Is Quill Realty the Only non-MLS Broker in Seattle?

Updated 9/13:¬†Quill Realty is now Added Equity Real Estate – but everything else is as true today as when I wrote it! ūüôā

I am loving life at the forefront of change in the real estate industry. My firm Quill Realty left the Northwest Multiple Listing Service on July 1. Since then, we’ve picked up some listings and sold a few houses – our first non-MLS sale closed Friday. Congratulations to this beautiful family!!!¬†Single Broker Listings in Seattle

So we’re selling houses at a dramatically reduced cost to our seller clients. In other words, the model appears to be working. Exciting times!

But it begs the question: Is Quill the only¬†non-MLS broker in Seattle? Or are there others, such that a synergy might begin to build. To date, I have yet to find one. I even have a friendly wager with a title representative. He knows lots and lots of people in the local industry, and so far he’s struck out.

Is that right? Is Quill the only voice calling for change in the MLS-bound wilderness? If you know of any others – in Seattle, or Western WA, or even the USA – I’d love to hear about them. Please leave a comment, and thanks much.

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?

Buying a House in Seattle 2015? Check out Quill’s free Home Buying Class

2015 Home Buyer Class

Free Home Buyer Seminars offered by Alternative Brokerage in Seattle

Are you thinking of buying a house in Seattle in 2015? Or perhaps it’s time to sell your home? Either way, you’ll learn some great information at Quill Realty’s free House Buying Seminars for 2015. ¬†We ‘re¬†offering a¬†free home buyer class¬†– great for sellers too – on the fourth Wednesday of every month through June, from 7p – 9p here at the Quill office in Georgetown.¬†Whether you‚Äôre a first time homebuyer or a seasoned veteran looking to ‚Äúmove up,‚ÄĚ you‚Äôll learn something valuable at these¬†free real estate classes. Topics will include the current and anticipated future of the real estate market, common real estate legal issues (including from the seller’s perspective), and real estate search tips for finding ‚Äúthe one‚ÄĚ (and other good marketing tips for sellers). All from the unique perspective of a consumer-driven, alternative real estate brokerage. ¬† Continue reading

“Offers to Be Considered on a Future Date”: Is This Really Fair to Buyers?

As I work my way back into the market following the launch of my real estate firm, I am learning just how difficult it is from a buyer’s perspective. ¬†Specifically, I am trying to get a client into a $400-500k home in West Seattle. ¬†It turns out there are only a few thousand other people looking for the exact same thing, and a few dozen homes that fit the description. ¬†OK, I’m making these numbers up, but you get the drift. ¬†It’s tough out there.

Until this week, I had a high degree of respect for sellers and their agents who noted in the listing that the seller would consider all offers on a particular date in the future.  This allows all interested buyers to really put their best foot forward, particularly by pre-inspecting so that the offer is not contingent on the inspection.  Particularly in older neighborhoods like West Seattle, where homes routinely approach or exceed the century mark in age, sellers appreciate knowing that there will be no renegotiation based on the condition of the home.

So on Wednesday afternoon, I met my client at the “target” home where we were awaiting the arrival of our inspector for a pre-inspection. ¬†The seller was to consider offers on Friday morning. ¬†Buyers and an agent were inside, I assumed simply touring the home. ¬†Suddenly, the owner emerged from the house and announced she had just sold the house to the folks who were inside with her. ¬†As the kids say, WTF???

It turns out that the seller had every right to accept this offer, notwithstanding the “offers to be considered” date as stated in the listing. ¬†NWMLS rules specifically allow a selling agent to present an offer directly to the seller long before the stated “deadline.” ¬†So it turns out my anger and frustration at the seller, the listing agent, and the selling agent who pulled the coup were all misplaced. ¬†(I wouldn’t even rule out an apology, now that I know the rules.)

But it begs the question: Is that fair to buyers? ¬†What if my client had completed the pre-inspection? ¬†He would have been out-of-pocket money specifically in reliance on the seller’s and listing agent’s representation in the listing. ¬†And even without that expense, it seems unfair that a stated “deadline” can be wholly circumscribed by one buyer at the expense of all others. ¬†If it were up to me, the rules would be changed. But all I can do is continue working towards providing buyers with an improved home buying process.

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. ūüôā 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.

Carpet Credits do not help sell your home

I think most people know that offering a carpet credit does not work…except that many sellers and real estate agents still fall back on the language “$5,000 allowance for carpet” as a lazy way out.

1) It doesn’t work because once people see filthy, pet stained carpet, they don’t buy the house period unless it is a super discount of well over the cost of replacing carpet.

2) It doesn’t work because the seller’s idea of what carpet will cost and the buyer’s idea of what carpet will cost is not nearly the same.

3) It doesn’t work because many areas where there is carpet in the home will not be replaced with carpet by the new owner. If there is nice fresh clean carpet there, they will buy the house and change some areas to wood later. But if there is dirty filthy carpet there then they have to come up with the money right away to put wood, and that is usually not practical for many people buying a home.

Back in the 90’s through 2004 or so the answer was easy. You went to Home Depot and said “Realtor Beige” and you were done. But Realtor beige went out of style. Realtor Beige was replaced with caramel colored or sage frieze, but that fad only lasted about 18 months on the sage and never worked for higher end homes.

