The Real Kirkland
Ahead of the curve, fact-based blog with editorial style views on the current status and future of Kirkland, WA real estate. Written from the POV of an experienced Realtor working in the trenches of every day real estate in Kirkland.
REO Purchasing for the Common Man: Locating and Buying a “Listed” Foreclosure
An Interview with Jennifer Nilssen of Real Living NW Realtors and Tina Mitchell of the “The Money Hour” on AM 1090
Fannie Mae REO in Kingsgate – 2 Bed, 923sqft
TINA: Let’s start out with a definition of a bank owned or Real Estate Owned (REO) property.
JENNIFER: When a home is foreclosed on by the bank and is sent to auction, but doesn’t successfully sell, it then reverts back to the bank’s possession and becomes an REO (Real Estate Owned).
Many REO’s today are listed with a real estate agent. There are far too many REO’s and banks are now streamlining their processes and utilizing agents. REO’s are no longer mysterious, they are out there for the public and you don’t need to be a cash buyer to buy bank owned homes. Brokers that specialize in buyer representation for REO’s can help you access them. In fact Fannie and Freddie require that every buyer use their own broker.
TINA: I’m sure you have clients come to you saying “I just had a friend that purchased a property at the foreclosure auction for .50 cents on the dollar.” What would you say to them?
JENNIFER: I would say that’s incredibly lucky because that is somewhat rare these days. They would need to be a cash buyer or have had to secure hard money lending which is quite expensive and usually adds thousands to their total acquisition cost. Because there is so much competition for the good ones at the auctions, 50 cents on the dollar is rare. Plus auction buyers are buying a home many times sight unseen and likely without a guarantee of title so they may be getting a deal but the risk can also be extremely high. They’re often getting a deal because they’re taking on risk. If you’re not into taking on that sort of risk, then look at listed bank owned homes.
TINA: I know the biggest myth is that all foreclosures are better deals then traditional sales. Can you give our listeners the truth?
JENNIFER: It’s a common myth among buyers that all foreclosures are good deals. A good deal is a good deal. It does not matter what the home sold for in foreclosure, the bank is going to get an appraisal or ‘brokers price opinion’ and determine what they believe it’s worth and what they want to sell it for, and that is not necessarily under market value. In fact, I see many REO’s sell for market value and above.
TINA: Let’s break it down for our listeners. There are two types of distressed sale opportunities, a short sale and a foreclosure. With a short sale the seller is still a part of the sale, and with a bank owned the bank has already taken over. What is the benefit of a bank owned vs. a short sale?
JENNIFER: With a short sale you are dealing directly with the seller but you must wait for all of the lien holders to approve the price, determine the closing date, and approve terms of your purchase. Also, the published listing price of a short sale is not necessarily what the seller will be able to sell it for. The list price of a short sale is a moving target. It’s a best guess of the sales price that the bank will approve and what the seller hopes to negotiate with the bank. With a bank owned home there is no guesswork as far as the price or closing date, you are dealing directly with the bank as the seller and the price and terms have already been approved.
TINA: Why is a primary residence purchase a benefit for a bank owned property?
JENNIFER: Banks typically give preference to owner occupied buyers because they are looking to stabilize communities that have been hit hard by foreclosure. This can give buyers looking to use the home as their primary residence an edge over investors. For instance, with Freddie Mac owned properties, investors need to wait 15 days before they can make an offer. For the first 15 days, Freddie Mac homes are only available to owner occupied buyers and non-profits due to their First Look initiative. So owner occupied buyers are able to make offers during that time without the pressure of competition from cash investors. That’s been very helpful especially this year with inventory so tight and so many multiple offer situations.
TINA: There are a few programs just for bank owned properties. The most well known is HomePath for Fannie Mae homes.
JENNIFER: Yes, Homepath has been an extremely valuable tool for my owner occupied buyers. I am hoping Fannie puts more of their properties on the market soon because buyers really love this deal. Homepath allows buyers to purchase with as little as 3% down and they do not have to pay mortgage insurance on the loan. This is critical because mortgage insurance can add hundreds to the buyers mortgage payment every month. Plus, there is no appraisal or appraisal fee.
TINA: It’s important for a listener to understand the meaning of “as-is” and the realistic expectations to have on bank owned properties.
JENNIFER: Go into an REO purchase knowing that unless it needs repairs that are prohibitive to your financing or are absolutely necessary to sell the home in any case, it will be sold as-is. However with listed REO’s you are able to have an inspection. So you need to find a very skilled and thorough inspector. I would suggest finding an inspector who has a thermal cam because they can actually determine if there are leaks in the walls. I see several homes a year that have not been properly winterized and have leaks in the walls that you may not otherwise see with the naked eye. Also, the bank knows nothing about the home or it’s history, they have never been to the home and will not be able to disclose anything about the home to you.
TINA: Let’s talk about how the “as-is” aspect can affect financing?
JENNIFER: Because many of these homes have been vacant and neglected, you see a lot of issues coming up with water leaks, roofs, exposed wiring, missing drywall ….. These are issues that can be cited on an appraisal if evident enough and thus they will become issues for the bank. So if you are a buyer who needs financing, you may want to look into a renovation loan. I have even seen instances where buyers felt confident enough in the sale that they asked for permission from the bank to make the repairs themselves before closing in order to get an approval from a lender, but there is risk there.
TINA: Can you talk about the property likely being sold using a special warranty deed?
JENNIFER: Most banks will only convey or sell a home using a special warranty deed. This is a deed that conveys ownership with a limited number of assurances about the seller’s ownership in the property being conveyed. The bank is not warranting anything about the property except to transfer whatever interest they have in the property while they owned the property and does not take into consideration any other interests that may exist. GENERALLY not a big deal because you’ll have title insurance but it can present some problems. You may want to consult an attorney or your title insurance rep if the banks contract is saying they will only convey the property with a special warranty deed.
TINA: What do you see happening with the utilities and what tips can you provide?
JENNIFER: It’s a good idea to verify any balances owed on the utilities and HOA dues and have the escrow company pay the utility bills at closing. While the bank or the listing broker may have paid them current when they listed the home or agreed to prorate the utilities at closing, I have seen some bank contracts that make the buyer assume any back utilities OR the bank will only cover up to 6 months of back utilities This can be a problem if utilities haven’t been paid in a year because technically the new owner would be responsible for any balance beyond what the bank will cover.
TINA: When I receive a contract on a bank owned property the contract is completely different than with a traditional purchase. Why is that?
JENNIFER: Simply put, the bank wants to use their own biased contracts. Our NWMLS forms are extremely pro-buyer. Most banks, Fannie, Freddie, VA and HUD homes will require buyers to use their own state specific, lawyer prepared contracts, with no exceptions. In addition to your broker, it’s a good idea to have your attorney read over the bank contracts.
TINA: I think it’s also important to talk about the difference between dealing with a bank and a traditional seller when it comes to emotions.
