The huge amount of construction going on in our area is currently a hot topic of conversation. Cranes, hammering, street signs—it seems like it’s everywhere! Yet despite all this building, the Seattle area continues to struggle with extremely low housing inventory. In fact, the National Association of Realtors estimates that our region is 70,000 units short of meeting our current housing needs. How can this be possible? Well first off, we know that our area, with its beautiful setting and booming economy, is attracting lots of newcomers. And when I say lots, I mean lots. The Seattle area is adding more than 350 new jobs every day. Big businesses like Amazon play a huge role in this, with Amazon alone occupying 19% of all prime office space in Seattle–the most for any employer in a major US city. And while the influx of people coming into the city grows, we just plain are not keeping pace with new construction to house them. It turns out, in fact, that the majority of those building projects we see all over the city aren’t really addressing low housing inventory because current city and county regulations make building offices and rental units more appealing to developers than condos, townhomes and single-family houses. Sure, we see a lot of the “Modern Boxes” (as they’re being dubbed) going up all over our neighborhoods. However, building space is limited and their numbers aren’t near enough to fill the inventory shortage and oftentimes they’re just replacing a home that’s been torn down. Hmm, so what about condos? It seems that in an urban area condos could potentially come to the rescue as their structure allows for more condensed housing on a smaller footprint. Believe it or not, however, there have been virtually no new condo projects in recent years due largely to the Washington Condominium Act which includes provisions requiring developers to warranty their construction work for four years. Seems like a good idea, however due to the fact that a number of past Seattle condo projects are now in lawsuits or arbitration, developers know that new projects could have a similar fate and thus opt out for safer projects like office space and rental units. So there you have it—our dilemma in a nutshell. Our cities future will largely be determined by how city and county officials design new regulations and find creative solutions for a housing shortage that will only get worse if not addressed head on.
My good friend, Stacie, has graciously agreed to lend us some of her horticulture wisdom in a new Urban Natural Homes newsletter article called “Ask a Gardening Guru.”
Welcome Stac! You are currently in the process of completing the Master Gardener program. Will you briefly share your experience with us?
Thank you, Tamara! The Master Gardener Program is offered through WSU Extension with the goal of training volunteers to be community educators of sustainable gardening and related environmental issues such as hazardous waste disposal, water conservation and invasive species. The program consists of a classroom portion (approximately 80 hours) and 2 years of volunteer commitment, with a minimum of 40 hours per year, working in community clinics and demonstration gardens.
The program is open to everybody, regardless of their gardening experience. For example, I had not received any “formal” gardening education prior to the MG program. My experience consisted of trial and error in the microclimates of small suburban yards to watching my dad build nesting boxes for the bees that pollinated the farmers’ fields next door and helping my mom plant, nurture, harvest and process the fruits and veggies we grew in our quaint yard in rural Boise, Idaho. The MG program expanded upon my past experiences through the teaching of basic botany, soil science, plant pathology, entomology, and numerous other topics that cover the intricate world of gardening in the Pacific Northwest. I highly recommend you go to http://mastergardener.wsu.edu/ to find out more information about their Master Gardener program.
With Fall upon us, what are some key gardening tips you would suggest for getting our plants ready for the cooler months ahead?
Ah, Fall. Pumpkin spice lattes, mulled wine, cozy sweaters and fall gardens! My favorite time of year and also a great time to prep your plants and beds for winter. First and foremost, you should help prevent disease and pest problems by cleaning up your beds! Clear all plant waste out of the beds, especially diseased leaves or other plant parts as fungal spores can overwinter on infected plant debris. Place disease-free debris in the compost and diseased waste in the garbage. Make sure the beds are weed free then mulch with either a good quality fertile mulch (avoid piling mulch directly against the base of your plants and trees) or, for veggie gardens, plant a winter cover crop which works well in empty beds. Cover crops are a great way to add green matter to your veggie soil, help control weeds and capture nitrogen which otherwise may have washed away with the rains. For more information on cover crops that do well in western Washington, go to http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/FS111E/FS111E.pdf
Fall brings still warm soils and dissipating summer heat which makes it a great time to plant trees and perennials whose roots will grow in the warm soil until the first frost (around mid-November, according to the Farmer’s Almanac). You can add compost when planting your trees and perennials but make sure to thoroughly mix it into the existing soil to encourage spreading root growth. This is also the time of year to plant your spring blooming bulbs such as tulips, hyacinth, alliums, crocus and daffodils. Mix and match your bulbs (such as tulips with hyacinth) and plant them in clusters for beautiful spring color!