If you have filthy carpet then you have to replace it with clean carpet. You don’t want to spend a ton of money on that carpet for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that the buyer may cut it out and throw it away in short order in some, but not all, of the places where you put it. You need a nice clean blank canvass that someone can live with for two to five years. If you have a higher end home costing $700,000 or more…stop reading now. This is more for the standard $450,000 or less townhome or split-entry or tri-level. Once you get to a full and newer two story home costing $650,000 plus…different answer. This answer is also good for condos, apartments and rental properties.

Below is a picture of the carpet. I might not choose this color, which is a fleck blend, but this carpet is so low in cost that it only comes in one color. ūüôā You want to minimize cost and maximize clean and odor free and utilitarian type serviceable for most people…i.e. neutral as to color but not too white-light.


Let’s jump straight to cost since cost is the reason why I use this carpet over and over again. It is a Home Depot product called…uh oh. They don’t have it anymore. ūüôā I am writing this post for a client so I will proceed with a suitable replacement carpet and update the costing. The carpet I was using was only 55 cents per square foot and then it went up to 62 cents a square foot. But the option is not currently available and the lowest priced replacement is 90 cents a square foot. Let’s allow $1.00 a square foot for a “twist” carpet. There are several options at Home Depot between $.90 and $.98 cents a sf. The benefit of a twist carpet is it has a thicker look without added cost and the padding is not meant to be bouncy thick. So you can use cheap padding at about $4.50 a square yard.

Rough cost for a whole house of 1,200 to 1,500 sf is $2,500 all things included IF you do it the way I am suggesting below. Of course not all of the floors in the house are carpet. The bathrooms and kitchens are not carpet. The last 1,750 sf house had 1,460 sf of carpet. That is the one in the picture. The one I’m working numbers for up right now is a 1,500 sf house so I’m estimating 1,200 sf of carpet. The total price should come out the same at $2,000 to $2,500 as the carpet price went up but the house is smaller.

I haven’t found anyone that can beat Home Depot prices and I’ve shopped around. Once I found someone who could match the price with a higher quality carpet, but higher quality is not always better as many of those colors have gone out of style…as in too light or too white. You are better off with current color cheaper carpet.

Get new padding!!! Often we are trying to freshen up not only look but smell. Even without pets you have “dusty old house smell” or cooking odors stuck in the carpet and padding. Not worth the savings usually to not get new padding.

TO GET LOWEST COST pull the old carpet and padding out yourself. Leave the tack boards (wood strips around the room edge with nails sticking up.

1,200 sf of carpet at 90 cents to a dollar a sf is $1,200. Padding should be about half that cost, so $1,800 for carpet and padding. Usually Home Depot has a whole house installation special for about $100. I don’t know how they do it, but they do. That special may not always be running, but let’s assume you have some flexibility in timing. STEPS are additional! so if it is a one level condo or apartment or a 1 story home you can still bring it in for $2,000 including installation and tax. Steps cost about $8 each for a simple box step. The properties I have done are either a 14 step tri-level or a one flight up 2 story. But a lot of steps like an extra full flight up or down you have to add $8 per step or thereabouts.

In the job I am costing and the one in the picture there are about 14 steps for a total extra cost of $110.

So “Hall Up, Master bedroom and closet, 2 additional bedrooms and closets, additional up hall closet, family room, and stairs”. $1,200 carpet, $600 padding, $110 for steps, $100 for installation is $2,010 which is exactly what it cost for the house in the picture including the tax with the cheaper carpet. So plan on $2,500 for a little wiggle room.

If you are a seller, spending $2,500 for new carpet is MORE EFFECTIVE than giving a “$5,000 carpet allowance”. Your home will sell faster and for more money and cost you half as much or less. A buyer thinks carpet will cost at least $10,000, so they won’t like your $5,000 offer for new carpet. Don’t be lazy. Spend the $2,500 on new carpet vs a “sorry my carpet is dirty credit”.

Selling a Kirkland Condo – Staging and Photos

condo windows

Whether I am helping a client sell a house or a condo, my thought process is generally the same.

Start at “buyer profiling”. Who is likely to buy this property? Then make a list of the top 3 to 5 reasons why THAT person, whom you have targeted as the likely buyer, will choose THIS property over others that are for sale.

The first part, “buyer profiling” is an old method I learned when I was a Certified Corporate Property Specialist for Coldwell Banker back in the 90s selling vacant properties where the owner was relocated for job reasons. There is less of an emotional pull from the owner, and the process is more of a business effort to sell, with little to no accommodations for the seller’s emotional “triggers”.

For this condo, which was sold about a month ago, I determined the individual would likely be a single professional person…or at least that would be the person who might pay the highest price for it. I also determined that the person (or possibly couple) would likely be younger vs older because there were a lot of steps up to the front door. Not likely an “empty nester”, as might be the case for a ground floor unit with no steps.

Next I listed the reasons why someone would choose THIS condo over the other 65 or so condos for sale in Kirkland at the time priced at $250,000 or less.

