Friday, August 28, 2015

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now

Ah the 80s... Yes that title invokes the lyrics of a song by The Clash that had absolutely nothing to do with real estate.

"Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go, there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know"

But those words do relate indirectly to the mindset of many homeowners as they ponder the equity they have gained or gained back as the case may be, since the crash of the market in 2009. If they stay, they continue to gain equity and get closer to paying off the house. but the "trouble" is that they may lose out on an opportunity to move up to a more spacious home with very low interest rates that honestly can't last forever.

There are even people nearing retirement that might be thinking about downsizing to the last house they'll ever own. "Should I stay or should I go..." dances in their mind. In the case of downsizing, the low interest rates could be the catalyst for the decision. If in fact it is the long term proposition then the low rates will be far more advantageous than waiting for additional equity to build up. The low rates are very real and right now. Gaining more equity is likely, but still not guaranteed. No one knows the future after all. What we know is what we have at the moment and that is very low interest rates and a rising home market. 

Sometimes my friends, a bird in the hand IS worth two in the bush.These super low interest rates have been hanging around for several years but there is no guarantee they will stick around. In fact many economists feel that it will just take a little nudge in the general economy to get the Feds to back off their aggressive loan guarantees and that could easily return the interest rates to a truly market range likely around 1-2% higher than they are now. 

This current market is healthy but not too robust. Many sellers are throwing homes on the market with a puffed up price and the market isn't biting. Buyers will snatch up well priced homes that are clean and sharp but they won't bid up a dump or nibble on the line of a puff piece. This is a good time to sell, bit also a good time to buy. Buyers that move into a new house today have a reasonable expectation of market appreciation but do not have to worry about bidding up on a house that is overpriced. During the 2005-2007 craze, that is exactly what was happening. People were bidding up overpriced homes and paying way too much for them. This market is much more subtle than that and buyers still can get a fair deal. The only exception is the very entry level portion of the market where inventory is so tight that buyers are feeling the squeeze. All the more reason for sellers in the entry level homes to list now while to price is upwardly pressed but the move up hose is not as tight.Sellers can squeeze a few thousand extra dollars out of the 3 bedroom ranch and move up to the four bedroom deluxe house with a low interest rate that will serve them for years to come.

Should I stay or should I go now...

Friday, August 21, 2015

Drones Becoming Prevalent in Real Estate Marketing

I have been noticing more and more marketing materials created with camera drones. Some of the video presentations on nice estates along the Columbia River are clearly the work of a professional production company. But I am seeing drone aerials on even the more modest listings.

To the right is a listing video I found on the local MLS for a Tidewater condo on the Columbia River. The entire intro was done with a drone camera and it definitely adds some visual drama to the listing.

I have always been an advocate of good clear a well composed images of homes in real estate. The seller is paying a handsome fee and they deserve to have their home presented in the best possible light.

I have a photography background having spent the entirety of the 1980s and half the 1990s as a professional in the photography industry. So I need not hire out to make real estate images that have a professional touch. I have always been a bit of an equipment junkie so I still own great quality camera gear. But short of renting a 30 foot lift, I can't get these above the neighborhood viewpoints that seem to be permeating the industry.Well, I couldn't before now. I decided to add a camera drone to my "arsenal" of marketing. Of course I will need a little practice flying the thing but I took my first simple images in my own neighborhood for practice.
Sellers are becoming more and more demanding with regards to the marketing of their home. The cold hard reality is that the market is driven by price sensitive buyers and fancy marketing only goes so far. A puffed up overpriced home will still linger in the market. The fancy media will help bring more buyers in to see the property and that can make a big difference for a well priced home. But what's the difference if 20 people view the home and say it's over priced or 100 people view and say the same?

It's good to keep everything in perspective. That said, a little marketing edge never hurt, methinks ;)

Friday, August 14, 2015

Irrational Fear has Created a Scary Mold Racket

Here in the the gorgeous but often damp Pacific Northwest we have a higher than average occurrence of mold and mildew in homes. Many years back there were a series of very serious mold outbreaks that got significant media coverage. Horrifying tales of sickness and death were paraded in front of America with homes that became uninhabitable. As always, it seems America's so called "journalists" present the worst case scenarios and over-sensationalize them. Fear became rampant. Make no mistake about it, mold can be a real problem, but driving a car is far more dangerous and yet here we are driving every day.

