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By Virginia

How To Do A Virtual Remodel

Finding love in an unlovely space

We all – real estate brokers, anyway – know how it goes: there’s a house that’s in an OK location and maybe the price is even good, but there’s something that is just so bizarre about the layout or one of the rooms that we’re stymied.

Or it’s TOO SMALL, but there’s a basement or an attic that maybe could be finished off…

We put up little signs like “Picture a 2nd bathroom here!” or “What high ceilings in the basement! Imagine the possibilities!”

Imagining a potential remodel is harder than you’d think

The fact is, though, most people actually can’t imagine exactly how something would work, what it would look like, and especially, what it would cost.

Perhaps it’s a home I will soon be trying to sell for the owner, or maybe it’s a place that would otherwise work for my buyer (if only they could imagine what to do with something).

Or maybe you’re NOT selling, or you’ve just bought a new home, but a visual on a kitchen remodel could actually set your project in motion!

Try a virtual remodel first from Seattle design company SEE3D

The Seattle company SEE3D, owned by Diane Dieterich, has developed a killer solution to this dilemma.

How it works

SEE3D is a virtual remodel company that can give you a great visual on what could be. According to SEE3D, “Renderings can give your properties a new open kitchen, a more functional floor plan, or make a dingy basement into a great family room. Help potential buyers see all the possibilities of a house to get the maximum price in the minimum time.”

They may not be able to make that remodel happen with the snap of a finger, but once you know what you want it to look like, I’m happy to refer contractors (or architects, in the case of bigger projects) to you (opens PDF) so you can start getting some bids to make your vision a reality.

Example: A Kirkland condo with a huge open upper level room

One of the interesting displays on SEE3D’s website is a collection of elevated floor plans for a Kirkland condo that had a huge open room on the upper level: How to use it? How to lay it out and define the space? “We devised 3 possible floorplans so potential buyers could imagine how functional the space could be,” says Diane.

Of course it depends on who will be living there and what their needs are for separate rooms vs. common areas. The SEE3D floor plans would be invaluable to both the seller and the buyer.

And the ideas SEE3D can share are not just for heavy lifting/wall moving type of remodels, but for design ideas in terms of updating the finishes and other surfaces in tired old properties.

A virtual remodel helps home sellers showcase the possibilities without breaking the bank

Of course, if you’re thinking of selling your house, there’s a limit to how much work you’ll want to do before putting it on the market.

But being able to have a photograph on the wall, or a design board that shows the possibilities, is a great way to pique a buyer’s interest, and won’t set you back a ton of money. Prices start at $325.00, and I’m happy to share this cost with my real estate clients. Contact me for a quick walk-through and to see how we could best take advantage of SEE3D’s services!


By Virginia

Why Home Buyers Shouldn’t Worry About Referral Scams

Recent Concerns About Kick-Backs In Real Estate

Kenneth Harney, the popular nationally-syndicated columnist who writes about the real estate market, just posted an article that made me see red!

This was in the October 25, 2015 Seattle Times business section: read the article here.

Quoting Harney:

“The government’s top consumer-protection agency (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) warns a crackdown is coming on kickback games being played by some real-estate brokers, mortgage lenders and title companies.”

Harney lays out a couple of sample scenarios, where real estate agents have cozy arrangements set up with title or escrow companies, or lenders, and reap the benefits – IN CASH – when they refer clients to these companies.

The buyer who only purchases a property once every 10 years or so isn’t experienced enough to demand full disclosure or do comparison shopping, he suggests. So the CFPB is beginning to levy some huge fines.

Why Concerns About Referral Scams Are Alarmist

What irks me is that he manages to make this sound like a “typical deal” for realtors. Let me assure you, that in the Seattle area this is absolutely not the case!

We don’t take kickbacks, and we don’t expect anything other than solid, professional service from anyone that we refer our clients to, nor do the brokerages that we individual agents work for.

Harney quotes a Washington D.C. area title and escrow company owner, Todd Ewing at Federal Title, as advising buyers to at least ask brokers or realty agents this question: “Does your firm participate in a marketing-services agreement with any of the title, mortgage, escrow or other vendors that you are recommending or are on your list of vendors?”

