Realtor.” It is generally accepted that the NAR Code of Ethics sets the parameters of professional ethics.

The NAR notes that offers “generally aren’t confidential.” The Code of Ethics requires a broker to protect and promote the interests of the client. Thus, a seller may “even disclose details about [a buyer’s] offer to another buyer in hope of convincing that buyer to make a ‘better’ offer.”  While the Code requires honesty in dealing with others, it does not require “fairness” given that term’s inherent subjectivity. On the other hand, the preamble to the Code notes that the title “Realtor” has “come to connote competency, fairness, and high integrity.” So at least arguably, if a broker discloses the facts of an offer to one buyer, the broker should disclose to all buyers, particularly if that broker is a “Realtor.” [All information in this paragraph pulled from linked sources.]

But that’s a long way from prohibiting a bidding war in the first place. So in fact, there is no legal or professional obligation to avoid a bidding war. Instead, if the seller so instructs the listing broker, the broker has an obligation to instigate one.

So why doesn’t every multiple offer situation result in a bidding war? First, because there are strong informal professional ethics in play, as well as personal ethics. Almost all agents represent both buyers and sellers at various times. So we’ve “walked in the shoes” of a buyer’s agent, and we know first hand how unfair a bidding war can be. And since most of us are in the industry for the long haul, we may need to work with the same agents again down the road. If we treat them poorly today…. Plus, most folks just have a general distaste for this sort of ruthless negotiating.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, bidding wars – like any war! – can end in disaster. If the listing agent shops the offer but all of the buyers are turned off by the aggressive negotiating, then the seller will have wasted the momentum of the multiple offer situation. So there is a good argument to be made that a bidding war, being so exceptionally aggressive, isn’t in the seller’s best interests.

I hope you found this information useful! And if you’re a buyer, hang in there. While inventory is unlikely to improve much today, it certainly will over the next year, or two or three. And if you must buy in the meantime, recognize that it will be a tough row to hoe. Best of luck.