JENNIFER: Right. This is different for most buyers because your not dealing with a seller who is also emotionally vested, local, present, and understanding. With REO’s you’re dealing with a corporate entity and this is going to come down to their own policies and simple math. Some of the listing brokers and banks have it down but for the most past be prepared to be frustrated by lack of communication, lack of information, lack of buyer-friendly paperwork. It is a crap shoot- you could be working with a fabulous bank and/or asset manager who is reasonable, quick to respond and will provide helpful info OR you could work with a very frustrating, non-emotional, non-committal, often out of state seller who doesn’t understand local customs and who has never been to the home.
Often times I find that the selling side doesn’t regard timelines within the contract but expect you to. Be prepared to have to turn paperwork quickly and usually that day, it may mean having to buy a new scanner at home if you want the home badly enough.
Also, some MLS listing info has been known to be dicey or incomplete so make sure you verify all aspects of the listing info, too.
TINA: What % of the greater Seattle market are bank owned properties?
JENNIFER: Right now the market has slowed a bit naturally because of the winter but right now according to the MLS about 8% of the homes on the market are bank owned. That’s down from the peak in March of this year when almost 12% of the homes on the market were foreclosures. As far as distressed homes go, there are far more short sales than REO’s BUT I find that buyers prefer working with REO’s because of the certainty they come with. So far in King County there have been 7,364 trustee’s sales this year with homes in Seattle, Kent and Renton leading the way in volume. I suspect that the rates are even higher in the outlying counties.
TINA: The good deals on bank owned properties are limited. Can you identify some great deals locally?
JENNIFER: Two come to mind that are on the market right now. One is a Freddie Mac REO in the Petrovitsky area in Renton. It’s an adorable 3 bed, 1 bath, 1100 sqft home with a big, private yard, and hardwoods for just $139k!!! That’s less than the cost of a condo! It comes with a 1-2 year home warranty on all appliances and systems in the home and buyer can get up to 3% of their closing costs paid for. This would make a great home for a first time buyer
There is also a Fannie Mae condo listed in the Totem Lake area of Kirkland. It’s a 2 bed, 923 sqft condo for $87k. It includes all appliances, a fireplace, patio, and parking spaces. It qualifies for Homepath financing so owner occupied buyers would need only 3% down, they’d pay NO MI, and no appraisal fees.
Of course you need to vet these homes for any issues but the upfront numbers really pencil.
TINA: Thanks so much for the info. You can catch The Money Hour on AM 1090 on Saturdays from 2-4pm and hear this interview with Jennifer Nilssen with Real Living NW in it entirety this Saturday, November 17th at 3pm.
Missing in Action, It’s Been Months Since I’ve Posted and the Reason Is…
Where have I been and why haven’t I posted in so long? (Home owners and Sellers pay attention to this answer)
Oh, I’ve been right here. Haven’t gone anywhere in fact. As spring and summer have almost come and gone, I haven’t even so much as taken a day off or left the Seattle area.
This is because 2 significant changes have occurred since January in my business and in the real estate market that have taken me on a furious and frenzied road.
I noticed the beginning of the first change while I was in Eastern, WA in January for the annual trip I take to pen out my New Year’s Resolutions and business plans for the year. But instead of peacefully working on my work/life plans in front of the fire as I usually do, I found myself having to work at the kitchen table 12 hours a day with the phone ringing off the hook, in the middle of what is traditionally the slowest real estate month of the year. I was so irritated! The previous 12 months were dull to say the least. Now I had deliberately placed myself in a space to focus without distractions and yet distractions were all that was happening! But wait… Gratitude/Reality check….wasn’t this the very thing myself and every other Realtor has been praying for for the last 4 years?! Well, be careful what you wish for because the Seattle/King County market instantly burst with activity – especially for sellers! Multiple offers, 9pm showings, lenders backed up in underwriting 2 months! (In fact it’s gotten so good for sellers that I’ve personally decided to list a home I own on Friday) The sudden improvement was being sparked by a lack of inventory, the belief that rates and prices won’t stay this low forever, and I believe, the desire for home buyers to get off the fence and put a little faith back into homeownership. And I’ve been riding this crazy train ever since.
Seattle King County Realtors states that “Housing affordability conditions have reached the highest level since recordkeeping began in 1970. NAR’s Housing Affordability Index rose to a record high 206.1 in January, based on the relationship between median home price, median family income, and average mortgage interest rate. The higher the index, the greater the household purchasing power. NAR projects the affordability index for all of 2012 will be at an annual high, with little movement in mortgage interest rates or home prices during the year.”
More remarkable stats – Seattle Bubble reports that supply and inventory are at 2 months out. This is a far cry from the 9-12 months that homes were sitting on the market before expecting to sell in 2009 after the crash. SB also reports that median home values were up in July 2012 7.2% compared to July 2011.
Brokers all around western Washington have reported brisk activity during 2012 with home buyers scrambling to take advantage of attractive financing while encountering shrinking inventory and rising prices.
One broker remarked now is the “best selling opportunity,” she has witnessed in nearly 4 years.
Pending sales jumped more than 17 % from a year ago, according to new figures from Northwest Multiple Listing Service. Nineteen of the 21 counties in its service area reported double-digit increases in the volume of mutually accepted offers.
Prices are also rising in most counties. The median sales price for single family homes and condominiums (combined) that closed area-wide last month was $254,900, up more than 7 percent from the year ago figure of $237,975.
Single family homes that sold last month in King County had a median selling price of $269,900, up more than 10 percent from the year-ago figure of $245,000.
Northwest MLS statistics show the number of pending sales of single family homes and condos (8,416) nearly matched the number new listings (8,632) in King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties in July 2012.
Another possible reason for the boom in the real estate market is because Washington is seeing an influx in residents. The Office of Financial Management recently reported the first increase in new residents moving into the state since 2006: After a paltry 6,055 people moved to Washington between April 2010 and April 2011 but the pace has picked up this year, reversing a five-year trend and reporting over 14,000 plus new residents moving to Seattle so far in 2012.
The second switch that occurred in my business was even more unexpected. After seven years at my beloved TEC Real Estate, I made the switch to Real Living Northwest Realtors. I wasn’t looking to change offices (and initially it was out of necessity because by position on the YPN Realtor Board required me to) but long story short, I have moved and I love it! It’s been fantastic and I would encourage any Realtor’s out there to take a look at this office. And as much fun as it’s been, setting up new email, ordering new letterhead, moving your office/home to a new office/home, is always more time intensive than one thinks it;s going to be and I just haven’t had the time to post on the Real Kirkland. (And hey, I just noticed that my new office name matches my blog name – spooky cool) And so here is my first post since the switch to Real Living Northwest.
If I could summarize my business for the past 8 months it would be as a marathon of home sales. But I will temporarily halt this race as I prepare to leave in the morning for Eastern WA – the same place where the market change began for me. Tomorrow I officially begin my first day of vacation this year. Tonight I happen to have fig jam on the stove, I am typing on my laptop next to it, watching the jam boil out of the corner of one eye, and am scrambling to get this post published before I leave on sweet vacation in the morning . Ahhhhh… Just the thought allows my shoulders to drop about an inch. And I have come full circle.
