Be Careful What You Ask For, the Tax Assessor Just Might Give it to You

The King County Tax Assessor’s office recently added the photos they have available on line.  It’s a pretty cool feature where you can possibly see the history of your home.   I wrote a post showing old photos of my former home on North Lake in Auburn and how to obtain the King County Tax Assessor’s photos.   However, I learned today is that the King County Tax Assessor’s office is also making note of the asking price on listing flyers and the comments are available on line under the “property details” section.


Check out how it’s noted on October 2008:  “Fabulous renovation per sales flyer. Listed for $999,000“.    This is not my home but I have knowledge of it and I can tell you that it never sold for anywhere close to that…in fact it never sold. 

It’s amazing to me that King County is looking at listings and making notes such as this about any property.   Sure enough, the following year, this property’s tax assessed value increased by just shy of $100,000 (or 12%).   

Did the listing flyer impact the tax assessors opinion of value on this home? 

The pain of over pricing and poor photos… and how not to get bit by them, 9+ questions to ask your listing agent.

I’ve noticed a trend in my business lately.  Several consumers are contacting our team for help in re-listing their home after having a poor experience with a prior agent.  While it is true that selling activity in Puget Sound is lower this year than last, there is still some positive selling activity occurring with some areas of Puget Sound continuing to grow in housing values.

So, with there still being some sales activity why is it that these folks are contacting us?

What I’ve seen as key factors in the lagging sales of these homes is poor pricing and presentation of the properties.  In one case the price had been overinflated by hundreds of thousands of dollars, plus it had poor presentation in photos and staging, so the home languished sitting on market for over a year.

In the majority of these situations things could have been handled differently with the past agent.  And, while I believe that me and my team provide a higher level of service than many others, we know we aren’t the only game in town that can figure out the right mix of marketing, presentation, and pricing for a property.  However, in these instances, I do believe the former listing agents could have done a better job – for certain – but, as a seller, it is also up to you to do a good job of interviewing a prospective agent.  A few good questions by the seller might have led to a different decision about how the house was marketed and led to a better discussion about what impacts the value of a home.  This, in turn, could have led to a more informed decision about where to place pricing.

So, to try and help those of you out there who are considering putting your home on the market, here is a list of 9+ questions you can use to qualify and interview your prospective listing agent.

1.   What methods of advertising do you use, and why?  Can you tell me which will likely be the most effective?  How comfortable are you using Internet advertising methods?

2.   Do you think my home will need prep work or staging to get it ready for market?  What types of things do you suggest for sellers and why?

3.   What is the typical timeline for selling a home that you have represented and how does that compare to the local marketplace?  What percentage of selling price do you typically get compared to list price?

4.  Do you offer any particular programs or services for each home that you sell such as a home warranty, professional photos, etc?  Does your fee determine whether additional services are included or not?

5.  If you don’t provide these additional services yourself – do you at least have companies you can refer me to that if I choose to use them directly to prepare my home more effectively, I can do so?

6.  Are there any special considerations I should have while selling my home such as security, prep for showings, etc?

7.  How often will you communicate with me about the sale of my home?  What kinds of reports can I expect?

8.  Will I get a chance to review and approve any of your advertising or marketing materials such as the flyer, MLS ad, or otherwise?  If not, why?  If I am not satisfied with a piece, will you work with me till I am?

9.  How will you determine the price that should be advertised for my home?  Will you include me in those pricing decisions and explain to me any reasoning for a price above or below my own estimate?

This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive but it will definitely open up a lot of good (or what should be good) conversation between you and the agent you are interviewing.  If the agent is unable to respond to any of these questions then you should seriously reconsider whether or not you will use him/her regardless of if it is a “family friend” or otherwise.  In today’s marketplace it is important that you make the right choice the first time, if you can.  The buying public is much more sophisticated today than even 10 years ago because of the Internet and because of the onslaught of home focused television shows and channels like HGTV.