In this crazy seller’s market, where multiple offers and escalating prices have become the norm, one strategy that many buyers consider is focusing their sights on a fixer-upper. The idea is that homes in less than great condition will garner less interest and, in turn, hopefully a more reasonable selling price. And of course there is also the prospect of eventually reselling with a tidy profit from all the improvements that you have made. But before jumping into a huge project, which a fixer-upper will inevitably be, it is important to think things through on a couple of different levels. The first thing to ask yourself is “Am I a good candidate for taking on a fixer-upper project?” and secondly, “Is the house I have my sights on a good fixer-upper prospect?”
First things first -Are you personally a good fit for taking on a fixer-upper project? You must honestly sit back and evaluate your ability to deal with a disrupted home environment for an extended period of time and you must also, of course, consider everyone else who lives with you. Can they live with the disruptions that a remodel entails? This disruption may be in the form of living with dust, bad smells and dysfunctional systems and appliances for months on end, or perhaps even living somewhere else for the length of the renovation period. Is this a real possibility for you? Time is another personal consideration. If you are planning on doing some or all of the work yourself, do you really have the time for the project? And even if you are handing it over to the pros, do you have the time to allocate to interacting with and overseeing the people you hire? And finally, do you have the financial backing needed to complete a renovation project beyond the finances required to purchase the house itself?
If you’ve searched your (and your families) soul and decided that ‘Yes! I can do this!’ then it’s time to get down to the real practicalities in evaluating the potential success of the fixer-upper that you are targeting. First, have a Realtor evaluate the asking price to make sure it is actually a fixer-upper price and also find out what similar homes in the neighborhood have sold for. Next, you will need to determine your renovation budget. For maximum resale value, remodeling investments should not increase the value of your house more than 10 to 15 percent above the median sale price of other comparable houses in your area. If you are creating your dream home and want to totally deck out the place regardless of what others in the neighborhood are doing, then go for it. Just be aware that you are not likely to recoup the investments you make that are above and beyond what is in line for similar homes in the neighborhood. Have a professional inspection done to evaluate what structural and whole house system improvements are needed. The ideal fixer-uppers are ones that will require mostly cosmetic improvements such as painting, drywall repairs and floor refinishing, as they have a high ROI (return on investment). However, some larger projects such as kitchen, bath and basement remodels, new roofs and siding, and hardwood flooring installation can also significantly increase market value and are projects that can pay off in the long run. After determining the scope of the project, do the math. Factor in your contractor’s or your own estimates against the price of the potential fixer, remembering that there will always be extra expenses no matter how carefully you plan. If the numbers look promising, and again, you feel you and your family are a good fit for a renovation project, then you may have found a winner. A fixer-upper can be a lucrative and satisfying project, but just be sure you have thought is all through before taking the leap!
Our local retail nurseries reflect the prevailing purchasing attitudes in the US—basically we want it all! We don’t just want our native rhododendrons, ferns and columbines…we want to jazz up our gardens with unique, showy species from every corner of the globe. And with a global economy like we’ve never seen before, it’s no problem to have just that. Or is it? It turns out that yes, indeed, it is a very big problem because this historically quick dispersal of non-native species is, in fact, causing an immense strain on our native habitats.
“Exotics” refers to a plant or animal that people have moved to a place where it didn’t previously occur and where it hasn’t dispersed by natural means. There are now approximately 5,000 exotic plant species that have escaped from cultivation; meaning that they have escaped out of the bounds of a controlled area and out into the surrounding environment. Approximately 1,500 of those plant species are considered invasive. Once free, these invasive plants can wreak havoc on ecosystems as the natural controls in their native environments, such as parasites and predators, don’t exist in the new habitat. Without these limiting factors to keep them in check, they out compete native species for resources including water, nutrients, sunlight, soil and literally space. Eventually they take over and form dense, single species areas that force out native vegetation and cause an extreme imbalance in the entire ecosystem. Scotch broom, English Ivy, and Purple Loosestrife are well known invasive plants in our area, but there are literally hundreds more. Extensive lists can be viewed by clicking on the resources at the end of this article.
So what to do? For starters, we all need to be more conscious of the plants we are purchasing and using in our yards and gardens. Native species are always the safest bet, but it only takes a little digging to find out where that plant you’re purchasing originated from and how it can affect your local environment. Again, for more information (including what is being done to combat invasive species and how you can help), please see the links below. Happy and safe planting everyone!
