Living & Community March 2, 2021

The Four Phases of Remodeling

As with anything in life, a remodeling project can come with its ups and downs. Certain phases seem to go a mile a minute, while others feel like they’ve lasted a lifetime and a half, all while it looks as though nothing is being completed. Fear not—this is pretty typical. And, while every project is different, a good portion of renovations have four major phases, what I’m calling the Honeymoon, the Midproject Crisis, the Renewal of Vows and the Happily Ever After…

 

Phase 1: The Honeymoon Stage

 

After weeks of searching for a remodeler in your area, calling references and working toward an agreeable price, you say, “I do,” sign the contract, finalize the design and begin work in two weeks. There’s a little nervousness in the air, but as you enter the Honeymoon phase, the mood is mainly one of excitement.

 

Demolition Begins

Normally one of the quickest moving stages of a remodel, demolition makes it look as if a lot of work is being done practically overnight. Cabinetry is removed, walls are torn down, appliances are taken away and, in a matter of days or weeks (depending on the size of your project), you’re staring at a blank canvas.

After that, any necessary framing and structural work will begin. Framing usually isn’t as exciting or fast-paced as demolition, but still, there is visible progress almost daily. At this point, you and your partner are walking on air. The rate of work is astounding, and you’re still very excited (although maybe a little less nervous now) about the entire project.

 

Speed Bumps Ahead!

Like a delayed flight on a real honeymoon trip, there are obstacles that can slow down this phase, specifically during demo:

  • Discovery of toxic materials like lead or asbestos
  • Building permit delays
  • Unexpected structural elements (like pipes) revealed during demolition

Don’t panic. These delays happen often, and it’s worth accounting for and accepting these hurdles before you even begin to think about renovating.

 

Rolling With the Punches

Here are a few tips to help your honeymoon run more smoothly:

  • Embrace change. Really. Give change a huge hug. Get to know it on a personal level. Because no matter what room you’re touching (whether it’s the kitchen or a teensy guest bath), it’s likely that you use that room daily. The sooner you accept that this room (major or not) will be unavailable for a period of time, the sooner you’ll be able to adapt your daily routines to fit around it.
  • Love your microwave. This applies to kitchen remodels specifically. As soon as demo is done, your primary cooking and eating area will be gone. Before your project starts, find an untouched room in your home to create a mini kitchen that will include necessities such as a microwave, toaster oven and coffee pot. Think of it as the mini kitchen you had in your dorm or apartment in college and revel in the nostalgia.
  • Don’t worry too much. I know this sounds hard—OK, really hard, especially for control freaks like me—but trusting your building professionals to know what they’re doing (even if you do come across one of the aforementioned speed bumps) will really help you keep your head on straight. And if you do have questions or concerns…
  • Communicate! I cannot stress it enough. Talk with your contractor, talk with your
    significant other—talk, talk, talk. Ask questions, bring up budgetary concerns, muse over paint colors. Whatever is on your mind, getting it out of your head and into the air is beneficial for everyone involved (especially you).

 


Phase 2: The Midproject Crisis

 

Similar to a Midlife Crisis, the Midproject Crisis is full of sobering questions: What’s my contractor doing? Are we still moving forward as planned? Was this really all worth it? And of course: What is the meaning of life? Fear not: Progress is still occurring, even if it’s not as obvious as demolition was.

Typically, once demolition and framing is finished (the Honeymoon Phase) and before sheetrock is put up, mechanicals will begin. (This probably is referred to as “mechanical rough-in” or “mechanical rough” by your contractor.) Mechanicals refer to the guts of the house: electrical; plumbing; and heating, venting and air conditioning (HVAC). Like our own guts, most of the work done during mechanicals occurs behind the scenes:

  • Electrical: The groundwork for all new light fixtures, outlets, switches and appliances will be done during this phase. New wiring will be run in the walls and ceilings, electrical boxes will be installed for future fixtures, and electrical panels may be upgraded so they can handle heavier loads (this is especially prevalent in remodels where appliances are added). At this point, electricians are making sure that everything that will need power will have access to it and meet your municipality’s building code.
  • Plumbing: As with electrical, plumbing rough-in ensures that all plumbing fixtures, appliances and other water features will be supplied with water, gas (if your house uses natural gas) or both. So pipes may be moved or installed in new places, shower pans (the things that make sure the water stays in the shower) are installed and inspected, and gas lines may be moved, extended or even put in.
  • HVAC: Unlike electrical and plumbing, HVAC is the only mechanical where nearly all the work is completed during the rough-in stage. Pathways for new vents (for bath exhaust fans or kitchen vent hoods) are determined and vents are installed, air conditioning units may be replaced, and air return vents are located in appropriate positions.

More Bumps

It’s around this time that I’ve often seen homeowners concerned about progress. Yes, plumbers are there, but where are the new sinks? Why isn’t there a single light fixture installed yet? Is the HVAC guy even working, or is he just taking a nap in the attic?

The other contributing factor to the crisis is the fact that any speed bumps that crop up during this phase take a bit more time to resolve. Overall, the placement of existing framing is the biggest obstacle in mechanical rough-ins.

Another obstacle is the condition of existing mechanicals. Any wiring, plumbing or venting that is found to be damaged, dangerous or just not up to par with your municipality’s building code will likely need to be remedied.

If your job is permitted, inspections for mechanicals will occur during this stage. City building inspectors are well known for being thorough. If you don’t have everything just right (which ultimately is good, because they’re looking out for your safety), they will not hesitate to make your contractor fix the issue before any work can continue.

Communication is key to getting through the Midproject Crisis. I know it may be tempting to ask for advice from neighbors and friends, but in the end, the person with the most knowledge about your project is your building professional. See if you can get on your contractor’s schedule for a recurring biweekly meeting. It will help make the Midproject Crisis less of a crisis and more of an extended honeymoon.

