Historic Craftsman Porch Restoration


Our house has a peculiar combination of architectural styles. It was mostly a basic cottage, originally, built around 1929 (1937 tax photo above). But when it was moved to this site, I added a taller second story, which made it look more like a Farmhouse-style house. Yet tacked onto the front of it is¬†a decidedly Craftsman porch overhang, even though there isn’t much else Craftsman about the house. Continue reading “Historic Craftsman Porch Restoration”

We Sold a House In The Crummy Economy

cropped1We are pretty excited, Kirk’s house sold this month. We put it on the market mid-November, thinking, “well, let’s give it a try.” We honestly expected it would not sell for at least 6-9 months, and that we’d probably end up giving up and renting it. But, we hoped not- we didn’t want it trashed by renters, and we didn’t want to be landlords. And, we knew we’d prefer to take the cash invested in it, and use it for other things, like building a barn. And, we felt that the cash invested in it would not be earning much equity in the next few years!

I am an avid reader and fan¬†of the Seattle Bubble¬†blog, and the data there was never encouraging! When we listed the house, the Months-of-Supply stats for Snohomish county were heading towards twelve months! That essentially means that the average house will have to sit on the market for a year before it sells.¬† Yikes! That’s a lot of mortgage payments and taxes for an empty house!

But, we had a few things on our side that made us slightly more optimistic. For one, nobody was living in the house, so we could get it, and keep it, perfectly¬†clean. We were able to clear out the closets and cupboards, and take away everything but some key furniture, so it was staged very nicely. And, the house is just beautiful inside. The fir floors are exquisite, and the original woodwork, trim and stained glass windows are fabulous. It is definitely an elegant and unique home, and there aren’t dozens and dozens of comparables, like with new construction.frenchdoors

And, we didn’t use a real estate agent. The biggest advantage here is that we didn’t need to buffer in that extra 3% in the price¬†to pay that agent’s wages. Instead, we essentially passed that savings onto the buyer (since we’d never see the money either way) to encourage the house to sell faster, as compared to our higher-priced competitors who have to pay their agent.

And, honestly, I think that when there are two real estate agents in the mix, sometimes negotiations can actually be tougher than if you just meet, as two sets of ordinary people, face-to-face, and come to an agreement at the kitchen table. Certainly the agents aren’t there to get the best price for either party (since it doesn’t translate into much difference in their commission either way). They are just there to push everybody to finish the deal as quickly as possible so they can get their check and move on to other sales.

I also believe that me being able to spend a LOT of time on the photos, flyer and web advertising¬†made a big difference. I doubt¬†many agents invest¬†as much in those key pieces of marketing than I did. And, since I’m¬† a software engineer, my skills in using photo and flyer editing software, and creating web pages, is probably higher than the average real estate professional.

So, in the end, it worked out well. The people who bought the house were indeed able to meet us face-to-face. I think that really helps put everybody at ease, that they’re not doing a deal with the devil behind a curtain or something. They had an agent, and I think she was really working more for us than them. She revealed to us right away that they’d been searching for months, and that they were all tuckered out from the ordeal. It was clear she was anxious to be finished with this sale herself.

They met us on a Friday night, after a full work week, they appeared to have missed dinner, and they looked exhausted and a little desperate. They waited outside in the cold car in the dark, with their kids,¬†while we talked with their agent.¬†I have no idea why they didn’t say “hey, let’s get some sleep and negotiate Saturday morning when we’re all fresh!” since it’s not like there is huge competition out there between buyers. So, that made it pretty easy for us, it was clear they wanted the house. We agreed quickly on a price, and that there would be no repair requests after the inspection. And that was that!

The offer came four months after listing the house, for a very satisfactory and fair price, and it closed in a month’s timeframe. Nice! I held my breath until we had that check in hand! I’m excited for the house, the people who bought it love it and care about its history, so I think they’ll be good stewards to the old beauty. And we are so glad to never have to mow a town lawn again!

Real Estate Agents are Swimming Like Sharks Around Us

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, we put Kirk’s house on the market. We chose to use a flatlist service, where you pay a flat fee to get your house listed on the Northwest Multiple Listing Service (NWMLS), you get a “real” looking real estate sign, and a key lock box that real estate agents can use to get in and show the house. I, and several people I know, have used this kind of flat list approach in the past and have had excellent results. Kirk also sold a previous house of his without the help of an agent.

I am really good at software and graphics, and have made a beautiful flyer in PDF format, and also really nice online ads via postlets.com. The ad is everywhere we need/want it to be online. If we want to get it into any paper advertising, we could easily look up their advertising policies. But for now, we believe that the online tools are used by 99% of modern buyers, so we’re happy with the advertising outlets we are leveraging right now.

I used a digital¬†fish-eye lens to photograph the house, so there are professional looking photos of every room. We are familiar with the Fair Housing Act laws as they apply to real estate advertising, The house is in impeccable shape– scrubbed clean, staged with nice furniture, and free of clutter. We did significant research on recent sales and keep a daily eye on new listings, so we feel confident the¬†house is priced correctly. If we feel we need legal advice along the way, of course, we’d hire a real estate attorney, the only person who can legally give us legal advice. We have the schedule flexibility to show the house whenever needed.

