Moving to Seattle from the East Coast

Everyone who is buying a home comes to the marketplace with some preconceptions as to how things will proceed. If someone is selling a house in the area and buying a different house in the same area, there are not as many surprises that cause a lot of confusion. If someone is moving here from California, the process of buying a home is not different and the home styles are often so completely different that the expectation of what they will find is not carved in stone.

When someone is moving here from the East Coast, especially the Northeast, there are a few differences best known before you head out to buy a house.



The main difference in the home style is what is called “Craftsman” style. If you are building a house, they often will ask “Traditional or Craftsman?” when asking for the main styling of all of the millwork in the house. While “Traditional” will resemble an East Coast Colonial style a little bit…”traditional” does not mean “colonial”. The floor plan may or may not be different, but the facade will definitely be different.

The four homes in the photo are basically new homes by the same builder with the two on the left being on the East Coast and the two on the right being in The Seattle Area.

Some of the main differences:

1) Wood or wood facsimile products vs Brick A lot of people moving here from other States and other Countries like the more solid look of brick. But know that one of the reasons this area avoided brick for the most part is due to earthquake activity. Wood has some flexibility. Brick and mortar joints do not. There are plenty of old brick tudors still standing that have been through earthquakes. But I have seen many where there are patches over time from the brick cracking in a step pattern. I had some pictures in my phone of a house over in Montlake with this issue recently. If you do buy a brick house, examine it carefully, not just for cracks but for sections where the mortar is wider and often in a step pattern. Do use a structural engineer in addition to or as the home inspector as well. The new homes the brick is just a “facade” and not part of the construction. Still, brick doesn’t move well, even to a small degree.

That said, many of the homes today are built with a wood-like cement product as the siding. More expensive and custom homes still use wood. But most tract homes use the wood-facsimile product that may not have more movement than brick. You just don’t have to deal with the mortar issues.

2) Shutters Most of the time you will feel like the shutters are missing. Often, especially when buying older homes of the exact same style you can find on the East Coast, people will remark that they need to add shutters. Colonial homes had shutters going back centuries of the type shown on the homes in the photos on the left. Once in awhile you will find a form of shutters here that are more of a tudor style shutter. Same with the uneven pitched roof on the bottom photo on the right. There is a tudor influence. But no shutters has been more common for a very long time and because the homes were built that way it may not be easy to add them.

3) Closing and Closing Day


This has always been the most significant difference in the process, and one that often confuses people who are buying homes.


This is vastly different from the East Coast where closings happen all day and several times in a day, usually every hour or so.

Whether or not you are moving here from the East Coast, it does seem a bit odd for the seller to be signing over his house to a buyer before it is paid for. It also seems a bit odd to sign all of your closing paperwork as the buyer and even bring your funds to closing, and not get the keys to the house. Even more odd that the day of closing is not the day you can tell your movers to bring your belongings to your new house.

The difference is that on the West Coast (and several other States) “closing” means the County has actually recorded the Deed to the property in the buyers name. On the East Coast that is not the case and the Deed is often recorded “in due course” and sometimes a month or so after closing. HUGE difference. On the East Coast they do a table funding and the buyer and seller are often in the same room with the agents and the closing agent. They buyer brings their money, the lender sent the money early in the day, the seller gets a check and hands over the keys to the buyer. All that within one hour. So if the signing is at 10 you can usually have the movers start moving things in around noon. If your closing is at 1 you can usually have the movers ready to move things in by 3 ish.

NOT so on the West Coast. On the West Coast the seller sometimes signs the new Deed over to the buyer a couple of weeks before closing. The buyer most often signs a few days before closing. Closing Day is too late to do much of anything. If it all wasn’t done before Closing Day, or at least most of it, less likely it will close by end of day. Closing is a phone call saying “we have recording numbers”. That means the new Deed has been recorded in the buyer’s name and that usually happens between 4 and 5 p.m. (not always; but often)


Once in awhile the seller is not completely moved out by the time that phone call comes in. Technically they have until 9 p.m. to be vacated and hand over the keys. I have only seen it go all the way to 9 p.m. a couple of times in a dozen years. But neither is it practical to want the keys to the house as soon as you get the phone call that it is closed.

The Seller gives the keys to their agent. Their agent gives the keys to the buyer’s agent. The buyer gets the keys from their agent. Most always the Agent for the Buyer can’t get the keys until after it closes. There are a dozen different ways we arrange this depending on the agents and parties, but do know that having cleaners or movers standing outside the door at 5:30 p.m. can end very badly.

Things are changing a bit because of the new rules that lenders must follow as of October 3rd. We are seeing more table funded loans and more buyers signing the morning of closing. We can’t move to a system where all buyers sign the morning of closing. It just wouldn’t work for the Title Companies.

As a buyer you don’t get much notice as to when you will be signing. More and more people are paying an extra cost for a mobile signer so they can sign after business hours or very early in the morning before work.

Just know that Closing Day on the West Coast is very, very different and once your loan documents get to escrow, there will be a signing appointment scheduled with very little advance notice. It’s a bit chaotic, but, it’s just how it is done here.