 


Phase 3: The Renewal of Vows

 

Yay, you’re halfway there! After weeks (or months) of being in a state of disarray, everything you’d hoped and dreamed about is coming true and you’re feeling ready to say “I do” to your contractor all over again. This is what your contractor will probably refer to this as the “finish out” or “trim out” phase—finishing and beautifying what was started in the first couple of months. Here’s what happens:

  • Sheetrock. Holes made during rough-in will be patched, new Sheetrock will be put up at any new walls or ceilings, and texture will be applied to make your walls look like walls again.
  • Trim carpentry. There are a few different types of trim that may be installed at this phase: baseboard (which runs along the joint where the bottom of a wall meets the floor), door and window casing (which is installed around the perimeters of doors and windows) and crown molding (which is run along the joint where the top of a wall meets the ceiling). Trim is purely optional — some more contemporary designs forgo it entirely — but it is meant to create a finished, unified look.
  • Cabinetry. The installation of cabinetry is usually around the time when I see a little glimmer come back into a homeowner’s eyes. This is when the kitchen starts looking more like a kitchen, but it’s also when you can visualize how your other storage pieces, such as built-ins and bathroom cabinets, will change the function of your home.
  • Electrical and plumbing trim. This is the other big “wow” that comes with the finish-out phase. A master bathroom can start to look completed when tile and cabinetry is installed, but throw in a freestanding tub and a shower full of rain heads, handheld fixtures and a steam unit, and suddenly you’re not looking at a mostly done, unidentifiable space—you’re looking at your master bathroom. The same goes for electrical items like decorative light fixtures or appliances. Seeing new stainless steel (or whatever your preferred finish is) appliances being brought into and installed in your kitchen make most people go starry-eyed and drool a little. No judgment here—I’ve done the same.
  • HVAC trim. I mentioned in the last installment that most HVAC work is done during the rough-in stage, so what is left? Essentially, all that needs to be done is the installation of vent covers and thermostats and maybe a little tweaking of the air-conditioning system. Nothing too exciting, but it should be noted nonetheless.
  • Miscellaneous. Like I said, there is a lot that can be going on during the trim-out stage. Flooring—such as carpet, wood, tile or laminate—will be installed. (Flooring installers are known for insisting that they be the absolute last people to work on a house). Tile will go up in showers and as backsplashes. Countertops will go in. Priming and painting of walls, ceilings, trim and cabinetry will be completed. A little landscaping may even be done.

I’ve harped repeatedly about how communication is key, and this still rings true during the Renewal of Vows stage. But patience is also important.

As you see new things being carried in and installed, it can be so tempting to begin moving back into your new space or using your new kitchen. But your contractor may still need some time and space to work.

There are last-minute items that will ultimately guarantee your satisfaction that need to be taken care of before you and your family can begin enjoying your new remodel. So hang in there, and your patience will be rewarded.

 


Phase 4: Happily Ever After

 

During this Happily Ever After stage, finally, the work is done! At last, there are no more nail guns and saws and vacuums making noise in your house. After months of destruction and disarray, it’s time to move back in and enjoy your home, sweet home, for the rest of your days (or at least until you sell it or remodel again). And though most of this phase is just you at last having the chance to enjoy the fruit of your general contractor’s labor, there are a few odds and ends that your contractor will be taking care of to make sure your Happily Ever After really lasts forever:

  • Cleaning. This probably will happen before you move back into your home (or at least it should). Since day one of demolition, dust and debris have been thrown into the air and, much to your contractor’s chagrin, have crept into other places in the house that weren’t touched in the remodel. Now’s the time to do an all-inclusive clean. No, the cleaners won’t do your laundry for you, but they’ll do just about everything else, from polishing the floors to dusting the ceiling fans. The end-of-project clean is like a cleansing spa day for your home.
  • Final walk-through. The last walk-through ensures that you are completely satisfied with everything—and I mean everything—in your home. This is where you will have the chance to sit down and bring up all the odds and ends that you feel need to be addressed. This can be anything from “this faucet isn’t on straight” to “there’s a scratch on the new fridge” to “my shower isn’t draining correctly.” Contractors may vary on when they hold a final walk-through, but in my experience, it’s scheduled after the homeowners move back in and have a chance to use the new space. Your contractor should’ve caught just about everything during his or her own informal walk-throughs throughout the remodel, but sometimes there are items that just don’t come to the surface until a house is lived in.
  • Warranty begins. Most builders and remodelers have a warranty for their projects. The length and amount of coverage can vary, of course, but what remains constant is the promise to stand behind their work for any unforeseen circumstances that arise and need addressing. (Side note: If you’re looking at contractors right now, ask them about their warranty. This can be very telling of how they conduct their business. The more that contractors are willing to warrant their work—or the longer the warranty—the more effort they will put into getting the job done right the first time.) For some contractors, the warranty formally begins after the final walk-through is hosted and the last payment is received. After that, some will stand behind any light fixtures that fizzle, appliances that break, tiles that come loose—you name it. In an ideal world, everything would work right the first time, and it would work right forever. In our world, however, there are bad manufacturing batches and recalls and oversights that may need to be taken care of. Fear not. If you have selected the right remodeler, these issues will be handled.

What else is involved in the Happily Ever After? Absolutely nothing. Take a deep breath in, let it out, look around your new place and smile, knowing that it’s all yours, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish till death do you part. You get the picture.

 

Should you move or remodel?

Will remodeling pay off when it’s time to sell?

 


©2021 Windermere Real Estate / Mercer Island. Adapted from an article series originally published on Windermere.com.

 

Home Buyer Tips March 2, 2021

Should I Be a Homebuyer in this Market?

Fourteen offers, all contingencies waived, earnest money deposit released to seller on offer acceptance. This is the norm rather than the exception in our current market. Sound crazy? It is! And we’ve been here before. Today’s buyers are likely paying considerably above market values to “win” the war and snag a house that they can live with for the foreseeable future. So long as prices keep increasing and demand is insatiable, that gamble might pay off nicely.

But eventually, something has to give. We know this because market cycles are inevitable. They keep our economy healthy and in check. If for example, mortgage interest rates increase too quickly, home prices become too unaffordable, or local or national events significantly impact consumer confidence, the market can turn on a dime. When it does, someone always gets left holding the bag (or an unsaleable house) as the market shifts from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market.

You might be wondering why a real estate company is suggesting you think twice before making the plunge. The truth is, we’re in it for the long haul and we know informed buyers are the best buyers. If you are a home seller wondering if we just showed your cards, fear not—having an informed buyer who has done their homework means they’re more likely to follow through to closing (and less likely to seek retribution from you later because of unknown or undisclosed defects). Read on!

