Should you buy a New home or an Old one?

Education Hill RedmondLots of people want a NEW Construction home, the same way they want a new car vs a used car. However starting the home buying process at “I want NEW” is just as wrong as starting the home buying process at “I want a foreclosure”.

As I have said many times, in my experience more people HATE their “home”, and want to move to a different one, because of WHERE it is vs WHAT it is.

“…and underneath all is the land…” and land is a limited commodity. So where is that NEW home going to be built? Maybe…just maybe…on the wrong piece of land. The lot no one built on prior to 2011…for good reason. Even NEW(er) home will raise this issue. So if you have your heart set on a NEW home…the number one question you need to ask is:


So many people limit their looking to the obvious and the house itself. If you are looking at new or newer construction…begin your investigations at the land that home is sitting on. Looked at one yesterday…without going to it…via Google Maps and the Stormwater Management Comprehensive Plan for that area, and the house was built on a lot IN “The Wetlands”.

Think about that for a minute. What are the various reasons a lot might be available for someone to build homes on today…that is close in to work and good schools and shopping? It’s common sense really. Especially today…after a huge building surge from 2004 to 2008…was there really a piece of land the builders didn’t find and build on during that time? Yes…a few…but not many.

IF wanting a NEW house is your goalyou would be wise to first examine the land of it…and why no one built on it before (unless it is a tear-down lot). Oddly, the one I checked that was “in the wetlands”, well…really, you have to ask yourself. How DID it get built there? Basically one is not allowed to build a house in Wetlands. Why does it not require flood insurance with drainage basins to the north, east AND south of the house?

Think you can “see” all that? Well what about too close to underground gas pipelines? Can’t see that.

My point is you are better off listing all the things you want from a neighborhood, a location and a home, without regard to AGE of home. Then…if none that have the best location are new…well, maybe NEW Construction should not be the FIRST item on your “wish list”.

Prioritize that wish list by the where…before the what in that where. It’s common sense really, isn’t it?

If it has been a Best Place to Live for 10 to 100 years…it was likely built on before yesterday.

Seattle Eastside Housing – Buy or Wait?

Seattle Eastside Housing – Buy or Wait? is a Google Query that directed someone from Bellevue over to my blog about ten minutes ago, looking for an answer to that question.

Often people get confused by the big price tags and unfamiliarity of housing, so let’s use a simple every day analogy to explore “buy or wait”. The other day I decided I had nothing to wear. I don’t know how that happens all of a sudden…usually it’s because I gained weight. First the answer to “Should I buy now or wait?” in that scenario is you wait thinking you can lose that extra weight. Then one day you just say…this isn’t working…I need to go buy some bigger clothes.

Often people need to buy a house because they have “outgrown” their current home the same way that I outgrow my clothes. Every day that you live with something substandard to your needs, is really a day wasted, isn’t it? If you are having another child, and you are uncomfortable with the size of where you live without that new person…well, you can’t wait until the child is born and moves out really. So it’s time to go look for that bigger place. Not necessarily buy it…but yes, time to go looking for something you may buy.

I use having a child as an analogy, and it is very common for people to need a bigger place because the woman is with child, or because a couple decides it’s time to start having children. But the need for a bigger place can be because of other every day needs that just don’t fit where you are.

If you already own a home, waiting is almost never the answer. The value of what you have will often move to the same degree as what you are going to buy. If prices go down 5% in the interim and you own a $450,000 home and plan to buy a $600,000 home, you will lose $22,500 while waiting to save $30,000. For the move up buyer, waiting is almost never the answer unless the family is willing to sell…rent…wait…then buy, which is not the usual scenario. Happens…but not often. Usually because what is available to rent is substandard to what they already have…so they might as well bite the bullet…or wait. The extra move in between is rarely worth it. Sometimes…yes. Often…no.

The decision for the First Time Buyer is not as difficult as people may think. One of my favorite lines from my son-in-law Mike is “Mom, if THIS is what I can afford to buy…I’d rather rent for the rest of my life.” Gotta love that Mike. Straight forward, common sense decision.

