Autumn season always one to savor

As we stride into October, I’ve found myself wondering where the year has gone (like we all do). It was a year ago this weekend that I journeyed to Seattle from Chicago and was spontaneously whisking my way through Seattle with a friend and touring the gargantuan Mt. Rainier. And though the temperatures are quite brisker this year than when I visited last year, longtime residents have insisted this year’s September weather is an anomaly. But there’s nothing like watching the lush greenery morph into bright reds and oranges and leaves dance from trees. Autumn has always been my favorite season, so, in spite of my sometimes overwelming schedule, I’ve been taking advantage of some of the local events. With Fremont just a stone’s throw away from my home, enjoying Oktoberfest was a given, though it seemed slightly overhyped.

Both the Fremont and Ballard farmers markets have become mainstays when it comes to my Sunday routine. When I first dropped by Ballard’s market, I could not believe the breadth of the vibrant vendors and just the vast amount of fresh fruit, fish, dairy etc. all centered in one dwelling. The Pacific Northwest and the Midwest versions of farmers markets, not surprisingly, are just not comparable.
Recently, I managed to take a jaunt via the Victoria Clipper to Victoria, B.C., with my Mother while she was visiting from Chicago. Our weather could have been a smidge better during the morning portion of our trip, but the afternoon sun that poked its head through the ominous clouds more than made up for the initial gloom. The absolute pure beauty of Victoria is just breathtaking; it melds modernity with antiquity in a dynamic that gives it a cozy and classy, yet hip feel. If you have never been there, you must try High Tea at the picturesque Empress Hotel (pictured), which is nestled amid much grand beauty. Replete with tea sandwiches, petit fours and other delicacies, the overall afternoon tea experience is something analogous to what you would enjoy in London, and you should not skip it if you plan to spend time there.

Now that fall is upon us and the full-fledged rainy season is soon to set in, I am quickly warming up to Rihanna’s hot last-summer song, “Umbrella.” It seems it will be a good IPod song now that I am riding the bus to work and grad school – yes, I barely drive my car anymore and I can’t stress enough how much it thrills me. Banished from my mind are the days of braving brutal Naperville, IL traffic. It always seemed no matter how prematurely I left for work there was always a snag (usually random, unannounced lane closures, courtesy of seemingly construction) that would prevent me from being punctual.

Although I have some trepidation about Seattle’s impending winter, when I think about trudging through Chicagoland’s cumbersome snow and the street salt and muck that constantly encapsulated my car, and often my clothes, I’m hardly fazed. The tepid temperatures here have been a welcome change and as long as we don’t have to cope with negative figures, frequent clouds and snow, it will be a breeze to endure.

did you know…

That March is Washington Wine Month? Several venues are having celebrations of the vino that comes from our fine state – now 2nd in sales and distribution for the United States. The link above will take you to the WA Wine Commission site for a list of venues that are celebrating the occasion. I happen to be the President of the WAC Wine Club for this year and I know that the Washington Athletic Club is participating in the Taste WA Winemaker’s Dinner in April that is part of that event at the Bell Harbor Convention Center April 14/15 but since the dinner may be limited to WAC members I figured a few more public venues would be worth noting for the celebration of wine all month long.

In honor of this month’s celebration of vino, and the oenophiles who love them, I will put on this post a few public venues that are worth checking out.

[photopress:grapes_red.jpg,thumb,alignright]Purple Cafe now has 3 locations: Woodinville, Kirkland and now Seattle. On Sundays they offer 1/2 price bottles of wine valued at $50 or more with a minimum $25 entree purchase. They are also participating in the month’s promotions at their restaurants.

It also happens to be 25 for $25 month (March and October) where 25 local restaurants offer a 3-course meal for the set price of $25. One of the locations that participates is Market Street Grill in Ballard where me and my partner know the owners, John and Kendell Sillars. They always have interesting food and a well stocked, even if smaller than some, wine list. The food is great and I’ve never had a bad experience here.

Ponti in Fremont is also part of the wine promotion with discounts on bottles of wine for this month only and they are also part of 25/$25.

Zero Down Loan? You Better Have a 620 Credit Score or Higher

Update 11/11/2008This is post is more of a reflection of the times.  Zero down loans are not available with convetional financing at this time.  Private or hard money may have zero down loans available.   FHA with a loan from family members is the closest to 100% financing that I’m aware of.   As with any posts about mortgage guidelines, be mindful of when they were written as guidelines have (and will continue to) change.

