“NOT Grandma’s House” Open Sunday – Noon to 3

8532 16th AVE NW Seattle – Ballard or Crown Hill?

In City and not “Grandma’s House”.

Recently there have been a lot of complaints in various forums and on blogs that the homes they are viewing in the prime neighborhoods of Seattle are all “Grandma Houses”. I’ve seen this phrase used both in The Redfin Forum and on Seattle Bubble. People are asking what is meant by “Grandma’s House”.

Sunday from Noon to 3 p.m I will be at this home, which is clearly NOT “Grandma’s House”. It may be a “McMansion”…but it is NOT “Grandma’s House”. 🙂


Hope to see you Sunday.

If you ARE looking for “Grandma’s House”…I will be listing one of those in Maple Leaf near the end of April for about $120,000 less than this one.

Seattle 4/3 Cape Cod with a View

Some time ago I wrote about Seattle Starter Home Styles and we talked about the value of having bedrooms up above the main floor vs down in the basement. While that would describe most any 2-Story home, before we get to 2-Story we have the one and a half story “Starter Home” Style. This one happens to be a Cape Cod…
Lakeridge front-2

with a view.

Lakeridge 3-1

I am reminded while listing this property of The Tim’s comment of another home featured over on Seattle Bubble:

“The listing agent claims that the home’s architectural style is “Cape Cod,

Toll Brothers Comes to Seattle

CamWest announced, via email to its clients and prospective clients, that they have been purchased by Toll Brothers.camwest The CamWest logo now says “A Toll Brothers Company”. I’ve long been a huge fan of Toll Brothers since my early days in Real Estate back in Bucks County, PA.

Toll Brothers made the announcement back on November 21st, and I found the comments made by Toll Brothers CEO to be interesting, spot on and less “fluffy”.

CEO Douglas Yearley Jr. said the CamWest acquisition does not represent the start of a broader expansion push by Toll, which operates in 20 states.

“We have been looking at Seattle for a decade, so this was a bit of a long time coming, and we found the right opportunity,

Starter Home Styles in Seattle – Part 1

If you are planning to buy a home in Seattle for about $350,000, it may be of some help for you to know how to generally evaluate the floor plan, before entering the home. This should make choosing homes to see from the internet photos, and other information available on the internet, a little easier and more productive.

We’ll start with the basic 1-Story w/basement, often referred to as a “bungalow”.

1-story with basement

When you see a house for sale like this one in an Internet Listing, you first note the “Style” as “One Story with Basement”. This is a required data field, so it should not be missing from the listing detail. This cross gabled style was most common from around 1917 to 1922 or so. There are several other styles of one story with basement homes, but the below information should be fairly common to all.

I happen to be looking at one of these right now in Seattle. The mls Listing says 1,550 sf. 1,550 sf sounds like a decent sized house…until you go to the house and say “too small”. In fact, let’s look at the actual comments from a client who viewed it at an open house.

(Note: In accordance with mls rules, the picture of the home is a “reasonable facsimile” from somewhere else in the Country. The rest of the detail is the actual info of a home viewed by my clients in Seattle. Mls rules prohibit identifying the actual home that is currently for sale, in a blog post.)

Actual Client Comments:

Hi Ardell,
We went to the Open House and here is what we liked:

– Beautiful kitchen, good size
– Nice modern upgrades
– nice backyard and outside area
– Neighborhood feel and street was nice and quiet

Things we didn’t like:

– two small bedrooms on main floor, master in basement.

-The setup doesn’t seem conducive to a young family. The rooms were VERY small on the main floor. Living room was small, but if we had to deal with this we could…just not ideal. No dining area or even any room for a table

– House runs on oil. Not sure we like the idea of that

Now that the client has identified some likes and dislikes…we look at the dislikes and check that info against the home’s “main floor footprint”. Not all “1,550” sf homes are alike. You need to break that down to save yourself a lot of time and trouble in your home search process.

An oddity in the Seattle Area as to how we identify square footage in the mls, requires that your FIRST step be to go to the King County Parcel Viewer to identify the square footage of the house (main floor footprint) vs the basement level.