If you have moved here from the East Coast and have some other observations as to the differences, do note them in the comments along with where you moved here from.

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?

“Zillow Talk: The New Rules of Real Estate”: Zillow Tries Too Hard, Tips Its Hand; the Future of Real Estate Isn‚Äôt Here Yet (But It‚Äôs Close)

Zillow Talk: The New Rules of Real Estate, by Spencer Rascoff and Stan Humphries

Reviewed by Craig Blackmon

This book by Zillow’s CEO and Chief Economist, respectively, is a wonderful advertisement for Zillow. It’s also a good book. It’s easy to read – really easy, clearly written to appeal to the broadest spectrum of readers – and very¬†informative. It does a good job of illustrating the power of data and how it can be harnessed¬†to make the most¬†informed investment decision possible when buying a house.

But the book aims higher. It concludes with some stirring language about the power of data¬†(don’t worry, this doesn’t require a Spoiler Alert): “Numbers don’t lie. And they won’t lead you astray. Indeed, they’ll help you find your way home.” (The same expression dominates the Zillow home page.)

Ah, home. The term is associated with so many wonderful things: family, laughter, love, shelter, protection, and on and on. “Home” is not just a place. It’s a very special place, a destination that is both more common and more unique than any other.

Is this book going to help you find your way to your home? Probably not. In fact, I hope not. Home requires more than a well-researched financial decision. Much more. Besides, any prediction of the future is just that, a prediction, and in the meantime life marches on. A good life needs a good home, regardless of the financial future.

With its focus on the trees and not the forest, the reader is left with a sense that it is much ado about nothing. The book relentlessly¬†promotes the web site, implicitly and explicitly, from start to finish. You’re left wondering: Is that it? Has Zillow really changed real estate? The web site provides useful insight, sure. But it hardly upends real estate, an industry that continues to operate on a¬†19th Century model. Does Zillow show us¬†the final, evolved real estate industry of the modern, technological, information age? ¬†I mean, nobody uses a travel agent or a stock broker anymore….

The answer is revealed by a closer examination of Zillow and the people behind it. I believe Zillow is an ongoing project that will change dramatically as real estate evolves. And it will be instrumental in that evolution. But Zillow itself cannot lead the change. And in the meantime, it uses a business model that keeps it in business, biding its time until the eventual evolution.

This book is a “must read” for investors and real estate brokers, but not homeowners

In other words, folks who make a business out of real estate will benefit from reading this book. It does an excellent job of demonstrating how data – available via, a constant underlying refrain ¬†throughout the book – can be used to calculate a property’s current and future value. So if the primary and essentially sole reason for purchasing a house is to make money (or if you sell houses yourself), this is a great book. It’s loaded with a lot of great insight.

For example, did you know that proximity to Starbucks is a good indicator of better appreciation? (Chapter 4) Or that you should list your home between March Madness and the Masters if you want the best chance at the best price? (Chapter 12) Fascinating stuff and worth considering when you are investing hundreds of thousands of dollars. A slightly better percentage return, thanks to in-depth analysis of the available data, can lead to quite a bit more money.

But if you’re looking to buy a home, don’t bother with this book. It’s myopic focus on dollar values simply doesn’t foster a good decision when looking for a home. Should you take into account financial considerations? Of course. But the primary focus should be on finding the right home for you and your family. So, while good schools may be an indicator of future value (Chapter 6), that shouldn’t be the focus. Rather, look for good schools so that your kids get a good education. This is a home. Not just an investment.

Zillow Is Setting the Stage for the Future of Real Estate

In its current iteration, Zillow doesn’t really do ¬†much in terms of bringing the real estate industry into the 21st Century. As the book makes clear, Zillow simply wants to attract as many visitors to its web site as possible. Why? Because Zillow makes money as a lead generator for today’s real estate brokers.

In other words, Zillow currently complements and feeds off of traditional real estate brokers. The more people who use the Zillow site, the more leads that Zillow generates, and thus the more money it makes. Zillow is built on web traffic, nothing more. And it doesn’t do anything to disrupt a long-standing traditional industry, because that industry is it’s target market. ¬†Even though that same industry is ripe for disruption.

Which is weird. Because the guy who co-founded Zillow previously co-founded Expedia. The web site that put travel agents out of business. Rich Barton is a widely recognized and highly regarded “disrupter.” His motto is “power to the people.” He believes that the internet can empower consumers in new ways that lead to better and more efficient ways of doing things. According to Mr. Barton, his companies¬†Zillow and Expedia have “created new opportunities for new professionals to make new businesses for themselves.”

Except that Zillow hasn’t. Not yet, anyway. It’s merely expanded existing opportunities (lead generation) for a long-standing professional industry that allows it to sustain it’s dominant market position. Nothing new there.

But what if Zillow is a work in progress? What if, in only the highest level strategic planning documents, there is a plan for Zillow 2.0? That would start to make some sense.

