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.

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!!

Why I am Withdrawing from the Multiple Listing Service to Offer Single Broker Listings

Today, my real estate firm Quill Realty is announcing its imminent withdrawal from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service [Quill Press Release 5/19/15]. We have some current inventory we need to clear. But by July 1, and likely sooner, Quill will withdraw from the NWMLS.

Why? Because that is where the future of real estate lies. For a long time – 10 years – I have been working on developing a better business model in real estate. It’s been apparent that real estate simply would have to change given the ongoing information and technological revolutions that have changed pretty much everything else.  Yet 10 years on, and nothing has changed much at all.

The real estate broker system, with its hallmark of cooperation between brokers, has been around for more than a century. A hundred plus years ago,  the term “marketing” didn’t exist, and the only way to sell a house was to have folks talk it up, literally. So today, just like 100+ years ago, a seller must hire two brokers to sell the house: the listing broker; and the cooperating or selling broker who often represents the buyer.

Notwithstanding the fact that listing brokers today take pride in their marketing abilities and are more than capable of selling the home themselves. Or that the internet  allows for easy and widespread dissemination of market information. Or that nobody – nobody – “brings a buyer” to the sale anymore. Buyers usually find the home themselves, and very few – if any – buyer’s agents today actually “sell” a house to their client.  Buyer’s agents today simply are not, either legally or ethically, “selling” brokers (a fact long recognized by Ardell).

So why do sellers continue to pay a selling office commission? Because it is a requirement of entry into any MLS (understandably so, given their cooperative nature). And for whatever reason – conspiracy theories abound! – sellers today continue to pay at least 2.5% and usually 3% to buyers’ agents. So the price of admission to the MLS is steep.

Meanwhile, the ability to market a property off of the MLS has continued to grow. The FSBO market has been around for a long time, and today there are more opportunities than ever to list a home in places other than the MLS.
This of course allows the seller to skip paying the selling office commission. Today, non-MLS listings appear on Zillow and Redfin, two very large and very popular real estate web search sites, as well as elsewhere across the web. Plus, in this seller’s market, does a seller even need that sort of high tech marketing? A professional yard sign and a couple of open houses are likely enough to get full market value in this historic seller’s market.

So Quill will be withdrawing from the NWMLS. We will be the very first and only broker in Seattle – as far as we know – to offer “single broker listings.” It’s a brand new term to refer to a listing contract with only a single broker. That one listing broker then has the opportunity to sell the house and earn the commission. Until today, sellers only had access to “multiple broker listings,” notwithstanding the fact that there is no longer any actual reason for or benefit to such a listing, other than that is simply how the system works.

Surely we can do better. Ten years on, and I feel like I might finally be making progress. Single broker listings will of course not appear on any MLS. They will, however, appear in many other marketing channels where buyers are looking (like Zillow, and Redfin). Plus the broker has access to every other marketing tool: a yard sign; high quality flyer; open houses and tours. And what about social media? Surely that offers an untapped opportunity for marketing a home. In other words, sellers simply don’t have to pay a cooperating broker commission in order to sell their home for market value, if they get the professional services of a real estate broker. So that is where Quill is headed.

What do you think? Is there a future in single broker listings? Or is Quill doomed to scuffle along like every other alternative brokerage, staying in business but neither getting rich nor changing the world?

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.

Seller Will Review Offers on Monday…

cc4d542f-3346-4b02-930c-2b5b443d80edA seller setting a time in the future when they will review all offers at the same time has become common enough to warrant a blog post explaining the general pros and cons and procedure for this type of listing instruction. I just did a spot check of new listings in Kirkland 98033 and a full 2/3rds have this instruction, including both single family homes and condos. If you look only at the single family homes, the percentage is even higher. There is very little written on this topic that can be googled, so I will try to explain the ins and outs of this process best I can. Everyone does it a little differently, so this is by no means a full explanation or an absolute description that pertains to all listings with this instruction. But it should serve well as a guide to those who have not run into this yet, such as first time buyers just starting to look at homes to purchase.