Zillow Reports Over 11m Homeowners Upside Down, Options For Underwater Mortgages
I bought 2 homes in 2007 and I still own both of them. It’s also fair to say I am underwater on them both. How much do I wish I had a crystal ball back then?
I try not to be too hard on myself: Nobody had the ability to see the future and nobody knew just how bad the housing industry would get.
Millions of homeowners – including most of the Realtors, loan officers, and real estate attorneys I know - have been affected by this. If you owe more on your home than it’s worth (also known as underwater or upside down), it may seem like you’re throwing away money every month and there’s not a lot you can do about it.
However there are a few options out there and more to come:
As I lay out these options I just want to clarify that I am not an attorney or an accountant and you should always consult these professionals before making a decision on your mortgage. I feel comfortable saying that in many cases the homeowners who I’ve seen lawyer up have better results when trying to negotiate with their lenders.
That out of the way, here are some options if you’re underwater on your mortgage:
WAIT IT OUT
I initally bought my 2 homes in 2007 as long term investments and that’s how I plan to continue to hold them. Since historically real estate values double every ten years, statistically it’s fair to say that over the better part of the next decade, property values will rebound. This strategy works well for those who:
- are not behind on the mortgage payments
- have enough income/rent to keep paying them, and
- WANT to stay in your house/own for a long time
But again, who has the crystal ball? Property values have started to increase in the Seattle metro area as of last quarter and the market is seeing a huge increase in pending sales and a shortage of inventory. Yet economists say it could be years before the local housing market sees a full recovery.
REFINANCE THROUGH HARP 2.0 – IF IT EVERS COMES
HARP aka Making Home Affordable program is a federal refinance initiative program designed to help about 5 million underwater homeowners refinance into a 30 yr or 15yr fixed loan with a lower monthly payment. However, to date less than 1 million borrowers have been able to refinance. This month we are awaiting an overhaul to the HARP program which hopes to reach more underwater homeowners. The new HARP 2.0 program is supposed to go live as of this month but we’ve yet to see it happen. The old HARP program limited underwater borrowers to a loan-to-value ratio of 125% whereas 2.0 has no limit. You must be current on your loan and not have had any late martgage payments in the last 12 months. You current loan must also be held by Fannie Mae.USE THE HARP LOAN CALCULATOR BELOW TO SEE IF YOU MAY QUALIFY.
RENT OUT YOUR HOME
Renting the house out is a viable option in some situations. If the current market rent covers your mortgage payment or more (and especially if your tenant is willing to pay more for the home than you are) and you are willing to be a landlord, this may be a viable option.
Craigslist or Rentometer.com are good sites to find out what the current market rent is for a house of your same size in your area.
TRY A LOAN MODIFICATION – AND I MEAN “TRY”
“Try” being the key word. Homeowners who have missed payments, are facing foreclosure, and want to stay in their homes seem to prefer loan modifications because it seems “easier” and there’s a promise that they can stay in the home.
But the reality is that few lenders agree to reduce the principal balance on a loan and if they do, most tack on sky high fees to the loan balance or they are only temporary modifications. Conservatively I know about 40 people who have tried loan mods – with and without attorney assistance – and I don’t personally know of anyone who has been granted a true, permanent loan modification.
Furthermore, I see and hear about lot of loan mod scams so please be aware of who you engage with.
Your last option… The “F word”. In most cases you should try to avoid foreclosure. Although more people than ever are walking away from their homes, foreclosure can have some very serious, negative affects on your credit. And there may be tax consequances for allowing a foreclosure.
A foreclosure can damage your credit for up to seven years, according to the National Association of Realtors. Even if you walk away, your credit also affects your ability to rent an apartment and in some cases get a job.
In speciific cases it may make sense to let the bank foreclosure or just give the home back via a deed in lieu rather than spending money and time fighting to save a home that’s just not worth it.
DEED IN LIEU
With a deed in lieu you voluntarily give the deed back to the bank via an approval process. You can’t just simply sign it over, the bank does have to approve and authorize the deen in lieu. If you know you won’t be able to make up the deficiency and are behind on payments, you may consider a deed in lieu of foreclosure.
A deed in lieu will also negatively impact your credit and you’ll forfeit any equity in your home.
DO A SHORT SALE
With a short sale you will actually list the home on the market with a Realtor, procure a buyer, and negotiate with the bank to allow you to sell for less than what you owe on your mortgage. The bank may or may not release you from the deficiency and there may be tax consequances on the forgiven amount. And be prepared as short sales are a very long process. Closings generally take 6 months to a year.
The process still damages your credit but generally not as badly as a foreclosure.
Finally, keep in mind that when you’re upside down on your mortgage, your options vary greatly depending on whether or not you’re late on any payments, are employed, and wether your lender has filed a Notice of Default or Notice of Trustees Sale on your house—the legal prerequisite for foreclosure.
As the Market Heats Up at an Incredible Pace, Fast Acting Buyers Win
It’s tough for Eastside buyers out there right now- just ask most of you! This past week I’ve had to have “the talk” with the buyers I’m working with to explain just how continuing to sit on the fence could hurt them. For the past few weeks pending sales on the MLS outnumber new, active listings by 30%. Inventory is dry, dry, dry. Just try and find an FHA approved home that’s in decent shape under $300k in this areas that’s been on the market for more than 10 days. This is the most popular product on the market and every one of them has multiple offers. And FHA approved condos under $150k? Forget it! The week before last I submitted exactly 11 offers for buyers ranging from $150K-$425k and from Arlington to Maple Valley. All had multiple offers and exactly 2 were accepted.
You know me, I am not an alarmist and I don’t send distress messages unless it’s warranted. So I say this in all seriousness – if you are a buyer in the King County or Snohomish housing market and do not have a home under contract, you should seriously think about doing what you can to contract a home for youself soon.
The WSJ, Inman News, Tulia, Zillow, Active Rain, Windermere, Redfin, Seattle Times, and the MLS himself have all issued reports this week about the continuing price increases and low inventory in the Seattle market. Statistically this is no longer a phase but the “new balanced market”.
My colleagues and I are seeing this first hand, as are many of you. We’re busier than ever. overnight Realtors prayed for this for the past 3 years. Well, be careful what you wish for because many brokers heads are spinning they are so busy. Just friend me on Facebook or visit my Facebook page Jennifer Nilssen Real Estate to see the comments from other brokers! It;s clear the good old days of a buyer’s market are ending. In the past month I’ve seen nothing but full price offers and multiple offer situations. Buyers are making 4-6 offers before one takes. It’s across the board – all over and every price range. Pending sales for the last 5 weeks have outnumbered new inventory by over 30%. I believe we’ve hit the bottom and prices will continue to increase moving forward. Perhaps slowly, but surely they are increasing.
What can I do if I am a buyer?
