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

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

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

Tami Michaels re Mayor Nickels & Multi-Family Design Standards

Home Improvement Radio Expert Seattle 770 KTTHTomorrow morning, Saturday July 26th, at 11:00 a.m., a representative of the Seattle Mayor’s Office will be On Air with Tami Michaels.  The show will be devoted to Mayor Nickels proposed changes to multi-family zoned construction (original announcement from the Mayor’s Office).

And more details about Tami’s show tomorrow here.

Tami called me before I left for Inman Connect to discuss this topic, specifically with regard to regulations that could increase costs for builders and consumers at a time when the housing market is weakening.  The discussion led to the age old question “Can government dictate taste in housing style?”

I have had many discussions over the years with various municipalities regarding this topic, and they all hinge on this quote from City Councilmember, Sally Clark “The mayor and I have both heard a lot lately about how growth is affecting our neighborhoods, not all of it is positive…”

Over the span of my 18 plus years in real estate in various places on both Coasts, I have become involved with this issue from time to time, and EVERY time it boils down to nothing happening except a bunch of controversy with little to no satisfactory result.  I have been to several “town meetings” where everyone who was griping was invited to attend and participate in discussions to improve whatever everyone “wanted” or was griping about.  Each time what became apparent as a result of these meetings is that you can never get everyone to agree, and sometimes you can’t even get people to attend the meetings!!!  It’s one thing to hang around griping about change, it’s quite another to be asked to get involved in a viable solution.

So I ask anyone who thinks they might have something to add to the discussion regarding proposed changes to multi-family zoned building projects in Seattle, to head on over to Tami Michaels’ post and add a comment.  I’m going to listen to tomorrow’s radio show and gather more info before commenting.  Maybe you would like Free Flushes to become mandatory…maybe not.

Anyone involved in Seattle Real Estate, or residents who have something to add about townhomes or the proposal in general, should tune in tomorrow at 11:00. “The changes would affect the 10 percent of the city zoned for multifamily construction, from low-rise development throughout the city to high-rise residential towers on First Hill. The change is heralded by the Mayor’s Office as “… the first major update to multifamily zoning in Seattle in 20 years.”

Don’t let a once in 20 years change pass by, without at least craning your neck to take a peek at what it’s all about.

From 'A&E's Flip This House' to You!

[photopress:REIA__Image_Download__flip_this_house_logo_jpeg_from_mhv_reia_1_.jpg,thumb,alignright]Have you been watching the current real estate market and wondering how  to find the pot of gold in it? Fix and Flip guru Than Merrill from A&E’s Flip this House will show you how right here in Seattle on October 11. Than, like many other saavy investors, is building his business taking advantage of sellers in trouble.  Even though Seattle seems to be somewhat insulated from the current trend across the nation, there are still great opportunities to grab up distressed properties. Banks are looking to unload properties as are many homeowners on the brink of foreclosure.  These often become the inventory and raw product for the ‘fix and flippers’. But how do you find these elusive properties?

My husband and I have been involved with about 2 dozens ‘fix and flip’ properties, but finding the right properties at the right price, i.e., below market, is a challenge. As a realtor, I live and breathe the mls, but once a property hits the mls, it’s generally going to be sold at retail, and paying retail is not the way to make a profit on a ‘fix and flip’.

There are several real estate investment groups in the Puget Sound area that will help you get started and offer advice in marketing, legal issues (recently, state law passed requiring a flip in less than one year to require a contractor’s license.  More about that later) and tips of the trade. Says Shirley Henderson, President of REIA, ” flipping is profitable and a lot of fun if it’s done right”.  And the members want to help you do it right.  Usually they have monthly meetings and from time to time offer educational events to help their members. Members are happy to share their knowledge and are there to help each other.

On October 11, The Real Estate Investors Association of Washington (REIA) is hosting a fabulous Special Event straight from television land.  Than Merrill of A&E’s ‘Flip This House’ will be speaking at a this very low cost event ($15)  to show you how he and his team did 30 deals his first year and after that, double each year over the next 2 years.  The team has 260 deals under it’s belt at an average of $27,000 profit per deal.  $7,000,000 in three years, I could live with that!

If you’re interested in learning how he did it, join REIA on October 11 from 6-9pm to hear about Than’s systems and marketing to find those distressed properties and fix them for the best financial return.  This will be my first ‘fix and flip’ seminar and I’m anxious to hear from the best. Of those 2 dozen flips my husband and I have done, we’ve had varied results (yes, some were losses) because we didn’t have the systems in place to find the bargains.

Hope to see investors from Seattle turn out in big numbers. Make some great connections. Maybe you will decide that this could be your next career.

Low flow toilets and old houses


A relative of mine just replaced the old high-flow toilets in all 5 units of his building with low flow toilets. The result: a water bill that is $100 a month lower – the replacements should pay for themselves in six months. The toilet of choice: Toto Drake. It’s approximately $200 and it gets rave reviews on the internet.