Whether you are looking to fix up your kitchen for resale, or just spruce it up, there are certain materials you will undoubtedly regret using in your updates:
Inexpensive Laminate Counters and Vinyl Flooring: Natural materials make for beautiful surfaces on both countertops and flooring. However, not everyone can afford the hefty price tag often seen on materials such as marble, granite or even wood. And the fact is that laminate countertops and vinyl flooring are enjoying a resurgence in popularity due to new patterns and textures and new formulations that are making them much more user friendly. The trick is to avoid the thin, inexpensive versions of both laminate and vinyl. These versions look cheap, scratch easily and if they get wet underneath (which is pretty much a given) they will chip and bubble. Not attractive!
Lower End Thermofoil Cabinets: Thermofoil is vinyl which is heated and molded around fiberboard. As with laminate countertops and vinyl flooring, thermofoil technology is making great strides both in appearance and durability. The lower end versions, however, are not heat resistant and will invariably warp and yellow with age. The fiberboard underneath the lower end thermofoil is also of poor quality and won’t hold up over time.
Any Kind of Trendy Material: I’m telling you, those trendy narrow tile backsplashes that you see in virtually every remodel or new build these days are just not going to look as cool in five years. That’s the way of fads— it seems like a great idea at the time—but quickly looks outdated. Stick to the classics- the things that are going to last through the years, including natural, neutral color palates and simple, unfussy details.
Flat Paint: The kitchen is generally the hardest working room in the house and you want a paint that will be easy to clean and maintain. Stick to high-gloss or semi-gloss in the kitchen and save the subtle, velvety flat paint for a room, like the bedroom, where it’s not likely to get spaghetti sauce splattered all over it.
Spring has sprung and many of us just can’t wait to get out into the garden to start planting. If, however, you are one of those who is hopelessly lacking in the green thumb department, but who would like a little more curb appeal, there’s hope. Read on for some easy landscaping tips that will brighten the yard with little on-going effort.
- Plant Just One Tree: If your yard is lacking trees or tall shrubs then it’s likely lacking variance in height. You want a variety of tall, medium and short plantings to create a balanced picture. Planting just one tree is low on effort and maintenance, but can be huge on impact. Japanese Maples do well in our area and can be a great choice for adding height as well as color and texture to the landscape.
- Utilize Massing and Shape: Annuals can be an easy way to add color to a landscape, but the biggest landscaping mistake I see is a lot of small annuals scattered all over place. This creates tiny little color dots that the eye can barely detect and that does nothing for the overall picture. Instead, mass annuals and group other smaller plants into appealing shapes that the eye can actually see from the street. And if you are using containers, choose medium and large ones and group plants together to make them stand out.
- Edging, Mulching & Trimming: In nature there is random growth and this randomness is actually subliminally a big part of the excitement of being in nature. In a garden setting, however, it is more ideal to strike a balance between the excitement of random growth and the calm that comes from bringing some order to that growth. Ways to create a sense of order and calm in the garden include edging, mulching and trimming. Edging can take the form of bricks, stones, ground covers, split logs, copper piping—you name it! Mulching plant beds adds color and texture and helps create those overall shapes we talked about earlier. And when trimming bushes, think clean lines to further emphasis a sense of calm and order.
- Keep It Low Maintenance: Finally, the single tip that will make life easier for the non-gardener is to choose low-maintenance and native plants from the get-go. Certain plants are just easier to deal with; they don’t require dead-heading or trimming and also don’t require constant watering like some plants do. Be sure to take the time to talk to your local nursery expert before purchasing to make sure the plants you are buying are going to make you happy in the long run.
The 2016 Seattle area housing market story will probably not come as a surprise to anyone: inventory was low, prices were up, multiple offers were the norm, and median prices have finally rebounded to 2007 levels. So what can we expect for 2017? Across the board, analysts are predicting a slowdown and a return to more normal growth rates in the housing market nationally. The Pacific Northwest, however, may tell a slightly different story in 2017 as the supply-and-demand situation (low inventory, despite high numbers of people migrating to our area) isn’t likely to change significantly. That said, in terms of home price appreciation, forecasts for 2017 suggest that Seattle, Portland and other real estate markets in the Pacific Northwest will continue to outpace the nation in 2017. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean the continuation of the crazy growth we’ve seen in the past few years. Due to a number of factors including rising mortgage rates, a projected slight increase in inventory levels, uncertainty about the political landscape and a natural tendency for housing price growth to slow down after a period of accelerated growth, most analysts are predicting the local price increase to be between 7% to 8% this year as compared to last year’s 10% to 12%. All said still good news for Seattle area home owners. Stay tuned for more as the 2017 story unfolds!