You want to make sure you take advantage of the end of the buyer’s market. There are a few things buyers can do to position themselves in a tight market:
- Make good offers – assume you’re going to be in a multiple offer situation and put your best foot forward in the first round, don’t assume the seller will counter you and you’ll have chances to negotiate
- Paralysis of Analysis – don’t get bogged down with needing to research every detail or scare yourself into not acting. Yes, the market has been crazy the last few years but this is the end of your time to buy. You have contingencies built in to allow you time for due diligence. If you don’t act, you someone else will, and then you have no property at all
- Have your financing and preapproval letter ready to go – you’re wasting your time looking at any homes if you don’t have an updated pre-approval within the last 30 days because most sellers won’t consider your offers without one. In some cases you can’t even view a property without one. And have your down payment funds confirmed and ready to go before looking at any properties
- Get out there – just start viewing properties as soon as they come on the market, don’t wait until next week, they’ll be gone
- Keep making offers – if your offers do not get chosen at first or you lose out to a cash buyer, don’t take it personally, don’t lose steam, just keep making the best offers you can, the right one will take. Most agents I speak to report having to submit 3-5 offers before the buyer’s offer is selected
- Be flexible – are your expectations too high for the home you want? Do you have to have a certain type of home? Can you be flexible and give up a few amenities? Is it worth it to wait for the home you think you want even if it means paying more down the road? Can you even pay more? If you’re less set on certain amenities, your options will open. Options = negotiating power
- Stop looking at the top of your price range – when you look at the top of your range, not only are you stretching yourself monthly but there’s no room if you need to go higher in a multiple offer situation. If you look at homes that are about $10-20k below your max, then you have the ability to edge out other offers if you need to AND get your closing costs paid.
- Avoid short sales if possible – short sales are uncertain, time consuming undertakings that may never close at the price or rate you want (or close period). I know they are all over but they are harder than ever to get deal on and they now typically sell for appraisal value. As the new data comes out in coming months showing higher sales prices, that could mean you’re paying top dollar for a home that’s really tough to purchase
I Don’t Want to Be in A Competetive Market. Should I Just Wait for it to Die Down?
The level headed, blog writer advising the masses in me wants to say “It’s not adviseable.” If we were sitting at my kitchen table I’d tell you ”Absolutely not”. Increased prices are likely a trend that will continue through at least the next few quarters. By waiting, you may miss the bottom of the market and you are not assured that mortgage interest rates will remain low.
For those of you actively looking, keep at it! If you’ve been passive until now, I say this lovingly, but it’s time to get off the fence or risk paying more than you should down the road. If you get in now, you’ll have that equity you’ve been waiting for and has been keeping you on the fence when prices really start taking off here soon.
Sellers pay attention! If you have a popular product, say, a home or FHA approved condo in King County or Snohomish County under $300k, and you’ve been considering selling, this may be the time for you.
Keeping You Informed….
What to Do Better the Next Time You Negotiate With Your Tenants
Due to uncertainty in the markets, renting has become more popular and more of a neccessity than ever. Renters today commonly find leasing less expensive and more stable than owning and former homeowners may find that renting is a more reassuring option after losing confidence in homeownership.
Many homeowners find that their life circumstances have changed and their homes no longer suit them but because they are low on equity, they cannot afford to sell. So renting is a viable alternative to selling via short sale or foreclosing.
In June 2010 Trulia called Seattle the 3rd most renter friendly area in the nation and Zillow reports that in December 2011 the median rental list price in Seattle for a single family residence was only $1400/mo. This is far less than the average mortgage amount based on the current median home price in King County and current interest rates.
New landlords can curb the competetive renter’s market to their favor by implementing the following tips the next time they go to negotiate their lease:
Super Landlord Tip #1: Include in your lease the following wording: “Tenant shall be required to pay the landlord a service charge of $75 if it becomes neccessary for the landlord to deliver a legal notice for any violation of the rental agreement.” I had a tenant that consistently paid her rent 5-10 days late every month because she was just the type of person who was chronically behind. Around the 10th day I would deliver the ”3 Days to Pay or Quit” notice and sure enough I would get the rent money the next day. I beleive if I had added this languange into the lease up front, she would have had significant incentive to not be late and I would get paid on time every month. Or I would have had an extra $500 in my pocket.
Super Landlord Tip #2: Put together a list of 5-10 churches or agencies in the area who will help residents who are unable to pay their rent one month. This can and does happen even to good tenants. Times are hard and life happens. Although it’s frustrating and you don’t want to make it a habit, assisting the tenant if they apear unable to pay will increase the chances of you getting paid rent. When you have a tenant that has a good track record of paying rent but has a legitimate problem one month, give them the list.
Super Landlord Tip #3: Charge $50 per person for a tenant screening even though it’s typically $25-35 per person. I think at the $50 mark it gives people pause and you’ll be able to weed out the tenants who are serious. Oh yeah, and actually DO the tenant screening including the credit and criminal checks.
Super Landlord Tip #4: Make the tenant feel like they are a ”preferred” tenant. Write into the lease that if they pay on time every month and have no complaints against them for 1 year, they will receive a special service such as a free carpet cleaning. In addition, always let them know that if they pay ontime and have no complaints, you would be happy to write a glowing recommendation for them to their next landlord or employer.
Super Landlord Tip #5: Lease your parking spaces and storage units seperately if you’re renting a condo. If you have a parking space or two or a storage unit, rent that for an additional $35-75 month in order to generate more income. This is in keeping with most apartments in the Seattle area.
Super Landlord Tip #6: Ask tenants if they would like a ceiling fan, alarm system, espresso machine, furniture or tv added to their monthly rental. If they say yes you’ll recover your expenses within months and profit thereafter.
Super Landlord Tip #7: Make sure that in the lease agreement it states that the tenant must give the landlord at least 45 days notice before leaving because most of the time the 20 days notice that is required by law just isn’t enough time for a landlord to regroup and prepare for the next tenant. Also make sure that there is wording in the lease that allows you to show the home to prospective tenants (while the tenant is still living there) at a time and date that’s predetermined or mutually acceptable. For example the landlord would be able to show the property between 1pm and 3pm on the 2 Saturdays prior to the tenant vacating.
Super Landlord Tip #8: Be on good terms with your tenants and communicate. Be more than just the landlord collecting their money. Make sure that your tenant knows that they can come to you if they need anything within reason or see changes or problems down the pipeline. If the lines of communication are open you’re more likely to get courtesy calls when they’re going to be a day or two late paying rent, rather than you chasing them down and losing sleep wondering what’s going on with your renter.
Super Landlord Tip #9: Trust your gut. If a prospective tenant shows up to the showing with their steady girlfriend who owns 2 giant dogs and the tenant says that he is going to be the only one living in the home and declines to pay a pet deposit, your inner voice is likely going to say ”there is a pretty good chance the girlfriend is going to be here in home with him most of the week and likely those dogs are going to be on my hardwoods.” And you’d be right. So although the single tenant will be the person responsible on the lease, clarify up front in the lease that the girlfriend, by name, will be able to stay in the home but the dogs will not. Or whatever you agree to. And even if they agree to not have the dogs in the home, increase the damage deposit because your gut is telling you that those dogs will be there at least some of the time.