First it should be noted that the SELLER, and not the Agent, must direct this instruction. Usually as a result of a conversation with the seller regarding whether or not they “have to” respond to the first offer quickly. In fact while I noted 2/3rds of the listings have the direct wording “…will look at-review offers on…” At least half of those who didn’t show that restriction, throw in vague language insinuating that the seller will not be responding quickly because they are out of town for a few days. A roundabout way of saying “…will look at offers on…” loosely.

Let’s lay out the mechanics of how this works before discussing the pros and cons from both the Seller and Buyer side of things. To that end I will describe how I do it.

Usually I list a property on Wednesday night after midnight, which is actually Thursday morning. I do this because the public sites don’t always pull the photos in the same data pull as the listing information, causing the listing to appear in mobile instant alerts with no photos. By listing a property in the middle of the night, the photos have time to catch up with the listing by the time people wake up and view the new listing on their phones or laptops. So I do this whether there is a “…will look at offers on…” instruction or not. Most often the “…will look at offers…” day and time will be Monday in the evening with a deadline for receipt of offers in the afternoon. This gives the agent for the seller time to print out and review the offers, call agents if needed for explanations or changes, and often summarize the offers in advance of meeting with the seller to review them.

It really is as simple as that without going into the particulars of how, when and why to apply this instruction or not. So we’ll move quickly into what this means for Buyer and Sellers with some of the pros and cons.


When you first see a listing come on market that you want to see, you usually contact your agent. These days the first thing the agent looks for is this instruction, because it almost never shows in the public remarks and only in the Agent Only remarks. I don’t have a good “why” for that except that the public remarks has a limit as to number of characters, and most if not all of that is used to advertise the property with no room left to go into other topics. The agent only remarks area is even more limited, but there is usually room to very briefly describe this agent instruction.

The main reason the Agent for the Buyer first looks for this instruction noting how FIRM…or not…the instruction is, is to determine how quickly the agent needs to meet the buyer at the property.

If you see a property come on market on Wednesday or Thursday and they are not looking at offers until Monday, you still want to see it as early as possible to have time to consider the property before writing an offer. But if this instruction appears, you might not have to jump up from work with no notice or leave the children standing in front of school waiting for you to pick them up or interfere with the baby’s normal nap time. ALSO not all agents can jump up “right now” to run over to the property the minute it hits the market.

So the primary benefit to buyers and their buyer’s agent is it gives them a bit of time to schedule a convenient and mutually agreeable showing time.

That does not mean you wait until a Sunday Open House if the property comes on Market on Thursday and they are looking at offers on Monday. In fact most of the time I do not do an Open House during that 4 to 5 day period which encourages the buyer and their agent to view the property privately, which is usually better for the buyer. The more time you have after seeing the property to investigate further, collect your thoughts, make a good and firm decision before writing an offer…the better. The time frame is short enough from list to review date. Use that time wisely.

The second and possibly only other benefit to the buyer is it gives them some time to fully consider both the property and their offer before needing to submit that offer.

Some people are very quick decision makers and others are not. From what I have seen, buyers who have competed in multiple offers without success respond much more quickly than those for whom this is their first offer. This is not a “how to win in multiple offers” post, and in fact my next post may be “how to LOSE in multiple offers”.

This is just a basic outline of a common practice that most all buyers need to be aware of if they are looking for homes in some of the most popular neighborhoods in the Seattle Area.

Cons to the buyer of course are that they have to wait until Monday for an answer from the Seller and they are more likely to have to deal with multiple offers than if they could write an offer within an hour of the home coming on market and put a response time of same day. However this “con” from the buyer side will be addressed more as a “pro” from the seller side.


