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By Virginia

Does this look like you?

Trulia chief economist Jed Kolko has got an interesting take on what will happen to the housing market this year – he says, first, that the price increases will slow down a little bit (nationally) but that there will still be lots of buyers. Interest rates will go up a little – the photo below shows what 2 national organizations speculate – but there will be more inventory, more to choose from.

Investors will back off, because prices have gone up too much to be a big bargain right now. First time buyers may have more trouble buying (saving for a down payment and having a stable job remain significant burdens) so who will be buying the houses?

Repeat buyers! They’ve got cash – equity in their current homes, built up over time and increasing more since prices have gone up again – and they’re ready for a change. Smaller, larger, over there, or even a second home.

Click here to read Mr. Kolko’s complete article.

Love the takeaway:

“If prices are slowing for the right reasons, great: growing inventory, fading investor activity, and rising mortgage rates are all natural price-slowing changes to expect at this stage of the recovery. But prices could slow for unhealthy reasons, too: if we have another government shutdown or more debt-ceiling brinksmanship, a drop in consumer confidence could hurt housing demand and home prices.”

By Virginia

Local home prices spiked sharply last year in some neighborhoods

The Seattle Times writer Sanjay Bhatt shared some useful information last Sunday regarding home sales in King County; and I wanted to pass along some of the details about Seattle. As always real estate is totally “location specific”, so just knowing the changes in median price doesn’t inform you very well about what’s going on. Read the full article here.

Overall, we’re still about 9% below our county-wide 2007 peak in prices. But Ballard/Green Lake, for example, is only 3% below its peak (crazy popular neighborhood!) and the Queen Anne/Magnolia area was only 4% below its 2007 peak. Just about every house I’ve seen come on the market in recent weeks here has received multiple offers. And Central Seattle, which includes Capitol Hill, Madrona, Madison Park, Washington Park, etc., has actually surpassed the 2007 peak (think: lots of new construction…)

One surprise – at first glance – was that Beacon Hill, which had a below-average median price of $320,000 in 2013, actually saw a 24% increase in prices during the year! It helps to remember that these are median prices: half of the homes sold for more than that price, and half sold for less. Where the housing stock itself changes, the median price will move even though the average house might not be worth a lot more. Beacon Hill has seen lots of new construction, which sells for more, and has finally seen a big drop-off in the number of short sales and foreclosures that were plaguing it for several years, dragging the median price down. In Beacon Hill alone, distressed property sales went from 34% of the total sales in 2011 to just 15% in 2013.

The King County condo market is still way down from its 2007 peak, though it’s improving.

For the record: I don’t want to see prices spike, but I do share my clients’ pleasure at not being underwater anymore!

By Virginia

If you garden, what should you be doing now?

If you garden, what should you be doing now? If you live in a house, maybe you’re pruning your fruit trees and looking through Territorial Seed Company’s catalog for the vegetables and flowers you contemplate growing this spring and summer. We did a radical pruning on one of our oldest apple trees recently, and belatedly, I found this guide – click on “How to prune an old neglected apple tree” (which I will call Ode to Patience).

If you like to structure your time, here’s a great Northwest guide to when you should plant what.

But an encouraging word to all my friends and clients who are condo dwellers: you too can participate in gardening – grow your own herbs on chosen windowsills (carefully!) or if you have a balcony, grow just about anything.

This year we’re selling our “back 40” so losing several fruit trees and lots of garden space. We’re already planning what will go where with a whole new garden configuration, and we’d LOVE to see your photos of what you’ve got going on (or had last summer). I know you’ve got some great photos…

Here’s to sunshine!

By Virginia

Flood Insurance Gets Serious

News of Typhoon Haiyan’s devastation in the Philippines has flooding – and its catastrophic impact on life and property – on everyone’s mind. Here is some information you may not know about flooding in the United States:

Since insurance companies generally excluded flood damage from coverage, our insurance has been subsidized by the Federal government for the last 40-plus years. But having taken some HUGE hits in recent years – Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Katrina – the government is now backing off.

