Off The Press

November 3, 2009

By David Hayes

The market is ripe for a real estate education

Could my wife and I have chosen a worse time to tire of our current living conditions?
Last year, we decided the condo life was no longer in our best interests. We were ready to upgrade to an actual home, with no shared walls with neighbors and a nice yard for the pugs to run around in.

We made improvements in our home, watched the HGTV network for staging tips and put the condo up for sale. We even enlisted the aid of an über-Realtor, who was friends with my wife’s family, to help us sell.

Boy, did reality hit us smack dab in the face. The housing marking chose late last year to tank, right about the exact time we went to market.

We learned some hard lessons about house shopping that I’d like to share as a sort of “buyer beware.”

Lesson one, no matter what you’re buying now, always — and I can’t emphasize this enough — keep resale in mind. Chances are, this won’t be the last place you’ll ever live, so picture how enticing a property is for the next owner.

We thought our condo on the second floor was ideal. Nope. Most people prefer the first floor — for security and access reasons — or top floor — vaulted ceilings and no neighbor noise from above.

That really hurt our efforts to sell, no matter how nice we made the inside. Other considerations for resell include one-car garage versus two car, split level versus two story and move-in ready versus a lot of TLC needed.The second thing I learned the hard way is stay on top of your credit score, which may seem like common sense to everyone else. I discovered this little tidbit when applying for a pre-approved loan. Who knew a few late credit card payments would lower our combined rating?

We’ve discovered along the way to be aggressive, whether buying or selling. The condo market on the Sammamish plateau is oversaturated, and artificially deflated by a developer who converted a bunch of apartments in Klahanie and then under-priced them. Many condo owners couldn’t afford to lower their price to stay competitive, us included. But if we had knocked our price down from the get-go, instead of nearly a year later, that may have brought in more competing offers.

While our condo went unsold, several properties we would have loved to purchase came and went.

Now that our condo has actually sold, we’re still behind the learning curve.

We’ve learned about sacrifice. To get into a nice house that doesn’t meet all your desires, what are you willing to give up?

We found a tremendously attractive rambler in North Bend — huge back yard, great flow from the kitchen to the living room and located in an up-and-coming neighborhood where at least three other homeowners were upgrading their houses. But located on a flood plain, the property required flood insurance. Did we want to pay extra every year to roll the dice and avoid a 100-year flood? No.

The search continues. We are learning to be flexible. When we close our condo sale, we’ll have some extra dough to put into the next home. Do we go with an FHA loan? Cash deposit? How much — 10 percent versus 7 percent and save some for improvements? Resident owned versus short sale, or bank owned? Sure bank-owned properties are cheaper, but deals with a bank can be lengthy, not definitive and not worth the trouble.

Lastly, now that we’re zeroing in on a property in Kirkland, I advise to do your research. My wife’s cousin — a former real estate agent herself — recommended doing a sex offender search for the area, and several turned up. But then we did a comparison for where we live now and, again, several turned up. Who knew?

All these tips may seem like common sense steps in the home-buying market. But you just never know what you don’t know until you ask.

David Hayes: 392-6434, ext. 237, dhayes@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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