I’ve been working on a zero down rate quote for Jillayne, since she requested that two weeks ago when I did my posted my first Friday rate’s on RCG.   She was curious how 100% loan to value mortgages compare based on different credit scores.   At the company I work for, we have around 80 (woops…make that 78 now) lenders we work with.   A majority of our business is handled in our credit line (Mortgage Master is a Correspondent Lender) and some business is “brokered”.  Typically this is subprime or unique loans with added risk.   As a Loan Originator, you wind up selecting 3-5 of your favorite “a money” sources, a few “alt a” lenders and of course, and I like to have around 3-5 sub-prime lenders.   These are the lenders and representatives you rely on, get to know their products and trust their underwriting.   

Back to Jillayne’s request, last night I called my three preferred subprime resources for my rate quotes…what’s the lowest credit score they will lend to at 100% ltv and is the rate and program?  Thanks to RCG’s Tim, I’ve just learned that one of those resources I’ve relied on, New Century…and the only one that I work with who did quote yesterday an 80/20 with a 600 mid-score is facing troubling times to say the least.

“New Century Financial Corp. said it’s the subject of a criminal probe and Fremont General Corp. agreed to a cease-and-desist order with bank regulators in the biggest regulatory actions to emerge from the subprime mortgage meltdown.”   To read the entire article on Bloomberg, click here.

Every day I’m receiving memos from various subprime lenders with details of (much needed) tightening guidelines.  If you currently have clients shopping for a new home and they are using subprime financing (you might know this if they’ve told you their credit is not great, if the mortgage is a 80/20 with a prepayment penalty, etc.) you just might want to contact the Loan Originator to make sure the preapproval is still valid.  If that client has a credit score below 620, they may (1) not be approved any longer or (2) be approved for an entirely different rate (much higher). 

Subprime lenders are either eliminating their zero down products all together or are raising the credit score requirements.  Previously, a 580 – 600 mid-credit score was no problem for 100% financing.   They were beating down our doors to do these loans!  Now, the new standards for mid-score (with the lenders I work with) seems to be 620.  This is a significant jump that will delay some rentsers from buying homes until they improve their credit.   Which again, I think this is good.

I’ve mentioned this before, but this is so important.  If you have clients who have used subprime financing who have purchased homes in the past 1-2 years, this could be a good reason to pick up the phone and call them.   Hopefully they received good counseling from their Mortgage Planner AND they took the advice to heart…working on cleaning up their credit usage, managing their spending, etc.  With the subprime market tightening, if those subprime borrowers have credit scores below 620 when their prepayement penalty is up and their fixed payment is adjusting towards the sky, they may be are in a very tough situation.

Jillayne, this post is all ready a bit long… I promise I’ll have your zero down rates posted soon!

Calling All Patches Pals

Tomorrow is a VERY BIG DAY for all Patches Pals.   If you grew up in the Seattle area, you must know JP Patches, the one and only Mayor of the City Dump.   Beginning at 10:00 a.m. at the Red Door Ale House in Fremont, JP and friends (including Gertrude) will be present for the unveiling of the scale model of the statue that will be built to honor this local treasure.   Last year, JP was featured in an article in the Seattle Times about why this clown deserves such recognition.

Yes.  I’m a bona fide Patches Pal.  We actually had JP hired to perform our marriage ceremony at our home last April 1, 2006.   But when our small wedding began to to turn into a circus, pun intended, we decided to elope…so no JP nuptials.

A few fellow Patches Pals at the Northwest Academy of Television Arts and Science have been raising money to build this statue.  At tomorrows event, you will have the opportunity to purchase “Patches Pavers” that will surround the statue by dropping your donation into the ICU2TV.   Any moneys raised beyond the building of the statue will be donated to Childrens Hospital.  

I wouldn’t miss this for the world…I hope to see you there!

Fremont: the Center of the Universe!

While it has nothing to do with the MIT Forum, I thought it would be fun to present and comment on the TurnHere video of the Republic of Fremont along the lines of Dustin’s post on Ballard.

The video is a lot of fun and gives a great perspective on the funky, hip side of Fremont, while also acknowledging Fremont’s changing demographics.

