Should builders and banks receive an excise tax exemption as WA State faces a budget deficit?

House Bill 1495 has been introduced into the legislature and is now in committee.  In these times filled with hope, I am hoping this bill dies or at least comes out looking substantially different.  Let’s take a look.

AN ACT Relating to real estate excise tax exemptions to stabilize neighborhoods…

The legislature finds that there is a substantial inventory of unsold or foreclosed vacant homes on the market that is driving property values down and destabilizing neighborhoods. These homes also present an opportunity to provide affordable homes to low-income families, addressing some of the unmet need for affordable housing in the state of Washington. The legislature also finds that providing targeted incentives to housing developers will stimulate the sale of these vacant homes to low-income buyers now and stabilize neighborhoods affected by this growing inventory. The legislature intends to provide such incentives through excise tax relief on sales of homes to low-income first-time homebuyers.

I’ve been asking Realtors in all my classes to begin watching the percentage of financially distressed sellers with homes for sale in their market area.  Agents can do an MLS keyword search using terms such as “short sale,

Sunday Night Stats – Best and Worst

First, it’s been pretty obvious in the last 3 to 4 days that people are reacting to the interest rates being at 4.75% to 4.875% recently.  I can honestly say agents are not instigating this momentum, as all of the calls I have received have been directly from buyers that I’ve never spoken with before.  In fact I have had more calls to see property from buyers than I have had showings from agents.  It’s like a large part of the agent marketlace is MIA.  I’m hearing similar stories of “agents retreating” from Vancouver.  A sign that first quarter 2009 is clearly going to be on the upswing.  But let’s look at some more of the here and now tonight.

The Best:  Townhomes – the under $500,000 variety – net even a Buyer’s Market really – not a Seller’s market either.  A balanced market in Townhomes in Redmond where almost ALL townhomes sell for under $500,000 and North of Downtown in Seattle.  Location issues are more of a concern in Seattle than Redmond, as most townhomes in Redmond are built in larger, well located communites.  In Seattle they are often smack on a main arterial.  So be discriminating as to location and lifestyle and not just space issues.

Only a 5.7 month supply of townhomes in Redmond 98052 – not even a buyer’s market

Hard to believe with all the gloomy news, I know, but yes there is a market segment that is still performing well.  That will clearly improve in 2009 if rates stay this low, so we could even see a Seller’s Market come back in Redmond Townhomes in the not too distant future.  Still, I’ve seen prices taking a beating in the last 60-90 days.  Let’s see if lower rates and low supply pulls that back to stable.  I think that will happen for Townhomes in Redmond.

Now for the Opposite Extreme – The Dark Side – The Scariest Stat of all Sundays

Over FOUR YEARS of Inventory!  Where you ask?

Kirkland 98033 in the $1.2M plus market.  115 for sale and only 7 closed in the last 90 days.  See detail.

Compare Single Family Homes – Kirkland 98033 above to Redmond SFH 98052 below:

They look like Chirstmas Balls 🙂  The more red you see, the less green and blue, the weaker the housing market.  Redmond is doing pretty good until you get over $750,000.

Two story townhomes under $500,000 are definitely the IT segment both in Seattle and the Eastside.  Kirkland just doesn’t have enough of them like Redmond does.  Not sure what happens when you get out to Cougar Mountain and other not “close-in” newer townhomes.  I don’t get out that way very often, and last I looked there was a reason why I don’t go out there very often.  Every time it snows, I get calls from people who want to sell them and move closer to work.

Well, that’s your Sunday Night Stat “Christmas Balls” edition.  Hope you’re enjoying your “White Christmas”.


Seatte Metropolitan Magazine's Best Places to Live

This month’s issue of Seattle Metropolitan Magazine features their annual “Best Places to Live”.    What strikes me is their number one pick is[photopress:seattlemet.jpg,thumb,alignright] not any where near Seattle; nor is it “metropolitan”.   It’s Kent.  I’m not knocking Kent.   In fact, my main office is head quartered on the East Hill of Kent and I grew up in south east King County.   It just seems out of place to have 40% of Seattle Metropolitan Magazine’s Best Places to Live be outside of Seattle city limits.

Here is the Best Places to Live according to SMM with the median home price:

  1. Kent $278,500
  2. Lower Queen Anne $289,000
  3. High Point $315,990
  4. Belltown $324,450
  5. Victory Heights/Pinehurst $356,750
  6. Rainier Vista $390,000
  7. South Lake Union $394,000
  8. Issaquah Highlands $569,950
  9. Somerset $697,500
  10. Yarrow Point $1,500,000

Is SMM out of neighborhoods in Seattle they feel are worthy?  Are they searching for newly constructed fresh neighborhoods…Seattle is pretty darn old, afterall.  

Last year, Eileen covered SMMs 2006 Best Neighborhoods on RCG.   She asked why not Burien?  Which I agree–Burien continues to be completely overlooked and…in my opinion, so is Des Moines.   Both of these neighborhoods are technically “Seattle”.  

