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.

Did you feed your Rhododendron?

The Rhododendron is The Washington State Flower. To a large degree that means we Preserve and Protect it as a State Symbol. When I see a “sick” Rhododendron it makes me sad…to me it feels like someone is wiping their feet on an American Flag. I tend to be oddly “loyal” that way to “symbols” of honor.

The flower below is a picture I took last year and posted on May 20th, so that should give you a rough I idea of when to expect rhododendron to be in full bloom, though I have seen a few in full bloom recently, but not mine.

I have nursed more than a few “sick” rhododendron back to full health in my time, and have a few tips. If you have not already done so, now is a good time to feed your rhododendron before they bloom.

Think of it like a preganant woman taking more vitamins before they give birth. A budding plant is like a pregnant woman…it needs some extra care at that stage of it’s development.

The Washington State University recommends that you feed the plant when the buds swell and start to get “sticky” in Spring (which is about where mine are today) and again after the plant has flowered. Lots of other tips on rhododendron in that link.


You may have noticed that Rhododendron tend to “burn up” if the location is too sunny, and seem to thrive best when they are planted near pine trees. You see that a lot in Bridle Trails in Bellevue. Lots of tall pine trees and healthy rhododendron thriving nearby. That is because rhododendron LOVE acid soil, and lots of pine needles falling to the ground seem to provide many of the nutrients these plants thrive on.

Not all rhododendron need to be fed. Those planted in soil with insufficient acid content need an acid based fertilizer. I like to use the Miracle Grow product designated for use with acid loving plants, but there are many ways to provide these nutrients, and frankly for new plants there are some better ways.

I like to do a “foliar feeding” by mixing a light solution and spraying the leaves. After a good but not OVER feeding early in Spring, I still spray the plant with a very light feeding during the flowering season. But you have to be careful to follow package directions and not over feed your plants.

For today…feed your rhododendron! It’s kind of a patriotic “duty”. 🙂 One of my favorite things to do is “deadhead” them when appropriate…but that’s a topic for later in the season.

Word of Warning…NEVER feed into and after July. Wait until you get to late winter early spring. Feed them now and again when they flower…but don’t keep feeding them past June.

If anyone has other tips, please feel free to post them in the comments. I’m far from an expert on rhododedron…I just happen to love them.

Curbed and Eater come to Seattle

curbed seattle

Today I excitedly Welcome Curbed and Eater to Seattle. and are well known for their fast and furious blog postings in NYC, Chicago, DC and their National Site.

I highly recommend that you bookmark both Seattle Curbed and Seattle Eater and make them part of your daily reading. Unlike other local blogs, Curbed generally has a paid staff of blog posters, so you can expect a quick flurry of relevant postings that will continue on a daily basis.

Curbed, always fun and always something new, a welcome addition to the Seattle Blogosphere!

Home Prices Recover in Kirkland 98033

Many around the Country are asking what a Home Price “Recovery” will look like and what will create it. If you have been home shopping on The Eastside close to the 520 Bridge, you are likely amazed at the strength of that market in recent weeks.

Kirkland 98033 is not the only market experiencing this phenomenon, as I first noticed the activity and price increase in the Cherry Crest neighborhood of Bellevue 98005. But since I recently represented a buyer client who closed on a home in Kirkland 98033 near Downtown in the Lakeview Elementary School area about a block from Google, I am focusing on this area first.

While back in October and for the 4th Quarter of 2010 we were talking about whether home prices in King County overall were running in late 2004 levels or early 2005 levels,

Kirkland 98033 has bounced up to February 2006 levels!

Before you jump to the conclusion that this segment simply had a lower % of Short Sales and Bank Owned Property…not so. A full 42% were “distressed” properties. Even with that drag of an additional 5% to 6% down created by the “distressed property sales”, the prices are running at February 2006 levels.
kirkland 2011

None of us are holding our breath for prices to reach peak levels, and I don’t anticipate that happening for many years. But if you chop off the extreme peak of 2007, home prices in 98033 are clearly recovering nicely.


There are several contributing factors.

1) Googleopening in 98033 in late 2009 and hiring a significant number of people in recent times.