I live in an old house (1908) with the requisite sloping floors and rusty iron pipes that come along with it. We already have low flow toilets (usually excellent Sloan Flushmates) which were purchased on Consumer Reports rave reviews. See the second rave review above – the only toilet they liked better than the Toto has a flushmate system. HOWEVER! Consumer Reports clearly does not have an old house that has charmingly rust-flecked, low pressure water. See, the Flushmate system works by storing up pressure from the pipes in a sealed tank and uses that pressure to forcefully push water out when you flush. There is no need to rely on gravity to move water through Flushmate toilets, although there are no mentions of them being used in space on the internet. When you put one of these suckers in a house with rusty pipes, little bits of rust get into the workings of the tank and the flushes get progressively worse over time until you’re left with a toilet that pushes the tank water down about a half inch on the flush and then gurgles at you. When this happened, I found myself cussing (a lot) at an inanimate object.

So last Thursday I found myself doing a midnight toilet installation of a Toto Drake. It comes with excellent instructions which should be supplemented by these instructions. And now that it’s done, I very highly recommend it. In fact it’s amazing. For decency’s sake, I will not go into further details.

The moral of the story:

  • New house? Get a Flushmate
  • Old house? Get a Toto Drake
  • Hate money? Keep your high flow toilet

Buyer Beware – New Construction Sites

[photopress:images_1_2_3_4_5.jpg,full,alignright] I wrote an article earlier today about a scammer. I can almost appreciate the creative talents of an obvious scammer like that. But when it comes to the real estate industry, I just want to puke.

I stopped into a new construction site yesterday to evaluate it for one of my clients. There are four people in the room. A guy sitting at the site plan talking to a young asian couple and a woman standing a bit on the side. I see the guy giving the “hard sell” about two and only two “available” lots. I’m standing back and looking at the site plan and I see about 50 available lots. Only two of them have “available” stickers and 6-9 have a sold sticker. So doesn’t that mean all the ones with NO sticker are “available”?

For some reason the young couple doesn’t “get” this, but I just keep my mouth shut and wait and watch. Can’t quite figure out who the woman in the room is yet. The guy tells the young couple something about how Tuesday or Wednesday is the deadline for them to get one of those two available lots. They thank him kindly and leave to think about which one they want, if they want one at all.

When they are out of earshot, I ascertain that the woman is an employee of the builder before I step up and say, “I’m here to help one of my client’s pick a lot. Where are those big electrical towers I saw when I drove up, but don’t see on the map here?” At this point point the woman gets obviously “annoyed”. I continue to ask questions about all of the good lots. The woman keeps trying to push me at the two “available” lots. I ignore her and continue to evaluate the better lots in the development.

As I’m leaving I ask about the other developments nearby. The guy knows nothing. The woman gives me the whole run down of the builders other projects.

Then they tell me that HE is the agent for the SELLER and SHE is the on-site agent for the BUYER. What a JOKE! She is obviously the closer of the two. She obviously works for the builder and knows more about the builder’s stuff than the guy posing as the “seller’s agent”. What a “Good Guy; Bad Guy” scam that is! Nauseating, isn’t it?

I have one final question. What is the commission to a Buyer’s Agent who isn’t “the builder’s hired closer/buyer’s agent”. He says “FULL COMMISSION”. I say, “What is FULL”. She says 3%. I say, what does the buyer get if they have no “Buyer’s Agent”. She says, they get ME. LOL What a hoot. I said so the buyer gets nothing if they have no agent? No price reduction? No upgrades? No something for the builder not having to pay an extra $21,000?? Nope. Nada. Not an option. I ask if the buyer had lost the opportunity to have an agent if they had “signed in” already. They said no. Great News!

So I leave, I go to my client to evaluate the property they will be selling. I tell them there’s an extra $21,000 on the table for us to include and negotiate, if they buy that new construction (which they had asked me about), or even if they buy a different property. My fee will be less if they buy the new construction, of course, because they were the ones who asked me to go there in the first place to check it out. Well, no. They just said they were thinking of buying in there before I even met them, and didn’t ask me to check it out.

So by poking my head into the New Construction site, even though they hadn’t asked me to, I found an extra $21,000 that would have been left on the table. Turned out they will not likely buy there, at least not before considering other options. My gut says if the builder is willing to pay 3% to an agent, even though the agent wasn’t with them when the buyer first went in to the new home sales office, there’s probably something wrong with the place.

Every not lot sold in a new construction site is available. Maybe not today. Maybe they WANT to sell two at a time because it squeezes the buyer more into making a quick decision. But if it Ain’t SOLD…I’ts AVAILABLE, regardless of the little stickers. No sticker equals available.

Condos off to a busy start

(Editor’s Note: Today is another great day as I get to introduce Matt Goyer as the newest contributor to RCG. I’ve been following Matt’s Urbnlivn website for quite a while and I’ve always been impressed. With urbnlivn, Matt has managed to collect, organize and republish an incredible amount of local condo knowledge. However, if you decide you need more than condo information from Matt, then check out his personal blog, his more general real estate blog, or his contributions on the Redfin’s blog. While I don’t want to pigeonhole Matt into only talking condos, our current plan is to have him synthesize the great condo research he does on Urbanlivn and bring it to RCG on a regular basis. Matt can be reached at mail *at* mattgoyer *dot* com or by leaving a comment below!)