Whether it is a strong or a weak market, over the 25 years I have been helping sellers sell their homes and buyers buy them, most every seller likes the property to get past the weekend before responding to offers. Given the best buyers often work for a living, unless they are cash buyers, the seller would like the people who are working for a living to have a chance to see their home before the seller responds to offers. They like their home to be listed before the weekend and they like to look at offers after the weekend. This is nothing new. In fact I just saw a house that used a wishy-washy “…will look at offers on…” stated as “Seller would like to wait until after the Open House on Sunday to respond to any offers.” I’m not a big fan of wishy washy as it leads to confusion. Some buyers will read that as a hard and fast indicator that they have plenty of time, only to be very upset to find that the house was sold earlier and the Open House was cancelled.

It is very important for the Agent for the Seller to have a very LONG and detailed “What IF?” conversation with the seller, to pin this down very clearly as to the sellers’ wishes. If the seller is a couple, you need to have this conversation with BOTH sellers.

This is not to say that the Agent should guide the seller to a “…will look at offers…” instruction. But it is important for the agent to know the sellers intentions by asking questions such as:

“If you receive an offer on the first day the property is on market and the buyer wants a same day response, are you prepared to accommodate that offer as written?”

The answers to that question are many and varied and almost no one answers a clear YES. That surprises some buyers and even some agents that the seller wouldn’t be very happy to have a good offer on the first day and take it on the first day. But in my experience the answer is usually another question as in “Do I HAVE to?” Once the seller has indicated a reluctance to accept an offer, the Agent for the Seller needs to go through a whole series of what ifs to come to a full understanding of the Seller’s intentions as to how they plan to react to offers.

Historically the “reasonable” time frame for responding to offers has been 2 days, not counting the day the offer is submitted.

In the above noted scenario of listing by very early Thursday morning, the anticipated response date and time would be Saturday by 9 p.m. here in the Seattle Area where a day ends at 9 p.m., unless stated otherwise. HOWEVER the buyer is the one who types in the response date and time in the offer and what was previously reasonable and customary is not what all or even most buyers will do in a hot market.

Since control of that response date in the offer is on the buyer side…it is important for the seller to give an instruction if they do not intend to comply with whatever a buyer may write. It is not good for anyone to start off on the wrong foot by the seller being angry at the time given or the buyer being angry that the seller chose not to respond by the time given.

Most sellers whether they have an Open House or not would prefer the home be shown all weekend when most people are available to see it, than respond on Saturday night. So Sunday night would often be the earliest date the seller expects to respond and Monday night is not a stretch and gives those buyers who weren’t available until Sunday, or even very early Monday if they were out of town for the weekend, a chance to see the property.

You might ask why not longer, and the answer to that is buyers are often frustrated with waiting 4 days and so extending that to a week or 10 days is really pushing it and usually causes more harm than good. That is a conversation the Agent for the Seller and the Seller discuss in the “what ifs” discussion. Every Seller will have a different opinion and there are no hard and fast rules and every Agent for the Seller will have a different counsel on that subject. For the most part, since I can’t speak for every Agent in the Country, I am basing most of this on how I do it and on conversations I have had with actual sellers. But the options can be many and varied.

The obvious Elephant in the Room from the buyer side is “Aren’t you just trying to start a bidding war?” Or from the seller side “Do I HAVE TO take a full price offer?”

This is where the issue gets very controversial and it is not uncommon to get some very angry calls within the first hour the home is on market.

1) NO the purpose is NOT to instigate a bidding war. The purpose is to give the seller a reasonable time to market his/her property before having to accept an offer. By any definition and anyone’s perspective, 72 hours seems reasonable. So Thursday to list, Friday-Saturday and Sunday to view and prepare offers, and Monday to submit and respond, seems more than reasonable. Except to the person who wants to be “The Early Bird Who Catches the Worm”, and I don’t blame them. But that, in many if not most cases, does not give the Seller ample time to market his/her home.

For some sellers “ample time” could be much longer or possibly shorter. But the bottom line is the seller gets to decide what is and is not “ample time”.

2) Pretty much yes…you do “have to” as to the seller’s question of whether or not they have to accept a full price offer. At least this is the conversation BEFORE the home is listed for sale. Mainly because the Agent for the Seller needs to confirm that the seller is willing to take the price at which they list the home.