The Russian in me can’t help but comment on the statue of Lenin that sits in a parking lot of a local Taco Del Mar. Roger Wheeler gives a brief history of the statue on the Fremont Chamber of Commerce website:

Poprad, Slovakia is the place, 1978 the year our story begins. Emil Venkov won a commission to sculpt and cast a bronze statue of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, Russian revolutionary leader. He worked for ten years, finishing in 1988 – just in time for the regime to collapse. Demand for Lenin bronzes was nil, with the exception of visiting American teacher Lewis Carpenter. He was intrigued by the bold and unusual design, Lenin striding out of – what – rifles, flames, wheat? Carpenter decided to take the statue home with him, a decoration for a Slovakian restaurant maybe. He decided big time. He mortgaged his house, bought the statue for $13,000, then paid $28,000 to truck it to Scandinavia and ship it via the Panama Canal to Washington state. Carpenter was killed in a car accident in 1994 and his mother, Lydia, was left with a seven-ton Lenin in her Issaquah back pasture. Lydia called Carpenter’s Fremont sculptor-friend, Peter Bevis. Bevis and the Fremont Artwalk Committee were looking for something big to kick off their event. Lenin was just certainly that. After much welding and grinding and banging at Bevis’ Fine Arts Foundry Lenin was ready to thrust his way into Fremont history, being unveiled at Artwalk amid much carping, griping, and fist banging from critics and former countrymen who remembered Lenin as something other than heavy-duty art. Lenin is for sale. For a mere $250,000 (obo), you too can join Lenin’s well-traveled history.

Fremont attracts many local artists there are quite a few galleries. One of my favorites is Frank and Dunya, which features art and collectibles from artists from all over the world.

Some other things mentioned in the video include:

  • The weekly Fremont Sunday Market is an outdoor European-style Market has something for everyone!
  • With the charm of an old home setting, the Fremont Coffee Company is one of the best coffee shops in Fremont (but definitely not the only great one!).
  • The Fremont Troll that sits under the Aurora Bridge is definitely a fun attraction. Interestingly, a street that leads into the troll was recently named Troll Avenue.
  • Sonic Boom Record is a great local record store.

Speaking of Google…

[photopress:google_troll_logo.gif,full,alignright]I was all ready to go to bed and not post anything else tonight when I saw this article from the Seattle PI that says Google is possible looking to open up an office in Fremont. The article itself is not very memorable except for the fact that someone at the PI has a great sense of humor as they subtlety included Google troll logo above the map of the proposed location. Hilarious!

If you’re looking for a smile, it is quite easy to find fun Google logos on the web.

Meet a Realtor Who Doesn't Sell Houses…

The NY Times ran an article a few weeks ago on how hard it is for new real estate agents to break into the market (I’d like to the article but it is now behind a password-protected wall, so instead I’ll just link to the Property Grunt’s excellent summary and analysis). This article got me thinking of a way that I could still be very useful to my clients without actually buying or selling any homes.

What’s that? A Realtor who doesn’t buy or sell any homes?

For the next six-months or so, I really won’t be in a position where I can dedicate a significant amount of time to helping clients. (higher priorities! ) But what I would really enjoy doing over the next few months is staying connected to the business by helping buyers and sellers find appropriate agents.

Say that again?

Mariel Kicking a Soccer BallIn my office alone, there are almost 100 real estate agents who would love to have your business (assuming you’re buying or selling a home) and while I don’t know all of these agents, I do know the successful ones . What I would like to do is use my inside knowledge of successful Seattle agents to connect individuals with the right agents.

For example:

  • Are you looking for a condo in Downtown? I know an agent who specializes there!
  • Are you looking to buy land in Woodinville? I know a different agent who specializes there!
  • How about a modern-style home in Seattle? I know a different agent who specializes in modern homes.

Regardless if you’re trying to sell a home, condo, boathouse, townhome, etc., I’ve come into contact with a highly successful agent who specializes in that field. Talk with me, and I’ll connect you with the right person.

Why would I do this?

It is really a win-win-win situation. You get the best representation possible, a successful real estate agent gets one more client, and I can continue to help people in a small but important way. (I’ll also get a small referral fee from the agent…)

By the way, my recommendations are not limited to just people moving to Seattle. I know a few listings agents who go out of their way to please, so if you are currently a Seattle-area homeowner looking to list your house, talk with me before you list. I’m confident that no matter how good your realtor is, I can get you a better one!