Photo Friday: Understanding Place

Continuing on my adventure of trying out different themes each day, I thought I’d try a multi-media Friday…

And zefrank leads us off with an interesting video about place and context via a tour of Vegas:

Athol continues on his quest to collect the worst of MLS photos… This photo highlighting the photographers thumb is a classic!

Let the hype begin… Where will you be at 7pm on Sunday?

I created a photo group on Flickr. My idea with the group is that bloggers could/would post group photos from events, seminars, and/or meetups. I added all the relevant photos from my Flickr stream and would love to see some others get involved! (Just ask for an invite!). I plan to continue to add photos of the different events I attend (and host) and would love to see others… (Photos from the upcoming Sellsius duo’s cross-country trip come to mind!).

Beignets at Cafe Du Monde, originally uploaded by tyrsdomain.

(signing up for the group should be easy enough (you’ll need a free yahoo account), but this is the first time I’ve set up a Flickr group. I’d be curious to know if you’re having any issues with the process!)

A chateau in Texas?… Yours for just under $60M (via Luxist)


Historic Photos of Your Seattle Home

Did you know that if your home was built prior to 1930, there may be a photo of it in the State Achieves that you can obtain?

It takes a couple weeks to receive the photo and for a few cents extra, you can order the records that they [photopress:prince.JPG,thumb,alignright]have available from that time.    The black and white photo is from 1939 of the property which was built in 1927.   The color photo is a current picture of the home.

To order a photo of your home from the Puget Sound Achieves, click here to send an email.   You will need to provide:

  • Property address
  • Tax Parcel Number (I can help you find this if you don’t have this handy)
  • Legal Description (lot/block…they just want a brief one)
  • Your name and contact info

You can order anything from a 5×7 for $17.00 to a 16×20 for $55.00.   They will let you know what years are available.  It’s kind of fun to frame the older photos or to at least have them on hand.

Good Morning (It's Friday!)


Photo:7:15 am. oriented south towards Mt. Rainier ,1/12/07

Copyright Tim S. Kane

Wish I had a wide angle lens to showcase the rose colored snow on the Cascade and Olympic Mountains. Nothing like waking up to a day of Sun in the Pacific NW! If I uploaded the full size picture it gets smaller and the Moon is removed. Maybe there is a trick on WordPress to keep pictures the same size but I haven’t figured it out.

We interrupt your regular programming…

[photopress:tin_soch_1.jpg,full,alignright]First, my sincere apologies for those not “into” this kind of thing, but I just got these in the mail and had to share.[photopress:cowgirl.jpg,full,alignright]

The little “cowgirl” lives at the beach in L.A. Mom as shown, is my eldest daughter, Tina.

Well, I know Anna will like them 🙂

Maybe we can get Anna to say a few words.

The Value of High Quality Photos for Real Estate Listings

In previous writings for Rain City Guide on the subject of real estate photography, I’ve emphasized more of a ‘how to’ or ‘how to improve’ approach for Realtor’s who photograph their own listings. I want to shift my emphasis toward raising awareness regarding the value of high quality photography for listings and actually learning to recognize the difference between a bad photographic presentation of a listing and a really good one. Or to put it another way, acknowledging a poor photo presentation when it is and hopefully doing something about it. As a photographer who works almost exclusively with Realtors, I am continuously mystified by the disregard by so many Realtors locally and nationwide who seem to be clueless regarding the photos used to market their listing. To simply purchase a ‘point and shoot’ digital camera and walk around your seller’s home snapping away and expecting a satisfactory result is simply not going to cut it. In most cases there is more to it than that and unless you consider photography a hobby and worth time invested in the necessary skill development, you might be much better off hiring a professional photographer to shoot your listing. Many of the best Realtors do use professional photographers and they’re not fools.

This is a comment from my previous article by a St. Louis Realtor that deserves a more prominent view.