It’s OK to hope for multiple offers and a price higher than the list price. BUT it is NOT ok to list the home for less than you are willing to take.

To some extent the rules and practices of this particular topic have changed somewhat since Craig wrote a post with his concerns Titled “Offers to be Considered on a Future Date” Is this Really Fair to Buyers?” in that sellers have to attach the instruction before the home is listed and must note whether or not they intend to reserve the right to NOT wait until that date to respond. Still, reading his post via that link in conjunction with this one is advised.

I wish I had 10 or more links to others expounding on this topic, but the only other has been here on Rain City Guide that I can find. If you see any others on “…will look at offers on…” vs simply multiple offer situations which I will cover in my next post, please do put those links in the comments. Thank you.

Best Place To Live – Testing Your Parameters

CornerSeattle Area – Choosing Best Place to Live. I recently received a request to write a new post on this topic. Even I find most of the articles I have read on this topic to be very confusing. Like this one that mixes a few “Really?!?” with the obvious best places. Or this one that jumps from one extreme to the other pretty quickly back and forth.

If you are renting vs buying you can use the lists of Best Places to Live in the Greater Seattle Area pretty freely, as you can skip around at the end of each lease until you find a place you may want to permanently call “home”. But if you are buying a home, you need to dig a lot deeper before spending your hard earned money, as switching out is costly and easier said than done.

Since this post is by special request, I asked the requester to give me some basic parameters he has set before beginning his quest as to where to find that type of home, at that price, in the “best” area his money can buy.

With inventory so very low and “best” homes in best areas selling very quickly and often with multiple offers, you can shorten your time frame dramatically by testing your parameters in advance. This way you will not be waiting and waiting for something that simply does not exist in the area you have targeted to search.

Again, these are parameters given to me by an unknown person in an email request to write this post, and not necessarily in the order given.


The stated objective was:

Elementary School Ranking = 9
Middle School Ranking = 9
High School Ranking = 9

I think we can assume that this person is referring to when noting a 9 ranking. The thing that strikes me as odd is that there is a specific number vs a range like 8 to 10. Many if not most of my clients who have school ranking as one of their parameters will most often want 8 to 10 rank for Elementary School. That is a reasonable and common request at Elementary School level but not on all 3 levels.

What bothers me most about someone asking for “a 9 ranking” for school is it leads me to the conclusion that this person thinks school ranking number is a constant vs an ever changing number.

Let’s jump to the areas noted by the person who requested this post and see how this one main criteria alters and narrows even these modest area parameters. Referring to the photo above, nothing “paints you into a corner” faster than School Ranking as a parameter.

“Hopefully Eastside, Bothell, Kirkland, kenmore, Issaquah, Sammamish.”

There are only a couple of high schools currently ranking as high as 9 or better in Seattle. But since this person noted Eastside let’s skip over that for a minute except to say Ballard High School riding high at 9 right now is a big factor in the price run up there.

Kirkland is out, though one of my personal favorite Best Places to Live, given there are only two high schools Juanita weighing in at a 6 and Lake Washington High School weighing in at a 7. I clearly would not rule out Kirkland, but when I first saw this email I thought, well I guess it’s going to be Sammamish…maybe Issaquah, to get all 3 schools ranking as high as a 9.

Bothell High School is running at a 10 as is Inglemoor in Kenmore. Would I or most of my clients exclude Kirkland in favor of Bothell or Kenmore? Not usually. So really have to be careful about the corner you are painting yourself into with this requirement. All things considered, some of which are not in this post yet but are in the email, I’d still be at Issaquah-Sammamish and probably Issaquah I-90 corrider for this particular person.

My general advice for people planning to have children or with very young children just starting school, is to set your ranking based on Elementary School only. Middle school is a can of worms mostly having to do with puberty. Limiting by High School rank leads you into a very small corner, which may be fine as long as you happen to like that particular corner.