What the Future of Real Estate is Going to Look Like

Today, there are two ways to sell your home: FSBO, or using the traditional cooperative real estate broker system. Home sellers can market their properties via many different channels other than the local MLS. Including, of course, Zillow, which shows both “Make Me Move” and true “for sale by owner” listings. So an owner is empowered by the internet and can forego using the real estate broker system, which includes payment of a commission to a cooperating agent.

But what if the home seller wants the professional insight and counsel of a real estate broker? From advice on preparing the home to market, to staging, to keeping the seller informed and educated, a real estate broker provides substantial value. And the broker is a trained marketing professional who will efficiently and effectively utilize the full array of marketing channels available in the 21st Century: yard sign, flyer, and open houses and tours, of course; but also web sites and social media.

Today, that real estate broker can exist, thanks to Zillow. With its brand recognition and size, it is used by a large number of home buyers. A “listing” on Zillow can lead buyers to the home, without paying for other agents to bring them. So a home seller can sell for a fraction of the cost, as they will no longer need to pay the 3% buyer agent commission.

In other words, Zillow has positioned itself to be one of the successors to the multiple listing services maintained by cooperating real estate brokerages all over the country. And by positioning itself there, it provides the platform necessary for meaningful change in real estate. But until that change happens, Zillow will sustain itself (and its shareholders) by working within the existing system.


Multiple Offer Situation versus Bidding War: What are they, and why do they happen?

If you’re a home buyer and looking for information on how to win a bidding war (or “multiple offer situation”), check out my insight by following that link. For an academic discussion of the difference between the two terms, read on….

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.

What is an Alternative Brokerage? Who is an Alternative Real Estate Agent?

One of the great challenges of being on the “bleeding edge” of change in any industry is identifying the words¬†to be used in discussing¬†the new model. The real estate industry is, at more than a century old, steeped in history and culture.¬†So it’s even more of a challenge to create a dialog that accurately captures the essence of¬†a particular¬†innovation and the characteristics that distinguish it from the old way of doing business. It’s hard to create new meanings for words that have long-standing and well-understood definitions.

One term used to describe real estate firms that are working to change the industry is “alternative.” But absent some definition, the term is meaningless. So what is, exactly, an “alternative brokerage”? And who would be an “alternative agent”?

Does use of the internet define Alternative Brokerage?

One possibility: A firm that leverages the internet to more efficiently provide client services, and passes at least some of the savings back to the consumer. The second clause is important. Every real estate broker by now has leveraged the internet, in particular by sharing their listings not just with other brokers but with the public via the internet (a change driven by anti-trust efforts of the Department of Justice). So simply using the internet cannot be considered alternative.

But passing the savings created by this efficiency back to the consumer? Now that’s new. On the other hand, though, there are lots of brokers out there now who will negotiate unique fees with their buyer clients and who will then rebate the balance of the seller-paid commission to the client at closing. These brokers recognize the fact that most buyers now do at least some of the home search themselves. Does that make their real estate firm an alternative brokerage?

No. If that’s the case, then the term “alternative” doesn’t begin to describe the many distinctions between the new business models that are emerging in the real estate industry and the traditional way of doing business. Agents (legally now called brokers, previously licensees) have been independent contractors, each largely responsible for their own real estate practice (independence is the hallmark of being an “independent contractor”). Every agent must be licensed through a managing broker, who remains responsible for the agent’s conduct. That agent then either pays a flat fee to the managing broker (i.e. a desk fee), or splits in some percentage with the managing broker (and firm) the commissions earned. One managing broker can be responsible for two hundred or more agents in the office. Each and every one of those 200+ agents is responsible for finding their own clients and generating their own income.

So the traditional model is defined in part by independence for the agents and¬†limited oversight. If one agent in the office decides to charge a lower fee, does that make the whole office “alternative”? Clearly not.

It’s more than the internet. Modern business principles define an Alternative Brokerage

Therefore, the definition needs to be expanded. Here’s another possibility:¬†A real estate firm that operates as a modern business¬†and passes some of the savings realized by those modern efficiencies back to the consumer. This definition still captures “leveraging the internet,” clearly a hallmark of operating as a modern business. But what about the notion of branding and efficient marketing? In the 21st Century, there are more efficient means of advertising the firm’s services and acquiring new clients than making¬†each agent responsible for their own business.

Finally, a modern business is more likely to value the brand and the resulting need to provide high quality service every time to every consumer. Many of the new real estate models employ their agents. This gives them a far greater degree of control over their agents’ conduct and the services they provide. While generalizations cannot be drawn about any particular agent, there is no dispute that the bar to entry into the profession is quite low. A modern business structure reduces the risk generally that a consumer will be poorly served by a real estate agent.

So operating as a modern business, and passing the savings realized by the resulting efficiencies back to the consumer, seems to define an alternative brokerage. Which begs the question: Can¬†an alternative agent only work for an alternative brokerage? I think so. Otherwise, we once again define “alternative” way down, such that it’s only a shade off traditional. In today’s real estate industry, where there lots of alternative brokerages – as defined here – that definition just doesn’t convey reality.

What say you, RCG community? What is an “alternative brokerage“? Who is an “alternative broker”?