The Benefits of Home Ownership

Posted on June 6, 2014 at 4:40 pm
Elly Smith | Posted in Everett News, Home Improvement, Personal Finance, Purchasing Real Estae, Real Estate, Real Estate Economics, Uncategorized |

How to Ease the Stress of Selling a Home

Yahoo Contributor Network Yahoo! Homes

As a layperson who has sold four primary residence homes in the last eight years, I know all too well how stressful the home selling process can be. If you're considering putting your home on the market, here are some tips that might help you dodge a few stress bullets along the way.

Choose the Right Realtor

I can't stress enough the importance of choosing the right realtor. Before you start the interview process, write down your expectations. Are you a detail-oriented person who wants to know every little thing that happens? If so, make sure your realtor knows that and agrees to it. (I had a realtor once who refused to update me on showings more frequently than once a week.) Whatever your expectations are, be specific with your realtor and get their buy-in before you sign the contract.

You Set the Rules

Make sure your realtor is letting you make the decisions and not just pushing their agenda on you. For instance, you will be able to set how much notice you need for a showing. The less notice that is required the better, but you also want to make sure the house is in tip-top shape for each showing. So if you require 24-hours' notice, don't let your realtor push you into agreeing to two hours.

Condense Your Living Quarters

While your home is on the market, it will be far less stressful if you confine your family to a smaller area within the house. For instance, have everyone use the same bathroom and maybe designate the front room as off limits. For me, one of the most stressful things when selling a house is trying to get it in perfect condition for each showing. Living in a smaller area of your house allows you to have a few rooms that remain untouched, and therefore don't have to be cleaned each time.

Insist on Docusign

Selling a house requires mounds of paperwork to be signed by all parties. Having to physically meet with your realtor for each of these signatures is a pain in the backside. Docusign is a digital (and legal) program that sends forms electronically to be signed by each party. What used to take hours and tanksful of gasoline can now be done literally in seconds while you sit at home.

Posted on April 7, 2014 at 3:27 pm
Elly Smith | Posted in Home Improvement, Personal Finance, Real Estate, Real Estate Economics |

A Home’s Cost vs. Price Explained


HomePercentageWe have often talked about the difference between COST and PRICE. As a seller, you will be most concerned about ‘short term price’ – where home values are headed over the next six months. As either a first time or repeat buyer, you must not be concerned about price but instead about the ‘long term cost’ of the home. Let us explain.

Recently, we reported that a nationwide panel of over one hundred economists, real estate experts and investment & market strategists projected that home values would appreciate by approximately 8% from now to the end of 2015.

Additionally, Freddie Mac’s most recent Economic Commentary & Projections Tablepredicts that the 30 year fixed mortgage rate will be 5.7% by the end of next year.

What Does This Mean to a Buyer?

Here is a simple demonstration of what impact these projected changes would have on the mortgage payment of a home selling for approximately $250,000 today:



Posted on April 7, 2014 at 3:18 pm
Elly Smith | Posted in Personal Finance, Real Estate, Real Estate Economics |

The Windermere Foundation is now accepting donations for the Oso, Washington Relief Fund.

We are deeply saddened by the events that have unfolded over the last week due to the landslide in Oso, Washington. We have heard from many of you who wish to support and provide emergency relief for those that have lost their homes and loved ones. 100% of the funds designated to the Windermere Foundation's Oso, Washington Relief Fund will go directly to the families affected by the slide, through the Darrington Emergency Task Force for immediate assistance.

You can donate online at The Windermere Foundation will match the first $5,000 donated.

A special thanks to the Windermere office in nearby Arlington, owned by Gene Bryson, for raising awareness and starting the fundraising effort.

Our hearts go out to all the families affected by this disaster.

Thank you for your support.