And Harney summarizes: “Whether the answer is yes or no, the best defense against getting ripped off is to shop for settlement services aggressively, get competing quotes and look for online consumer reviews and complaints. You could save a bunch of money.”

In Washington State, Rates Are Regulated & Posted Publicly

I spoke with a First American title rep here in Seattle for her take on this. In Washington State, the Office of the Insurance Commissioner regulates everything they do, and everything title and escrow companies charge for their services. Their rates are posted, and every rate change has to be deemed reasonable, and be approved by the Insurance Commissioner. This is an elected position, where the person serving is voted in (or voted out) every four years.

The fees vary only slightly from company to company, and are based on the selling price of the property.

The Biggest Difference Simply Comes Down To Relationships – And Ability

What it comes down to is relationships with people who have the highest ability to get the job done properly, whether it is inspecting the house you want to buy, or getting you a loan on time to close the transaction on the contracted date, to supplying the one-time title insurance policy or doing the money-in/money-out business of the neutral 3rd party escrow company.

No real estate agent would insist you use their recommendation. But we do have a lot of experience with these companies and are always readier to work with the companies that have provided our clients with a good experience, than ones that had lousy customer service or almost caused a transaction to fail.

Are you planning to buy a home and looking for trustworthy advice? Give me a call today and I’ll see how I can help! 206-459-3570

By Virginia

Reverse Mortgage Cartoon

Saw this cartoon last week and it made me smile! “Sign at the top” ha! Had to share….


By Virginia

“Will the younger generation please step up and start buying houses?”

That seems to be the question of the New Year!

For reasons we can easily understand, this group – those who “came of age” since the year 2000, are far behind earlier generations in terms of home ownership. It seems likely that this isn’t as much a radical change in the culture of homeownership, as it is adelay

It’s been a rough decade, with a huge run up in home prices between 2004 and 2007, and our millennials watched older homeowners and some of their peers that bought with zero down get smacked in the face as the market crashed and prices went lower and lower for the next 4-plus years, generating short sales and foreclosures.

And simultaneously the mortgage industry spiraled rapidly down the tubes.

And the job market got worse and worse.

Finally things started picking up again, certainly in Seattle, and each of the last 3 years has seen higher housing prices and better employment rates, than the year before.

The majority of the people who have been buying, however, are move-up (or over, from another city) buyers or down-sizing buyers, or investors. Those millennials are lagging behind.

Now that rents around Seattle are so high (average price for a 1-bedroom apartment in parts of Seattle is over $1700/month), real estate brokers are speculating that we may have reached a tipping point for younger, first-time, homebuyers; mortgage/property taxes/homeowners insurance isn’t much more – and is sometimes less – than a monthly rental payment.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have just announced a 3% down payment program which should prove enticing for those who haven’t been able to save up the 20% required for reasonable mortgages in recent years.

I’m curious – what do you think about all of this? Let me know your thoughts, and contact me if you want more information! 

By Virginia

A Christmas Surprise I Just Had to Share…

My daughter and her husband surprised us with a cake on Christmas morning.

That’s a photo of me and Michael in the “cake cutting ceremony”, about to discover that this huge chocolate cake was full of PINK layers: our first grandchild will be a little girl coming this spring!! We are so excited!

By Virginia

Unbelievably Low Interest Rates!

Unbelievable! Interest rates have dipped below 4% again

First time in almost a year and a half that the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage has gone so low.

If you missed the previous window of opportunity to refinance your home mortgage,you may have a good shot at it now: Seattle-area home values have increased between 10% and 15% since that last dip (depending on neighborhood), so you may be able to re-finance right out of mortgage insurance if that’s been burdening your monthly payments.

If you need a close estimate as to your current home value before you start this process, just call or email me. I would love to help.

By Virginia

VA Loans are the Housing Market’s Hot Product

These loans are growing and the program is much-improved

VA loans are what’s happening on the mortgage front – the percentage of all home loans that are VA has more than doubled in just a couple of years.