What Seattle neighborhoods would have made your top 10 that are not receiving recognition on this years list?

Now that Matt…

has a new condo in Bellevue at the Meritage, you might have thought he would slow down the pace of his condo blogging at Urbnlivn. But no chance there… instead he unleashes the urbnlivn forum for the Seattle-area Market. Very cool. It’s a little quiet at the moment (the site is brand new), but I’m sure under Matt’s guidance, it won’t stay quiet for long…

Also a belated, but HUGE, congratulations to Matt on your new condo!

South Lake Sammamish celebrates annexation by City of Issaquah

The South Lake Sammamish Association (SLSA) has worked tirelessly to make this happen. As a part of unicorporated King County, they were frustrated with inadequate police patrols, road maintenance and similar public services. Last fall the Greenwoord Point-South Cove Annexation area voted to join the City of Issaquah and now it’s time to celebrate.

On March 1st, 6:30-9PM, the city will host an open house at Pickering Barn (just east of Costco) to welcome everyone. Issaquah’s mayor and other city officials will be there to celebrate and answer questions about city services.

In addition, SLSA will be hosting a ribbon cutting ceremony and parade on March 4th from 10AM to Noon. There will be refreshments and activities for the kids including tours of a fire truck and police car. See their website for details.

It’s great to see community involvement pay off for residenets on Lake Sammamish.

Housing assistance for the middle class on the eastside

I have a client who has been searching for a condominium for 6-months. Typical problem — what he likes, he can’t afford — what he can afford, he doesn’t like. We even looked down at Othello Station and thought we might find something there. They had several units set aside for low income families to purchase. Here the problem was he made too much to qualify for the set-aside units but not enough to buy the market rate units. What’s a person to do?

Well, we found the answer. Last week we had offer and acceptance on a really nice 2 bedroom / 2 bath unit at Frazer Court in Redmond. How did he do it? There is a great program setup between King County and several eastside cities to preserve and increase the supply of housing for low and moderate income households in East King County.

This program is called ARCH (A Regional Coalition for Housing) and has several below market rate duplexes, condominiums and town homes located in various developments in East King County. During the initial marketing period, maximum income levels are established for buyers. Typically, each development will establish a maximum income for buyers somewhere between 80% and 100% of median income. In addition, maximum income guidelines are often adjusted for both household and unit size.

Finally – a program that helps out the buyer caught in the middle income bracket. Check it out at

Interesting Insurance Program from King County Metro

I just received a newsletter from Todd Litman of the Victoria Transportation Policy Institute that describes an innovative project that is being tested by King County Metro.

King County Metro, the Washington State Department of Transportation and other partners has $2,2 million to develop a Pay As You Drive (PAYD) Insurance Pilot project for Washington State over a 4-year period to evaluate the impacts of a pilot including at least 5000 participants. They are in the process of recruiting an insurance carrier to join in the project. The deadline for expressions of interest is February 15, 2006. For more information contact Bill Roach ( or Bob Flor (

I probably wouldn’t have mentioned it, but I noticed that the Cascadia Scorecard had an article on this topic today, Pay As You Drive Insurance, and they didn’t mention this interesting program. This makes me think that the project must be really below the radar and in need of some Rain City Guide attention!

So how does it relate to Seattle real estate? Barely… But what’s important is that if you are a King County resident whose car spends almost all day at home, then you may be able to save money by joining this program and only paying insurance on the miles that you drive.

Quicker than a Ray Of Light

I’ve had the opportunity to live in Kirkland, Bellevue, Redmond, Carnation & Issaquah since I first left my alma matter back in the days of when Mosaic ruled the web. However, of all those places, I’ve loved my current home the most.

What do I love about my current home in the Issaquah Highlands, you ask? To quote a cell phone company’s ad “It’s the network”.

fiberWe’re talking about the only housing development in the Pacific Northwest that I’m aware of that has fiber optic network connectivity in to the home. The community’s network is run by the Highlands Fiber Network (although ISOMedia is my ISP and Ecuity provides my VOIP service).

One of the nice things about a community owned network, is that the operators of the network are more focused on customer service than profitability. We probably have the best performing residential network in the county. Are you ready for HDTV over IP? I didn’t think so. If that wasn’t cool enough, our network traffic goes straight to the Westin building in downtown Seattle, so it’s very reliable (I’d say it’s very close to ‘five nines’ level of uptime). BTW, if your ISP is Qwest, Comcast or Verizon, your internet traffic usually goes to San Jose first, before it comes back to Seattle (which leaves you vulnerable to backhoe denial of service attacks).

Nearly every room has a phone jack, cable/satellite TV jack, and an ethernet jack. All of the cables get routed into a wiring closet in my master bedroom. So equipment upgrades are pretty painless. Even cooler, some outlets have 2 TV jacks, so if you have a dual tuner TIVO, you can record 2 TV shows at once, or watch live TV while recording a show on another channel at the same time.