Christine Wood | Executive Director

5424 Sand Point Way NE
Seattle, WA 98105

OFFICE (206) 527-3801
FAX (206) 393-3444

Posted on March 27, 2014 at 4:54 pm
Elly Smith | Posted in Everett News, Home Improvement, Personal Finance, Purchasing Real Estae, Real Estate, Real Estate Economics, Uncategorized |

Average Size of New Single-Family Homes Continues to Rise

Eye On Housing Blog NAHB

The size of a typical new single-family home rose in third quarter of 2013, continuing a post-recession trend. The recent increase in size is likely due to an atypical mix of buyers.

According to data from the Census the Quarterly Starts and Completions by Purpose and Design survey, the average and median size of single-family homes that began construction rose during 2013. For the third quarter alone, the average single-family square footage increased from 2,646 to 2,701, while the median rose from 2,446 to 2,491.




SF home size_3q_13

On a less volatile one-year moving average, the trend of increasing size during the post-recession period is clear. Since cycle lows and on a moving average basis, the average size has increased almost 12% to 2,652, while the median size has increased more than 15% to 2,433.

As noted in NAHB’s analysis of 2012 Census construction data, the recent rise in single-family home sizes is consistent with the historical pattern coming out of recessions. Home sizes fall into the recession as some homebuyers cut back, and then sizes rise as high-end homebuyers, who face fewer credit constraints, return to the housing market in relatively greater proportions.

Posted on February 17, 2014 at 5:30 pm
Elly Smith | Posted in Purchasing Real Estae, Real Estate, Real Estate Economics |

2014 Real Estate and Economic Forum

I hope you can join me on Tuesday at the Everett Golf and Country Club for a talk with Everett's Mayor, Ray Stephanson and Economist Matthew Gardner.  If you would like to be there, please give me a call or email to RSVP.


Posted on January 31, 2014 at 4:15 pm
Elly Smith | Posted in Everett News, Personal Finance, Real Estate, Real Estate Economics |

Looking for a New Old House?


Americans fed up with over-sized, over-designed McMansions are finding saner shelter in houses 'historic" on the outside—but full of walk-in closets and modern kitchens within


HOME, AUTHENTIC HOME | Designers of new, old-looking houses (shown in color, above) use historic references like these vintage black-and-white drawings to get the details right. Top row: The Bungalow Company; Private Collection/The Grolier Club; Jim Westphalen; Middle row: Private Collection/The Grolier Club (historic images); Paul Costello; Bottom row: Erik Kvalsvik; Collection of the American Antiquarian Society; Jim Westphalen

"The first words that come out my clients' mouths are, 'We'd love to have a real old house. We just can't find one,' " said architect Russell Versaci, who runs a Middleburg, Va.-based practice. "And the second thing they say is, 'We are so sick of McMansions. We just want to get out and get back to reality.' "

What architects like Mr. Versaci—along with certain discriminating prefab builders and house-plan companies—offer instead is known as the New Old House: a sanely proportioned residence that's historically accurate on the outside, but conceived for the needs of modern Americans on the inside. Austere Greek Revival farmhouses with roomy island kitchens. Time-travelesque Craftsman bungalows with startlingly open floor plans. Walk-in closets designed to hold more than a few Civil War-era muslin petticoats.

Photos: History in the Remaking


Click to view slideshow. Erik Kvalsvik

To ensure that the exteriors of these New Old Houses have architectural integrity—unlike the pastiche of styles that can make vast McMansion facades seem phony—their designers often pore over builder's guides and house-plan collections from the 19th and early 20th centuries. An exhibition of these telling artifacts, "Selling the Dwelling: The Books That Built America's Houses, 1775-2000," is currently on display at New York's Grolier Club (through Feb. 7).

The exhibition is timely. According to Amy Albert, editor of Custom Home—a Washington, D.C.-based magazine that caters to architects, designers and high-end builders—a hankering for authentic traditional residential design is one of 2014's big trends. That said, "People aren't seeking exact replicas of historical houses," she added. "They want architectural purity in the elevations and the details, but inside they want connectivity and open floor plans." Discerning homeowners, she said, are demanding that custom builders bone up: "Mixing a Palladian window with a Craftsman column is not going to cut it. Even if people don't have the vocabulary to articulate why it's wrong, they instinctually know it is."