The first stage of “Buy or Wait?” is to go find out what you CAN buy for what you can afford…THEN…take a step back and say “should I buy or wait?”

I’m revisiting a decision of one of my clients from 18 months ago. I know there are many news stories saying prices have changed a lot since my bottom call of February 2009…but really, that’s not the case. Not for good homes in prime neighborhoods on The Eastside. Maybe not at all, given Aubrey Cohen’s most recent article, the title of which is pretty much a direct quote from his article on me in early 2009. So it apparently still applies today.

Back to my clients who first approached me…sorting back through 260 emails to find the first one…here it is:

3/18/2010″ “My wife and I are looking at purchasing our first house, and we’d like you to be our agent…do you think now would be a reasonable time for us to buy? I saw in your latest post that you expect the prices to drop. How much do you expect them to drop? ”

Given I don’t think this year is really any different than last year, let’s check that against reality.

1) We looked at houses priced at around $450,000. There were a few that “would do”…but based on those particular houses, I saw no reason to buy now vs wait, unless they were willing to consider as far out as Issaquah vs Kirkland, Redmond or Bellevue near Microsoft.

We looked at homes for as long as it took to gather enough information to answer the question “Buy or Wait?” That takes shorter or longer for different people…and is largely dependent on the available inventory during the period of time.

2) On 4/23/2010 We had a breakfast meeting at the Brown Bag. Basically we looked at all of the options for about 30 days and then had a “Buy or Wait” meeting. One thing about real estate that people often miss as to Why You May Need An Agent is the perspective of my TWO clients was not the same. I remember the wife…due to have her baby in July…saying ideally she would like to be in a home by June. The husband finished her sentence with “…or July, or August…or next year…”

3) Given the husband and wife were not necessarily in total agreement there, not arguing…but not necessarily “on the same page” either, I asked to visit them where they were currently living. I don’t often do that when someone is in a rental…but I needed to test “by June” against “…or July, or August…or next year…”.

When I visited them in their small apartment and they showed me the dresser drawer where the baby would go IF they Waited…vs Buying now…the answer to “Buy or Wait” became CRYSTAL CLEAR!

So with renewed motivation and a price of $550,000 vs $450,000 we found “the home” for them to buy and made the offer on 4/26…only THREE DAYS from our “Buy or Wait” meeting. They closed on 6/10 as it was a somewhat difficult Bank Owned property.

Now…let’s revisit my client’s Buy or Wait decision and second guess it based on what has happened since.

They paid $550,000, 1.1 X Assessed Value (a green price in a blue area). They paid $215 per square foot. Now let’s look at what has sold there since they purchased a little over a year ago.

First, the other one on market at the time they purchased: Closed 5/29/2010 – just before their closing – sold for $587,000 – just over their max of $550,000. Multiple offers…they couldn’t make an offer on it due to price. It was assessed for slightly less (only $4,000) was smaller at 2,460 sf vs 2,550 sf. So even though the bank owned sale was troublesome…worth the effort. Not a huge savings…no “deep” discount for the bank owned home they purchased…but enough of a discount to make it a good “Buy Now vs Wait” option for them.

Recent Sale in Same Neighborhood: Sold in 9 days for $602,000 on June 8,2011 – assessed for $8,000 less than the one my clients bought last year – Sold for $244 per square foot vs the $215 per square foot my clients paid last year. It didn’t have anything better than the one my clients bought. It needs a new roof, does not have granite counters, needs the carpet replaced with hardwood floors in the living room and dining room…nothing more for that $244 per square foot vs the $215 per square foot my clients paid in June of 2010.

One house did recently sell for $540,000…but it backed up to Avondale Road…so…the relationship to assessed value and price per square foot is a non-issue, given backing up to Avondale Road is not “a comp”. Given they paid only $10,000 more for a house last year that is NOT backing up to Avondale Road…I’d say the Buy vs Wait decision has withstood the test of time.