 

FIRST THINGS FIRST

You know yourself and your situation better than anyone else. You need to be financially comfortable with the monthly payment, down payment, and ongoing costs of home ownership (see Should I Rent or Buy a Home?).

You will also want to consider whether an unexpected relocation could be in your near future. Do you feel secure in your employment situation? Knowing you could comfortably stay put and ride out the storm of any downturn in the market protects you considerably compared to being in a must-sell predicament. If you feel unsure about your financial position or might be required to relocate in the next couple of years, now might not be the right time for you to buy.

Your broker will be able to recommend prominent local lenders, inspectors, and other necessary vendors. Do your homework to select the right lender for you and make formal loan application with them to obtain underwriting approval. Beyond just pre-approval, underwriting approval assures you that your loan will go through (unless your employment situation changes or there is an issue with the house itself). This is well worth the time and effort to accomplish. While you’re at it, research potential inspectors to determine who you think will do the best job and what their options for completing an inspection within a tight timeline are.

If cash offers or those with waived financing contingencies are commonplace in the area you are searching, explore alternatives for funding your purchase. In addition to getting pre-underwritten, can you temporarily borrow funds from a 401k, investment account, or line of credit to allow you to better compete with cash? Do you have other interim options that would allow you to get in the door and obtain a purchase mortgage loan post-purchase? There are many nuances to making this work, but it might just be worth investigating if it is right for you.

Consider your risk tolerance level. This is something only you can determine, and everyone will have a different baseline. If you’ve checked off the items suggested above and decided you are financially and emotionally ready to get in the ring, how do you protect yourself when buying a home in an extreme seller’s market? Read on for things you can do to put yourself in the best possible position when buying a home—even in an ultra-competitive market. In this article, we will focus on critical aspects of the home itself and the home-specific research you should do before submitting an offer.

 

ASPECTS TO CONSIDER BEFORE YOU GET INTERESTED

Here are four attributes, beyond the number of bedrooms and baths, that you should have your eye on. Many buyers overlook undesirable aspects of a home when there are few choices, however “Grade A” properties will have the highest resale potential even in a future buyer’s market.

Home (building) quality: Well-built homes with “good bones” will outlast mediocre quality homes (and their components and systems) any day of the week. Determining quality is somewhat subjective. You will notice it in well-designed details, cabinetry and components that stand out from the competition. If the home has had renovations, do they match or exceed the quality of the original structure? Granted, affordability will impact quality, but it is critical to size up any home you are considering so that you’re comparing apples to apples. You don’t pay the latest iPhone price for a no name brand phone, and the same applies here. If you purchase a fair quality home at the going rate of higher quality homes, you are likely overpaying.

Immediate to-dos and deferred maintenance: Different than quality, a home’s upkeep requirements include the to-do list of items that need to be done to maintain its integrity. A home that has been well maintained over its life typically is a better investment than one that hasn’t. The true cost of deferred maintenance often adds up to more than the cost of the repairs themselves. Don’t forget to factor in the reduced life span of other components—like replacement of damaged wood beneath peeling paint or mold remediation in a damp basement caused by a clogged foundation drain. Also consider that if you know the furnace, roof, and exterior haven’t been properly maintained, what else also hasn’t been maintained that you don’t know about? Be careful to look past any “fluff” that may have been quickly done to prep the home for sale. See the Home-Specific Due Diligence below on how you can assess this before writing your offer. This article on Assessing the Real Cost of a Fixer is also a great resource.

Setting: The saying “location, location, location” didn’t get its fame from nowhere. A home with an ideal setting on its lot and in the neighborhood—away from busy roads and utility poles/boxes, with adequate privacy, good topography, best positioned to capture views if available, and not adjacent to undesirable elements—will have more value than a less-ideally situated home. Builders do this with lot premiums in new developments. When deciding what to pay for a property it is critical that you evaluate these aspects and any others relevant to a specific neighborhood to determine the +/- effect on value as compared to other recent sales.

Floor plan: How a home lives—flow from room to room, size of rooms, open/closed-off spaces, and below ground vs. above ground living—are every bit as important as the total home square footage. You can change a lot of things about a home, but it is more difficult to change a bad floor plan. Ensure that the floor plan is one that will work for you for the foreseeable future. That might mean more available bedrooms than you currently need, the structural ability to easily expand, or one-level living to allow you to age in place. When you are deciding a home’s potential value, consider the future relevancy of the floor plan for your lifestyle.

 

HOME-SPECIFIC RESEARCH

A great home hits the market and buyers are already lined up make an offer. It looks like an “A” property or something close. The clock is ticking, and you don’t want to lose out (again). Rather than getting caught up in the frenzy, take a deep breath, keep your wits about you and get to work. There is so much intel you and your broker can gather to ensure that the home you are considering won’t turn into your worst nightmare. Time is of the essence, so this is something you will want to do expeditiously.

Property photos and info: Of course, everyone looks at the home photos as soon as a new listing hits the market. Consider pulling them up on a big display and looking closely at things like room flow; condition of windows, floors, and major components like the roof and exterior; floor plan; proximity of neighboring properties; sun exposure; and topography. There is so much you can see when you are specifically looking for it. Don’t forget to check the description for key requirements that you can’t live without. Closer scrutiny of the info available before you go further will help you avoid wasted time.

Online research: Check out online maps of the street, neighborhood, and surrounds. Are there major roads or freeways, high voltage power lines, adverse topography, or other concerns that might affect your decision? Are there parks or other amenities that make this home more compelling? Is it located in an area with good cell coverage and high-speed internet? Even in our tech-oriented world, you’d be surprised how many pockets of inadequate coverage exist in our region. You can research this info, public records, and more using the Research tab on our website. This is a great first step in researching a home before you even jump in your car.

Property history: A simple search of the home address will bring up the listing and sale history on broker search websites. Your buyer broker can also access detailed listing, sale, and transfer history going back two decades or more. Use this information to better understand the property’s past. Was it recently sold as a fixer? Previously a foreclosure? Is it a flip? Those don’t necessarily eliminate a property, but they do add the need for another level of scrutiny. Do the previous photos or descriptions indicate non-permitted remodeling or otherwise warrant concern? What recent listings and sales have occurred in the vicinity? Do they support this home’s value? This will help you get a better picture of any home you are considering.