First time poster here: Glad to see some recognition of this problem! The most important thing an agent can do for their sellers today is to get lots of superior images up on the web. Here in St. Louis I am continually astounded at the plethora of dark, awful images, and “what were they thinking” photos of toilets, ceiling fans, etc, or NO PHOTOS at all! How do these [realtors] even get listings?

For most of my listings, I take a lot of my own photos, as I have a background in photography and image correction, so I have hi-res images for color flyers, but I ALSO have a great local photographer who comes in and shoots a batch of wonderful web-ready wideangle shots and virtual tours…

It’s worth the investment (typical agent–“you mean you actually PAY someone to shoot your listings? That costs MONEY!”) My business would be a lot less successful without quality photos.

And this is taken from a follow up email from Shannon. “It would help the profession if we all did better than this, although I’m happy many of my local competitors are still so bad at it!

This is really a great article by Norm Fisher, a Saskatoon realtor, with a virtual tour of some of the photos that were taken from the Saskatoon mls. “The Unbelievably Bad Real Estate Photography Hall of Fame”. Click on the links in the article to be taken to the virtual tour page. Norm’s humorous audio narration of the tour are really worth a visit.

A typical comment from a friend who have done an internet search for a home makes comments like, “I sure see a lot of dark, out of focus, awful photos’. Are they hiding something they don’t want me to see?”

I am getting calls from Realtors with listings from low end houses and small condos to spacious multi-million dollar homes. One might think that even a very basic home that is in decent condition deserves to be marketed well. If I’m the seller of a modest home, the sale of my home and the potential price is certainly important to me. I’d like to know that my Realtor is doing a professional job of marketing my home and taking care of the details. Lousy shots do not inspire confidence in the agent and the points a Realtor might earn by producing a good photographic presentation, or in many cases, simply hiring a professional photographer, are going to make it more likely that I’m going to be a happy customer. Happy customers equal referrals. And where are Realtors without referrals?

I’d like to conclude with one of my favorite photos of 2006, taken from a listing near Greenlake. This is one of the most ‘kid friendly, family friendly’ homes I’ve ever seen and it was a delight to see and photograph this whimsical, artsy abode. Doesn’t everyone wish they had swing and a chalkboard wall in their living room when they were kids?


Photos that tell you something

Further to Galen’s post on photos, I like shots that tell you something. We have a 15 photo max, so that usually leaves room for more than just the obvious. Photo number one MUST be an EXTERIOR shot, per mls rules. And NO PEOPLE allowed. They seem to be Ok with pets…until they get one of those Boing-Boing shots. That will make for a “New Rule”.

This one of Soze (So-zay) saved me from the many calls I usually get, asking if the condo association permitted dogs :-)[photopress:tr.jpg,full,alignleft]


This photo brought 20 people the first day, and two offers. At least half of the people who came to the first Open House said the free standing archway photo grabbed their attention and prompted them to come.

The Big List of RCG Plugins

My list is a little longer than Greg’s

Akismet. A must for WP blogs… I’ve complained in the past how their service is somewhat of a blackhole and I can’t seem to rescue a few of the people who leave comments on RCG from the Akismet spam filter. Nonetheless, the service catches hundreds of spam messages every moment. If I didn’t have a life, I could just keep hitting refresh on my spam filter and there would always be another spam message to delete. Matt, if you’re listening... Here are the two improvements I’d like to see. (1) A way to not have spam limited to showing only the most recent 150 spam messages. Recently, I’ve had two different people leave comments who say there were picked up by the spam filter, but because my queue had already built up to greater than 150 messages, I had no way to rescue them. When I hit the “delete all” button, I only (wrongly) reinforced that these people were spam. (2) A way to rescue people who are labeled spam from deep within the blackhole of Akismet’s database. Galen, one of RCG’s contributor’s has to go “save himself” every time he posts. This sucks! (but is better than me dealing with 450 spam messages a day!)

