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.

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

Ardell recently posted on this subject. She noted there really isn’t that much out there about this now-common aspect of buying or selling a home (common, that is, for MLS-listed homes, you can avoid the frenzy by looking for homes on MLS alternatives). She and I then engaged in some typically spirited discourse, which in turn helped me to further frame and analyze the issues raised.

Multiple Offer Situation and Bidding War defined

First, some definitions.  A “multiple offer situation” is where a seller receives two or more written offers on the property. A “bidding war,” in contrast, typically refers to oral negotiations between the listing agent and two or more of the buyers’ agents. A bidding war typically erupts, if at all, after the seller has received several written offers. The listing agent then “shops” the best offer in an attempt to negotiate the absolutely best contract possible. (Note that a listing agent can also “shop” the first offer received and before receipt of others, particularly where the seller will not be looking at all offers on a specific date.)

Sellers encourage multiple offer situations by telling buyers that the seller will look at all offers on a particular date in the future. In response, most buyers will submit an offer that includes an escalation addendum (which automatically escalates the offer amount above some competing offer) as well as waive some or all of the usual contingencies (inspection, financing, title, and information verification). So the seller can expect to receive better offers that bid against each other, resulting in a winning offer at the highest offer amount. The seller can sign the winning offer, and the house will be under contract.

If you’re looking for information about how to win a multiple offer situation or bidding war, I’ve written about the topic on the Quill blog.

When a Multiple Offer Situation becomes a Bidding War

Sometimes, the seller might counter one of the buyers in an effort to get even slightly better terms. If it stops there, not a  bidding war. But if the seller – or more accurately the listing agent – then calls ANOTHER buyer’s agent and gives THAT buyer the chance to beat the first buyer… Well, that’s a declaration of “war.”

It sucks to lose a multiple offer situation. For the losing buyers, of course, but also their agents who invested time and effort in the now unpaid endeavor. Bidding wars? That’s acid in the face of buyers and their agents. They are inherently unfair, as not every buyer is included in the bidding war negotiations. So buyers and their agents frequently cry “foul!” when they are subjected to a bidding war.

So is a Bidding War legal? Or ethical?

But is it a “foul” for the seller to instigate a bidding war? No, it is not.

First, the law. A real estate broker owes very few legal duties to the other parties to the transaction. And a broker has no legal obligation to keep the amount or the terms of any offer confidential. So can a listing agent legally shop an offer? Absolutely. Can a listing agent legally call one buyer’s agent, then another, then another, revealing details along the way in order to extract the best offer possible? You bet.

OK, well, what about ethical considerations? Does a broker have a professional ethical obligation to not shop an offer, or not instigate a bidding war? Nope, no formal ethical obligation either.

In the world of real estate, professional ethics are generally set by the National Association of Realtors. Most – but not all – real estate brokers are members of this association, thus earning the title “Realtor.” It is generally accepted that the NAR Code of Ethics sets the parameters of professional ethics.

The NAR notes that offers “generally aren’t confidential.” The Code of Ethics requires a broker to protect and promote the interests of the client. Thus, a seller may “even disclose details about [a buyer’s] offer to another buyer in hope of convincing that buyer to make a ‘better’ offer.”  While the Code requires honesty in dealing with others, it does not require “fairness” given that term’s inherent subjectivity. On the other hand, the preamble to the Code notes that the title “Realtor” has “come to connote competency, fairness, and high integrity.” So at least arguably, if a broker discloses the facts of an offer to one buyer, the broker should disclose to all buyers, particularly if that broker is a “Realtor.” [All information in this paragraph pulled from linked sources.]

But that’s a long way from prohibiting a bidding war in the first place. So in fact, there is no legal or professional obligation to avoid a bidding war. Instead, if the seller so instructs the listing broker, the broker has an obligation to instigate one.

So why doesn’t every multiple offer situation result in a bidding war? First, because there are strong informal professional ethics in play, as well as personal ethics. Almost all agents represent both buyers and sellers at various times. So we’ve “walked in the shoes” of a buyer’s agent, and we know first hand how unfair a bidding war can be. And since most of us are in the industry for the long haul, we may need to work with the same agents again down the road. If we treat them poorly today…. Plus, most folks just have a general distaste for this sort of ruthless negotiating.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, bidding wars – like any war! – can end in disaster. If the listing agent shops the offer but all of the buyers are turned off by the aggressive negotiating, then the seller will have wasted the momentum of the multiple offer situation. So there is a good argument to be made that a bidding war, being so exceptionally aggressive, isn’t in the seller’s best interests.