– Below $425,000 (may be even going up to $500,000)
– single family home
– town home with no to very low HOA
– area where property value is appreciating. If I buy now (resale after 5 years should be a profit)
– crime should be low
– commuting to Downtown Seattle should be good.
– King County
– newer construction
– few foreclosures in the general area
– areas with construction quality/grade of 8 or more.

Let’s hit these quickly:

King County OK though you can find lower prices outside of King and the Bothell option changes since most of Bothell is not IN King. I’d still be at Issaquah for that reason.

Newer construction…well depends on how you define “newer” but lets say 1995 or newer since home styles haven’t changed much in that time frame.

Few Foreclosures in the general area – When you have a school ranking of 9 or better and a low crime criteria, you usually don’t run into foreclosures generally except in a neighborhood where everyone bought at peak because it was built and sold at peak.

Low Crime is a given on the Eastside for the most part in the Cities mentioned, so not a big factor.

Commuting to Downtown should be good is where I get stuck as to Kenmore which is not known for its “quick commute” to most anywhere.

That leads us to the big one…price.


I ended with price, but in real life vs a blog post I START with price, because nothing draws a hard line faster than how much you can afford to spend.

I’m thinking Single Family Home is now out of the question and we are moving straight to townhome if “newer” is 20 years or less and High School is 9 or 10. Then we run into HOA dues that are likely going to be considered excessive. Let’s assume for a minute HOA dues of $300 a month and an interest rate of 3.75%. Now we move price to a $425,000 Townhome or a $485,000 Single Family Home being the same, given the $300 monthly dues value at $65,000 of price.

Here’s where the person who asked the question gets to go back to the drawing board with these questions.

1) If Kirkland only has two High Schools ranked 6 and 7 are you ruling out Kirkland altogether?

2) If the only place in Bothell that meets your parameters is in Snohomish County vs King County, do you drop the King County requirement? Bothell runs into 3 or 4 different School Districts pretty quickly.

3) If the only way to get a Single Family Home is to buy an old one vs a new one, do you stop at townhome or change the age of home criteria?

Without having to change anything you can get a newer 3 bedroom townhome in Issaquah High School…possibly Skyline High School, and pretty easily match that up with a high ranking Elementary and Middle School. Many if not most of these are close to I-90 for a pretty fast commute into Downtown Seattle. If 1995 to 1998 Single Family Home appeals to you more than a new or newer townhome, then Issaquah still an option.

Play with your own parameters now. Go to and put in the Cities you are considering and set the High to Low on Rank and you will easily see which schools you want to consider, or not, and note them by name. Once you have your complete list of schools it is easy for your agent to find the neighborhoods within those schools that fit your price parameters.

Point being that when you are using school ranking as a consideration you start there and you, the buyer, do the research to make an accurate and complete list of all schools that are an option for you. It is a parent’s job to pick schools…or not. When using this method it is then better to have an agent set you up in the mls for alerts than to use a public site, since it is pretty much the only place where you can put in a big list of schools vs setting up separate searches for each school. That still leaves you in a bit of a jam since individual schools is not a “required” data field. BUT if you start at finding the neighborhoods by looking at sold property over the last year or more…well, it’s a good start and good luck.

Personally, and for most of my clients, they pick their BEST WHERE first…and then find the best schools in that where, vs painting themselves into the corner of only being able to live in one place. Overall if this were my client I’d be adding Redmond to the mix and then choosing between Issaquah and Redmond.

As to Grade 8 or better as to construction, that’s pretty much a given after piling in all of your other parameters. 8 is not very high as to quality grade and new or newer construction is usually an 8 or 9 in modest price ranges. I just spot checked several and most all in that price range are an 8. So leave that check point for last after you find a home and before you make an offer.

Real Estate – Why DATA is the New Black

Early Friday evening one of my favorite long term clients asked me this question: “Why is the market so slow these days? I have an alert for ($) houses in (zip code) and I barely get a couple of hits every week west of (the freeway). Almost always tear-downs.” (actual specifics from his email removed)

My first data set pulled was a line up the number of homes sold where I primarily work (North King County – North of I-90), by month, over the last 6 years from 2009 to 2014 YTD. This to answer only the first 8 words of his question “Why is the market so slow these days?” The easy answer would be “because it is past October 15th”. I test my knee jerk response by pulling all of the relevant data to be sure I am not answering like grandma in a rocking chair pulling some now irrelevant data from her long term memory bank. I also do this because I need to discover why this person’s current perspective may vary from the long term norm.