Seller disclosures and seller-procured inspections: With few exceptions, home sellers have had to disclose known defects and issues for more than three decades now via a Real Property Transfer Disclosure Statement aka Form 17. This document is typically uploaded to the listing and accessible to your buyer broker. Like everything you have done to this point, a close review of this disclosure lets you know more about this home. See Seller Property Disclosure: What You Need to Know Before You Buy.

Given the many components that make up a structure, every home will have some disclosed issues. If there are none, that should be a red flag itself. If the seller hired an inspector to conduct a pre-inspection, it will be noted in the disclosure and the inspection should be made available for your review. You are looking for a better understanding of past issues, resolutions, current issues, and ongoing concerns that might require further research.

Visiting the home: You’ve done your homework, and everything looks good so far. Take a drive by the home and neighborhood while you are waiting for your showing appointment to visit the home in person. While you are in the home, assuming it checks your boxes and you want to move forward, take a few minutes to take closer notice of typical problem areas. Here is a great guide on How to Spot Big Issues Before You Pay for a Home Inspection.

Buyer pre-inspections: A home inspection offers invaluable information on not only the current condition, but also on ongoing maintenance needs and items to be mindful of so they don’t become a bigger problem later. Unlike waiving most other contingencies in a purchase offer, where the worst that could happen is you lose your earnest money deposit, buying a home without an inspection could cost you tens or hundreds of thousands in unexpected repairs after closing. Here is a great home buyer book written by a local home inspector: The Confident House Hunter: A Home Inspector’s Tips for Finding Your Perfect House.

Let’s be honest, pre-inspections are hard to get scheduled right now. Sellers and listing brokers are just trying to get everyone in the door to see the home and blocking out a big chunk of time for a pre-inspection is often a challenge. With a little planning and coordination, here are some potential solutions to this challenge if scheduling an inspection during normal hours is not possible: see if the seller will allow a two-hour inspection at 7 am before the day’s showings; ask about conducting an inspection during a time when someone else is already inspecting (assuming all parties can properly distance and are okay with this); if all else fails, ask your inspector if they would consider reviewing any seller pre-inspection to help you assess its completeness.

In a less competitive environment, you might be able to simply include an inspection contingency with your offer. Also, don’t forget about wells and septic tanks. They’re kind of essential to you actually living in the home and having a non-performing well of a failed septic system is a bigger dilemma than you might imagine.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

You’ve done what you need to do to investigate the property as thoroughly as possible and you want to proceed. Now is the time to determine if this is a “have to have” or “nice to have” home based on others that you’ve seen and strategize your offer accordingly. You might decide to waive typical contingencies and release all or part of your earnest money to the seller to make your offer more competitive. While there is no doubt a degree of risk in doing this, if you’ve done your due diligence ahead of time, this can be a compelling approach that doesn’t cost you any more at the closing table.

Of course, it is essential to have a competent real estate broker who can help you navigate these waters, determine the value (as compared to similar properties), history (permits, prior sales, etc.), and activity (other offers, pre-inspections, expressions of interest) of potential properties you are interested in. This helps you go in armed with the information to make sound decisions with a clear offer strategy that will help you win far more effectively than the typical guesswork that goes in too many offers written without this guidance.

Working with a reputable broker also makes for a more reputable offer. Any seller is looking for the assurance that their sale will close on time and as agreed. Most sellers feel more comfortable accepting an offer when there is good communication, a solid realtor, and a knowledgeable buyer behind it.

Lastly, be prepared for the adventure. There will be joy, surprise, heartbreak, anger, frustration, and bliss along the way. If you go in knowing it will be a challenge, you’ll be much better prepared for the market we are currently faced with.

Still have questions? Contact one of our knowledgeable brokers for assistance with how to purchase, sell, or determine the value of any property you are considering.


Find a Home | Sell Your Home | Property Research | Neighborhoods | Market Reports | Our Team

We earn the trust and loyalty of our brokers and clients by doing real estate exceptionally well. The leader in our market, we deliver client-focused service in an authentic, collaborative and transparent manner and with the unmatched knowledge and expertise that comes from decades of experience.

© Copyright 2021 Windermere Mercer Island.

Living & Community February 2, 2021

2021 Home Trends

Ready for a fresh start in 2021? With home still the place to be, refreshing your indoor and outdoor living spaces can make a big difference in your everyday life. The stresses and challenges of 2020 have influenced the trends of 2021 with a turn toward comfort, nostalgia and independent spaces to work and play…

 

#1: Dedicated Personal Spaces


Sick of working at your dining room table? Desperate for a peaceful spot to exercise? You’re not alone! That’s why home offices and other clearly delineated, private spaces have become more important than ever.
Even if you’re short on space, creative solutions such as turning your closet into a “cloffice” or installing folding room dividers can help you carve out space to study, Zoom or keep fit in peace.


 

#2: Plants & Indoor Gardens


While the houseplant trend predates the pandemic, quarantine has intensified its popularity as people yearn to bring the outdoors in. You can try out your green thumb—and improve your air quality—by using real plants as decor (try Bloomscape’s predicted trend winner, Ficus altissima). Just make sure you pick the right specimens for your level of natural light. Some folks are even installing special lighting for their own indoor herb or veggie gardens.

Looking for something low-maintenance? Convincing faux versions are widely available, offer more flexibility and still add a fresh look.


 

#3: Wood & Rattan Accents


Dovetailing off the houseplant trend, natural materials are one of the year’s biggest trends—from wood-grain kitchen cabinets and countertops to rattan furniture and lighting fixtures. Natural wood-grain shelving and paneling are also increasing in prominence.


 

#4: Nostalgic Furniture & Palettes


In the wake of 2020’s frightening new unknowns, people are seeking comfort with familiar throw-backs from simpler times. The funky mauve, emerald green and burnt orange of decades past are making a comeback along with paneled walls, ’80s curvy furniture and ’90s traditionalism. Retro art and accent pieces continue to be popular.


 

#5: Next-Level Outdoor Areas

As winter contributes to our year-long cabin fever, more households are dreaming of bigger and better outdoor spaces. Park-like playgrounds, zip lines and DIY climbing walls are making an appearance in backyards. Safer al fresco entertaining spaces are also in demand with outdoor kitchens, dining areas and fire pits all on the rise.


 

Need an easy refresh? Try adding throw pillows, blankets or artwork in hues from Pantone’s Spring/Summer 2021 color palette.