2) High Elementary School Rankings – While all of the schools in 98033 don’t enjoy the highest ranking status, those closest to Google and Downtown Kirkland do. Peter Kirk Elementary, Lakeview Elementary and Ben Franklin Elementary, all in 98033, help support and boost home values in these areas. To be fair and balanced, I did not segregate these schools in the stats and included all school areas of 98033, at least one of which ranks fairly low.

3) Anticpated 520 Bridge TollThe soon to be imposed Toll to cross the 520 Bridge has had an impact on home prices closest to that Bridge. Some have moved from Seattle over to the Eastside to avoid the Toll. Some who work on the Seattle side, but prefer Eastside Schools to Seattle Schools, have moved as close to the Bridge as possible to cut down on fuel costs and time delays to compensate for the negatives of the toll.

Kirkland is clearly one of the best places to live in the Seattle Area, and always has been, especially the area closest to it’s Downtown on the Lake. The reasons for that are many, and the subject of another post.

So yes, the Recovery is clearly “Cherry-Picking”.

A few other amazing facts. Of the 44 homes sold in the First Quarter of 2011 in 98033 that were NOT short sales or bank-owned properties, 18% sold in ONE WEEK or less with 23% selling in two weeks or less and a full 50% selling within 90 days. Clearly though the distressed properties were very high at 42%, they were not creating a huge drag on the non-distressed properties. The median for non-distressed properties was a whopping $646,000. Very close to the full median price of 2006 overall.

This is what a “Recovery” looks like. It doesn’t reach peak…but…it looks pretty darned good to homeowners in 98033.


(Required disclosure: Stats in this post are not compiled, verified or published by The Northwest Multiple Listing Service.)

How To Begin the Home Buying Process

Unfortunately most agents are trained to have a buyer make a list of everything they want in a home as the first step in the home buying process. Left to their own devices without this “push” in the wrong direction, RARELY does a future home buyer start by making a long list like that. It is a “sales” tool to lock you into a close-able position. Don’t buy into that logic by handing a “salesperson” a big list of what you “want”.

Three of the most common “first steps” to buying a home in my 20 years in this business have been:

#1 – Highly Ranked Schools

There is always a lot of controversy surrounding the topic of “best schools” as determined by a ranking system or online school ranking site. Still, many parents use these sites when determining where they are going to be buying a home. My clients tend to use a combination of these two sites: ranks the schools on a scale from 1 to 10. Yes, I have actually seen a school on The Eastside ranked as “1” on a scale of 1 to 10. Makes you want to go peek in the windows and see what the heck is going on in that school. There is also a “star” system, but that seems to be generated by parents whose children already go to school there, so take that with a grain of salt and read the full comments of the parents vs the “3 star” or “5 star” ranking.

There may not be much difference between a 10 ranked school and a 9 ranked school…but clearly there must be a difference between a 10 ranked school and a 4 ranked one. If you love a house in an area serviced by a school ranked from 1 to 4, at least go to that school to try to determine why it has such a low ranking. You WILL get more home for your money if the school is ranked lower but each buyer has to decide where their priorities lie. For many…it is best school their money can buy vs best home regardless of quality of school, and the price per square foot of the home will often reflect that difference.

Another site my clients use, and they usually use both sites for comparison purposes, is: I like the 1 to 10 ranking system of better than the 1 to 5 ranking system of, but I LOVE the display on a map of the schools with “balloons” showing the school ranking. Gives you a better visual of where that you can then match up to a home search map tool. I wouldn’t use these sites to look for homes though. The best real estate search tool for many, many reasons is, but my guess is if you are reading a real estate blog like this one…you already know that.

Even if you do not have children in school, you need to be aware of the impact of school rankings on home values so that you are using the correct “comps” when determining a fair price for a home. You don’t want to use a 10 ranked school as a comp for an offer to be made on a home in a 2 ranked school! Unfortunately, even appraisers haven’t learned that one yet. Be ahead of the curve. Do not be fooled into thinking that “School District” is the ONLY criteria to be used. There are often major variances within a school district.

Some School Districts like Lake Washington School District have a great online map of each school’s boundaries. Boundaries do change from time to time, so be sure to check with the district once you have found a home. Give them the exact address and know that if you are on the border between two schools vs dead center in the middle of the defined area…well, change happens and likely more near the edge lines. This is most important for people planning to have children or who have very young children who are not yet in school.

