Friday, May 30, 2014

Take a Look at Washougal

Sometimes I like to focus on a neighborhood in the area and since I just wrote a piece on Washougal on my "View" blog I figured that would be a nice neighborhood to address today. Washougal is immediately adjacent to Camas and shares with that community many shopping areas and services. The two cities are symbiotic and yet rivals at the same time. Camas has become rather affluent over the last 15 years and prices in that city have gotten out of reach for many middle income people. Washougal however remains a relative value.

A common perception about Washougal is that it is far away. It isn't; and I talk about its proximity in the blog post below. Washougal offers some amazing view properties and a great variety of upscale homes that are generally priced 15-25% less than rival Camas. Washougal also offers a nice selection of vintage homes and smaller starter homes and with prices that remain affordable in this increasingly more expensive housing market.

Washougal is a classic small town that is big enough to offer the daily services of a larger city without losing the charm of rural America. Washougal is also very close in to all the "big-city" services of Vancouver and Portland.

The blog post below was re-posted from my blog, "Enjoy the View" take a look at it below and see that Washougal has much to offer.

Washougal offers some fantastic view properties and some of them are surprisingly affordable. Washougal is also one of those places that some people "think" is far away. The reality of it is this; it isn't. In fact, according to Mapquest, at 10:15am this morning a trip to PDX from downtown Washougal is 17 minutes. The drive is less than 15 miles! How in the world is that, "Far Away"? The answer is; it isn't.

In all fairness Washougal actually covers an enormous area once you get out of "town". There are places up in the mountains with a Washougal address that are easily 20 minutes to town. Even still, any location in the "country" is likely to require a bit of extra driving, it is the price one pays for the seclusion afforded to country living.

There are two Washougals. The city of Washougal which offers up some fantastic Columbia River view properties that rival the much more expensive Prune Hill in Camas. These homes are less than 20 minutes to the airport. Then there is rural Washougal. Here you will find a virtual cornucopia of small acreage properties across a variety of price ranges. many of these properties feature a fantastic view. The views range from Columbia River Gorge, Mount Hood, to Portland city, and across to the Coastal Mountains.

Washougal offers opportunity at many elevations as well. The city properties are typically under 600 feet so the winter conditions are mild. Some of the rural areas approach 2000 feet where Christmas is truly a winter wonderland. It is hard to find an area that offers as much diversity in view property as Washougal.

Washougal and Camas are immediately adjacent to each other. They share a common business corridor along 3rd Street / E Street. Washougal however offers generally lower property taxes and lower housing prices overall. This can spell value for the savvy shopper.

As a note of caution for buyers looking in the area, be sure to pay attention to just how far out a property is. I know I just spent a paragraph explaining that Washougal is not far away, but I also noted that the rural portion of Washougal is very large. If the property is located along Washougal River Road mile marker nine is the approximate point at which you enter Skamania County. It is a fifteen minute ride back into the heart of Washougal from that point. Belle Center Road along SR 14 in the Gorge is about eight minutes out of the center of town (Washougal). Even if you head all the way out to the Mercantile Store at mile marker ten Mapquest says it's 25 miles and 35 minutes to PDX :)

We are so spoiled here in Clark County Washington. Our out of the way destinations are still only half an hour out!

So come out and visit Washougal and when you do, be sure to Enjoy the View.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Modern Hipsters Dig those Oldies

The hipster movement has become its own antithesis lately. Those counter-culture, thrift store shopping people in our community tend to reject the mainstream view of what is "popular". These people have sophisticated views about the world that often run counter to the force fed ideas of the commercial side of America. That said they have become such of force that some of their ideas have seeped into the mainstream. It is a bit ironic that some of the hipster culture has become the very thing they shun. Hipsters therefore are difficult to gauge. What is trending in that sub-culture now may become too trendy for them to continue their support.