 


Find a Home | Sell Your Home | Property Research | Neighborhoods | Market Reports | Our Team

We earn the trust and loyalty of our brokers and clients by doing real estate exceptionally well. The leader in our market, we deliver client-focused service in an authentic, collaborative and transparent manner and with the unmatched knowledge and expertise that comes from decades of experience.

© Copyright 2021 Windermere Mercer Island.

Home Buyer TipsHome Seller Tips August 31, 2020

Home Buying Trends Emerging from COVID-19

Coronavirus has made many of us rethink what is important to us…and our homes are no exception. According to the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), the top feature desired by buyers is now a home office (or even more than one). 22% of buyers are less concerned about their commute, which means homes in affordable areas outside the city are now in high demand.  Some buyers are considering second homes in rural areas. Outdoor space is also trending with more buyers wanting a yard for veggies and exercise. Here are some insights from a recent nationwide survey conducted by the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR)…

This chart shows which features are more important to buyers due to COVID-19, based on a recent survey of buyer's agents.

 

We’re also seeing the family unit become more important. While smaller urban homes were once in top demand, we’re now seeing a boost in multi-generational living with buyers seeking larger suburban homes that have space for everyone. Additionally, recent surveys show that more buyers—especially young buyers in their twenties—are moving to live closer to family and friends.

 

Another big trend? Pets! We’re seeing a surge in households that want a pet, and a 2020 NAR survey revealed that 43% of households say they’d be willing to move to accommodate their pet.  This is another reason yards and even acreage are now trending among buyers.  Pet fever could potentially lessen the demand for condos with strict pet policies—in the same survey, 68% of REALTORS® said that community animal policies influenced their clients’ decision to rent/buy in a particular community.

 


Find a Home | Sell Your Home | Property Research | Neighborhoods | Market Reports | Our Team

We earn the trust and loyalty of our brokers and clients by doing real estate exceptionally well. The leader in our market, we deliver client-focused service in an authentic, collaborative and transparent manner and with the unmatched knowledge and expertise that comes from decades of experience.

© Copyright 2020 Windermere Mercer Island.

Home Buyer Tips March 17, 2020

Assessing the Real Cost of a Fixer

It can be very compelling to find a home in a neighborhood you like that is bargain priced. But how do you know if it will be a good investment? The only certainty in a fixer project is that there will be a substantial amount of uncertainty and risk. There can be significant rewards too, which is why the call of a fixer is so loud for opportunistic buyers.

Here are a few guidelines to determine how much how much to offer and whether a fixer is the right house for you.

 

Step 1: Determine the initial scope of work

Make a list of the most obvious items to be addressed. Decide which items are within your skill set to accomplish yourself and which ones need to be contracted out. Spend some time calling contractors and researching each item to get a ballpark idea of the cost to complete—either the raw materials expense to DIY or the contractor’s price to do it for you. Calculate in an additional 20% for unexpected issues and cost overruns. Add these to a spreadsheet along with the time each project should take. Keep in mind this is an initial evaluation intended to be done before you invest too much time and money into negotiation or inspections.

It’s well worth spending a few minutes talking to the city or county building department to verify which work requires a permit and what the cost and process is before proceeding. Don’t forget to calculate in the cost of obtaining permits for electrical, plumbing, major remodel, or structural changes into your total budget. Getting permits can be time-consuming but doing work without a permit will ultimately create bigger problems when you go to sell because lenders and buyers will want verification the work was permitted and completed properly.

 

Step 2: Do a reality check

Do you have the readily available cash or an approved line of credit to fund this project plus any cost overruns? Do you have the skills and patience to manage or complete the renovation work? Are you able to fit the work itself or the oversight of contractors into your current life schedule without compromising your life values? Will the time and money you invest be worth it in the end product? Are you willing to live in a construction zone while work is being completed?

Don’t skip this step! The answer to these questions will be different for everyone. Some people take on a project because it pencils out without fully evaluating what the impact on their lifestyle will be. A savvy fixer buyer will go in with full awareness of what they are taking on and the project will be much smoother as a result.

 

Step 3: Determine your offer price and strategy (and max purchase price)  

This is where your broker can be an invaluable resource. They can assess a home’s as-is market value and also its potential finished value. Calculating in the costs you identified in step one—including the 20% for unexpected issues and cost overruns—will give you an idea of your max purchase price. Don’t forget to consider expenses like the cost of living elsewhere during renovations, the inconvenience of living through a remodel, and the value of your time invested.

From there, your broker can evaluate market activity and present options for offer strategies, including an initial offer price. Your offer should always include an inspection and sewer scope or septic contingency unless you’ve completed them before making an offer. Here are additional contingencies you may want to include to protect you in your purchase.

 

Step 4: Don’t skimp on the inspection

Assuming you’ve decided that you and your pocketbook are up for the challenge, the next step is to hire the best inspector you can find to make a thorough assessment of the home. If there is obvious deferred maintenance you can see, there are likely to also be many other issues you can’t see. A good inspector will identify those and provide insight into the overall structural condition of the home. Well-built homes with “good bones” make much better rehab projects than homes of mediocre quality.

Don’t forget to scope the sewer line or evaluate the septic system. Both are potentially big-ticket items that don’t add any visible value to your finished product. If you are in an area that may have had oil heating at one time, also confirm there are no underground oil tanks remaining.

If major structural issues are identified or there are indications of problems that cannot be fully investigated, think seriously about proceeding without getting permission to have a structural engineer or general contractor investigate further.

 

Final thoughts

By thoroughly completing your due diligence, you can mitigate much of the risk associated with purchasing a fixer. Having remodeling skills or connections to outstanding contractors is critical. Lastly, if this is your first-time renovating a home, purchasing a home that is simply tired and dated rather than having significant deferred maintenance or structural issues will help you keep your project in the black.

Still have questions? Contact one of our knowledgeable brokers for assistance with how to purchase or determine the value of a potential fixer.

 


Find a Home | Sell Your Home | Property Research | Neighborhoods | Market Reports | Our Team

We earn the trust and loyalty of our brokers and clients by doing real estate exceptionally well. The leader in our market, we deliver client-focused service in an authentic, collaborative and transparent manner and with the unmatched knowledge and expertise that comes from decades of experience.

© Copyright 2020 Windermere Mercer Island.