Super Landlord Tip #10: In the lease, require that they have renters insurance with the landlord listed as ‘additional insured’. This way if they let their insurance lapse, you will be notified. Also, if there is damage to the house, the claim can be made on their insurance in most cases, not on the landlord’s.
Homebuyers: Be Prepared to Make A Few Offers Before Getting “Accepted”
A few weeks ago on Trulia a buyer wrote in asking about the number of offers that buyers today generally have to make before they have an offer accepted. They said that they have been looking for quite some time and it seemed like when they finally found something to put an offer in on, their offer got beat out by cash investors. They went on to say how frustrating that was and because supply is so limited right now, it may be months before something comes on the market that meets their needs.
Sounds about right to me. In my business I am seeing buyers who are looking for fixers/mild fixers/foreclosures in “in demand” areas, under $400k, submitting about 3-6 offers before going under contract with a seller. A broker friend of mine wrote 9 offers for one of her clients before the 9th was accepted. If you think it’s a really good deal, chances are others do too. Especially investors with cash. If you’re using financing, it’s pretty tough to win out against a cash buyer. But ignore that for now. You can only do what you can do.
So are you doing all that you can do?
Here are some suggestions for beating out the other offers when you throw your hat in the ring.
1. Consider Short Sales - We eventually decided that for 2 of my buyers having the same troubles, that taking our chances with short sales was the way to go – at least until there is more inventory. Short sales can be uncertain, low probability, time consuming, and generally pretty frustrating but they are also less desireable. And therefore there is less competition.
2. Full Price Offers (or Better) with Aggressive Terms- Are you writing full price offers or better? This may be tough to think about because you’ve been told that we’re still in a buyer’s market (technically we’re no longer in a buyrers market, we’ve just barely entered into a balanced market) but any multiple offer situation you are in will likely require you to submit an offer above asking price. I have had buyers who insisted on writing offers that we thought were too low, only to find out we were right. Are you willing to waive inspection or do a pre-inspection? Are you supplying a solid lender approval letter?
3. Hire a FREE Realtor - Are you working with a real estate broker? If not, you’re missing out on valuable negotiation assistance, advice, and market info. A colleague of mine is working with a group of out-of-state-buyers and they’ve been so misinformed about the Seattle market, they’ve lost out on a couple of properties. The misinformation can stem from media outlets, friends, family, co-workers, etc. Buyers also tend to rely to heavily on data and statistics about the greater Seattle area when in fact there are micro-climates and neighborhoods throughout the Seattle area that have very little to do with the larger picture. A broker specializing in your area can really pinoint market stats for your area, help you set expectations, and get you in sync with the current marketplace.
4. Take advantage of First Look Initiatives - On certain foreclosures, the banks or Fannie or Freddie will give owner occupied buyers the first shot. Duing this phase which is anywhere from 5-30 days after the home is listed, the bank will only consider owner occupied buyers, not investors. On these homes getting the offer in ASAP usually knocks out the investors who often have a waiting period, with owner occupied buyers being favored.
5. Go With The Flow- By now you know that if you fall into this market, you may get put through the ringer a little. I suggest that all buyers adopt an attiude of “High Involvement, Low Investment”. Meaning that they do all that they can to make the deal, but they do not get emotionally devastated if the deal doesn’t happen. This attitude also allows the buyer an upper hand in negotiation.
6. Give Yourself More Time - Sometimes it can seem like buying a home is like buying a car – something that can be done in a few weekends. But you generally need a few months to complete the action. When you are experiencing multiple offer markets and low inventory, give yourself 4-6 months.
For well meaning buyers with the intent to close quickly, and the brokers who are working hard to make the deal happen for them, this situation can be a little deflating. Hang in there. It’s clear that any well priced, decent, move in ready home is going to get attention today. But buyers: Please don’t give up! It is a great time to buy, rates are low, and only thing worse is if you end up not buying a home!
What the New WA State Foreclosure Fairness Act Could Mean to You or Someone You Know
Do you have friends or family members who may be facing foreclosure or a short sale situation? Perhaps you have been contemplating a short sale or may be in danger of losing your home. The videos below videos can help!
Watch the videos below and please contact me through my website www.livekirklandwa.com if you have any questions. The videos are a 3 part series and feature Annie Fitzsimmons and Robb McKenna. The videos discuss:
* What the new WA State law changes for distressed property owners
* The homeowners right to a face-to-face meeting with their lender
* How to contact FREE housing counselors
- What to expect at your meetings with the lender
- When to act and crucial deadlines
- What paperwork is needed
- How to avoid scammers
* The “Short Sale” explained
- How to contact a listing REALTOR
- How and when to contact your lender
- Short sale negotiators and how they get paid
I am proud to present the information to homeowners facing foreclosure. These videos make the process clear and easy to understand.
The videos are hosted by Rob McKenna and the Office of the Attorney General along with HUD Housing Counselor Marc Cote, and Rob
Dickson, Attorney and Short Sale Negotiator. The videos are anchored by Annie Fitzsimmons, WR Legal Hotline Attorney.
Notice the videos are branded with the REALTOR “®”. Brokers with the Realtor designation are more equipped to help distressed homeowners because of their access to extended training and the tools that the National Association of Realtors and WA Realtors provide to only Realtors. REALTORS® are here to help homeowners through the process. We are looking for the widest distribution to the public as
possible so please feel free to pass this page onto your freinds, family, and co-workers.
You can also visit WAHomeowners.com for consumer information.
Watch All 3 Videos Here:
You can also watched videos at www.livekirklandwa.com , click on “Blog“
It Took 12 Months but Homeowners Finally Happy To Save $2652 Per Year
In early 2009, when absolutely no one was purchasing homes, my clients, the Parkers, did. Their lease was up on the home they had been renting and unable to lease the same home again and find another home that would take their 4 large dogs, they started thinking it was time to own again. They currently owned a home in Florida that was purchased using Bryan’s VA privileges. With VA loans homeowners don’t have to pay mortgage insurance so it was an adjustment to start thinking that they would have to pay an extra $200-250/month for something that would never really benefit from. Because VA can only be used on one home at a time and they couldn’t sell their Florida home just then, they could not use their VA privileges for this purchase.
Purchasing private mortgage insurance is unavoidable for some homeowners, but you shouldn’t pay MI premiums any longer than required by your lender.
Mortgage insurance protects a lender in case homeowners default on their mortgage. Unless you make a 20% downpayment on a house, you’ll most likely be required to purchase MI. MI premiums on a median priced home in the U.S. in 2010 can run between $95 and $170 per month, according to the Mortgage Insurance Companies of America.
Sensing that many sellers were scared wittless and left uncertain by what was going on in the economy and lack of sales in the real estate market, they thought they might be well poised to make a seller a lower offer. Bryan and Simadid, it was accpeted, and they ended up purchasing a small home with a one acre, fully fenced yard in Juanita using Conventional financing and putting 10% down. The home was a stellar value and purchased for $360k, about $40k below market value.