1) View of Lake Washington (only 6 of 65 have a view of Lake Washington)
2) 1,000+ square feet (only 11 of 65 are over 1,000 sf)
3) Super high ceilings on the inside interior walls of the main living space
4) Clerestory Windows at the top of the high ceilings
5) Travertine and “wood” floors vs carpet

It is very important that you match your staging and photos to the main selling features of the property. NICE is not good enough. This particular condo is a great example of that because the owner hired a professional stager and I had the photographer take photos…but…

I just wasn’t happy. I didn’t feel the property would sell at its highest possible price based on that in person and online presentation. It was nice, the photos were “good” and better than most if not ALL other properties for sale. But they just didn’t tell the STORY of THIS condo well.

condo before after 1

condo before after table

condo view from sink

Kirkland Condofull set of before photos and the full set of after photos click on those links from the photographers site at HD Estates.

I use Brooke at HD Estates for my listing photos, and it was funny that when she first came she knew immediately that I had not staged the condo. She had done several of my properties this year, all of which I had staged myself, and she just knew. The tired old floor lamp with the fern…the granny orange shaw vs the red throw…the weeds on the table vs the art deco glass bowl…even in the bedrooms and bathrooms she just knew something wasn’t quite right. ūüôā

I’m glad I went to the extra time, trouble and cost. The owner paid $92,700 for this condo just two years ago and we were able to sell it in less than a week with five offers at $233,000 with no home inspection contingency and no must appraise clause.

Might that same result have happened if I did not re-stage it myself and have the photos redone? I don’t really know for sure. What do you think?

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. ūüôā

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.

Real Estate Negotiation Skills: What Are They And Who Has Them?

It’s not hard to find real estate agents who hold themselves out as “expert negotiators.” ¬†There is even a certification – Certified Negotiation Expert, or CNE – that agents can obtain to further enhance their skills and reputation. ¬†But really, what makes for a great negotiator when buying or selling real estate? ¬†And who has those skills?

At it’s most basic level, “negotiation” is a subset of the art of persuasion. ¬†An expert negotiator knows as much about the opposite party as possible, and in particular their motivation for entering into the proposed transaction and their desired result. ¬†For example, when negotiating a purchase, the negotiator should be asking herself, “What is motivating this seller? ¬†What can my buyer do to address the needs of this seller?” ¬†The negotiator uses this knowledge to meet the seller’s needs as much as possible, which of course will help to facilitate the sale.

There are other elements to being a great negotiator. ¬†For example, a negotiator may be able to extract a significant concession by setting up and standing on a bluff. ¬†This is the “poker-face” aspect of negotiations. ¬†Depending on the circumstances, a good negotiator may play it “close to the vest” and not reveal much about the party for whom she is negotiating. ¬†This is, to a certain extent, the flip side of knowing the other party’s motivation. ¬†If you don’t reveal your motivations, the other party will not be able to exploit them (although they won’t be able to address them either). ¬†That said, this is ¬†not a particularly helpful skill in real estate because the negotiations are in writing and not face-to-face. ¬†Plus, there is always risk in bluffing, because if your bluff is called your position will be weaker in the future.

Empathy is also a good negotiation skill, particularly in the context of residential real estate. ¬†Buyers and sellers of their homes have a significant emotional investment in the proposed transaction, and therefore they may not act “rationally.” ¬†For example, a buyer may think he is requesting a modest concession following the inspection, but the seller is highly offended by the effort and the deal craters as a result. ¬†A good negotiator takes this emotional component into account.

Finally, there is the most important negotiation skill (particularly in a highly competitive market like this one): The ability to assist the client in relinquishing some contractual rights and assuming some contractual risks in order to strengthen the offer.  Admittedly, this skill is only relevant, generally speaking, when there are multiple potential buyers and multiple offers.  But in that situation, there will be one winner and a whole bunch of losers, and everyone wants to be that winner.

When drafting an offer, a buyer generally includes several contractual terms that protect the buyer at the seller’s expense. ¬†For example, there is a financing contingency, so if financing fails the buyer gets back his earnest money; there is an inspection contingency, so if the buyer is not satisfied with the condition of the property the buyer gets his earnest money back. ¬†A good negotiator will have an intimate understanding of these potential contractual terms. ¬†That negotiator will explain to the buyer how these terms protect him, and how buyer can forego some or all of those protections (like, for example, by foregoing the protections of the financing contingency). ¬†The buyer can then make an informed decision about which protections, if any, to forego.

The expert negotiator can then specifically structure the offer, such as by using an addendum to alter the ¬†terms, to make the offer much more attractive to the seller (basically eliminating the buyer’s protections so if buyer doesn’t complete the purchase for any reason the buyer must forfeit the earnest money). ¬†In doing so, the negotiator will significantly increase the buyer’s chances of beating out other buyers.

So who has such skills?  Of the four examples above, a good real estate agent should fully understand and be able to apply the first three.  The fourth?  That is the practice of law.  Agents are neither trained nor authorized to apply this skill.  If you rely on a real estate agent for this service, you do so at your peril.  If you want a negotiator who has this skill, you should hire an attorney to assist you in the negotiations.