In the mass-market house-plan industry, too, schemes for midsize houses that sensitively evoke other eras are selling well. And this despite media proclamations that the sprawling McMansion is "back." (It had been declared dead during the recession as the average size of new houses shrank, but, by the second quarter of 2013, that figure rebounded to a record 2,642 square feet, according to the Census Bureau.) "Calabash Cottage," a 2,553-square-foot home, ranked fourth among last year's 10 most-popular house plans from Hanley Wood, a heavyweight in the plan business. It's encircled by a delicate porch, distinguished by a simple roofline and unencumbered by a hulking, front-and-center garage (a two-car model is tucked into a rear wing). Still, even this "cottage" features a vaulted Great Room for homeowners to get lost in. And it should be mentioned that Hanley Wood's two top-selling plans are far-from-reverent interpretations of Arts and Crafts design.

'People think it's all about moldings, but it's really scale and proportion.'

One thing that draws his clients to the more rigorous authenticity of a New Old House, said Mr. Versaci, is a search for what he called the "psychic comforts of yesterday," a concept of the past that's happier and less disposable than life in 2014. "People have visceral memories of their grandmother's house," he said, "the slamming of the door, sitting on the porch watching cars drive by, sitting down to Sunday dinner when Sunday dinner was a big deal."

Coincidentally, New York architect Gil Schafer, another well-known practitioner of the New Old style, said he gravitated toward it largely because of childhood days spent in his own grandmother's house in Georgia, where a garden-facing porch connected the multiple wings. This open-air passageway offered the only route from the living spaces to the bedrooms, even in a hailstorm or on chilly mornings. "It was strange but wonderful. You just experienced this sense of nature," he said, "the smell of climbing roses and jasmine and the pine logs in the fireplaces."

"Memories are an underrated idea in terms of making people feel comfortable," said Mr. Schafer. And in an ersatz McMansion, he added, "that sense of home is even more elusive because the scale of certain rooms makes it impossible to get intimate."

Interactive: What's Wrong With This Picture?


Illustration by Arthur Mount for The Wall Street Journal

Mr. Versaci said that several of his clients who formerly lived in 7,000-square-foot McMansions quickly grew discontented with their homes' contrived, echo-chamber grandeur: "After they got over the initial joy of having bragging rights, they looked at the house and said, 'This doesn't look right. It's sterile and it's not us and we don't want to live this way.' "

If authenticity's the goal, why not buy an old old house, an actual period piece? Many people try, only to find that these real-deal houses are next to a highway, or dilapidated beyond repair, with 7-foot ceilings (built low to conserve heat) and tiny kitchens designed for servants, not impromptu gatherings of children high from a soccer victory who've been promised s'mores.

There are at least three ways to get a design for a New Old House: Hire an architect known for strict traditional work; customize a quality prefab scheme that's largely built before it reaches your site; or buy a stock "historic" house plan online and find your own contractor. The latter route is the cheapest but iffiest. Many such commercial plans—by draftsmen, not architects—are questionable, if not cartoonish, takes on period homes.

"The problem," said Richard Cheek, curator of the "Selling the Dwelling" exhibition, "has always been: Who supplies the working plans for a house? The architect or the builder?" The exhibition traces the tug of war for control between the two professions that unfolded over the last 200 years. "When architects got organized after the Civil War and began charging 5% of the final construction costs for their drawings," Mr. Cheek said, "builders started to say, 'No, we'll provide you with designs free of charge.' " Architects campaigned for building codes that, for "safety reasons," required a licensed architect to design and sign the drawings. "In Massachusetts, for instance, that's still true today," he said, "but only for buildings over 30,000 cubic feet." That is, structures bigger than the average home.