However, the appraisal came in for exactly contract value. It didn’t reflect the almost $40k more that the home was actually worth. Presumably nervous by the blacklisting of appraisers by banks at the time and presumably having found a newly conservative attitude towards appraising, our appraiser simply gave us the amount that would get us our loan. Nevermind the 2 nearly identical homes on the same street that had sold for $40k more just 3 months earlier. My hope was that if we could establish the home as having 20% or more in value right off the bat, the buyers, also having put 10% down, could avoid mortage insurance altogether on this. And if not initially (due to lender requirements) then it could be canceled shortly after closing. Alas, the appraiser could not be budged and it was what it was.
Still unnerved by having to figuratively throw out $221 of their money out the window every month, the Parkers did something that was absolutely key to their success in eliminating their MI - they remembered they had it. Rather than passively making their payments on autopilot every month, the Parkers read their statements and saw the MI charged. Also realizing that this economy was still shaky and that there was the potential for home values to decline even more, they became determined to cancel the MI while they still had value.
MI might be unavoidable, but it isn’t eternal. Knowing exactly when you’re entitled to cancel coverage can save you a bundle. If you own a median priced home, you’ll pocket between anywhere from $800 to $1,600 for each year’s worth of premiums you can avoid. That extra cash can be used to pay down your principal instead.
When MI is cancelled automatically
Though often begrudged, MI plays an important role. Many aspiring homeowners, especially first-time buyers, simply can’t afford to put down 20% on a house. Without the safeguard offered by MI, lenders would be reluctant to extend mortgages to low-equity purchasers.
For many borrowers, the coverage is short-lived. The Mortgage Insurance Companies of America, the industry trade group, estimates that 90% of homeowners are done paying PMI premiums, which are tax-deductible, for some within five years. However in an unstable market, that could be up to 10 years.
If you purchased a house since 1999 and are still paying MI, you probably fall under the Homeowners Protection Act (HPA) of 1998. Your lender is required to automatically cancel your MI once you’ve paid down your mortgage to a 78% (0.78) loan-to-value ratio, or LTV. Put another way, once you have 22% equity built up. Many lenders will treat pre-HPA loans in a similar fashion. Call to your lender confirm.
To calculate your LTV, divide the outstanding loan amount by the original price of your home. If you have a $190,000 mortgage on a house you purchased for $200,000, the LTV is 95%. You’d need to get the mortgage balance down to $156,000–78% of the original value–to qualify for automatic cancellation of PMI.
When you need to request cancellation
You don’t necessarily have to wait for automatic cancellation. When you beleive your LTV hits 80% and you can prove it, you can petition your lender to end its MI requirement. Your lender isn’t obligated to grant your request, but you’ll bolster your case if you have a good payment history.
You can start by calling your lender, not the MI provider. You’ll probably need to make a formal request in writing and pay out of pocket for an appraisal. The average cost of an appraisal is $400, according to a 2009 Bankrate.com. Your lender will usually select the appraiser.
Although an appraisal is conducted primarily for the benefit of the lender to confirm that your property hasn’t declined from its original value, a high appraisal can work to your advantage. As your property value increases, whether due to a general uptick in real estate prices or specific home improvements, your LTV decreases.
A few months after their purchase the Parkers called their lender to request a cancellation of their MI. They were told they needed to hold the mortgage for 1 year before they were eligable for review. Ugh. And unfair, right?
Nevertheless the Parkers waited 12 months so they could be “reviewed” and considered as candidates for their MI to be dropped. Luckily, in their neighborhood, home values stayed pretty steady and they even had 2 more nearby homes sell for $40k more than theirs. They called the lender and were told that the new policy was 18 months out for consideration of a review. That’s when they…. Got Jesse! Only kidding. They didn’t go on theevening news but they did get a real estate attorney to review their loan paperwork and draft a letter to the bank for $250. Meanwhile they were told by another bank employee that the policy was now 2 years out!
Shortly after sending the demand letter from the bank, the Parkers were notified in writing that their lender would consider them for a MI cancellation IF they were willing to pay for the $450 appraisal themselves and wait out the 90 day review period. The Parkers gladly paid for the appraisal.
This time the bank ordered appraisal came in at exactly what they bought it for and they were declined. They would continue to pay MI. Surprised (and yet not surprised) they wanted to contest. The bank said it would be another 6 months before they could contest. This time they waited 6 months, contacted the bank, and asked how to proceed. Again they would need to order an appraisal – ordered by the lender – and hesitantly, they did.
What would happen if it didn’t come back with 80% LTV? They would certainly be out $900 in udeless appraisals. However, it was worth it to take the gamble one more time because they had seen the data and the stats showed their home value to be solid. This wasn’t an emotional plea but one based on facts. If this didn’t go through, they agreed to wait it out a few years an try again then the economy bounced back.
The second appraisal ended up coming back with a value that would put the Parkers at a 77% LTV. So close!! Yes no cigar. You need to be at at least 78% to qualify and more likely at %80+.
But are the Parkers the kind of people to give up? No way! They continuously called and provided sold comparable info and evidence of their good payment history to the bank. When they wouldn’t get some where with one representative, they would go up the chain. Or call back the next day. Another harsh letter from their attorney might have helped their cause, too.
Then in May, the Parkers received notice that their lender was aleviating them from the burden of MI. And as of June 2011, they would no longer be required to make MI payments! They were finally MI FREE!
They estimate it cost them about $500 in attorneys fees and about $900 in appraisal fees plus about 60 hours worth of time but they feel that it’s worth it. Especially ongoing. Sima Parker told me, “At some point you think “You made a wise investment in the beginning and you shouldn’t have had to pay MI all along” but the bigger picture is that we wanted to be homeowners and live like we do in the area we do now. So sometimes in order to live your life the way you want, you have to play along with the banks to get the loan.”
A way around PMI premiums
In search of a PMI loophole? Far and few between these days are piggyback loans, also known as 80/10 or 80/15 loans. Basically, the home lender finances 80% and immediately gives you a second loan for 10% to 15%. You put down 5% to 10%. MI is generally not required. This alternative has traditionally been available for homebuyers with minimal capital but excellent credit. In tight lending environments, however, this arrangement is harder to come by. And even when piggyback loans are available, the extra interest you usually pay on the second mortgage may actually cost more than PMI premiums. Do the math.
Another option would be the Fannie Mae sponsored Homepath Loan. These loans offer competetive rates, no appraisal fees, and no MI. However, they are only available on Fannie Mae foreclosed homes.
Also, if you have VA eligibility, you may want to look into that. VA loans offer no downpayment, are more laxed on credit requirements, and charge no MI.
-Jennifer Nilssen, TEC Real Estate
Jennifer Nilssen is Realtor living and practicing in Kirkland, WA. If you have a question or comment about this blog post, please feel free to contact Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.livekirklandwa.com for more resources.