I am no mold expert and will start by saying right now, if you are concerned about mold in your home or a home you are about to purchase or sell, check in with the Washington State Department of Health for solid information on mold. The state isn't trying to sell you anything here.  

What I will say is that we have a system that keeps trying to protect people and in so doing sometimes hurts them instead. It all comes down to lawyers. No I will not go on any kind of anti-attorney rampage, worry not. Attorneys are an important part of our American system of justice. But here is part of the problem. When a home inspector sees any kind of dark staining or potential mold, he is obligated to suggest the buyer have additional testing done to ensure the questionable matter is safe. He does this at least partly out of fear of lawsuit but also due to mandates for his license. OK, no problem. So enter the "mold" company and let the racketeering begin. OK, racket might be a little harsh, but not entirely undeserved. My experience has been mostly negative when the staining is not at all mold-like and it is in minuscule amounts. Mind you, I have seen mold in houses that was so scary I didn't want to go in. But nearly every single house west of the Cascades will have mildew and or mold. So the mold company says something like this... "We can test this to be certain it is not a dangerous variety of mold... $500 and two weeks lab time... or we can just treat the whole space for a quick and easy $1500... you want to be safe, right?" Seriously, I want to go into a Rocko McKnuckles, New Jersey accent every time I read that line.

On one hand we have the very important issue of health and safety on the other we have to worry about unscrupulous activity by certain companies to essentially extort money through fear rather than giving an honest evaluation of the nature of the problem. Again I turn to the legal system. The mold company does not want to be sued so they operate on side of excessive caution and recommend full treatment which just happens to line their pockets with cash. Convenient, isn't it. 

I would ask this, why don't we hire a mold company when we clean our bathrooms? We get right down on the floor and clean up "mildew", we don't seem worried about "black mold". Yet the same minor occurrences in an attic sends a wave of terror through people. Let me reiterate my position because I don't want to get sued either! If you are concerned about mold by all means take it seriously, especially if the "mold" is everywhere and not just a little area. But do some research and remember that mold companies are "for profit" businesses. Some businesses put profit ahead of integrity so get a second opinion if the first is a potential deal killer or seems unreasonable. My point however is that many people miss out on their dream house because some inspector scares the hell out of them over what is probably a minor condition that can be treated by any one. Then the mold company racketeers arrive with their deal killing solution that costs more than the seller is willing to pay and more than the buyer can afford.

I have found that many brand new homes have some of this black staining that can be "mold" related. The roof plywood sheeting is delivered and it rains. The sheeting is a little wet, it is installed, and some growth and or staining occurs. Often the attic is ventilated well enough that the mold either dies and leaves the "stain" or it doesn't grow into any kind of infestation. It can however become a problem if not periodically checked especially if the attic is NOT well ventilated. The bottom line for home buyers is this: Use caution, do some research, have things checked out and be reasonable with the seller when the "mold" is a minor condition. The State of Washington, Department of Health has this to say on their website about mold.

"Most molds do not harm healthy people. But people who have allergies or asthma may be more sensitive to molds. Sensitive people may experience skin rash, running nose, eye irritation, cough, nasal congestion, aggravation of asthma or difficulty breathing. People with an immune suppression or underlying lung disease, may be at increased risk for infections from molds.

A small number of molds produce toxins called mycotoxins. When people are exposed to high levels of mold mycotoxins they may suffer toxic effects, including fatigue, nausea, headaches, and irritation to the lungs and eyes. If you or your family members have health problems that you suspect are caused by exposure to mold, you should consult with your physician."

There are very few molds that are dangerous to healthy people. The ones that are dangerous are generally only a problem when the outbreak is not treated and allowed to expand. A little staining in the attic is 95% of the time, no issue. A simple treatment with consumer available products will eliminate the problem. If the mold is allowed to expand and grow into an infestation, the cost to eradicate it can be excessive. Proper attic ventilation can reduce the chance of significant mold growth exponentially. There is a great deal of information from reliable sources such as the Department of Health. Take a few moments and read about the issues before killing the deal on your dream house over a few specks of benign mold. Here is another quote from the State of Washington Department of Health. Please follow the link if you have concerns about mold.