Home Buyer Tips March 10, 2020

Should I Rent or Buy a Home?

It’s important to remember that the purchase or rental of a home is a lifestyle choice as much as it is an investment. It is not just a commodity to negotiate, but also the place you’ll come home to each day and make your own. Yes, it is important to buy wisely and stay within your means. It is equally as important to do what is right for you and your lifestyle now. If you know you’ll be staying in the same place for years to come, you have much more latitude than you would if you might need to relocate in the next couple of years.

As you evaluate your options, you’ll want to consider things like initial out-of-pocket expenses, monthly expenses, maintenance and upkeep costs, tax deductions, and appreciation.

Initial out-of-pocket expenses.

In a home purchase, this is the down payment & closing costs. Depending on the loan program and purchaser’s credit rating, a typical down payment is 5-20% of the purchase price with closing costs (loan, title and escrow fees) adding another 2-3% on top of that. Putting 20% or more down allows you to avoid the added cost of mortgage insurance. If you need to put less down, you can remove the mortgage insurance later when you have 20% or more in equity.

In a rental, this is typically first month’s rent plus security deposit.

BUY:  A $500,000 home with 10% down would cost $65,000 ($50,000 down and $15,000 in closing costs) in initial out-of-pocket expenses.

RENT: A $3,000 per month rental might cost $6,000 (first month’s rent and security deposit).

 

Monthly expenses.

In a home purchase, this is the mortgage payment (including property taxes, homeowner’s insurance and any mortgage insurance). In a rental, this is typically just the rent.

BUY:  A $500,000 home with 10% down works out to a $2,084 base mortgage payment on a 30-year fixed mortgage. Add around $500 in property taxes, $50 in homeowner’s insurance and $290 in mortgage insurance (if applicable) for a total of $2924 per month.

RENT: $3,000 per month.

One important consideration is that the base monthly payment in a purchase of a 30-year fixed mortgage does not increase (although the property taxes and homeowner’s insurance will). Rent will likely increase each year to keep pace with inflation. Over time, the amount paid in rent each month will typically become significantly more than the amount of a mortgage payment.

 

Maintenance and upkeep.

In a home purchase, you are responsible for everything from the roof to the foundation, plus the land, utilities and sewer lines. In a condo, you are individually responsible for the interior of your unit and collectively responsible for the entire structure and grounds. The cost of maintenance depends on the age of the home or condo, how well it was built and maintained, and its exposure to the elements. In a rental, the landlord pays for maintenance and upkeep.

BUY:  Plan for 1-2% of the home’s value per year in typical maintenance plus the cost of major components (roof, furnace/AC, paint, flooring, appliances, decks, etc.) based on their life span. These items are easily researchable via inspectors, contractor bids and even google searches.

RENT: Landlord pays for maintenance and upkeep.

 

Appreciation.

In a home purchase, your investment is leveraged. That means you gain appreciation based on the entire value of your home, not just the amount you put down. That’s like earning interest on $500,000 even though you only deposited $65,000 in the bank.

BUY:  A 4% appreciation rate is a good average to benchmark. Assuming a 4% rate of appreciation per year, our $500,000 home would gain $108,000 in value over five years.

RENT: The landlord gains the appreciation.

 

The bottom line.

There’s a lot more to consider than just the monthly outgo. A homeowner can maximize their investment by purchasing in a highly desirable area and completing timely maintenance and upgrades or they can waste away their equity by purchasing in a declining or over-built area and allowing their home to fall in disrepair.

Only you know you. Are you up for the pleasure, independence, headache, and heartache of owning your own home? Or would you prefer the comfort and ease of renting someone else’s home with no strings attached, even if it costs more over time? Building wealth through homeownership is an incredible opportunity—but it’s only worth it if you enjoy the ride.

Looking back at the numbers, here’s how a 5-year analysis might pencil out:

BUY:  Your $500,000 home costs about $65,000 in initial out-of-pocket expenses, about $180,000 in monthly payments, and $40,000 in maintenance and upkeep over 5 years for a grand total of $285,000. In our scenario, this is offset by $108,000 in appreciation for an estimated net cost of $177,000 over five years.

RENT: An initial $3,000 per month rental would cost $194,988 in rent payments over 5 years assuming a 4% rent increase each year (a good long-range, though very conservative, benchmark, given the double digit rent increases over the past several years).

So, there you have it. The decision to opt for home ownership is a lot more than a quick judgement call. To do it right, you have to consider all of its aspects—financial, emotional, and even physical and spiritual—and weigh those against your long-range goals and plans. By taking the time to do a thorough analysis of the numbers and an assessment of yourself, you’ll make the best decisions possible and avoid costly mistakes.

Still have questions? Contact one of our knowledgeable brokers for assistance with how to determine your best sale price based on both the average and median price trends.

 


Find a Home | Sell Your Home | Property Research | Neighborhoods | Market Reports | Our Team

We earn the trust and loyalty of our brokers and clients by doing real estate exceptionally well. The leader in our market, we deliver client-focused service in an authentic, collaborative and transparent manner and with the unmatched knowledge and expertise that comes from decades of experience.

© Copyright 2020 Windermere Mercer Island.

Living & Community March 4, 2020

2020 Home Trends

With 2020 now in full swing, we’re seeing some clear shifts in how homes are being designed and decorated.  Most notable for our area is the Modern Farmhouse trend with its juxtapositions of old & new, light & dark, and clean & rustic.  Softer grey and lagom neutrals are here to stay, but are now being contrasted with deep hues and warm metals.  Organic materials such as natural wood and potted plants are also gaining prominence.  Here are some key trends to consider as you refresh or renovate…

 

#1: High Contrast Hues


Deep blue is the “it” color in home decor, with Pantone’s “Classic Blue” and Sherwin-Williams’ “Naval” each taking color of the year honors.  Navy accent walls are gaining popularity in smaller spaces such as foyers, dining rooms and powder rooms.  Black is also back as an accent set against white in kitchens, living rooms and bathrooms.  High-contrast graphics are making an appearance on wallpaper and bathroom tile.


 

#2: Vintage Meets Modern


Whether it’s antique artwork, floral wallpaper or vintage tile, old world charm is making a comeback…with a twist.  This time around we’re seeing vintage framed art, patterns, woods and statement pieces being incorporated into modern spaces with clean lines.  The Modern Farmhouse epitomizes this trend with its clean new take on the old.