Something may recently have happened leading this person to believe that the standard progression is no longer the realistic expectation. I value his thought process as part of how I answer the question…by first pulling the data…lots and lots of data.

The line graph below documents the data pulled for the last 6 years. But as I almost always do when pulling stats, I went back 12 years because data expires! More on that in graphs 4 and 5. Since I almost never regurgitate already documented data from other sources, but rather only trust the data if I calculate it myself, I usually go back as far as my data source will allow, which in this case was 12 years.

First I test my perception that 2014 is not a low inventory year, even though there are tons of articles saying that inventory is low. Many articles talking about the frustration of buyers with “low inventory”. But look…no…my perception is indeed correct. The red line is the “low” or at least the first half of 2009 depicted in the red line. The green line of this year is not only NOT “low”…it is pretty close to the high over the last 6 years.

To be clear, I am using “homes worth buying” as “inventory” and the proof that they ARE homes worth buying…is someone actually bought them.

Volume 2009-2014

After I peruse some of the recent data as an attempt to start at the point where he may be coming from when asking the question, I dive into my own “expert opinion” perspective, which is my 2001 baseline. This information is really already carved in my brain, but since I turned 60 this year I figure it wouldn’t hurt to double check that my memory is still accurate. 🙂

Volume 2001 baseline

I actually did all 12 years before honing in on the actual answer to the question, which comes from comparing 2014 with 2013 and 2013 with both 2001 and 2005.

To determine which were the correct comparison years, I had to first pull ALL of the data that the data source would allow.

While yes…my knee jerk answer of “because it is October” would have been correct, by pulling all of the data I can see from the variance of the actual stats from 2013 against the baseline of 2001 exactly why the question made 100% sense from this person’s perspective at the time he asked it.

This person, along with every average homebuyer, is looking week to week over a period of 6 months to 18 months for a home to buy. They have no “baseline perspective”. Their expectations come from more recent history’s actual activity, and rightly so, with no way to tell if the last 6 months was exceeding or under performing standard market expectations.

The bar graph below explains where the expectation may come from. I have 2005 in there just because it is the one year over the last 12 years when the most number of homes were purchased (ipso facto “available” to be purchased), so highest inventory year. But the key to answering the question is in the 12% of June 2013.

If you look at every piece of data on this page which looks at all 12 months for all 12 years in 6 different comparative charts…12% of a full year’s total inventory being available to buy in one 30 day period is pretty much unheard of! That was June of 2013.

I had another client who started looking in early 2013 and did not buy the house they could-should have purchased in June of 2013. After that they were progressively and continuously disappointed with the number of homes that came on market for months and months afterward. They had no way to know that the volume of homes coming on market since they started looking were many more than the normal market expectation.

In hindsight every subsequent month looked pss-poor in comparison. Pretty much all activity if you started looking in April of 2013, and didn’t purchase by June-July of 2013, is looking relatively dim. BUT in reality inventory is not dim. Inventory, the number of homes you can expect to choose from, is in fact currently performing at or over market expectations adjusted weekly for seasonality. All this can be gleaned from the 12% spike in that bar graph, noting the rational explanation as to why your expectations may be “off” by comparing relatively recent actual data against 12 years of data comparisons.

Basically that makes us both right. I’m right at “because it’s October” and the person asking the question is right to consider the options dim based on more recent relative comparison.

Volume 2001-2013-2005

Posting the data and graphs that helped formulate the above. Worth noting, while I brought forward the Red Line year of 2009 to note inventory low point, the graph below shows that the 12 months of low inventory started in the 2nd half of the gold line of 2008 and proceeded to the lowest point of Jan and Feb of 2009, which some of my readers may remember as “my bottom call” that made front page news at the time.