So what do we call the mainstream hipster copycats? BUYERS! Hipsters were running around in places like Williamsburg, New York, San Francisco and yes Portland too, buying up old houses. They found an appeal in homes that were functionally obsolete but offered amazing detail and craftsmanship not seen in mainstream modern homes. These older homes were often bordering on dilapidation, but the hipsters came in and fixed them up.

Now the older homes are beginning to see a turn around in popularity and we have the hipsters to thank for it. I have always enjoyed the charm and attention to detail in pre-war housing. Every home built back in those days was trimmed out by a local carpenter. So no two homes are quite alike. Even homes that were modest in size had detail that rivals expensive mansions of today.

The downside to all this hipstermania is that these older homes are now priced out of reach for most people. Over in Portland prices on the modest older pre-war homes have skyrocketed to more than $300,000. Here in America's Vancouver the same has happened in the Arnada and Shumway neighborhoods of Downtown and Uptown. But fear not buyers, there is still hope. This renovation craze has spilled into neighborhoods that were once in disrepair. These areas are becoming or have become quite nice and remain a value in the marketplace.

One such area locally is Rose Village. Rose Village is filled with pre-war masterpiece homes varying in size from a tiny 600 square feet to larger plans approaching 2000 squares. Rose Village neighborhood is part of the larger Rosemere district. The section now called Rose Village was under a renaissance or sorts in the mid 2000s that stalled out when the market crashed in 2009. Now the revival is back. This neighborhood is an eclectic mix of these fasinating older pre-war homes. I listed a centennial home on 33rd and V street that is spectacular and priced at just $208,000. Don't give up on your dream, it is still out there waiting for you. You just have to widen the horizon a bit :)

Friday, May 16, 2014

Fancy a View? Find a Forever View

Norwood Street, Camas, WA
A view is perhaps the most subjective part of evaluating real estate. What is it worth? In high end real estate a view is not just appreciated, it is often expected. View lots can easily command premiums in the 200% range. The problem with a view is that it may not be a 'forever' view. If one were to pay a handsome price for a property based on a wonderful view; they would be most displeased if that view were eroded years later. Trees can grow up and block a view. A neighbor can build in front of the view.
359th Avenue, Washougal, WA

The value in the view is subject to the person buying the property. I happen to value views very high. I like a good view. Other buyers may not be so inclined. If a view is something highly valued by a buyer, then that buyer should exercise caution to be certain the view will last.

Homes that are perched out on a cliff or bluff are likely to have a lasting view. Homes set on large parcels with allot of space in front of the view will also likely be able to control the fate of the view. Waterfront properties tend to keep the view indefinitely as well.

Ammeter Road, Washougal, WA
Buyers should not pay a large premium for a view that is easily corrupted. If a neighboring property owner has the authority to plant big trees or build a large structure that will block the view, then that view's arbitrary value is greatly reduced.

A view is also subject to its own 'greatness'. Is the view a peek-a-boo view? Is it seasonal only? Is the view out a obscure bathroom window? Or is it a grand panorama placed conveniently in front of a large living room picture window? All of these factor into the value an appraiser might place on the 'view' a property offers. An appraisers opinion of the view's value may not align with the buyer's idea. If the buyer is borrowing money for that home; the appraiser's opinion becomes a Gospel truth.
500 Broadway, Vancouver, WA

Urban views in high rise condos are often fleeting. The city may approve a taller high-rise right in front of an existing high-rise. The view shown here on the relatively low, 5th floor of 500 Broadway, Offers a straight shot right up Broadway. Since it is unlikely the city will ever approve a building in the middle of the street, this view is at least partially protected.

There are many views here in Clark County, Washington that are suspect at best. Yes they offer a beautiful vista across the river into that other state...Oregon. But often there are young trees that will soon grow mature or another subdivision that may go in soon. Buyers willing to pony up big bucks for a view need to be sure the view is going to endure.

Buyers should understand that short of deeded protections in the land in front of a properties "view". There are no guarantees that any view will always be there. Buyers should consider the likelihood that the particular view they are buying is going to be a 'forever' view. The view below looks across four acres that is owned by the view holder. This is a fairly protected view.