"Decide if you have a large or small area of mold. A small area is less than about ten square feet, or a patch three feet by three feet square. To clean a small area, follow the advice below. You may use a cotton face mask for protection.

If you have a lot of mold damage (more than ten square feet) consider hiring a cleaning professional. If the moldy area has been contaminated by sewage or is in hidden places, hire a professional."

The State is making pretty soft recommendations here that cover nearly every "mold" scenario. They get firm in the suggestion of hiring a professional when the mold is hidden or contaminated by sewage, etc. It is important to keep things in proper perspective. 

The idea of this blog post is not to take away from the serious nature of mold, but rather to keep it in its proper context. Mold is everywhere. In our part of the world you will be exposed to mold spores. Cleaning up mold is a part of life in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. There are times when a mold situation is so severe and potentially dangerous, that the treatment MUST be done by properly trained and licensed professionals. The majority of times however, treatment can be done by homeowners or general contractors using consumer grade products and basic protection.

People with high sensitivity must use more caution than others. Common sense should still prevail, and utilizing our government's public resources is a good start before making an uninformed decision you may regret later. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

External Issues Need to be Addressed

Originally posted on March 20th, 2015

Sometimes a seller has a home that is facing external issues beyond his control. These can be neighborhood issues, location, busy street, crowded, noisy, overlooking industrial area, etc. There is nothing the seller can do specifically to change these external problems. If these problems existed when he bought the house then it is likely the price was reflective. The seller probably got a "deal" on it when he bought it.

Sometimes these external issues develop over time. Maybe a busy new shopping center was built down the street recently and that has created a negative vibe that wasn't there before. Regardless of what the external issue is sellers affected by them need to give special attention to their home to make certain the negative external issues are offset by positive internal value. Internal value comes in the form of the condition of the home and the presentation of the home.

Sellers faced with external negative value should prepare their home for the market by fixing most of the easily visible problems. A fresh coat of paint inside and out could go a long ways towards bringing internal value. Staging the house by eliminating unnecessary clutter and keeping it spotlessly clean will do wonders to overcome external problems.

The external problems will likely be noticed BEFORE the buyers ever enter the property. First impressions can be hard to shake off. It is critically important to show tremendous value once the buyer is inside the house. If they walk in and go, "Wow! I wasn't expecting this to be so nice inside..." the seller has done a good job at overcoming the external negatives.

Regardless of efforts to shine light on the positives the external issues are sometimes too great to completely overcome without a price advantage. But even if price is used to cover the gap, the nicer that home looks and feels the more money it will fetch.

The first and foremost thing to address is the front yard and entry to the home. The external issues have already been seen as the buyer approaches the home so having that front yard really sharp and clean will take attention off the external and put it on the value of the home itself. It is equally important that the buyer walk into the home and see as nice a presentation as possible. This takes their attention away from the negative and delivers a warm and desirable feeling of 'home'.

If the buyer has driven up the street and seen the external problem, then they already have reservations about the property. When they arrive up front the curb appeal is more important than ever. If the curb appeal is bad as well as the external you have two of the proverbial three strikes already in place. Sellers don't want to be facing an 0-2 count before the front door even opens, if you'll pardon the baseball parlance.

Have a landscaper spruce up the front yard. Make that entry and first room look as nice as possible. We all know that ultimately kitchens help sell homes, but if the house has some downside before the front door opens, then that first entry point becomes equally critical as the ever important kitchen!

Sellers need to overcome external problems and surprisingly, they can be overcome without too much time or expense. Failure however to compensate for external problems will result in the only other solution, a lower price or less favorable terms.

As the market continues to enjoy the upswing in prices, buyers can even seek out homes that have external issues and use those to leverage a better "deal". Of course the buyer ultimately has to be willing to tolerate those external problems.

The bottom line is that external issues need not be a break point for the seller. A little care and attention can save the seller a lot of heartache and maybe a whole lot of cash as well.