#2 – “Close-in”…or not “close-in”.

Wanting to buy a house that is “close-in” is more often a “move up buyer” request than a 1st Time Homebuyer request. Sometimes it is the opposite. They bought “close-in” and now want to be far away from “it all”. Unfortunately some learn the hard way how important it is for them to be close to or far away from…something. Everyone’s something is different. First Time Homebuyers tend to look at the WHAT vs the WHERE, and often end up someplace they hate being, causing them to rethink that where and move “out” if not “up”. In fact going from a bad “where” to a good “where” often means moving UP in Price but DOWN in home quality, size and amenities. The wrong where often results in more home for the money, which is why First Time Homebuyers tend to choose them more than experienced homebuyers.

You will often see “Great ‘close-in’ location!” in a real estate ad. What “close-in” means is different in each area. On the Eastside it could mean close to Microsoft, close to Redmond Town Center, close to Downtown Kirkland. On the Seattle Side it usually means you can walk to a coffee shop (and other shops). For those who don’t expect to walk to work, “close-in” could mean a reasonable bus or drive commute time. NOT “close-in” is a little easier to describe than “close-in”. If you have to drive for a half hour to get some milk…you are NOT “close-in”.

There are many variances on this “close-in” theme, and they are as different as people can be different. It’s a personal decision that you REALLY need to spend a lot of time thinking about. Some people hate the noise level of being too “close in” to shops that can also have very noisy restaurants and bars with drunk patrons very late into the night. Some people like to walk to enjoyable amenities, but be as far away from work as reasonably possible. Some people like to be very close to work, but in a private and quiet location when they get home and NOT close in to noisy businesses.

If there is ONE HUGE MAJOR MISTAKE of homebuyers that stands far and above beyond the rest of the mistakes you can make, it is to look at “a house” and make an offer on it, without adequately discovering what is around it. The MINUTE you think you may want to make an offer on a house, spend as much time as possible around that house before negotiations are complete and the home inspection “out” phase is passed. Park your car in front of the house and take long walks in every direction. Say hello to the neighbors. Don’t be afraid to do that! You don’t need to 3rd degree them with a list of questions, nor should you do that. But you should knock on the door and meet the neighbors to see if there is anything alarming to you about them. Why don’t people do that? No one wants to be “close in” to a problem neighbor…no one.

It’s very simple to get “drive times” now without having to leave your computer. Just put in the address of the home and various destination points into a service like Bing Maps and it will give you the estimated drive time. Be sure to double check that during rush hours IF you plan to be driving to and from during rush hour.

#3 Style of Home

Once you determine your suitable where(s), it is time to study the potential whats of that where that are IN YOUR PRICE RANGE.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Many homebuyers are afraid of Future Home Values. Take note that IF you buy a split entry home for too close to the max price for that style of home, you will not likely be able to get paid back for those improvements when you sell.

Yesterday I posted some rather harsh realities for people who want to be “close to Microsoft Redmond Campus” as in within a 2.5 mile radius of 148th Ave NE and 36th. Of great significance is the age of home possibilities.
microsoft age

As you can see in the chart above, a large majority of the homes available and sold in that area were built more than 20 years ago. So wanting a house not more than 10 years old within a mile or two from work at an affordable price may look great on your “WANT” list…but easier said than done. That is why it is important to study the makeup of the area you choose, before going out to look at homes.

Besides the age of home, the style of home is also an important factor. You may “like” granite counters and stainless steel appliances…but that is NOT “real estate”. Way too many people choose a home by its “finishes”. A newer 2-story home that has laminate counters and ugly carpet MAY be better than a less favorable home style with hardwood floors and granite counters, depending on your needs and price range.

BIG NOTE: IF YOUR BEDROOMS (AT LEAST 3 OF THEM) ARE NOT A FULL FLIGHT OF STAIRS ABOVE YOUR KITCHEN AND LIVING AREAS…IT IS NOT, NOT, NOT A 2-STORY HOME! I have met many a seller in a Split Entry or 1 story with basement who said “we have always called it a 2-story home”. Reverse floor plans, and I have seen several on market recently, are a little harder to define. If the view from the main level on a reverse floor plan is knock your socks off awesome…well, let’s just say it better be.