Bear Prairie, Washougal, WA

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Mortgage Insurance Debacle

Mortgage insurance (AKA "MI") is one of those necessary evils that most buyers have to endure in order to get into their new house. I find that many people are unaware of exactly what MI is and what it "covers".

First a basic profile of loan types. Conventional loans generally conform to a set of standards and guidelines imposed mostly by one of two major investors; Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These loans are packaged and traded as securities on the open market. They are based on a 20% down payment. Since many borrowers lack the ability to make a 20% down payment; mortgage insurance companies offer to insure the down payment (or lack thereof). FHA loans are insured by the Federal Government rather than a private mortgage insurance company. VA and USDA loans are guaranteed by the Federal Government. A federal guarantee is stronger than Federal Insurance from an investors point of view. There are non-conventional loans that represent a very small percentage of mortgages. These loans are often held in the lender's portfolio rather than sold to investors.

MI is designed to cover the bank's (or investor) exposure to risk due to a small down payment. Traditionally a 20% down payment is required to avoid having mortgage insurance. Often people assume that the MI covers the full balance of the loan in case of default. It does not however. It covers the gap between what was actually paid as a down payment and what "should" have been put down. For example, if a borrower is buying a $200,000 home and plans on paying a down payment of 5% with conventional financing they will pay $10,000 down. The actual 20% down payment would have been $40,000. The bank is therefore taking on additional risk to the tune of $30,000. They will require  PMI (private mortgage insurance) to cover the $30,000 gap in the down payment. These conventional loans are packaged and sold to investors who are expecting a 20% down payment. This is why the PMI is needed.

Buyers need to understand the basic difference between these various programs and the insurance associated with them to make the best decisions possible when considering their options for buying a home. Since I am not a professional loan officer, I will only use broad terms for discussing mortgage rates and services. I always recommend consulting a licensed mortgage professional for more detailed information. Mortgages are complex and programs vary substantially based on lender, borrower's credit profile, location, etc.

In general FHA is the most commonly used mortgage in our current lending environment. The attraction to FHA is widespread because it offers a low down payment of just 3.5% and very lenient credit and debt ratios when compared to conventional loans. This however translates into a more aggressive MI. FHA loans require a 1.75% up front MI fee. This fee is financed into the loan amount. Then there is a MIP or monthly insurance premium which is based on an annual premium of 1.35%. Using the same $200,000 dollar scenario as I did above it works out as such: $7,000 as a down payment leaving $193,000 as the loan amount. $3,377 is added to the loan amount to cover the 1.75% up front fee bringing the amount borrowed to $196,377. Now the monthly MI is calculated annually at 1.35% of the loan amount that works out to $3,043.84 a year or $253.65 a month. The MI on FHA loans is very expensive. The silver lining is that government loan rates (VA, FHA) are often the very lowest around and the aforementioned leniency can help borrows qualify where they might not otherwise.

Conventional loans use private mortgage insurance. These loans are underwritten by the lending institution but are subsequently underwritten again by the PMI company. Borrowers are run through two underwriting gauntlets which increases the chance of a loan failure. Conventional loans typically have slightly higher interest rates and are generally underwritten with tighter standards on credit profile and debt ratios. Conventional loans also have the advantage of temporary MI payments. Whereby FHA loans the MI is paid over the full life of the loan, PMI on a conventional loan can be removed once the loan to value drops under 80%. A borrower must refinance or payoff an FHA loan to get the MI removed. Refinancing in the future could be difficult if rates are substantially higher. PMI rates will vary widely based on both the down payment amount and the borrower's credit profile. A 5% down borrower will see a range of PMI monthly payments in the annualized 0.67% to 1.20% based largely on credit profile with those over 720 FICO seeing the lowest rates. I have a comparison below.