Changes are still being worked out, but the Biggert-Waters Reform Act of 2012 basically requires the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to raise insurance rates for “some older properties” in high-risk areas to reflect true flood risk. Here’s the official wording, “Key provisions of the legislation will require the NFIP to raise rates to reflect true flood risk, make the program more financially stable, and change how Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) updates impact policyholders. The changes will mean premium rate increases for some—but not all—policyholders over time.”

Even in Seattle, some homeowners will see their insurance rates go way up. You can go to www.floodsmart.gov and type in your address to see what the government currently has determined is the flood risk of your area. All the Seattle addresses I typed in came back with a “moderate-to-low” risk profile as of today, so it sounds like they haven’t really finished mapping our area (Alki? Perkins Lane?). Talk to your insurance agent for more detailed information.

We don’t yet know exactly how things will change. But it does seem that the timing will be when a home changes hands, i.e. the new homeowner may have a much larger insurance premium than the seller had. And second homes (non-primary homes) will have their rates move at 25% annual increases at policy renewal until premiums reach the full-risk rates.

According to this NFIP map, in Washington State 29% of our flood insurance policies are subsidized, so this will in fact affect a great many people. “Many of the pre-FIRM (pre-1960’s) properties in high-risk areas do not meet current standards for construction and elevation, and they have been receiving subsidized rates that do not reflect their actual risk.”

By Virginia

Mt Baker Home Tour is special this year!

Because, as it turns out, one of the homes used to be my owned by my husband Michael’s family!

Featured in last Sunday’s Pacific Magazine, this cool Mount Baker home was always called “the tile house” (I thought they were joking, but now I get it – scroll through the fascinating photos in the magazine). This December 7 I plan to finally get inside the house and see it for myself. From what they tell me, the house has some wonderful additional features the article doesn’t mention.

The Mount Baker Home Tour takes place every two years, and is sponsored by the Mount Baker Community Club. Tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets, and the 6 homes on tour are open from 10 to 4 on Saturday, December 7. There are shuttle vans cruising through the neighborhood, so you don’t have to drive and park/drive and park/drive and park…unless you want to.

And just to bring things full circle, from some of the homes on the tour you’ll be able to see Lake Washington, where we row (and train for the Head of the Charles Regatta – see “Where Have I Been Part 2”!

If you can’t make it over to Mount Baker, keep your eyes open for other fascinating tours throughout NEXT year: The Green Home tour, Seattle Modern Home, and the classic (exteriors only) tours of Queen Anne.

By Virginia

Where have I been? – Part 2

 

October was the Head of the Charles – a rowing regatta held in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It’s one of the oldest in the United States, one of the biggest, and this is the first time I’ve been included in the competition!

I rowed for Conibear Rowing Club, in a Women’s 4 (of women-of-a-certain-age), coxed by the infamous Ines Pearce from Los Angeles. We had an awesome race and came in 2nd in our category. No medals for 2nd place, though…

But as my daughter the former coxswain says, “Head of the Charles is like Disneyland for rowers!”

It’s like a carnival, when you’re not rowing with all your strength on a curvy course that passes under 6 different bridges. And for folks who think our own Fremont Bridge and University Bridge are charmingly antique, let me just say, they can’t compare with these truly ancient stone bridges – some of which appeared to be close to crumbling into the Charles River as we rowed under them.

Thousands of rowers, lots of sunshine and blue skies, great food (and more great food), a chance to visit old friends… combined with a condo closing before I left and a house closing the day after I returned. If only work could always be this much fun!

By Virginia

Wedding in the Family!

Where have I BEEN? Well, I have in fact been working. But I haven’t been posting here lately, and I’m going to go ahead and blame it on my daughter’s wedding.

This was truly the best party since Michael and I got married ourselves! And what a wonderful chance to get everyone in the family together – we haven’t all gathered here in Seattle for at least 10 years – and to also get to know Mark’s family.

OK. Back to work.

But wait, did I really rent that designer silk dress from Paris for the weekend?? Yes I did!

By Virginia

Interest Rates Up – Is the Wolf at the Door?

Interest rates for home mortgages bounced up last week, to the highest level they’ve been at since May 2012.