And best news, as syndicated columnist Kenneth Harney writes – these vets are having a far lower rate of default on their loans than other loan programs are. Put that down to better preparedness all the way around, and a massively better organized program than old-VA home loans.

Some bank-owned homes (foreclosures) have actually been earmarked specifically to be given away for free to returning military. Sounds great but read about it in detail in Harney’s column – it’s actually pretty competitive, with many many worthy veteran buyers all applying for the same house, and then having to prove their home-ownership skills by “renting” the house for a year or two and paying insurance, taxes, maintenance reserves in the meantime. Google Operation Homefront, the Military Warriors Support FoundationHomeStrong USA for some examples of these programs.

But overall, what a great program VA loans are now! Zero down payments, low-interest rates, no private mortgage insurance (PMI) and big picture credit underwriting.

In addition, VA loans can be used for cash-out refinances for paying off debt, funding university or making home improvements. And there is a “streamlined refinance loan” to help previous VA borrowers take advantage of the currently-better interest rates.

Do you know any veterans? Be sure to spread the word about these opportunities!

By Virginia

Little Micro-Housing is Big in Seattle

A look at this popular “little” trend

A cross between a tiny hotel room and a dorm room, micro-housing apartments have proved enormously popular in Seattle’s close-in neighborhoods: more units have been built here than anywhere else in the United States.

This fascinating article (part of a series by Politico Magazine’s Sara Solovitch) provides insight into how this phenomenon has happened so quickly here, where single person households exceed 40% of the city’s total households (in comparison with about 25% nationwide).

It’s not a new concept – just re-envisioned for the 21st century. In the downtown Seattle of the 1970’s and early 80’s there were lots of small hotels that rented rooms by the week or month to long-term tenants. Our main YMCA at 4th and Marion did the same.

All of those old residential hotels are long gone now – though here’s a story about one that may be making a comeback – and the new micro-housing is catering to a very different demographic.

My daughter lived in some pretty tiny apartments during her 6 years in Asian cities like Beijing and Shanghai. What about you? Would you ever live in a micro-apartment? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

By Virginia

For the families: Capitol Hill schools!

I’m doing an open house at a beautiful, very spacious (ie, perfect for families) property on Capitol Hill this weekend and I did some research on the schools in the area. (Stop by 904 21st Ave E if you’re free Saturday afternoon March 29th!)

Capitol Hill being the kid friendly neighborhood it is, I wasn’t surprised to learn that there are at least 10 schools within 1.2 miles of the property I’ll be showing this weekend! Not to mention many, many preschools as well.

I thought this might be helpful info for the families out there, so I waned to share it with you.

Here are some of the schools within 1.2 miles of that property (in order of proximity):

By Virginia

Remodeling? What projects to go nuts on!

The annual Cost vs Value for Remodeling Projects report is out, and once again the Pacific states region seemed to recoup the most value per cost spent. We averaged about 88%. To give you a more specific idea of what this means – a small project like a new front door (steel), which costs about $1200, will increase the resale value of your house by at least that much. Hard to imagine how such a small increment is measured? I thought so too! But a “minor kitchen remodel” of roughly $20,000 will also recoup about that much in increased resale value. That figure is much easier for us – as real estate brokers – to see, and agree with. Click here to see the top 10 projects, nationally, where increased value most closely reflects the cost. And click here to see the list of all 35 common projects that were included by remodelers. You can search by Washington/Seattle – and see how it compares with other parts of the country.

My clients and friends have shared great referrals of remodeling contractors they have used. Check out the referral directory I put together hereContact me to be put in touch with both the contractors and people who’ve used them! And if you’d like a second opinion on the value your project might add, I’m all yours.

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How To Do A Virtual Remodel
Why Home Buyers Shouldn’t Worry About Referral Scams
Reverse Mortgage Cartoon
“Will the younger generation please step up and start buying houses?”
A Christmas Surprise I Just Had to Share…
Unbelievably Low Interest Rates!
VA Loans are the Housing Market’s Hot Product
Little Micro-Housing is Big in Seattle
For the families: Capitol Hill schools!
Remodeling? What projects to go nuts on!