Our Real Estate Market: More Art Than Science
Many people want absolutes when making one of the largest financial and emotional transactions they’ll ever make- buying or selling a home. This is reasonable. But making the leap into a fickle and still adjusting real estate market can seem more like a crapshoot than a sure thing.
My client, Patty, is purchasing a short sale on Novelty Hill in Redmond. Patty is an unshakable woman and investor who has seen and done it all. I never have to worry about delivering news to Patty or bringing her a more creative real estate opportunity. Patty and her partner have flipped homes, rented duplexes, developed raw land, bought foreclosures sight unseen, and owned a resort in another country. She’s won a lot and lost a few. Just a few weeks ago she told me that she really thought she’d seen it all but dealing with the bank on her first short sale was on a totally different level. And she certainly wasn’t implying that it was the best experience of her life. But not the worst either. Just something so unpredictable that she couldn’t gauge, she couldn’t get her bearings. It was confusing. She couldn’t size up her competition because her competition was “a thousand moving parts.” It’s really like David and Goliath. In this example the buyer and seller are David and the banks are Goliath. With the right negotiator the banks will usually end up like Goliath, too.
My point is that something is askew. Transactions in this market are as unpredictable as a moody teenager. (Certainly not making any comparisons to anyone I know!) Something is wrong when Patty the Unshakable is scratching her head, weary, impatient after 3 months of waiting for an answer from the banks as to what exactly may happen to her deal. And in the end it will be one of about six scenarios.
All buyers and sellers want absolutes. They want timelines they can stick to, accurate market statistics, and reliable comparables that will lead them to the favorable outcome they want. That’s why they hire Realtors; to give them just that. Well, that’s why they think they hire Realtors.
The real reason that buyers and sellers hire Realtors today is because they want to guide them through the ART of real estate as well as the SCIENCE . Buyers and sellers think they want the numbers and stats but what they really want is someone to tell them what those numbers and stats mean in relation to the strange, new world of real estate today. They want to know numbers but really the question is ‘What can we expect out there?’ They want someone who is active in the market, encountering and confronting all kinds of problems, to tell them how to navigate the waters. They want to be warned upfront about the pitfalls and problems they may run into and to be prepared upfront to take advantage of the incredible bargains out there. They want to know the “price they will pay” for playing and what they can win.
What are some of the reasons that the market is asking more like an art?
1. Human Nature and Emotion – Understandably many sellers are tired and worn out. They’ve been beat up. Many are unsure about their futures. Some are sad or angry and just want out. When tensions are running this high, it’s natural for sellers and buyers to bring emotion into negotiations and to the sale. It’s important if you’re entering the market to remember at all times that the responses you get from the other parties are not personal or within the other party’s control.
2. Speculation About Rates and Prices – Read all of the stats you want but no one can predict the future of rates and home values. Home values were up compared to the previous year for 4 months in a row and then last month they dropped. Why? Consumer confidence seems to be getting stronger from what I see. Don’t base your decision to buy based on speculation. Does the home sale or purchase make sense for your personal and financial situation RIGHT NOW? That’s how you know you should be in the market. I concede, we’ve all been shaken to our core with what has happened to home values. We used to be able to count on homes gaining appreciation. Now we can re-appraise homes on a weekly basis. Everyone wants the real estate market to bounce back. But how can that really get on a roll if buyers are unsure about the market and wondering if prices will go down again? Will rates go up? Speculation is inhibiting some buyers from acting.
3. Contracts vs. The Other Party- Yes, contracts are black and white. But sometimes the humans and banks (haha) responsible for carrying out those contracts don’t abide. Banks sometimes don’t respond to a request within the agreed time frame. Depending on the asset manager, the bank may complete lender mandated repairs, they may not. Sometimes a seller is supposed to clean the home prior to closing but they don’t. They just leave. Sometimes when negotiating with banks on HAFA short sales they represent in the contract that they will respond within 10 days but really they take 15-20. It is more common in this market for the other party to not strictly abide by the contract generally due to the bureaucracy with banks and lenders.
4. Appraisers – Some appraisers are working in areas in which they aren’t familiar. I just had an appraiser from Oregon appraise a home in Bellevue, WA. This was his first time to Bellevue. This happens because of the new HVAC appraisal rules created to protect the consumers and lenders and to maintain an arm’s length between influential loan officers and appraisers. But the unintended side effect was that you have appraisers in areas they don’t really know much about. This could result in inaccurate values and even the appraisers making calls for repairs for a home that aren’t mandated in that area.
5. Non-Published MLS Comparables - Most agents and appraisers get their stats from the MLS. But with the influx of unpublished Trustees’ Sales (foreclosures) many declared home values are inaccurately high because the foreclosure that sold down the street wasn’t taken into consideration when pricing the home. The repercussion is that when you go to have an appraisal, the appraiser may take these into consideration and home may not appraise if the offer was close to asking price. Then there is the question of should a beat up foreclosure, although right down the street, even be valued the same way as regular old resale home? That’s the debate. And since Trustee’s Sales occur weekly everywhere, the landscape and the effect of these foreclosure sales on neighborhoods changes constantly.
6. HUD/FHA Approval for Condos – If you are the buyer or seller of an FHA condo, in most cases that condo is going to need HUD approval in order for the sale to happen. However, fewer and fewer condos today have HUD approval. HUD stopped renewing approvals unless condo associations renew under the new guidelines. However, even if a condo has HUD approval, in rare cases, the lender still may not approve the association. And the process is such that you have to generally don’t know if the condo will be denied for financing until a few weeks into the process.
7. Lender Guidelines - In many ways the lenders, government and real estate markets are still in a major adjustment period. This is the main reason real estate is more of an art now than a science. Lending was loosey-goosey to say the least (thank goodness the days of the stated loan are over) and now in the post-boom world, the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction. Lending guidelines are tighter than they have been in years. As you read, lenders and the government are still trying to develop systems to handle the influx of foreclosures and short sales. Finding a working system to facilitate them is a work in progress. The lenders and government are trying to pass regulation to protect the consumers and the future economy. The real estate agents are reacting to the effects as quickly as they can.
Ways we can cope and win when real estate is acting more like an “art”:
1. Be Organized and Alert Your Boss- Lenders are picky for paperwork and documentation in ways I have never seen. True story: I had a buyer who represented on her loan app that she works 40 hours a week. Her pay stubs showed that she clocked an average of 39.8 hours every week. The lender wanted her boss to write a letter of explanation of where the missing 12 minutes went. Have your files handy, keep meticulous records, file your taxes on time, let your boss know they’ll have to help you document your employment, and just go with it no matter how overzealous it may seem. The end result is well worth it!
2. Learn to Om - You will experience the inexplicable. Banks will respond to you with answers that don’t make any sense. It will require utter patience as you wait for months for a response from a short sale representative. You may never get a response at all. Being patient and flexible actually IS the way to have control over the times you feel you don’t have much control. Roll with the punches for your own sake and stress levels.
