Get with the times



I had an newer agent call me the other day, a bit consternated about how to evaluate a property for which his client had requested a CMA.  Sometimes — often — it is hard to evaluate certain properties in this changed/changing market; it can help to get other opinions. 

The conversation went something like this:

Agent: “I have a client who is selling the townhouse I sold him last year.”
Me: “Okay.  Did you find any any good comparable sales?”
Agent:  “Oh yes, there’s an identical unit that just sold in the same complex for the same price my client paid and another one that is on the market for a few thousand dollars more.”
Me:  “Well that helps.  What does that tell you about what your subject property is worth?”
Agent:  “It seems like it’s worth what he paid for the place, maybe a little less.  So should I just add the other closing costs to what he paid and list it for that price?  I’d hate for him to take a loss!”

I know, this seems silly when you read it from the sidelines.  Of course, we have to be honest and direct with our sellers, especially in this market.  Sometimes it’s brutal honesty that clients appreciate the most, and it hurts a lot less than trying do something that can’t be done — like sell this townhome for 10% more what it sold for last year.  So the answer is, price the unit at what the market will bear — which is what the direct comp unit just sold for, or more advisedly, for maybe a few points less.

For years we’ve been the bearers of great news:  “Guess what?  I sold you this little Wallingford bungalow in ’93 for $161,000, and now it’s worth $650,000!”  Sure it was worth maybe $735,000 last May, but still, it sounds pretty good telling your client they have this nearly $500k windfall.  And since ’91, our conversations with sellers have been something similar to that.  But now, times have changed.  This isn’t news to any of RCG’s readers, but it’s really important for agents, for professionals, to deliver the goods:  Clear, honest, and yes, sometimes brutal, information to our clients.

Listing Square Footage — How hard can it be?

Back in middle school, one of my favorite math classes was geometry.  Calculating the volume of cylinders, figuring out the angles of oblique triangles…now that was living!  Best of all, it seemed like math that maybe I might really use someday.

Fortunately in this business there’s lot of opportunity to practice.  Whether we’re helping a client to analyze a land development, or figuring out the volume of topsoil needed to resod a yard, or simply figuring the square footage of a house, we get to use some of that old fashioned geometry in the process.

It turns out that the square footage thing, though, just isn’t that simple.  It’s been talked about before (like here, and here), but today we were listing a new townhome, and as I evaluated the active comparables, I found that what should be a “standard,

Free Flushes?

Our development company has been a certified Built Green builder for several years, and we’re always trying to find economically feasible ways to add “green” features to our new construction.  “Economically feasible” to me means that while we’re willing to pay more to build in a more sustainable fashion, we’d like to be able to recover most of those extra costs in higher resale prices, or shorter market times.   

So when I read about a “greywater recycling” unit, I thought we should try it.  Here’s our first installation, in a stand-along townhome in Crown Hill — North Ballard:

This octopus-looking thing takes water from our two showers (the black pipe) and puts it into this 50 gallon tank.  There is a water supply that fills the tank if the level gets too low.  The city inspector scratched his head at this — first time he’d seen it — as did our plumber.  But now that we’ve gone through it once, hopefully the next ones will be easier to install. 

You can see the level of “grey” water in the picture, at about the 20 gallon level.  This water is pumped back into the toilets to use for flushing.  Flushing constitutes nearly 40% of domestic water usage, so in theory, this will reduce your water (and sewer) bills considerably.  And it’s just “light grey” shower water, which if you avoid shaving, toothbrushing, and any other debris-generating activities (not to get too graphic), should be 98% pure domestic water and a little bit of ivory soap and shampoo.  The feedback that I’ve seen from consumers is that they don’t notice that they’re flushing with anything different than normal “clean” water.  So when you do flush, it’s with water that would have gone down the drain after its first use, but you’re giving it a second life.

The cost, all in, is about $4500 (it would be much more expensive to plumb into an existing house).  This particular townhome is about 1750′, and is priced at $450,000 — not priced any higher than it would have been without this system, but our hope is that this is a feature that will set this unit apart from the competition.  We wouldn’t be able to justify this in a $300,000 townhome (not just b/c of the price point, but the $300k unit wouldn’t have enough physical garage space to fit the tank), but we’re putting them into about a dozen other units right now in Seattle. 

There are lots of green things that just can’t work in our spec houses — $40,000 solar arrays, for one.  But this system gives a lot of bang for the buck, and I think our buyers will really like it.


I Dig Dueling Digs

Zillow, which seems to produce new features almost daily, has birthed something totally unique. As a member of Zillow’s board of directors, I usually get previews into what’s coming through the pipeline, but with this release, I hadn’t seen too many of the details.

Dueling Digs is like nothing I’ve ever seen on a real estate site. It’s pretty simple, really: You are presented with two photos, and click on the picture that you like better. After ten “duels,

Used Car Salesmen, Trial Lawyers and Real Estate Agents

[Editor’s Note: It’s been a while since I added a new contributor to our mix here at Rain City Guide, but when Gordon Stephenson showed some interest (after at least two years of requests by me!), I can’t help but be excited to have him on board! Gordon is the Co-owner and Managing Broker of Real Property Associates. I first came across Gordon when Zillow added him to their Board of Directors in July of ’05, and have run into him both online and offline since then. He’s a great guy and a virtual real estate institution in Seattle, so I couldn’t be happier to bring him on board as a contributor!]

When I started selling real estate fresh out of college, nearly 20 years ago, my parents were confused, even apoplectic: “You just earned this degree and you’re choosing to sell real estate? How are you going to pay back your student loans? Couldn’t you have done that with a GED?