So, why would we need a real estate agent to help us sell the house? I can’t think of any reasons, or anything they can offer that we don’t already have. And yet, it seems that many real estate agents still think we need them! ūüôā¬†We are advertising the house on multiple for-sale-by-owner websites, and apparently hungry real estate agents prowl those sites, looking for potential clients. And they call– every day!

They are coy about their reason for calling at first, and get around to the bottom line slowly. And then, when Kirk tries to politely decline their sales pitch and offered services, they get combative. They engage him in an argument, trying to insist they can do something we can’t do. Sometimes they switch to insults, or probing and inappropriate questions, like wanting to know how much we owe on the house, or speculating that we must be facing foreclosure. Sometimes the conversations end unpleasantly. This, of course, is not the best sales tactic, so I’m not sure why anyone would employ it. And it’s driving Kirk crazy (it would me, too, except they have¬†his phone number, not mine!).

I’ve¬† modified our online ads to gently, but firmly, say “real estate agents, we’re not looking for a seller’s agent, thanks. Please don’t call unless you are scheduling an appointment for a potential buyer to view the house.” But, these hungry real estate agents don’t read very well, or they are just mighty desperate, because they are still calling!

And what are they thinking, anyway? Does this really work, cold-calling FSBO owners and saying “hey, are you looking for a real¬†estate agent?” Doesn’t everyone already know about two dozen real estate agents and have at least two in their family? If I were looking for one, I wouldn’t have to toss a stone very far to hit one. If I felt I needed one, trust me, I know whom to call. They’re in the phone book, and on the web, they’re everywhere. So are they expecting us to respond with some sigh of relief, and a reply of “oh my gosh! It’s so lucky you called, because we NEED a real estate agent, but had no idea how to find one!” Of course if we decided to¬† hire one, we’d hire someone we knew, someone we knew something about, and someone to whom we’d like our money to go. We don’t need to hire some stranger who cold-calls on the phone and tries to start an argument!

House is ON the Market!

Wow, we have been busy lately. Last weekend was the third full weekend we spent working on getting Kirk’s house ready to (try to) sell. Our goal was to get it on the market the first week of November. And we did it. I wasn’t so sure a week ago, there were so many messes, tools, cleaning stuff, paint stuff, boxes. And Kirk still has SO many things he wishes to improve or fix on this house.

We painted a bedroom, the bathroom, hall/staircase and the back porch area. We cleaned the carpets and replaced the algae-growing kitchen faucet. We weeded the backyard, re-seeded the lawn, mowed, cleaned up a firewood pile, put down bark, new rock on the pathways,¬†and¬†a brick border. We took down the ugly front storm door. We carried off a lot of stuff (which is now cluttering up the farmhouse instead!). And then we photographed, with my dad’s wide-angle lens, every angle of every room.

So, it’s ready, I faxed the final listing paperwork today to the flat listing agent we’re using. Now, here’s hoping we have three good weeks before people flake off the housing market for the holidays and the rest of the year. Now is, arguably, a terrible time to sell. But, it’s also a terrible time to hold– we’re betting this house won’t gain in value in the next five years if there is a serious recession, so why keep dumping money into it? It’s an historic home, so not a great rental investment choice, we’d probably spend more money maintaining it than it would bring in. And we’d rather spend that money on a barn/shop building¬†at the farm.

So, we’re just going to hope there are still¬†a few¬†people out there needing or wanting to buy a different house; people who aren’t worried about a recession or falling housing prices and are going about business as usual.¬†If just one of¬†them likes this house, and can find a bank to lend them money, it’ll be out of our hair! Here’s to incredible good luck, we’ll need it! ūüôā

To Rent Out or Sell

We have a bit of dilemma in what to do with Kirk’s house, now that we’re married and have settled upon living life on the farm. Kirk has a really nice house, I almost wish we could trade them on their lots! It is an historic home in a charming old neighborhood,¬†with beautifully refinished fir floors and¬†mountain views.

Though it’s maybe a good “problem” to have, we don’t know what we should do with the second house– sell it or rent it out. The pro’s of renting seem to be the potential for profit over time. We do know people who have done really well as landlords. But, this profit assumption relies on the real estate market going up, and with the current economic uncertainty, there are no guarantees there. The con’s of renting are the headaches of being a landlord, and we’re not sure we want to take on that extra stress. And we’d have a lot to learn.

Kirk only bought the house two years ago, so to sell it now, given the short time he’s held it and the flattening of the real estate market means probably taking a slight loss on it. But, viewing it as not just an investment, but a place to live, then having a slight net loss doesn’t seem so bad–it’s about the same overall expense as if he would have rented all this time.

We’re not fond of the real estate agent thing, so we’ll likely sell it FSBO, and that will allow us to keep more of the profit. We’ve both done that before and have had excellent success with it.

We went there today to work on the yard, it’s important to keep it looking lived-in. Kirk mowed, and I weeded the flower beds. It mostly just needs some good cleaning and some fresh paint in a few places. We’re leaning towards selling it, to have more money to invest into the farm. That means we’d best get it on the market soon, before the holiday slowdown comes. So, we’d better get crackin’!