Here are 3 examples of how to look at the general range of possibilities before going out to look at homes to buy.
microsoft type

In the pie chart above you can see that the majority of homes in that area (within 2 miles of Microsoft) regardless of price, may be a home style that you simply do not care for. It is important to know that before going out to look for your “ideal home” in an area that may not have it in your price range. Do you go further out to find “it”…or do you stick to living near work? A personal decision you should make before going out to look at homes. Have a backup plan!

Besides availability, there is a matter of cost. Below I charted all of 98052 using the current YTD median home price of $540,000 as a guide. This first pie chart below breaks down the style of homes sold so far in 2010 costing $540,000 or less in Redmond 98052. Often 2 story also equals “newer home”. Not always…but often…on the Eastside vs in Seattle proper.

graph (8)

Once I go over the median home price, the breakdown of home style changes dramatically, as shown in the pie chart below. This is VERY important to home buyers in the first group. IF you bought the highest priced Split Entry home UNDER the median home price…note that NO Split Entry Homes were sold above that median price YTD 2010. Future home appreciation is not simply about “the market” as a whole. There is a point at which there simply is no room for upward movement given you simply cannot compete with newer homes and newer home styles regardless of how you may improve that home.

graph (9)

It is pretty simple to graph out your potential and likely choices in your price range in the area you hope to live. It’s OK to look for a needle in a haystack…you just have to know that before you begin the process. What has NEVER happened in the past, is not likely to happen in the near future. If 1% of the people were able to do what you are trying to do, that is important to know the same as it is important to know if 60% of the people were able to do that in recent history.

You clearly will be able to change what you “WANT” a lot easier than you can change the makeup of homes built in a given area. If it never was built, you likely can’t buy it. So do your homework before you step out the door and get caught up in making quick on the fly changes in your overall home buying plan. Be prepared and you will make a wiser choice.

(required disclosure: The stats in this post and its graphs are not compiled, verified or posted by The Northwest Multiple Listing Service.) They are hand calculated by ARDELL.

Washington State Flower – Rhododendron

The Rhodies are in bloom! A great time to visit The Arboretum in Seattle or the Rhododendron Gardens in Federal Way.

Many people from out of the area buy homes here with rhododendron plants and ask me questions about their care. The Seattle Rhododendron Society is a great source of info on the topic.

Here are some pics I just took of a variety of sizes shapes and colors in the front and back yard. Rhododendron are just one of the reasons Seattle “feels like home to me”.

Great Cause, Seattle Seahawks Ticket Drawing, Us in our Pajamas!!!

Hopefully you’re following along with our 365 Things to do in Seattle WA…but in case you haven’t heard about it yet we wanted to pass along our day 41 to you.  We are involved in a wonderful event raising money for local foster kids and the event is scheduled for this Sunday at Kirkland’s Tech City Bowl.  Our team is:  Striking Realtors and we’ll be dressed in our pajamas.  We would love it if you could make a donation to help these local foster kids and when you do you’ll be entered to win a pair of Seattle Seahawks Tickets 3 rows from the field.  Find out more about the drawing and the event on our 365inSeattle event and see how you can help.

So many great things to do in Seattle!

[Editor’s note: I’m super excited to announce Sarah Payson as RCG’s newest contributor. She runs The Payson Group with her husband John Payson, who together are the first “M Agents” in Seattle. I recently had the chance to spend a day with them and was blown away by how two people could be both super-motivated and super-wonderful!   One of the things that they will undoubtably bring to RCG is an active involvement in the local community… and an excellent example of that is their active Facebook Page: 365 Things To Do In Seattle that’s grown to over 7,700 fans in about a month.  Seeing the success they’re having with this page, I asked Sarah if she’d start her RCG contributions with a post about that project.   -Dustin]

365 things to doAre you new to Seattle WA?  Have you been here a while but are tired of the same old routine?

We want to get you connected with your neighborhoods around Seattle and the Eastside, that’s why we started “365 Things to do in Seattle WA