While it has many would-be buyers wringing their hands – as they get shut out in multiple offer purchases, and many other would-be re-financers kicking themselves for not having already refinanced a few months ago, it’s important to keep it in perspective:

On a 30-year fixed rate loan of $300,000 the change of a quarter percent in the interest rate results in a change in monthly payment of about $43.00.

According to AOL real estate news posted May 29, in the previous week refinance applications were down 8% (that’s us owners, kicking ourselves) but home purchase applications were up 2.6%.

AOL real estate news says rates have increased by 31 basis points since the beginning of May; 12 points just in the week ending May 24. That put the rates at their highest level in a year, with the national average for a 30-year fixed rate loan at 3.90 percent. (12 basis points is just under one-eighth of a percent) 

JT Kennedy, senior loan officer at M&T Bank, forwarded me this chart, showing U.S. interest rates for home mortgages all the way back to 1976. Seriously, rates are up which means your payments on a new loan would be up, but still the rates are at a fraction of what they used to be! JT is your man for refinance (he works out of Portland, but the bank does business in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, Colorado, Nevada and Arizona). Shoot him an email for more info and awesome testimonials from his clients. Of course he also does purchase loans.

By Virginia

Z-Home Ready to Reckon

Z-Home, which recently sold the last of their 10 units in Issaquah Highlands, was sponsored by the City of Issaquah, and developed by Seattle’s townhome builder Matt Howland and Ichijo USA, in partnership with Built Green, KingCounty, Puget Sound Energy, Washington State University Energy Program and Port Blakely Communities.

The idea was to use smart design and cutting edge technologies to radically reduce environmental impacts in measurable ways. Z-Home hoped to prove that homes that use zero net energy and 60% less water, emit net zero carbon emissions, have clean indoor air and use only low-toxicity materials are possible and scalable to mainstream home production.

They’re coming up on their first post-occupancy evaluation and plan to share it publicly. Meantime, check this link for great information about buying “greener” homes, and thinking about remodeling/retrofitting: http://www.z-home.org/buying.php#.  King County’s website also has most of this http://www.varley.net/online/ information, and here’s a link to their fabulous Eco-Cool Remodel Tool, which also has a list of “green” remodeling contractors.

By Virginia

Selling AND Buying? Prepare To Be Stressed

Are you planning on buying a new home but need to sell your current home first? Check out my recent post with info on home selling strategies in Seattle!

“Buying a home is stressful. Selling a home is stressful. When you do both at the same time, the experience is super stressful, not to mention emotional and difficult on many levels,” says Brendon DeSimone on his Zillow blog.

It does help to acknowledge and accept that it will be stressful. Brendon lays out, with broad strokes, what your options are and lists several steps to take, depending what kind of market you’re in vs. what kind of market you’re moving to. He’s licensed to sell real estate in New York and in California, so I’m going to give you a little Seattle area update:

Because we’re in a strong seller’s market here now, if you’re both selling AND buying in this area, selling your current home  is going to be easier than buying your new one. If you get your home in tip-top condition and price it right you are very likely to get multiple offers. With multiple offers, you will probably be able to get a delayed closing or a rent-back, which will give you more time to settle on your purchase.

If you own your current home outright, or have a great deal of equity, it may make sense to buy first and THEN sell. But if not, you may want to set up a plan for temporary housing – a 3-month rental, for example, while you put most of your furnishings and belongings in storage pods like Door-to-Door or Pods.

While moving twice probably sounds like a pain, it can make thousands of dollars difference to you – you’ll be able to take your best offer, even if they can’t offer you a rent-back period, and you’ll be able to get to know the market from the purchasing side rather than just rushing in and bidding up the first house or condo that seems like it might work.

Contact me for ideas about your specific situation!

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Does this look like you?
Local home prices spiked sharply last year in some neighborhoods
If you garden, what should you be doing now?
Flood Insurance Gets Serious
Mt Baker Home Tour is special this year!
Where have I been? – Part 2
Wedding in the Family!
Interest Rates Up – Is the Wolf at the Door?
Z-Home Ready to Reckon
Selling AND Buying? Prepare To Be Stressed