USDA loans are for rural areas and have modest income requirements. These loans offer 100% zero down payment loans to people who earn less than 115% of the local median income. There are a variety of restrictions, but this program can be a godsend for many borrowers. My experience is that USDA rates trend closer to conventional interest rates rather than the lower government rates on VA/FHA. The upside is in the MI. There is a 2% up front MI payment that is added to the loan amount and then a very low 0.40% annualized monthly payment. On that same $200,000 scenario the MI payment would be based off a higher loan amount since there is no down payment the borrowed sum would be $202,000. MI monthly would work out to only $67.33 per month!

VA loans are the best loan product going. They have the low government interest rates like FHA but have no monthly MI payments at all. VA requires what they call a "funding fee" up front but financed into the loan of 2.15%. Veterans with disabled status have this fee waived.

Now I would like to offer up a comparison of these various programs based on a borrower with average credit and solid debt ratios. As I mentioned above, buyers should always consult a local trusted mortgage professional to have their individual scenario evaluated. This example is purely designed for a comparative analysis only and borrowers may see different results based on their individual situation.

Let's assume Rhonda Renter is seeking to buy her first home. Rhonda is a Veteran of the US Armed forces with out a disability rating. She is pondering her options for a mortgage in a USDA qualified rural area and her income falls below the 115% of median threshold. Let's assume that Government rates are at 4.25% and USDA about an 1/8th higher and conventional 3/8th higher. She is willing to put as much as 20% down but wishes to hold on to her cash if possible. She has low debt to income so she qualifies for any of the standard programs. Below is a chart showing an estimate with three different credit scores. This is just a rough estimate. I would like to thank Mike Roy at Pinnacle Mortgage Bankers for calculating the PMI on the conventional loans for me.


In most cases, the best bet for a Veteran is the VA loan. For non-vets you can see a dramatic difference in the programs. Remember, FHA is often the most expensive loan for monthly payment, but FHA can also require less income for the same amount of borrowed money. This is especially true when the borrower has other debts. Many loan officers can work an FHA loan with clients that have over 50% debt to income ratios whereby the conventional product will rarely allow a borrower to exceed 45% debt to income. Often it is even tighter than that. FHA is also a bit more forgiving for lower credit scores and less rewarding for higher credit scores. Buyers should try to keep their overall debt as low as possible and should work on getting that FICO score up above 720. Non- veteran buyers can look to areas where USDA loans are approved but should be warned the the USDA process is a bit longer and sometimes runs out of funding. Buyers should be certain to check with a qualified loan officer before presuming that USDA is available.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Three B's of Real Estate; Balmy Brings Buyers

Why does real estate almost always perk up in the springtime? I believe it can be traced to the three B's of real estate. Yes it is in the title; Balmy Brings Buyers. Once the weather turns from cold, wet, snowy, etc. to warm and pleasant everyone tends to perk up. People are more optimistic. They seem happy. The pleasant change to a cozy tone in the climate works wonders for the soul.

I do not think it is mere coincidence that this time of year produces a rush of new buyers to the market. For prospective sellers; this is absolutely the very best time to hit the market with a new listing. A fair portion of the real estate market is driven by families moving up from that starter home to a larger home that can accommodate a growing family. These families often prefer to make their move during the summer when school is out. Offering in May or June leads to a closing in the summer.

As a buyer it is critical to take preparation for a blast of new competitors. Our local market is on fire right now and well priced homes are selling quickly, often with multiple offers above asking. Buyers do have a silver lining in the dark cloud of competition. Homes that are a little tired tend to sit a bit longer. A light fixer can still be had at decent price.

Buyers also should remember that rising prices is lousy when you are make that offer, but it is great when you close because now that rising price is feeding the buyer with golden equity. Equity appreciation is one of the cornerstones of the real estate value proposition. I find many buyers are still stuck in that 2009-2011 low price mentality and they are shooting themselves in the foot. Every time they miss out on an opportunity by being rejected or outbid they will find the prices edging up. In the end they will pay more for less.

The moral of this tale is to get out and soak up this great spring weather while driving around with your favorite Realtor, looking at wonderful houses.

Balmy Brings Buyers :)