One might say they could have waited 3 years or 5 years…well, we’ll look back on that in 3 years or 5 years…but the reality for most people is “Buy vs Wait” is usually a question with a max timeframe of a year to 18 months…not wait for 3 to 5 years.

Buy now or wait until next year…in Jan of 2008 = wait until next year. But since Feb of 2009…wait is not likely the answer…but buy WHAT is a huge question? Follow the process I have outlined in my 1), 2) & 3) up there…and you will find your best answer to that question for your family.

Which Tattoo Should I get? Pink Pony? Cheerleader?

My daughter, Andrea Revenant of 3rd Street Tattoo in Hermosa Beach CA, is having their Grand Opening Party today. The Federal Appeals Court has ruled that Tattoo’s are protected under Free Speech and that has opened the door for her to work in her current “hometown” of Hermosa Beach. I’m very happy about that.

Andrea Revenant

Andrea will “design” the final tattoo, so we’re only looking for general ideas here. I have NO tattoos, but when your daughter is an “artist” you should wear her “art work”. Or so I say. 🙂

#1 PINK PONY of Seattle Bubble plus Rainbow.

pink pony

#2 Cheerleader (aka Real Estate Broker)



I may add more before I fly down to L.A., and I will get Andrea’s input and she may send some sketches to replace the ones above before then.

But what say you? Have a favorite or a new suggestion?

Where will the Tattoo be? In a place that is visible but also in the least painful place to get one. Not sure about the pain factor. Will be getting some input on that as well.

As always, your help appreciated.

Yield Spread – A Novel

yield spreadYield Spread is a novel written by Roger Rheinheimer, who in addition to being a full time lender in Port Angeles is the highly acclaimed author of Amish Snow, now in its Second Edition.

His new book, Yield Spread,  is about “a man you’ll love to hate, JP Mallot, and the forces that enabled and even condoned his behavior and its bitter consequences.

Lessons from the Foxhole: A Nevadan Takes a Stab at Seattle’s Real Estate Future

joe salcedo[Editor’s Note: I get asked all the time if people from outside of Seattle can write for Rain City Guide and I always say no… I really like keeping RCG as a “Seattle” thing. However, recently Joe Salcedo of the Reno Real Estate Blog reached out to ask if he could publish a one-time post on RCG about his experiences with the Reno, Nevada market and the insights it might provide to the Seattle community… and I bit. I’ve published the article below. Enjoy! ~Dustin]

In August of 2005, our real estate market crashed.   It’s been five years and we’re slowly trying to get back on our feet.  I’m here to share some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way; the prodigal brother, if you will.

I started with a blank page.  One weekend after, baffled and fascinated and my curiosity violently piqued, here’s what I found out about your market:

  • If you waited until Seattle home prices went down in July 2007 (before you realized the market was having problems), you’re going to be at least one year behind.  Check for other signals. Home prices take too long to reveal itself profitably.

In Feb 2006, less than a year after the Reno real estate market crashed, I called an emergency meeting (coupled with other factors like plunging housing starts and declining home builder stocks) after being greeted by this chart:
Reno Home Resales
Yes, all markets are local but we all came from our mother’s womb.  Like a bearish stock market pulling down three out of four stocks with it – (both weak and strong companies) – majority of real estate markets fall with the general market.   Follow the home builder sector group in the stock market (Investor’s Business Daily tracks it every Monday). Check housing starts and building permitsto see a glimpse of the future:
Housing Starts Chart

  • For potential sellers: Consider cutting your losses short.  If you’re barely making it with house payments (perhaps using borrowed money just to make it) and hoping that the market would change soon, perhaps it’s time to think about making some tough decisions.  Distressed properties tend to pull home prices down further (see: notice of trustee sale graph below.)

If you’re comfortable with your mortgage payment (you bought a house on or before June 2005) and moving is too painful, it’s ok to stay; just know that based on present real estate conditions, it may take a few years before your house will appreciate from the price you bought it.