Volume 2005-2008

Looking above and below at the thick green line of 2014 inventory against the high inventory years of both 2004 and 2005 you can easily see why all of the articles calling 2014 low…and actually they were saying that last year in 2013 as well, are simply not true.

Volume 2001-2004

While my analysis will continue to use 2001 as a baseline, you may want to use the bar graph below to set your expectations. This is the average good homes on market based on the average of 12 years worth of data.

I use 2001, as many of the variances over the last 12 years are influenced by Tax Credit Incentives coming in and out and artificial interest rate jockyings…not to mention all of the massive changes in loan approval criteria over this same period. For that reason 2001 is still the purist baseline by which to compare and contrast other market influences as they come and go from time to time.


Getting back to the first 8 words of the original question…because based on normal seasonal activity you can expect that there will be HALF the number of homes coming on market that are worth buying by December than in May. “coming on market” activity is the month prior to the sold month. So highest SOLD volume in June will = highest number of instant alerts of new listings coming to your phone in May.

Expect the numbers to increase from December through May and then begin a decrease through year end before beginning the next climb.

Volume 12 year average


Because it saves you time and reduces your stress to DRILL down the data from the general comparisons above and fine tune your actual parameters before you waste any time looking for something that doesn’t exist in the place where you are looking. That brings us to the 2nd and 3rd part of this person’s question ” I have an alert for ($) houses in (zip code) and I barely get a couple of hits every week west of (the freeway). Almost always tear-downs.” (actual specifics from his email removed)”

Only 25 houses were sold using a full $150,000 spread with your $ amount as the cap in the whole 6 months of “high season”. So expecting 2 a MONTH in low season let alone 2 a week…is an invalid expectation. Expect ONE really good one a month from here to February of 2015.

“Almost always tear-downs” means you are looking for a nice home at the price of the land alone. Again an invalid expectation. Changing your price to what that home will sell for there is not an option. Changing your choice of what to a tear down is also not a reasonable option.

The only answer to your dilemma is to change the where and not the price or the what.

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

VERY “Walkable”…but is it SAFE to walk there?

walkscoreI am very happy to report yesterday’s news that WalkScore has added a crime overlay, something I have been asking for since WalkScore first came about.

Local residents often roll their eyes when they see an awesome walk score attached to an area where it is simply not very safe to walk after dark AT ALL. Not a big problem for local residents, but what about the many people relocating to The Seattle Area who are relying on various internet tools to guide them in their search for a home in their new City?

I have not tried the new tool out extensively, but from what I have seen the crime grade does NOT reduce the walk SCORE, so a previous score of 87 will still be a score of 87. BUT if you take the time to study the color coded crime map after viewing the score, you will be better able to judge an area now than ever before. Previous to this change I have always recommended that people use to pull the crime data and photos of local registered sex offenders. Not sure if the changes to walk score will replace that need or not, but I am very happy to see that they are finally acknowledging that some very “walkable” neighborhoods as to their scoring…are in reality sometimes not very safe to walk in at all.

Try it out, as I will, and let me know what you think.

How much for stainless appliances?

Stainless has become a preferred color option. Most people who say “stainless” are not always talking about expensive Stainless STEEL. As long as the color is the same, most people don’t care. Easy way to tell if it is Stainless “Look” is to carry a fridge magnet when you are shopping for appliances or houses and if the magnet doesn’t stick to the front door then stainless is the color and not the material used.

For this post I am pricing out some basic upgrades for a client. Earlier today I did the carpet cost and now am moving to the appliances. We’re looking for relatively low prices for standard sized everyday appliances. The type you might use if you were selling a property or upgrading a modestly priced home. A quick change in the look from white or black and basic clean and new appliances. Nothing too fancy.