 

#3: The Non-White Kitchen


The all-white kitchen is making room for grey and painted cabinets to take the stage.  For the daring, “color pop” cabinets in deep blue, black or even red have been cropping up in the modern kitchen.  Kitchens that do have white cabinets are being spiced up with decorative tile floors and backsplashes, along with darker wood shelving and contrasting light fixtures.


 

#4: Comfy and Cozy


Soft shearling, rustic leathers and fluffy textured mohairs are gradually replacing the luxe velvet we saw in years past.  High performance outdoor-style fabrics have also gotten an upgrade and are appearing indoors on upholstered dining room chairs and couches.  Cushy wing-backed dining benches and chairs are another notable trend, part of an emphasis on making dining rooms less formal and more comfortable.  Another fun trend?  Curved sofas for the dining room and kitchen.


 

#5: Warm & Earthy Accents


Matte brass continues its popularity in fixtures and frames, often mixed with silver metals.  We’re seeing an infusion of aged wood accents, patina, rustic leathers and earthenware softening the clean lines of today’s minimalism.  Potted plants are also popping up on shelves and in windows with olive trees usurping fig trees as a favorite statement piece.


 

Need an instant home update?  Try adding throw pillows, blankets or artwork in hues from Pantone’s Spring/Summer 2020 color palette.

 


Find a Home | Sell Your Home | Property Research | Neighborhoods | Market Reports | Our Team

We earn the trust and loyalty of our brokers and clients by doing real estate exceptionally well. The leader in our market, we deliver client-focused service in an authentic, collaborative and transparent manner and with the unmatched knowledge and expertise that comes from decades of experience.

© Copyright 2020 Windermere Mercer Island.

Home Seller Tips February 28, 2020

The Right Timing Can Bring You Thousands More When You Sell

Ever notice how one home on your street sells well above asking price with a line of buyers out the door and an identical home comes on a month later and sits on the market for two weeks before finally selling at a reduced price?  Every. Day. Counts.

It’s not always about the house. It’s also about timing the market well. In a world where potential buyers know how long you’ve been on the market down to the minute, being on the market a nanosecond longer than expected can be painful for any seller, financially and otherwise. Statistically, at mainstream price points, prices seem to peak around Day 7 and begin to slide downhill after Day 10.

 

How to time the market in a nutshell.

Avoid coming to market during major holiday weeks. Potential buyers take vacation too—and the fewer buyers out there looking in those precious early days, the lower the likelihood you’ll sell in the first 10 days. Look to come on the market a few days after typical vacations are over to allow buyers to re-engage in the search process. Avoid coming to market when a similar house in your neighborhood has just listed and not yet sold.

The laws of supply and demand would dictate that when supply appears abundant, demand diminishes—and the days tick on by. Even if you are by far the better house and at a better price, you might still be hurt by the curiosity around why everyone is selling now.

Avoid coming to market during bad weather or local events. Like coming on market right smack in the middle of graduation week, listing when everyone’s attention is on something other than home shopping is likely to miss the mark big time. Even if you were all set to list on a particular date, it might be better to take a deep breath and wait until the storm passes.

Do come to market when you notice an absence of great listings for sale in your price range and neighborhood. Buyers will likely feel that void too and be chomping at the bit for the next great home to come along. The chances of a perfect match between a solid buyer and a reasonable seller are best in this zone.

This is especially true if your home has challenges (outdated design, deferred maintenance, busy street, steep slope, etc.) that would make it difficult to compete with other homes out there. On the flip side of that coin, if your home is exceptional, you want to be on the market during peak season when buyers can size up your home to the competition and appreciate how much better your home is. Buyers will pay handsomely for turnkey quality when they can clearly see the difference. Come on when there is nothing else to compare to and your beautiful amenities might not see their full value potential.

The best days to come to market are Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. This allows for showings and open houses on evenings and throughout the weekend. If you are doing an offer review date, the best day to review offers is Monday or Tuesday. This gives buyers ample time to see your home, conduct their due diligence, complete a home inspection and sewer scope, and get their financial documentation together—all before they prepare an offer.

Final thoughts.

Look at the holiday calendar and local school district calendars to guide you toward best weeks to come to market. Don’t forget to check in big political and sporting event dates too.

Decide whether your home will shine against the competition, or be the wallflower, and adjust your timing based on real-time competition.

Of course, an outstanding listing broker can help you choose the most favorable date to bring your home to market. They analyze the market consistently and know exactly what indicators to look for. Still have questions? Contact one of our knowledgeable brokers for assistance with determining the best market timing for your home.

 


Find a Home | Sell Your Home | Property Research | Neighborhoods | Market Reports | Our Team

We earn the trust and loyalty of our brokers and clients by doing real estate exceptionally well. The leader in our market, we deliver client-focused service in an authentic, collaborative and transparent manner and with the unmatched knowledge and expertise that comes from decades of experience.

© Copyright 2020 Windermere Mercer Island.

Home Buyer Tips November 9, 2019

Flip or Flop? Is That Gorgeous Makeover All It’s Cracked Up to Be?

It seems like the perfect combo of fantastic location and newly renovated home. But is it really? The concept of renovating a tired home for profit (flipping) is a business model that is often naturally averse to the future buyer’s interests. The lower the costs, the higher the profit. And, the lower the costs, the lower the sale price—which means more buyer demand.

This isn’t always the case. Some flips are done very well with a higher aesthetic and higher matching sale price. Unfortunately, this is often the exception to the norm. A very good local inspector shared that he’s done thousands of inspections of flipped homes and maybe a few dozen of them were well done.

The allure of a flip is clear—a move-in ready home in an established neighborhood where you can literally unpack and live without needing to address the typical laundry list of to-dos that often comes part and parcel with an older home. It’s when those gleaming new veneer surfaces give way to subpar work beneath that the problems arise.

So, how do you protect yourself if you happen to fall in love with a flipped home? This list below is a great place to start.