Exec-PHP. Allows for Admin and Editors to write PHP code within their posts… Both dangerous and powerful and the easiest way to get the Archive plugin to work.

Filosofo Comments Preview. This allows for the preview button. I wish I had time to figure out how to format the “preview” page, but I remember spending a whole evening on that one time and not making enough progress, so I just leave it unformatted. It’s ugly, but better than not having the preview option!

Gravatars. This plugin allows me to easily show the author’s photo on the beginning of every post. At one point, I tried to set this up to allow commenters to have their own gravatars (which is the more common use for this plugin), but I couldn’t get it to work with my theme.

Recent Comments. This really nice plugin lets me show the most recent comments on the sidepanel. It is highly configurable and very easy to work with. I attribute the use of this plugin to the high comment level that we get on many RCG posts because it allows everyone to easily seeing where there is “action” on the site…

GeoPress. This allows me to geocode my posts so that they show up over a map. If you haven’t seen this in action, then you’re going to have to wait a little longer. Normally, when you visit adetail page on Anna’s home search tool, a bunch of little rain drops show up that represent blog posts about that location. At the moment, no rain drops are showing up and I suspect this is because of changes to the server during my recent move and Robbie and I never noticed it was broken (until now!). It’s a very cool feature and way under-utilized by me. Note that the author mentions there is a new and improved version of the plugin here.

PhotoPress. This was top-of-the-line when I first started built RCG a year and a half ago. Since then, WP has designed a built-in photo uploaded that is better integrated with the core system. However, I’m stuck on the old photo upload program because I don’t even want to try thinking about reloading all the photos to a new system and getting everything to work. I dread thinking about the day when the PhotoPress people stop updating their code because demand has shrunk. That’s the day I’m going to be forced to hire a developer for this site!

WP-Print. Add a little printer icon next to the post and allows people to print off a clean looking version of the post. I never print articles, but I’ve heard others do, so this is meant to help save a few trees.

Role Manager. This lets me be very picky about what the different contributors can do on the site… Do I want Jon to upload photos but not publish? Do I want to give Ardell all “editor” rights except the ability to run PHP within posts? This plugin handles that kind of thing.

WP-Stats. This page provides a lot of pretty useless stats, but I installed it and have never turned it off… On the day when I decide to award free-round vacation packages to the top 10 WP contributors, I’ll use this plugin because it counts links like number of posts by author and number of comments by author.

Smart Archives. Clean, simple, smart archive.

Ultimate Tag Warrior. This this is so feature rich, I’ll never even play around with half the options on my beta site. At this point, I’ve been keeping it pretty simple and using the code to tag the bottom of blog posts and create the tag cloud in the archives.

WordPress Database Backup. A backup option without the need to go into PHPmyAdmin! Greg once mentioned that he linked my quote: “I believe real estate agents are either in marketing or broke”… Today’s version: “People running website either backup on a regular basis, or they are broke!”.

WP-Contact Form. Simple, but useful, contact form. I use it on the buyer information and seller information pages. (note: this is also the way that I monetize this blog! 😉 )