I hope you found this information useful! And if you’re a buyer, hang in there. While inventory is unlikely to improve much today, it certainly will over the next year, or two or three. And if you must buy in the meantime, recognize that it will be a tough row to hoe. Best of luck.

Jillayne Schlicke Made Inman’s 100 Most Influential List!


A huge congratulations to our very own Jillayne Schlicke on making this year’s list of the 100 Most influential Real Estate Leaders!

Here’s how they describe her:

Jillayne Schlicke is a researcher, writer and educator who advocates that real estate and mortgage industry professionals maintain a high level of training and ethical standards. As CEO of CE Forward Inc., Schlicke teaches continuing education courses and conducts convention workshops and keynote presentations for the real estate and mortgage industries. She’s also the founder and executive director for The National Association of Mortgage Fiduciaries, which seeks to help the industry prepare for the emergence of fiduciary duties by raising ethical standards, creating a framework for industry …

Lessons from the Foxhole: A Nevadan Takes a Stab at Seattle’s Real Estate Future

joe salcedo[Editor’s Note: I get asked all the time if people from outside of Seattle can write for Rain City Guide and I always say no… I really like keeping RCG as a “Seattle” thing. However, recently Joe Salcedo of the Reno Real Estate Blog reached out to ask if he could publish a one-time post on RCG about his experiences with the Reno, Nevada market and the insights it might provide to the Seattle community… and I bit. I’ve published the article below. Enjoy! ~Dustin]

In August of 2005, our real estate market crashed.   It’s been five years and we’re slowly trying to get back on our feet.  I’m here to share some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way; the prodigal brother, if you will.

I started with a blank page.  One weekend after, baffled and fascinated and my curiosity violently piqued, here’s what I found out about your market:

  • If you waited until Seattle home prices went down in July 2007 (before you realized the market was having problems), you’re going to be at least one year behind.  Check for other signals. Home prices take too long to reveal itself profitably.

In Feb 2006, less than a year after the Reno real estate market crashed, I called an emergency meeting (coupled with other factors like plunging housing starts and declining home builder stocks) after being greeted by this chart:
Reno Home Resales
Yes, all markets are local but we all came from our mother’s womb.  Like a bearish stock market pulling down three out of four stocks with it – (both weak and strong companies) – majority of real estate markets fall with the general market.   Follow the home builder sector group in the stock market (Investor’s Business Daily tracks it every Monday). Check housing starts and building permitsto see a glimpse of the future:
Housing Starts Chart

  • For potential sellers: Consider cutting your losses short.  If you’re barely making it with house payments (perhaps using borrowed money just to make it) and hoping that the market would change soon, perhaps it’s time to think about making some tough decisions.  Distressed properties tend to pull home prices down further (see: notice of trustee sale graph below.)

If you’re comfortable with your mortgage payment (you bought a house on or before June 2005) and moving is too painful, it’s ok to stay; just know that based on present real estate conditions, it may take a few years before your house will appreciate from the price you bought it.

Percentage Home Price Change

Notice of Trustee Sale by Month Chart


  • Short sales and foreclosures are like a mysterious disease that defies normal market cause and effect.  Inventory could be down, demand up, but price still down.  This has been happening in our market since 2007.

And like your resident queen, the author has made premature bottom calls by not taking into account the “black swan

Join us this Friday for a Tweetup at Elysian Brewery

Elysian BreweryI’m going to be in town this week and thought it would be fun to organize a tweetup this Friday at the Elysian Brewery in Capitol Hill… and you’re invited!

More than likely, there will be more than a few real estate folks, but everyone is invited to join us.  Here are the details:

  • Date: Friday, October 23, 2009
  • Time: 4:30pm – 7:30pm
  • Location: Elysian Brewery
  • Street: 1221 E Pike St.

And while there’s no need to RSVP, I would love to know if you’re planning to show up!   You can either leave a comment, or use the tweetup and/or Facebook invites to let us know you’ll be there as well as invite others:

The RCG meetups of the past have not only been a blast, but I’ve always ended up meeting great people.  In particular,  I’m thinking of the Ballard one where a huge number of people who became contributors showed up, and the last-minute event we put together with Sami Inkman of Trulia when he dared show up in Seattle (Trulia definitely didn’t have many supporters among agents back then!).   There was also the meetup last January, which I totally missed out on.  (Don’t let that be you this time!)  🙂

I’m sure we’re going to have a fun evening and hope to see you there!