3. Forget the Money and Examine Your Personal Motivators- Imagine that money doesn’t come into play. Would you still want o buy a home without the promise of appreciation or tax benefits? Why do you want to own a home? Many would say because they want a place they can call their own, or get their kids into a nice neighborhood, or reduce their commute. Examine your motivators for buying. When you know your own personal motivators for owning a home and you clearly know what’s important about buying or selling to you, it’s easy to make tough decisions during the sale. When the bank in the short sale comes back with a sales price $10k higher than you offered, you’ll be able to ask yourself, “Is it worth paying $10k more if it means getting my kids into better schools this year?” You can then make that decision with clarity.
4. Give Yourself Double the Time – Everything in this market takes double the time that it normally does. Lenders are backed up and banks can take weeks to respond. Count on it taking 45-50 days to close rather than the standard 30. Meet with a loan officer and Realtor in January, not April, if your goal is to get a great deal and find a home by July.
5. Work With an Active Agent – It’s really to your advantage to work with an active Realtor doing multiple deals a month. Admittedly there is a learning curve even for us agents in this market. Every single transaction brings new challenges and insights. The only way for you to get the best advice is to work with a Realtor who has very current experience and lots of it. And even when the Realtor is very active, we have a solid grip on about 90% and the other 10% is estimating based on our experience.
6. Hire a Negotiator for Short Sales- Don’t venture into a short sale without employing a negotiator. It is worth the fee you’ll pay because the probability of closing on your sale without one is very low. Some agents are qualified to negotiate short sales but the reality is that they have a lot to work to do aside from the regular transaction and a professional negotiator will up your odds of closing and ensure that enough attention is paid to that portion of the negotiation. It’s fantastic if your agent has short sale experience but it’s best not to expect your Realtor to be a jack of all trades.If you have questions or would like to contact Jennifer Nilssen with TEC Real Estate directly, please email at email@example.com Jennifer is a broker with TEC Real Estate in Belleuve , WA and specializes in Kirkland, WA real estate. Jennifer’s website is www.livekirkland.com
With Walkways Like This, How Can We Be Only a 60? I Delve To The Bottom Of This…
A few years back when I bought my condo in Ballard the site agent kept telling me that by obtaining this address, I would have a WalkScore of 97! Amazing! I knew that Ballard (and specifically my condo) was within VERY close walking distance to anything and everything that a person could ever want. Farmers markets, restaurants, movie theatre, banks….I felt secure that for resale value this was an important benefit. And now someone was telling me that it could be quantified and proved via new website called WalkScore.com
Since those days WalkScore.com has become a regular tool in my life as a Realtor. WalkScore is a very cool resource for Realtors and buyers who are relocating because it gives a clear sense of how car-dependant one has to be in any given town or from a singular address in the US.
I tend to work with a lot of relocation clients and because I live in and love Kirkland – and mainly for its walk-ability – I always recommend that the relocating buyers take a look at WalkScore as one of the links they check out before visiting. It really gives a sense of layout and transit conditions for an area.
So I was shocked after a client relocating from San Antonio, Houston (known for its grand River walk), with whom I had talked up the outdoor and walk friendly nature of Kirkland, emailed me back to say that she wanted to stick with only looking at Seattle (snarky, whiny inoculation voice inferred) because Kirkland’s WalkScore wasn’t very high. WHAT?! Kirkland, just like Ballard with its 97, also had a movie theatre and a library and a bank, etc.,. Why the disparity?!
No matter, I knew what was true.
But then another blow! Recently I have been revamping my Facebook page: Jennifer Nilssen Real Estate and added a WalkScore widget for Kirkland. So there it was staring me right in the face. A WalkScore of 60! What the H-E double hockey sticks? (Those who know me know I cuss like a sailor and it’s an ability that’s been genetically bred in me going back at least 3 generations but in this forum I prefer to be a professional and a lady.) I ask again: How can this be?
Some things you know are just plain good. Like U2 or flavored vodka. And I know that walking around at a Kirkland Wednesday Farmer’s Market on a clear day is an innately good thing. So is being able to walk or run or skate along the shores of Lake Washington with world recognized landmarks in the background at sunset. You can’t do that in Sammamish, my friends.
A WalkScore is important because walk-ability offers easily forgotten benefits to the environment, our lifestyles, our overall stress, our finances and our communities. Also, driving is suspected to be the leading cause of climate change. Moving you feet one after the other to get you somewhere is pollution free! Plus people who walk tend to weigh less and be happier and lead healthier lives.
And here’s the kicker if you’re financially motivated: WalkScore claims that every value point they grant your address could be worth up to $3,000 in value add for your property because according to a study from CEOs for Cities (based on data from WalkScore and Zip Realty) depending on your metropolitan area, homebuyers today value car-less communities and greener living . Read the CEOs for Cities report here. That’s a huge bright light at the end of the tunnel for Kirkland homeowners today.
So I ask you, WalkScore: My town only a 60?! If Ballard is an 87 we surely must be at least an 80. This is a misrepresentation. The picture on the front page of the City of Kirkland website is of a walking path for Heaven’s sake. I make it my mission for the next hour to delve into why this atrocity has been cast upon us.
Maybe this is just relative and 60 is a good score. On the website I first notice that Bonney Lake is a tough 29. And Sammamish, rated the least walk-able city in WA is also a 29. But then I see that we’re rated alongside Lynnwood, Shoreline and Pullman who are also all 60’s. Huh?
Well, I can see on the website that WalkScore uses an algorithm that can tell you if you’re moving or living in a walker’s paradise or if you’re doomed to be handcuffed to your car. And that goes for any address in the country or a city as a whole. Walk Score measures how easy it is to live a car-less lifestyle—not how wide the bike lanes are or how pretty the area is.
The Walk Score model gives a city or an address points based on the distance to amenities in each category. If an amenity is within 1/4 mile they assign the maximum number of points. The number of points goes down as the distance approaches 1 mile and no points are awarded for amenities further than 1 mile. The points are given on a scale from 0-100.
OK, so let’s really explore this relative thing again. I see that Seattle overall is rated 72 and it’s the highest rated city in Washington. Although I would still like to see Kirkland rated a little bit higher, that makes a little more sense to me. And I admit that Kirkland does have some areas that aren’t very pedestrian friendly with their amenities and you may have to walk a little further than ¼ mile. And when I put my own address in which is not that far outside of DT Kirkand, it’s only a 42. Then I see that some ratings may be scewed because they don’t have data on local amenities and infrastructure in their system. The good news is that you can input any missing data to help them out. That will theoretically improve the overall city’s rating. (Local Kirkland business owners take note to input your shops in WalkScore) So it’s comforting to know that your WalkScore may improve as their data improves. And lastly, when I input the address for Starbucks on Lake Street, the WalkScore improves to an 87! Wahoo! Redemption!
Dear Kirkland, WalkScore may have sold you short overall in my opinion, but you’ll always be a 100 to me.
To read more or to contact Jennifer Nilssen, visit her website at www.livekirklandwa.com or follow her on Twitter @jennifernilssen.