INSIDE LINES | The kitchen in a Federal-style New Old House in Upstate New York by architect Gil SchaferCarter Berg


The door in the house's entry features a large period-appropriate brass rim lock and wrought-iron strap hinges. Eric Roth

In 1994, Life magazine proved that, despite the marketable mediocrity of developers' "traditional" house plans, Americans craved more. The editors approached elite "modern traditionalist" architect Robert A.M. Stern and his associate Gary Brewer (now a partner at Mr. Stern's firm) to design a "dream house" for Life's readers: a 2,200-square-foot shingle-style house that could be modified to 3,000 square feet. The magazine's cover declared it was "classic on the outside, remarkable on the inside—and affordable." In the first year that Life sold construction drawings for this proto-New Old House, said Mr. Brewer, "it was the number-one-selling house in the house-plan industry." You can still track down the plan (via Southern Living magazine's website), and Mr. Brewer estimates that up to 8,000 copies have been sold. This famous example of doing-it-right aside, most plan companies continue to produce drawings that bloat and compromise traditional design. "Sadly," said Mr. Brewer, "they don't understand the grammar and the character of traditional houses [well enough] to do ones that are, say, more literate."

There are exceptions. The Bungalow Company, based in Bend, Ore., designs and sells stock plans for classic American Craftsman Bungalows—modest homes with low-pitched eaves and stocky porches that evoke dwellings from the 1920s. Co-owner and designer Christian Gladu put in hours pacing off the lots of original Craftsman houses in Seattle and squinting at vintage plans from companies like Radford and Sears, Roebuck & Co. But his houses, which cost between $175 and $225 per square foot to build (developer houses average $100, he said) update those models' floor plans. "I'll go on record," he said. "The original bungalow plans were not very good. They're often dark, they weren't built on foundations so they sag and the rooms are very closed off. Opening them up definitely works."

In the high-end prefab category, Connor Homes in Middlebury, Vt., specializes in neoclassical New England and mid-Atlantic architecture—both custom designs and plans from their catalog. To find inspiration for their first Greek Revival model back in 1985, president Michael Connor and his wife, architectural designer Linda Connor, drove around rural Vermont in a pickup truck until they spotted the ideal vintage farmhouse. With the bemused owner's permission, they set up their ladders and spent half a day measuring it, even as the skies poured rain. "People think it's all about molding and detailing," said Mr. Connor, "but the most important thing is scale and proportion. If you get that right, the rest falls into place."


The porch from a 19th-century-farmhouse-style house by architect Russell Versaci Erik Kvalsvik


From left: 'Radford's Architectural Bungalows' (1908), one of 600 artifacts featured in the book 'Selling the Dwelling'; Life magazine's 1994 'Dream House' issue showcased a traditional house plan by Robert A.M. Stern and Gary Brewer Private Collection/The Grolier Club; Robert A.M. Stern Architects

In its 118,000-square-foot facility, Connor Homes toils at what's called "panelization," prebuilding walls up to 14-feet wide with the aid of computer design. It also constructs all the cabinets, historically accurate windows and modillion cornices for New Old Houses, many moderately sized, that average $200 per square foot. The components are shipped by tractor trailer or rail to the building site and finished by local contractors. Even with extra shipping costs, panelization saves time and money and is more precise than increasingly expensive on-site building, said Mr. Connor: "Traditional architecture is probably going to be saved by robotic carpentry."

If money is less of an object, of course, you can hire an architect like Mr. Versaci, whose custom New Old Houses start at $350 per square foot to build but can run into "the thousands," he said, or Mr. Schafer, who quoted an average cost of $650 per square foot. To find a worthy architect, consult the professional directory at the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art's website.

Both Mr. Versaci and Mr. Schafer acknowledged there's something potentially inauthentic about recreating oldness, especially if you go to the extent of simulating patinas on stone (using coffee) or, as Mr. Schafer mentioned, importing $50,000 mature beech trees so your New Old House's landscaping doesn't look too new. "Making a mirage is an issue," said Mr. Versaci. "My personal preference is to let a house age through natural processes. If you choose quality, natural materials like unlacquered brass, they will eventually age. But some 21st-century Americans, who are used to 'add water and serve,' just don't want to wait."