Perhaps, best of all my network speeds are FAST. My download speeds currently approach 10 Mb/sec (typical DSL speeds are about 768 Kb/sec). My ISP says I could go even faster if I was willing to pay for it (contrary to popular belief network bandwidth isn’t free).

Yeah, the eco-friendly building materials, the gas stove w/ stainless steel appliances, the clawfoot tub, the easy access to I-90, the nearby parks, the new elementary school and kid friendly neighborhood were all things that my wife & I both love about the house & the neighborhood. But you can get all that stuff in many neighborhoods.

So, if you’re tech savvy person with a family, and want a nice place to live, look no further than here. Builders (& their real estate agents) are standing by.


My Home

“Where we love is home, home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.”
~Oliver Wendell Holmes

My heart will always be connected to the place my daughters where born, and where my wife and I have watched them grow. There are a thousand memories that have blended with this place. In many ways our home feels like a trusted partner that has help us along the way.

Where's the Beef?

In my last post, I awoken Ardell from her winter hibernation. To which I feel I should both apologize and take the credit . Ardell raised many interesting points, that I feel that merit a response. First and foremost, I’ll admit I am somewhat biased, since I tend to view things through buyer-colored glasses and I overlooked the reasons why a seller might be less than completely forthcoming with their listing information.

Where's The Beef?Admittedly, my gripe about bad zip codes is pretty minor (less than 1% listings are affected). However, entering an incorrect zip code is like misspelling a street name, it just shows buyers a lack of attention to detail. If I’m a buyer looking for vacant land in an Issaquah zip code (98029), I don’t want to see listings in Bellingham. If I’m looking for rental property in a Redmond zip code (98052), I don’t want to see listings in Mercer Island.

Regarding my beef about school information; since only half the schools surrounding Lake Washington are above average, are only half are listed? I wonder if the MLS near Lake Wobegon has this problem? Besides, who makes the decision that the school that serves a property is bad? The buyer might think XYZ school district is great, but because the seller had a differing opinion (and didn’t disclose that information), they just lost a potential buyer who won’t bother looking at a property that they otherwise might have.

Regarding my beef about latitudes and longitudes; OK, you the agent have no control over this. It still doesn’t explain why the MLS does such a bad job of geocoding! Admittedly, most people probably don’t care (unless they use a computer). Unfortunately, since many people use computers to find property information (and that number is only increasing), it’s a problem that will only become more noticeable.

When you combine latitudes and longitudes with free digital maps and inexpensive computer databases, you can see the location of listings in the neighborhood and other points of interest with an ease that was impossible to do (or at least very expensive) only a few short years ago. As they say, the 3 most important words in real estate are “Location, Location, & Location”, which means the most important part of a real estate listing web site is going to be “Maps, Maps & Maps” (as you can see by the growth of map-based real estate listings web sites this past year). Not having accurate latitudes and longitudes, makes it harder for software engineers to develop features the real estate buying, real estate selling, & internet surfing public increasingly are going to demand.

Pop quiz, which house is the better value? This ~$800K house or this ~$800K house? Without knowing how much living space I’m getting for my $800K, it makes my job as a buyer more difficult.

Just because you can’t get an exact measurement, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t measure. Most real estate listings & transactions have more legal paperwork & disclaimers than a Microsoft EULA! Furthermore, the NWMLS has the source for the square footage information associated with a listing. Couldn’t an agent argue the source should be liable? I assume the agent pays only pays if the error was in the sellers favor? Otherwise, isn’t listing a property with 0 square footage is asking for a lawsuit? Granted, I’m not an attorney, but if the risk was meaningful, I’d suspect all properties would have a square foot value of 0! So, if you get 3 different answers, pick the lowest value! Throw out the measurements from the French & Russian judges! Inaccurate data is always better than no data (at least for buyers).

Lastly, as computer based listing search & analysis tools become easier to use and more sophisticated, bad data is only going to be easier & easier to spot and less & less tolerated. Missing data makes the buyers job harder. Perhaps ironically, it also makes the sellers job more difficult as well. How can you draft an accurate competitive market analysis report if you don’t know what the size of your competitors are / were? Sure an agent could do the extra leg work of looking at the county records, but it’ll cost you more time (and time is money).

I guess the moral of this post, is caveat emptor. Although buyers may want to trust MLS data, sellers have a motivation to give you a reason not to. Perhaps, there is a market for a CarFax like service, that provides better MLS data, than the MLS? Despite my complaining, none of these obstacles are going to stop software engineers from giving the internet home buying public what they want (complete & accurate listing data). The internet has given the buyer more knowledge & more power in the marketplace. Sellers (& their agents) would be wise to embrace this trend, instead of avoiding it.

Caffeinated Software

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