Are you going? REBarCampSeattle and more…

logoThere are a ton of great Seattle real estate events in the near future with RCG contributors playing a huge part, so last week I asked RCG contributors to let me know which events they were going to be participating in and I thought I’d give a quick summary…

REBarCamp Seattle, 9/8 (tomorrow!):

  • A gathering of passionate real estate professionals. A casual, open, and fun way to learn about cutting edge real estate marketing ideas.
  • RCG Contributors attending include: Rhonda Porter, Ardell DellaLoggia, Galen Ward, and Cortney Cooper

SCKAR Event, 9/22:

  • How how to use Social Media panel discussion with Rhona Porter, David Gibbons and Matt Heinz.  Moderated by Claudia Wicks.

Lenders Connect (WAMP), 10/5:

  • 18th Annual wholesale lenders conference
  • Rhona Porter, Jillayne Schlicke (speaker)

REbarcamp Bellevue, 10/6:

  • Rhonda Porter (organizer!), Ardell DellaLoggia

Washington State Association of Realtors Convention, 10/12 & 10/13:

  • Jillayne Schlicke (speaker)

Also, if you check out the event conversation on FB, you’ll see that there’s also a variety of courses being taught by RCG contributors in the near future!

And If you’re gonna be at any of these events, let us know to look out for you!

The Third Bubble …

It has often been said that we have even more of a bubble in real estate agents than we have in real estate prices. In fact we have had three concurrent bubbles – house prices, number of purchases, and number of agents. Unfortunately for the members of the residential real estate sales profession, we are making a lot more ‘progress’ on reducing the first two bubbles than we are on the third bubble.

Last week I went through an exercise of trying to track the growth and reported decline of the number of licensed agents in King County, including metro Seattle and Bellevue, who are members of the Northwest Multiple Listing Service. I had heard that the NWMLS had expected about 25% fallout in 2008. As I got into it, it looked like taking the transaction volumes and median prices at the same time might produce some interesting insights into agent incomes and the desirability of the profession. ( I admit that I considered an alternate title for this post: ‘The Grass Is Not Always Greener…’)

So here’s what I found, using year-end data from published NWMLS statistical reports, but doing my own analysis (and making my own errors – please let me know if you find some or think I missed a point of interpretation).

First are three charts to show the Three Bubbles of King County Real Estate:

Second is to show how the growth in number of agents has affected the average number of transactions per agent. A couple of notes on methodology here. For transactions per agent, I split each transaction into two sides, and then just divided the total transaction sides by the number of agents. For the 2009 estimate, I took the business volume for the first four months, through April, and factored it up by the same ratio as the last 8 month of 2008 were to the first 4 months of that year. We’ll get another check on it shortly with the May 2009 data.

(Required disclaimer: Statistics not compiled or published by the Northwest multiple Listing Service)


Note how the average number of transactions per agent have been dropping dramatically as the total number of agents rises and the total number of transactions falls. Total number of agents is only down about 10% so far. Some people expected a far faster fallout rate, including NWMLS in one talk I heard, but the inhibiting question is probably ‘Where would they go for an alternate job in this economy?’ A related article from Inman News appeared in the Times last Sunday – Less Experienced Hands Leaving the Business.

And third is to show how the combination of all three factors plays out in average agent earnings. For nominal earnings, I assumed 2.5% commission on each transaction side – we don’t always get 3%, and we often have to give up a bit here or there to keep everyone happy and on track. The data behind the charts is stored here.


So for the average agent (and I recognize that most clients would prefer to deal with an above average agent), earnings have dropped from a decent professional income to a pretty marginal income. Last year (2008) it was a little over $30,000 – about $15/hr if you work full time, and this year looks worse. How about $10/hr?

I guess the grass really isn’t always greener…

Remember When There Was No Bubble?

It’s been 4 years – let’s reminisce for a moment, shall we?

I remember. I also remember incurring the wrath of the bubble blogger set with a slightly too subtle dig at the no bubble stance. For the record I said that saying there is no bubble was a “crazy statement.”

But my predictions (which I’m having trouble finding) were imperfect. I predicted a 10-25% decline in home values at the worst and thought the likely bursting of the bubble (which I fully acknowledged!) would actually be a persistent leak – that we would have flat prices for 10-15 years while inflation ate away values.

I thought the government would be so averse to home prices dropping that they would do everything to keep them stable – even at the expense of the economy. Apparently I underestimated the size of the problem. Or I overestimated the powers of the government. By a lot.