 

Must Do’s When Considering the Purchase of a Flip…

  • Verify the seller (flipper) is a licensed contractor as required by state law (RCW 18.27) (you can research them using the state’s L&I Contractor Database and Corporation Search tools)
  • Verify all necessary permits with filed and finalized with the city (you can look up who to contact using this handy link to Building & Permit Resources)
  • Google the contractor to see if anyone has shared reviews, good or bad
  • Ask for references and a list of other flips completed by this contractor and then drive by and call to find out how the product has stood up over time
  • Visit the city or county who has jurisdiction over building permits and ask questions about your potential home and about the contractor who did the work (you’ll often find out more info directly than you can otherwise)
  • Hire the best inspector you can find and alert them that the home is a flip before they begin their inspection so they can look more closely for indications of shortcuts and subpar work that might be covered with gorgeous veneer
  • Talk to neighbors about the project to find out what they know about issues with the original home or work that was completed (bonus: you get to meet the neighbors!)

It’s most time and cost-effective to go through this list in order when possible. The bottom line is that a little more research now can save you countless hours, headaches and expenses down the road. Quality, professional flippers will welcome your questions and the opportunity to differentiate themselves from less reputable contractors.

In addition to this specific research, don’t forget to evaluate all the typical aspects of your potential new home and neighborhood. We’ve compiled links to research tools from schools and geological hazards to market reports and census data.

While you’re there, you can also look up neighborhood info, including crime reporting, local government resources, parks and recreation, and school boundaries.

Of course, nothing tops having an experienced broker to guide you through the process. They’ve seen hundreds upon hundreds of homes and can help you identify the solid finds from the duds with gorgeous looking veneer.

Choosing the right broker can save you thousands on your home purchase. Whether through local market knowledge and pricing analysis allowing you to make a smarter offer, recommendations and resources to thoroughly conduct your due diligence and avoid costly mistakes, or savvy contract negotiation to help you get the terms you need, having a Windermere broker on your side is one advantage you can’t afford to sacrifice.

 


Find a Home | Sell Your Home | Property Research | Neighborhoods | Market Reports | Our Team

We earn the trust and loyalty of our brokers and clients by doing real estate exceptionally well. The leader in our market, we deliver client-focused service in an authentic, collaborative and transparent manner and with the unmatched knowledge and expertise that comes from decades of experience.

© Copyright 2019 Windermere Mercer Island.

Living & Community August 30, 2019

Planning for the Life Expectancy of Your Home

Nothing in life lasts forever – and the same can be said for your home. From the roof to the furnace, every component of your home has a lifespan, so it’s a good idea to know approximately how many years of service you can expect from them. This information can help when buying or selling your home, budgeting for improvements, and deciding between repairing or replacing when problems arise.

 

According to a National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) study, the average life expectancy of some home components has decreased over the past few decades.  (This might explain why you’re on your third washing machine while Grandma still has the same indestructible model you remember from childhood.) But the good news is the lifespan of many other items has actually increased in recent years.

 

Here’s a look at the average life spans of some common home components (courtesy of NAHB).

 

APPLIANCES. Of all home components, appliances have the widest variation in life spans. These are averages for all brands and models and may represent the point which replacing is more cost-effective than repairing. Among major appliances, gas ranges have the longest life expectancy, at about 15 years. Electric ranges, standard-size refrigerators, and clothes dryers last about 13 years, while garbage disposals grind away for about 10 years. Dishwashers, microwave ovens, and mini-refrigerators can all be expected to last about nine years. For furnaces, expect a lifespan of about 15 years for electric, 18 for gas, and 20 for oil-burning models. Central air-conditioning systems generally beat the heat for 10 to 15 years.

 

KITCHEN & BATH. Countertops of wood, tile, and natural stone will last a lifetime, while cultured marble will last about 20 years. The lifespan of laminate countertops depends greatly on the use and can be 20 years or longer. Kitchen faucets generally last about 15 years.  An enamel-coated steel sink will last five to 10 years; stainless will last at least 30 years; and slate, granite, soapstone, and copper should endure 100 years or longer. Toilets, on average, can serve at least 50 years (parts such as the wax ring, flush assembly, and seat will likely need replacing), and bathroom faucets tend to last about 20 years.

 

FLOORING. Natural flooring materials provide longevity as well as beauty: Wood, marble, slate, and granite should all last 100 years or longer, and tile, 74 to 100 years. Laminate products will survive 15 to 25 years, linoleum about 25 years, and vinyl should endure for about 50 years. Carpet will last eight to 10 years on average, depending on use and maintenance.

 

SIDING, ROOFING, WINDOWS & DECKS. Brick siding normally lasts 100 years or longer, aluminum siding about 80 years, and stucco about 25 years. The lifespan of wood siding varies dramatically – anywhere from 10 to 100 years – depending on the climate and level of maintenance. For roofs, slate or tile will last about 50 years, wood shingles can endure 25 to 30 years, the metal will last about 25 years, and asphalts got you covered for about 20 years. Unclad wood windows will last 30 years or longer, aluminum will last 15 to 20 years, and vinyl windows should keep their seals for 15 to 20 years. Cedar decks average 15-25 years if properly cleaned and treated, while high quality composite decks should easily last 30 years with minimal maintenance.

 

Of course, none of these averages matter if you have a roof that was improperly installed or a dishwasher that was a lemon right off the assembly line. In these cases, early replacement may be the best choice. Conversely, many household components will last longer than you need them to, as we often replace fully functional items for cosmetic reasons, out of a desire for more modern features, or as a part of a quest to be more energy efficient.

 

Are extended warranties warranted?

Extended warranties, also known as service contracts or service agreements, are sold for all types of household items, from appliances to electronics. They cover service calls and repairs for a specified time beyond the manufacturer’s standard warranty. Essentially, warranty providers (manufacturers, retailers, and outside companies) are betting that a product will be problem-free in the first years of operation, while the consumer who purchases a warranty is betting against reliability.

 

Warranty providers make a lot of money on extended warranties, and Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, advises against purchasing them.  You will have to consider whether the cost is worth it to you; for some, it brings a much-needed peace of mind when making such a large purchase. Also, consider if it the cost outweighs the value of the item; in some cases, it may be less expensive to just replace a broken appliance than pay for insurance or a warranty.

 


Find a Home | Sell Your Home | Property Research | Neighborhoods | Market Reports | Our Team

We earn the trust and loyalty of our brokers and clients by doing real estate exceptionally well. The leader in our market, we deliver client-focused service in an authentic, collaborative and transparent manner and with the unmatched knowledge and expertise that comes from decades of experience.

© Copyright 2019 Windermere Mercer Island.