I would say $1,000 or less including tax and delivery. I found a few good ones for about $750 which are sometimes $685 or so on sale. There are many in the $800 to $900 range. The property has a standard opening from the 1970s, so 18 cubic feet or so at 65″ high and 30″ wide will probably fit better than a 21 or 22 cubic foot fridge that requires more height between the floor and the upper cabinet of about 70″. For the family I’m doing this for, the $750 fridge on sale for $685 shown in the picture below should be fine. This would work for any full sized 30″ wide opening. The opening is usually 32″ to 34″ and the 30″ has a little room on both sides.


In this case we will be using a standard 30″ wide electric range in mostly stainless and partly black. I will post all the photos together at the bottom so the client can see how they look side by side. For some reason the power cord is often sold separately and the total cost should come in at around $650. The lower priced ones are black or white and we want to stay with a full stainless steel or stainless look result in the kitchen.


All of the appliances are white and we are replacing with stainless, but worth mentioning that the current appliances are all in working order and can probably be sold on Craigslist for a few hundred dollars for all of them or donated to charity for a write off. Most people just let the company bringing the new appliances haul them away. But I do have a few resourceful clients that sell everything, like the young man who actually sold his old carpet that he tore out. 🙂 I haven’t had to replace a dishwasher when selling a home…well pretty much ever. So I’m pricing these off of Home Depot. In this case I used a $600 Dishwasher in the photo. You can get a cheaper one in the same black and silver version as the range…but this all stainless dishwasher is so much better looking and impressive in person for a little more cost. I recommend you not skimp on this appliance and not get the one with some black plastic on it. You need some black on the range for the knobs and digital display. But not on the dishwasher. Speaking of which the fridge can have black sides and sometimes better to have that as fridge magnets will adhere to the sides usually if they are black. Since the range is mixed silver and black, that usually makes a lot of sense.


I’m showing a picture of a $260 over the range microwave. You can find them a little cheaper or pricier, but we’re just trying to get a total price to move out the white appliances and bring in Stainless Steel or Stainless Look appliances. I thought this one was as showy as the dishwasher, and when the nicer looking one is only $60 more…why skimp? USED TO BE you would just put a range hood there, and nothing wrong with that. BUT the last time I tried to do that with stainless vs white or black…it cost an arm and a leg! Might as well go with a Microwave that has a vent fan. You can look at both, but I wouldn’t pay the same for a plain vent as I would for a Microwave. YMMV

So we’re looking at $700 to $800 for the Fridge. $650 or so for the Range including tax and power cord, $600 or so for the dishwasher and another $250 for a microwave or $2,200 to $2,500 total. Roughly the same price as the carpet in the other post. So let’s say we are at $5,000 for all new appliances in the kitchen and all new carpet in the house. Not bad.

First pictures of the kitchen appliances, then I’ll move to washer and dryer which can be simple full sized white top load washer and front load dryer. Note that I just cut and paste these pictures together. I didn’t put model numbers or brand names as you want to be sure they are matching color. Usually best to stick to one brand name for that reason or at least see them together in a store. If you buy the full 4 piece appliance package in the same store you can usually get a better deal of about 20% off.


I’m just going to throw in the washer and dryer at $1,000 for both. People have been getting carried away with washers and dryers costing $3,000 or more for both. But for the purpose of this modestly priced home and knowing the clients as I do, they actually can probably do all of this including the washer and dryer, kitchen appliances and all new carpet for $5,000…$6,000 tops.

Seattle listed as 2nd hottest housing market for 2014

The new Zillow predictions for the 2014 housing market show Seattle as the second hottest market in 2014.

They also predict only 3% increase in prices overall, so “hottest” could be kind of cool. 🙂

Personally I think it all depends on how many sellers come out to play this year. You will have your same average turnover for must sell reasons. Relocations as example. But with most sources predicting a slower increase in home prices and possibly a slight turn down, perhaps those sellers waiting for a better housing market will succumb to the fear that it might not get any better than this.

No one knows how “hot” the market will be, but the more sellers there are the “better” it will be whether there is growth or not. Zillow is also predicting rates will get to 5% by year end, but that looks more like someone trying to create a sense of urgency whereZC there really isn’t one.