More In-depth Sale Price vs List Price Analysis

Me and my sistersIf you were following the comments from my post from yesterday, I said I would follow up with another stab at diving into how the sales prices versus listing price changes over time. Seeing as how it is already getting late (and I’m tired!), I’m going to stop trying to make sense out of the numbers and present what I’ve found so far.

However, before I go any further, I’m going to rant at my fellow real estate agents! For the sake of all of us who actually care about data, please learn to double check your work before submitting listing information to the MLS! I spent more time cleaning up the database due to lazy real estate agents then I did actually creating the charts! Here are some things to look out for (but this list is by no means exhaustive): (1) Spelling: Fremont is spelled with only one “e”, (2) Location: South Lake Union is not a neighborhood located within Ballard and (3)Price: your home that sold for $345,000 probably should not have been listed for $34,500,000.

With that rant out of the way, I thought I would also mention that I’m not the only one surprised by housing numbers today… Hot Property had an article where Amey Stone says reading NAR’s press releases on sales levels “is starting to be a bit of a yawn — sales weren’t quite at record levels, but darn near close to it.” Unless you get tickled by trends and statistics, expect to sleep through the rest of this post…

When I look at the entire Ballard Area as defined by the MLS (this is a huge area that includes places like Greenlake, Blue Ridge, Wallingford, Fremont, Sunset Hill etc). We see the same seasonal trends over the past two years that I identified yesterday. But when we go back another season, the trend becomes much less pronounced.

Adjusted vs Original List Price Chart

Here are the things I found most interesting about the chart:

  1. The seasonal variation is much less pronounced in previous years
  2. There has been a steady trend up wards where the sale price is greater than the listing price
  3. In terms of trends, it didn’t really matter whether I used the original list price or the adjusted list price.
  4. The huge drop in 08/03 is due to some homes in Broadview that were listed way to high!

My speculation is that the patterns identified the above chart have a lot to do with evolving sales tactics by agents. It seems like it has become more and more common for agents to list a home below the value that they think it will sell for… This does two things: (1) It assures a quick sale and therefore a quick commission for the agent. (2) It has the potential to bring in more buyers and thereby raise the final sale price of the home.

When I went to analyze the data at a more local level, things got much messier… Rather than seeing clear seasonal patterns as I did in Loyal Heights, things simply got fuzzy. They got so fuzzy that I’m hesitant to even provide the next chart because it simply looks like an ugly mess…

My goal in creating the chart was to see if the same trend that held up in my analysis yesterday for Loyal Heights, would hold up for other neighborhoods. As the chart above demonstrates, it roughly holds up for all of Ballard, but as the chart below demonstrates, it does not hold up at the neighborhood level. I’ve done enough regression analysis for transportation planning studies to know that a chart like this is going to give meaningless trends.

Sale Price as a Percent of Listing Price for Ballard Neighborhoods

By the way, if you’re interested in the raw data that I used to create these statistics, just email me, and I can send you the Excel file that has all the wonderful (?) pivot tables and charts I used in creating this post.

Also, please feel free to comment on other ideas you might have for exploring the wealth of information that is locked up behind the MLS database. Anna has the key that opens that door! 🙂

Fremont Oktoberfest this weekend…

Fremont gives us another wonderful opportunity to celebrate the autumn, hear live music, have a glass of good beer, make some crafts and much more at the Fremont Oktoberfest September 23-25th

Autumn gets ushered in with the Fremont Oktoberfest. Historically, in old Germany, the brewing season began with the fall harvest of barley and hops and any beer left at harvest time had to be consumed before the new beer arrived. September was designated as the time to drink-up all of last season’s beer. It officially became Oktoberfest in 1810, when Ludwig I, the Crown Prince of Bavaria declared a 16-day celebration in commemoration of his wedding.

Fremont Solstice Parade

Once again, Fremont put on quite a show…

I had a wonderful time at this Fremont-only parade and celebration… A bunch of people have already posted photos over at flickr, but a warning that many of the photos are not for the faint of heart.

(The same warning should probably apply to people thinking of moving to Fremont! 🙂 ).