The air is getting chilly and winter is almost officially upon us. Time to check off the following winter home maintenance projects:
- Have your furnace professionally checked and serviced and be sure to clean or replace the furnace filter on forced air systems.
- To guard against drafts and heat loss, add weather stripping around doors and caulking around windows.
- Inspect the insulation in your attic and crawlspace. Seal areas around the attic hatch, plumbing vents and recessed lighting.
- If you don’t have double-paned windows, remove the screens and install storm windows. Inexpensive plastic-film sheet kits will suffice for a single season.
- Protect exposed pipes in the attic, basement, crawlspaces, garage and outside areas.
- Remove leaves and debris from gutters to allow rain and melting snow to properly drain. Be sure that downspouts are directing water away from the foundation.
- Trim trees and shrubs away from the house and remove any dead branches that could potentially cause damage during wind, rain and snow storms.
Have a safe and cozy winter!
Choosing a home owner’s insurance carrier and policy is an important part of the home purchasing process. However, in the whirlwind of information coming at you during the transaction, it’s possible to miss some of the details in the policy and to believe that you are covered for damage when, in fact, you are not. Following are some areas that are generally not covered on a standard policy. If any of these areas concern you, talk with your insurance company. You may be able to add endorsements—at an extra cost—to get more protection.
- Ground Movement: Earthquakes, landslides and sinkholes are not covered under standard home insurance. Talk to your insurance agent for information regarding acquiring a separate policy.
- Floods: Internal flooding, such as from burst pipes, are generally covered. Natural disaster floods, such as those from overflowing rivers or torrential rain, are not covered by standard home insurance policies, but can potentially be covered by a separate policy. Again, talk to your insurance agent for more information.
- Sewer Back-up: As discussed in my previous post “What Homeowners and Potential Buyers Should Know about Seattle Side Sewers”, damaged sewer lines are becoming an increasing problem in our area. As sewer back-up is typically not covered in a standard policy, it is well worth looking into adding additional coverage in this area.
- Mold: Insurers generally will not cover mold associated with long-term leaks, poor home maintenance or naturally occurring floods. It may, however, cover repairs if the mold issue can be traced to a sudden leak in your plumbing.
- Insect Infestations: Ridding your home of infestations from termites, mice and other vermin and fixing the resulting damage is considered part of home maintenance and is excluded from home insurance.
- Higher End Personal Property: When you purchase a homeowners policy, you will need to decide whether you want to cover your belongings for the actual cash value (meaning depreciation applies), or the optional replacement cost coverage (which will be more expensive, but will provide you with a new replacement). Both, however, are subject to policy limits and most higher end items including fine art, jewelry, silverware, coins and other precious metals should be protected through separate insurance riders that specify both the item and its worth.
This is the second article I’ve written on basement remodels recently – primarily because, as an agent, I know just how important the topic is for the Seattle real estate market. In an area where every square foot counts, a remodeled basement can dramatically extend living space to include additional bedrooms, office space, a rec area, guest space or, of course, even potential rentable space. And additional living space can in turn increase the resale value of your home. Perhaps you are considering remodeling your own unfinished basement. Or perhaps you are a buyer evaluating a home that has an unfinished basement. Whatever your vantage point, keep in mind that some unfinished basements are better candidates for finished basements than others. To assist in your evaluation, here is a check-list of things to keep in mind:
- Ceiling Height and Finishing the Ceiling: Ceilings in basement areas are often low and low ceilings can feel uncomfortable. Options for raising ceilings are major projects with big price tags. Finishing a ceiling can also be a challenge as you will often need to work around ducting, plumbing and electrical work. Be sure to keep all of this in mind when evaluating a potential remodel.
- Moisture Control: Basements are particularly susceptible to moisture issues. It’s important to fix moisture problems before finishing begins. This may mean waterproofing walls and floors, grading the yard so water falls away from the foundation, installing drains around the foundation or even potentially installing a sump pump.
- Indoor Air Quality/Ventilation: Basements often house combustion appliances such as water heaters, furnaces or clothes dryers. If you are remodeling around these appliances make sure they have sufficient combustion air and that they are properly vented to the outside.
- Potential for Heating: Refinished space must be heated space in order for it to count in total square footage for resale. Heating your basement could be as simple as tapping into existing HVAC main trunks and adding vents or as complicated as upgrading your entire system. Be sure to research this before proceeding.
- Egress: Building codes dictate that a finished basement must have at least one door or window large enough for people to get out of and for rescue help to get into in case of emergency. Each bedrooms must also have their own point of egress and each egress opening must be at least 5.7 square feet with the window sill no more than 44 inches above the floor.