Still, with design rooted in America's greatest architectural hits, with columns whose proportions are calculated from 19th-century formulas, the best New Old Houses are likely to be keepers, unlike most monster homes. "A house should be built to last at least 100 years," said Michael Connor. "And beauty is part of what makes a house stay on the landscape. If it's beautiful, it will be loved and taken care of. McMansions aren't loved and they won't be taken care of."

Posted on January 28, 2014 at 11:23 pm
Elly Smith | Posted in Home Improvement, Purchasing Real Estae, Real Estate, Real Estate Economics |

‘Boomerang’ Buyers Flying Back



“Boomerang buyers” are former homeowners who have gone through a short sale, foreclosure, or bankruptcy in the past few years and are saving up for a down payment to purchase a home again.

Posted on January 17, 2014 at 5:40 pm
Elly Smith | Posted in Purchasing Real Estae, Real Estate, Real Estate Economics |

What it Cost if you Waited to Buy


Posted on January 15, 2014 at 6:51 pm
Elly Smith | Posted in Purchasing Real Estae, Real Estate, Real Estate Economics |

5 Ways Home Sellers Can Prepare for the Spring Market

spring real estate
Sell   |  Dec 23, 2013   | By:   |  on Realtor .com 

With spring being the busiest time for real estate, homeowners planning to put their homes on the market shouldn’t wait for flowers to bloom before getting ready to sell. Having a few months to prepare can make for a much smoother selling experience.

If you’re a prospective home seller, here are five things you can do now to get ready for a spring sale:

Start Packing

It may sound crazy to start packing months in advance of your move, but since you’ll eventually need to do this anyway, you might as well get organized now. We’re not suggesting you pack up your kitchen and eat off paper plates, but you can sort through your storage closets, attic, basement or garage to determine what you want to keep, what to give away and what to sell. Boxing up items will make your space look larger and neater when it’s time to show your home. You can also get an idea of whether you need to rent a storage facility while your home is on the market.

Clear Away the Clutter

If you visit model homes or open houses of homes that have been staged, you’ll never see a stack of unread magazines, children’s artwork loosely hanging on the refrigerator, or a cluster of unpaid bills on a table. While everyone has clutter, buyers want to see a fantasy version of your house, in which they can envision living. Once your home is on the market you’ll need to keep it as neat as possible. One way to make that easier is to reduce the amount of clutter you have on your shelves and surfaces. Put away items that are regularly on your kitchen sink and pack away the family photos that gather dust.

Improve Your Home

While you don’t necessarily want to do a major, expensive renovation project before you sell, you can make minor repairs and improvements that will make your home look fresher to buyers. Try things such as replacing the caulk and grout in your bathroom, updating old or rusted ceiling fans and light fixtures, and changing switch plates, doorknobs and other hardware for a clean and neat appearance. Consider painting your front door and trim even if your rooms don’t need new paint.

Interview REALTORS®

Your choice of a listing agent will make a big difference in how quickly your home sells and how much of a profit you’ll realize. Get recommendations from friends and interview several listing agents to see which ones have the right experience with similar homes in your price range and area. A REALTOR® with a great marketing plan and deep local knowledge is extremely important. Don’t just go with the one who tells you they can sell for the highest price; choose someone who can present you with a detailed market analysis.

Research Your Market

If you plan to buy another home, an important decision to make is whether to sell your home first or make an offer on a new home before putting yours on the market. A knowledgeable REALTOR® can help you evaluate how fast homes are selling in your market and help you estimate how long it will take you to find a home. This decision also depends on your financing, so you may want to consult with a lender to see how you can finance the transition from one home to another if you choose not to sell your home first.

If you spend the winter months preparing for spring, you’ll find yourself ready to move fast when buyers come out of hibernation.

Posted on December 31, 2013 at 6:33 pm
Elly Smith | Posted in Personal Finance, Real Estate, Real Estate Economics |