What this client is actually saying, and not surprisingly, is that “a bungalow” may be too small for a family planning to have children.

The Breakdown of the house from the King County Parcel Viewer tells us that while the mls allows the description of “1,550 sf” for “the house”, this is really a 775 sf house with a basement.

That is how using this process for subsequent home selections can save you a ton of time and disappointment.

Let’s look at the home details and learn from both the data and the feedback from the client.

The County Record for this house, plus the mls system data, tells us:

Bungalow Description

You can use the above format as a general template. If you are lucky, you will find a little hand drawn sketch of the original main floor footprint from the County Records site, as I did here.

A few notes:

– Lot size of 4,450 sf is acceptable…but smaller than current zoning requirements
Oil heat…but forced air vs baseboard system. Forced air can be converted to gas and even have air conditioning, as long as gas is “available” in the street. A quick search of the area for neighbors with gas heat and or cooking tells me it is available, and in fact the majority of homes in the area use gas vs oil at present. Note- where is this oil TANK?
– Main floor foorprints of 800 sf are likely too small (I generally like to see at least 1,000 sf)
– Three bedrooms on one level likely preferred, but master on main and two up may work. (Note: There was no such thing as “a master bedroom” at the time this home was built. Master Bedrooms came out sometime after I was born 🙂 which would be 1954. Not common until the 70s or early 80s. “Where is the master bedroom?” may be an odd question if you are looking at a small home built in 1915.
– “dishwasher” included is often a strong indication of a kitchen upgrade, since dishwashers did not exist in 1915. However that upgrade may have been anytime since the 70s when dishwashers became more commonplace.
– an EXTRA 500 sf detached garage is a considerable feature, especially with alley access, as long as it doesn’t take up the whole yard.

Looking at the sketch, the home “as built” was likely 22 feet across and 33 to 35 feet “deep”. Assuming you need 3′ to “pass” into the rest of the home, that leaves only (22-3) 19 feet for the width of both the bedroom and living room on a combined basis. Hence the “bedroom is small” and “living room is small”.

Once you have the basics covered by seeing a few homes, you can save yourself, and the homeowner, a lot of time and trouble by checking some of these things in advance. Master in the basement is noted in this case in the mls detail. The main floor being less than 800 sf is noted in the County Record.

By checking both the mls data AND the County Record data, you can better set your expectations before going to view a home.

If the seller left their home with the baby and drove around the block for a half hour and the feedback is “I don’t like the master bedroom being in the basement”, the seller will often get a little ticked off (or a LOT) given that information was available prior to viewing the home.

Coming up with some general parameters based on viewing homes at Open Houses or viewing vacant homes for sale, can save you and the seller a lot of time, trouble and frustration.
“A House is a Box you LIVE in”.

There are really not a lot of variations as to how that “box” can be constructed, as noted in that linked post. You really shouldn’t have to visit 100 homes to find the one that is best for you.

Making some general observations, and charting them out as you go
(or having your agent do that for you)
may help to keep you from “settling” for a house that you really don’t want,

just because you are tired of “the process”.

I will cover the other “basic” home styles in subsequent posts, and link them below. This multi-part series should help make your home search process a lot more productive, and enjoyable.

Should you buy a New home or an Old one?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Curbed and Eater come to Seattle

curbed seattle

Today I excitedly Welcome Curbed and Eater to Seattle.

Curbed.com and Eater.com 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!

The Dream Home You May Never Own

newtown-borough1Blythe Lawrence over at The Seattle Times asked me to write a little something about “people who fall in love with a particular house or houses and eagerly wait (sometimes for years) for them to go on the market.”

Have you ever “stalked” a home? Blythe’s request reminded of a time when I lived and worked in the little town of Newtown Borough, Pennsylvania, which was laid out by William Penn in 1682.. The town was chock full of historic and unique homes of varying styles, shapes and sizes. It was not uncommon for people to schedule their daily walks past their favorite houses and dream of some day owning “The big yellow house” or “the Grand Home near the Buck Hotel”.