Percentage Home Price Change

Notice of Trustee Sale by Month Chart


  • Short sales and foreclosures are like a mysterious disease that defies normal market cause and effect.  Inventory could be down, demand up, but price still down.  This has been happening in our market since 2007.

And like your resident queen, the author has made premature bottom calls by not taking into account the “black swan

Seattle Area – How to Choose a “Best Place To Live”

Everyone wants to live in “the best place”, but how does one determine which is the best place for them…that also fits their budget? As with most of my posts I try to include a tutorial on how to utilize the internet to assist you in choosing wisely…or at least with informed consent.

I’ve talked before about how to use the internet to determine value and offer price. Let’s take that a step further. You don’t want a Great Deal…because you live in a block with drive by shootings and a sex offender in every other house. THAT is NOT a “Great Deal”!

The chart below is based on a one mile radius of a given address in each area mentioned. The sources of the data are at the bottom of the chart. To make your own chart, just put in the address of the homes on your “short list”.

What you personally value or can live with is different for each person.

Some may choose a home where the school is a 4 ranking and has 59 sex offenders within a one mile radius, because they like the house. Others may settle for a split entry or a townhome in an area where there is an 8-10 ranked school and only a few sex offenders and less violent crime. Everyone is different.

I don’t think I’ve ever assisted someone in buying a home that wasn’t in the best area their money can buy, but that’s a client to client process and client decision.

If you are choosing to not use an agent at all, or to use a discounted service that does not assist with home selection, you need to fend for yourself in that regard. Using these tools and making your own chart is not infallible, but it should help to insure that if you do buy in an area of high crime…you are at least doing so with informed consent. Double check the facts…don’t take these as “verbatim”. But they should help point you in the right direction as to getting the additional facts needed.


WalkScore is often hailed as a great site, and some RE websites even show the WalkScore next to the property data. I’m NOT a big fan of WalkScore UNLESS you look at it along with a few other available sites. I AM a big fan of choosing the most highly ranked Elementary School you can afford.

Often…though not always, the best elementary school ranking is an indicator of fewer sex offenders and lower crime. That is why you may find that homes in the best Elementary School boundary lines are more expensive. Not because of the school per se, but because of all that goes with. The reverse, lower ranked school, does not always follow the same pattern. So do your due diligence and check all the details.

Take a look at the chart above. Notice that two of the highest WalkScores also have the most sex offenders and highest Violent Crime score. (V = violent Crime / P = Property Crime) as shown on You will also see the reverse. Point being that “WalkScore” does not overlay crime statistics, as some think it does. You need to use a variety of sites and sources to get all of the information available, and not just one site.

HomeFacts will also show you the pictures and addresses of the “offenders” if you open the drop down menu. A handy site.

My “theory” has always been that the highest ranked elementary schools (that have a geographic admission boundary vs “choice” schools) will also have the lowest crime and sex offender stats. That does not mean the reverse is true. You need to pull the data as it applies to your area of interest.

The reason I use Elementary School, vs middle or high school, is it helps you grade the neighborhood on a smaller geographic base than middle or high schools that draw from a larger geographic area.

Another nifty site that I just found is NabeWise and it is no surprise to me that if I put in Seattle Metro and Safety, the two neighborhoods I choose to live in BOTH come up in the TOP EIGHT!

Using the Internet to Find a Home is not ONLY about looking at PRETTY PICTURES and then hiring a Discount Commission service to buy it. The most deeply discounted “Agent” services clearly indicated that HOME SELECTION is YOUR JOB and why you are paying a lower commission. That is not merely about “the house”.

If you are going to use the internet to save on real estate commissions…and I am all FOR that…please…use as many sites as possible to find as much information as you can, before “doing it yourself” to save on commission.

Got Questions? Give “Questionland” a visit.


Whether you have questions or like to help people by providing answers, Questionland is a very cool place. You can pretty much ask questions about most anything from Comics to well…Whatever!

Got to love a place that has an official category for “Whatever”.

This week the focus was on Real Estate which is how I got the heads up about Questionland. It’s not a new thing…started back in April of 2009.