I believe that real estate agents are either in marketing or…

  1. Google is doing a major update on their backlink calculator. One of the updated datacenters is showing over 1600 backlinks to RCG while the regular search is still only showing 733. This is great news! The more often Google re-indexes backlinks the better because we get so many more (recognized) backlinks than the typical agent website and I’ve noticed that each time Google updates these backlinks (they only do it every 3 to 6 months), we placed much better in organic search results shortly thereafter. Yum!
  2. Talking about organic search results, I let Greg know that I thought he was potentially hurting himself in Google by posting identical articles on both his regular blog and his ActiveRain blog (no longer available). Put very simply (and definitely an oversimplification), when Google sees two identical articles, they are forced to make a choice in determining which article is “good” and which one is “spam”. Assuming you don’t want either of your sites to be labeled “spam”, then don’t have identical content floating around in full. (When a spam site copies your articles in full, you’re just have to trust that Google will figure it all out!) If you’re going to put articles on more than one site, make sure that you change things up a bit, or better yet, summarize the article and link to your main site where the full article can be found. I would point out some of the other people besides Greg who are doing this same thing on ActiveRain, but it appears that word travels fast via email and most of the guilty have taken their ActiveRain blogs down (Joel being the only exception I’ve found at this point… and he really should not be doubling up his content at this point considering he’s still in the process of “teaching” google about his new domain.)
  3. However, all this makes me feel bad… Matt, I promise my intentions were good and I wasn’t looking to get people to drop their activerain blogs. I think you’ve got a great platform and others should definitely consider blogging on your site. I just wanted to warn people that they might be committing googlecide (a great phrase coined by Greg!) if they post identical content in both places! For everyone’s benefit, Matt Cutts gives a comprehensive explanation on how to get re-included in Google searches should your site ever be listed as spam, but I don’t think that should be necessary as the re-inclusion request is typically for sites that have actively tried to trick Google in ways much more devious than duplicate content.
  4. Steve Hurley let me know about his new blog for the Tacoma area (South Sound) and he asked for some advice on how to get more readers. My advice: start linking to other real estate blogs! There are a lot (a ton!) of real estate blogs with good content that will never get “discovered” because they live in their own bubble (yes, real estate has lots of bubbles!). I think a lot of real estate agents have a view that they are smart enough to be the one and only resource of real estate information. Even if that held water, very few agents are good enough to break out of the mold without some major help from other real estate bloggers. So, regardless of how good your stuff is, find someone else to link to in every post! Really, every post!
  5. Another way to drive traffic is to leave comments on other people’s blogs. The nice part about leaving a comment is that you’ll get a link back to your blog with each and every comment. However, that won’t generate traffic nearly as effectively as if other bloggers are linking to you within their posts. What is the most effective way to get the attention of other bloggers so that they will link to you? Link to them! Want more? Here are the three most important elements of real estate… blogging: Linkation, Linkation, Linkation.
  6. Greg: Ardell’s going to kill me for that title. I promise I wrote it before I became a believer in the church of Ardell! 🙂 I really wish I could give you a “on a related note” to this story, but I simply can’t blog about a meeting I had last week with the master of real estate marketing…
  7. I agree with Chris Pirillo that social bookmarking buttons have gotten out of hand. I’ve not added any to RCG because it seemed like it took up valuable real estate and I’m not sure it provided a valuable service to our readers. The only one I’ve considered adding is, but considering most users have a button installed on their browser (they tend to be a tech-savvy bunch), I’ve never bothered. Adding a button for a site like digg (let alone sites like reddit) seems pointless for a real estate blog since I’ve never seen one real estate article promoted by those communities. (In other words, why would I give them an ad (i.e. their logo) on every one of my posts if they are never going to send me traffic?)
  8. I want one… Sony is preparing to introduce a light-weight geocoder with software to make geocoding photos easy. Although I wish geocoding photos was easier than dragging along another device…
  9. Taken one step further (and two steps too far): Wouldn’t it be great if you could search for an item based on where you were when you were working on the file? As in, “I remember taking those notes while in San Francisco…” and then have a document filter based on where you were when you made those edits (obviously, this only makes sense if you’re working on a laptop or mobile device). The secret weapon in this idea would be taking advantage of the wifi positioning from Loki so that you don’t have to lug around another device…
  10. Everyone knows that Loki was the god of mischief, right? (Due to a simple twist of fate, I know a lot more about Nordic gods than I do bible stories, but I can’t go there because I’ll get to sidetracked…). Well, the mischievous people over at Trulia have blocked Move’s IP address so that I didn’t read what Greg liked so much about their post until I got home. (I know I could have proxied in, but I didn’t bother). Anyway, the article is hilarious and definitely shows the benefit of not taking yourself too seriously. Tell your kids: real estate is fun!!!