Fairly often people would come to me and say “if the yellow house ever goes up for sale, can you let me know?” The yellow house was just about everyone’s favorite. More often people would come to my office wondering if any of their favorite homes, of which there were many, might be coming up for sale.  Being a rather bold person myself, I would say, “Well, why don’t we take a walk around town and you can point to all of the homes you like, and I’ll write down the addresses.  Then we’ll just knock on the door and ask the people if they are thinking about moving.  Or you can write them a letter complimenting their home and ask them to please let you know if they are ever thinking about selling. It always surprised me when they didn’t want to do that.

As Blythe pointed out in her email, more often people become “Real Estalkers” walking by the house almost every day. Dreaming that one of their favorites would one day have a “For Sale” sign out front and they would buy it. I thought it was pretty simple to just write them all and find out…but I realized that people didn’t want to know that NONE of their favorite houses would be coming on market. They didn’t want to shatter their dream that someday soon it would. They didn’t want to spoil their morning walks fantasizing about the possibility.

Do you have any stories for Blythe?  Have you ever stalked a home hoping it would someday be for sale, and then eventually buy it? Seems to me Rhonda Porter may have stalked and found her dream home. Blythe is planning to write a little something on this on Thursday, so if you have any stories for her, please post them here in the comments.

Thank you.

Spring Home Improvement: Deck maintenance

One of the things I enjoy about home improvement is trying out different products so see how they stand up to our Northwest climate.   The project that my wife and I knew was on our top five to-do list was to remove an on-grade slab of concrete which was our patio.    When we purchased our home the only access to the outside patio was through the garage door or walking around the house–a real drag that we had to change.   After we installed an Anderson sliding door from the kitchen and dining area for easy access to the back yard where the concrete patio was, we put our savings in high gear for our on-grade deck where we could lounge and watch the scenery and enjoy our Summer-like weather we are now experiencing.

Spring 09' Copyright Tim Kane

Spring 09' Copyright Tim Kane

I’ve repaired, cleaned and stained numerous decks for family and friends and after considering what products seemed to work well and what types of decks gave me the most frustration in repairing or maintaining, we settled on a composite deck system by Xtendex sold at retailers around Puget Sound.    This decking is extremely dense and has a wood-grain feature that is embossed into the board lengths during the manufacturing process.   My initial concern was that this would wear away, but after three years it still looks very good.

We purchased our deck and railing system at Dunn Lumber.  The color that worked best for us was Redwood.   I’ll be the first to admit this deck has taken a beating both with fireworks landing on it (and being launched from thanks to a creative son),  numerous food spills, ice,  snow (and me shoveling it off with…a shovel), and deck furniture.    This past Fall and Winter weather was as brutal as I can remember since we’ve lived in our home.  A lot of grime and dirt built up since last Spring when it was last cleaned.

Grime vs clean

Grime vs clean

See the pictures of how clean this deck looks after three seasons.   I used a mild detergent and then pressure washed the decking.   About 750 sq. ft was cleaned in about 90 minutes start to finish.   I couldn’t help but look at my neighbors house (Joy, I hope you don’t read this post and if you do I’ll buy you a Mocha) where their decking looked haggard, worn and peeling paint everywhere.   To have a wood deck refurbished, stained and railings painted would cost a bundle and the refurbish cycle would have to be close to every other year depending upon the quality of the materials, workmanship and finish.   Washing down our decking is about the only maintenance I have to look forward to for a number of years.   I we had to do anything all over again it would be to change the fastening system from what we have (Stainless Steel Top screws) to a hidden fastening system.

Detergent w/ pressure washing

Detergent w/ pressure washing

clean deck

clean deck

Good luck to all the D-I-Y ‘s this Spring and Summer.

What’s to like about Mid-Century Modern Homes in these Foreclosure days?

Jerry Gropp
These homes are called “Mid-Century Modern” because then was the heyday of architect-designed homes that were carefully fitted to the needs of the owners and the properties involved. Often located on
choice lots in established neighborhoods, most of these have mature gardens not needing to be planted. Many of these homes have had a number of owners- some better than others at maintenance.

Perhaps the main thing that sets these homes apart is the construction – many are “post and Beam” and are laid out showing the structure per the plan for this custom home in Fauntleroy, West Seattle overlooking the Ferry to Vashon Island.