Questionland is one of those places that is only as good as you make it. The Stranger sponsors the site, but at the end of the day it is the people who ask and answer questions who control how good or bad it is. Don’t know what “The Stranger” is? Well, you should. It’s pretty much iconic here in Seattle, much like The Fremont Troll under the north end of the Aurora Bridge.

For Real Estate Questions Trulia Voices is still my favorite. Zillow Advice never made it to my list of places to go. Too many questions and complaints about “zestimates” for me.

From a purely local perspective, supporting Questionland by helping your neighbors out with answers to their questions is in my opinion a worthwhile endeavor. Think of it as one big Seattle Neighborhood of people like you, sometimes with a question; sometimes with an answer.

We are known as “The Emerald City”. So take a trip to Questionland where some days you can be “the Dorothy” with a question, and other days you can pretend to be The Great and Powerful Wizard with “the” answer.

“There’s No Place Like Home”…support local endeavors.

Hope to see you there.

Real Estate – What’s Hot; What’s Not

Style Trends in Kitchen Cabinetry, Exterior Paint Colors, Interior Paint Colors and other choices for your home, based on recent sold homes in The Seattle Area.

Kitchen Cabinets Shaker Style with recessed flat center panel and hidden hinges.

Definitely one of the most popular styles in various colors and NO hinges showing.

What’s not Hot? Hinges showing and/or a heavy OAK grain pattern in the wood.

Paint Colors While true neturals like Manchester Tan continue to be the best if the home has one overall color, I am seeing quite a few green and green/gray tones in homes sold recently. White ceilings with the Hillside Green paint seems to be the most popular right now.

Two good choices from Sherman Williams Pottery Barn Spring colors are Hillside Green and Urban Nature.
Pottery Barn

What’s NOT hot in paint colors? The deep red and blue colors that were popular a few years back, with every room a different brash color.

Counter Tops Still no real consensus on what color of granite..but granite is still the best choice vs tile countertops. Though for some unknown reason people don’t seem to care much if it is slab granite or granite tile squares, if it is a quality job. Having a granite bullnose edge vs a wood frame edge seems to be the deciding factor. granite

One of the reasons I’m reviewing Style Choices today is I am meeting a client at the Show Room tomorrow to select granite and tile. Will be interesting to see what she chooses. The lighter color on the right is usually the safer choice. but it depends on the cabinet color.

Tile Size, Color and Shapes Often tile is the hardest choice as there are so many different options and uses for floors, back splashes and tub surround accents. While granite is definitely the counter top of choice and hardwood is the definite preference for flooring in the kitchen and the entire main floor, tile is still used abundantly. Except for the main floor 1/2 bath “powder room”, hardwood is rarely used in other bathrooms. Tile still the #1 choice for bathrooms and laundry rooms. Tile is also the #1 choice for showers (vs one piece fiberglass units) and for tub surrounds.

I’m still seeing some subway tile, but it’s a very limited choice that I don’t think is going to withstand the test of time well. That could be from my many years standing in real subways, which are generally not the most happy and attractive places to be.

Glass tile still popular, but only when mixed in with stone tile. Oblong textured tile is awesome, but also limited use given it’s contemporary feel. Solid, neutral 12″ stone tile still a favorite for tub surrounds and flooring. Below are some of the most popular current choices as seen in both new homes and remodeled older homes sold recently.


What’s NOT hot in tile in The Seattle Area? Travertine, Terra Cotta and other ornate styles that work elsewhere, but not here.

Home Prices in West Seattle – #justsayin

Viaduct to lose one lane each way in Sodo starting May 16th.

“The May 16 lane closures mark the start of a long-dreaded, long-lasting traffic slowdown to enable replacement of the 1950s-vintage highway. Conditions will remain congested until early 2016, when a tolled tunnel is to replace the central viaduct section along the waterfront.” Mike Lindblom – Seattle Times

Surprised that I am not seeing more cautionary tales about home prices that will more than likely be impacted by this issue.