Relative to all of December it was a busy week this past week for new condo construction in Seattle. What made the first week of the new year so busy was three new events on the calendar and lots of action on the MLS.

Three new events

January 9 at 7pm, the POWHat, a community association, is hosting a discussion about proposed condo on Pine. This is the development that started the death of Pine/Pike meme and has been written about in The Stranger, The Seattle Weekly as well as The Seattle PI. Written about not because the developers paid to get in the Saturday New Homes section but written about because it is replacing the independent bars and restaurants which the condo’s marketing people love to tout as the reason why you should move to Capitol Hill. So I’m looking forward to seeing what is replacing the Cha-Cha, Bimbo’s Burritos, the Bus Stop, and Kincora because without those four institutions it’s going to be hard to market this project.

January 18 at at 6pm, Trace Lofts will host their buyers preview. We’re all looking forward to unraveling the mystery that is Trace Lofts. At least no one is upset about this development, yet.

January 19 at 5pm is Decatur Condominiums grand opening gala. Decatur is a conversion originally designed by the Space Needle’s architect. Now the invitation doesn’t mention whether this gala will be black tie or not. I’m assuming no since, I don’t own a tux and the units are supposedly all under $500,000 (people who make less than six figures likely don’t down their own tuxes, right?).

Active week on the MLS

At the beginning of last year most new condo developments shied away from the MLS. But then in the fall as the market slowed more developments listed their inventory hoping to attract more attention. Then towards then end of the year we started seeing price reductions and buyers bonuses; presumably to move inventory before year end. Now that the new year has started prices are increasing and I’m sure we’ll see fewer buyer bonuses.

To start us off, Noma first increased the prices on the 3 units it had on the MLS and then listed the rest of their inventory which is 19 units. They now have 22 listings on the MLS ranging in price from $222,950 to $539,950. I imagine they’re a little frustrated watching Canal’s success.

Olive 8, the development which added 3 floors, had 10 price increases ranging from $20,000 to $50,000. What is odd is that the increases range from 1.5% to 5% and seem fairly random.

9 units from Press 2 were listed. Press is a two phase development originally built as apartments. The first phase was an occupied apartment and has since been converted, phase two was never occupied and renovated.

4 units from Trio came online. Trio is unarguably Seattle’s biggest condo failure with only 28 units sold of 113 in over a year. Glad to see they’re coming to their senses and making their units more accessible to all the users of the MLS. Hopefully this gets them a little more attention in the New Year.

If you’re interested in following the day to day activity in the Seattle condo market be sure to check out Urbnlivn or check back here next week for my weekly updates.

Condos: Conversion versus New Construction

(Editor’s Note: Please welcome Wendy Leung as the newest contributor to Rain City Guide. She is a real estate professional specializing in the Seattle Condo market. She has been running a very interesting condo blog for a few months now, and I thought we could all benefit from her knowledge on the condo market in Downtown Seattle. if you haven’t read her blog, definitely check out her post on Cars and Condos where she gives insight into the local condos by describing the type of car that they would be. Great stuff! You can always learn more about her at her website or by contacting her directly at 206-321-2493)

With an increasing number of apartment buildings converting into condos as well as a parade of new construction projects being unveiled every day, home buyers may be wondering how to think about these two property types.

At the end of the day, your Realtor should help you evaluate the options based on your goals, budget, needs, and circumstances. Furthermore, every property is unique and generalizing about conversions and new condos is a bit like saying one genre of restaurant will always offer better service than another. That said, there are some fairly consistent differences between the two property types. Here are some of the advantages for each.

Advantages of new condos

  • Newer, nicer interiors and exteriors, often come with better amenities and more imaginative architectural designs.
  • Better quality construction (at least as far as we know). Gone are the days when builders used leaky Synthetic stucco for every new project. The quality of construction has advanced these days and more and more builders are using hardy plank, a combination of brick veneer, vinyl, metal, concrete, steel and cement.
  • Flexibility to customize the interior. Usually, the builder will offer you a variety of upgrades and style options to make the place match your personal style.

Advantages of conversions

  • There are fewer surprises. What you see is what you get. The building has been around for a while so generally, if there are any issues with the building, it should already have happened. If the building has issues, you can usually get hold of the information about any issues much easier than a new condo to make a better informed decision.
  • There is actual market data available for that building and even that unit to support the rental value for the building if you are purchasing it as an investment. There will also be more insight into peoples’ opinions of the building as opposed to speculation from the new condo sales center.
  • Most of the time, conversions are cheaper than buying new construction. When you’re looking at ROI, this can be the biggest factor of all since 3 years from now, a new condo and an apartment conversion will both be older condos in the eyes of most buyers.

If you are not paying a really large premium for new construction (this is getting harder to do these days), it will probably resell for more than a conversion. However, a pricey new construction unit may have a higher absolute price appreciation but may not have a higher return on investment (than a value-priced conversion unit). At the end of the day from an investment point of view, it’s the rate of return on investment and not the absolute resale price growth that maximizes your profits.