And we aren’t out of it yet. This crazy prediction is already true for parts of California (from this post):

>How much do you expect the $400,000 to $500,000 market to drop?

If we have a “soft landing

Sellers Leaving The Mess Behind

Cleaning up after yourself is in the contract…

Recently, there seems to be some confusion as to item number 5 of the NWMLS form 22D (optional clauses addendum to the purchase and sale agreement).  Maybe the sellers are deciding that the buyer already got a good deal and they shouldn’t leave the home in decent condition?  ARDELL recently mentioned that some sellers are feeling disenchanted with this market and as a result the houses are not being exhibited in their best light.  This is definitely happening and unfortunately is being carried forward to when the sale closes and home ownership is transferred.

Item #5 on the NWMLS Form 22D:

“Items Left By Seller.Any personal property, fixtures or other items remaining on the Property when possession is transferred to Buyer shall thereupon become the property of Buyer, and may be retained or disposed of as Buyer determines. However, Seller agrees to clean the interiors of any structures and remove all trash, debris, and rubbish on the Property prior to Buyer taking possession.“

Plainly stated: Take all your belongings and clean the property prior to handing over the keys. Clear enough? One would think, but what about when you line item #5 up to item #4 in the very same Form 22D and apply it to a seller who never had their home clean to begin with and had trash all over the place while the home was being shown?

Item #4 of 22D addresses the issue of “Property and Grounds Maintained

Seattle Area Open House Information Sources

Can you tell me where I can find a list of all the Open Houses that are happening in my area this Sunday?

boy-looking-at-toy-houseI’ve been asked this question lots of times and I have always had to answer, “I’m sorry. There is no single, good source. Everyplace is going to list the ones they are promoting.” Sadly, this is still the case. The Seattle Times classifieds was the defacto hub of information for Open Houses during the pre-internet-print-is-king era. Now that the web has taken over as the main source of any information, a “Complete Open House Times and Locations Guide” should be as easy as pulling up a Google Map. But it’s not.

Enter the major Brokerage Firms
Our NWMLS (Northwest Multiple Listing Service) does publish open house information if the agent requests it. However the larger brokerage firms restrict their agents from participating in publishing this information. Why? Because they all want you to come to THEIR websites and just see THEIR listings. God forbid that smaller companies might ride on the coattails of this and reap the benefits of centralized exposure to the public of their listings.

Meanwhile, the consumer looses. They don’t care which brokerage has the open house. All they care about is finding out about ALL of them in their desired price range and location. Until the brokerages figure out that not sharing is a loose-loose proposition, they are going to hold on tightly to one of the few pieces of information that they think they can control, even to the detriment of the industry as a whole.

Enter the free upstart website
Craigslist is generally a good source for open house information and has been devastating to the Seattle Times Classified section as more and more Sellers and agents realize that this is a popular source of information for Buyers to find out about real estate listings and open houses. The problem is that it is hopelessly unorganized and difficult to filter well. Properties scroll off quickly and the average consumer misses a number of worthwhile ads.

For now, here is a list of a few of the various companies Open House sites where you can find Seattle area open house information and then assemble it yourself.

Coldwell Banker Bain Open Houses

Winderemere Open Houses

John L Scott Open Houses

Re/MAX Open Houses

Craigslist Open Houses
(I recommend you search for “open” rather than “open house’ – otherwise you may miss alternate titles eg. “Open Sunday”. Use price and bedrooms to filter further.)

Seattle Times Open Houses
Keep in mind that ads placed in the company-sponsored sections of the The Seattle Times classifieds (often referred to as “block ads”) DO NOT automatically show up when you search on the NWSource website. If available, these ads are often an extra charge to the agents and may or may not be included in the ads they have placed.


NWMLS Open House mapping feature could be a GREAT tool for agents AND consumers. But because the major brokerages and some of the smaller brokerages refuse to participate, and because it currently doesn’t differentiate between “Brokers Open” and “Public Open” events, consumers are on their own to dig and find the open houses they may want to see. (sources tell me that in the next major update, the NWMLS will be able to break out public vs. brokers open houses) Hopefully the NWMLS will start offering a report of this that can be emailed or subscribed to. That might be the tipping-point that would get other brokerages to participate.

Then there is the old-fashion way
The one sure method for Buyers: Get in your car and drive around the areas you are interested in. Agents almost always put out a sign to lure you in, even if the collective NWMLS Brokers won’t help them online.