If It Ain’t Broke…

The real estate business generated some big headlines in the past few days with Zillow announcing that they are getting out of the business of buying and flipping homes, a business they have been in since 2018 in select markets across the country. Zillow revamped the entire company, invested billions of dollars and employed thousands of people to launch and run Zillow Offers, their iBuying business aimed at using digitization and automation to revolutionize the way we buy and sell homes. As it turns out, Zillow’s original model of steering website visitors to real estate agents who pay for leads is very different than actually buying and selling real estate. Today Zillow owns over 7,000 homes worth billions of dollars, most of which are currently for sale for less than the company paid for them. This from the same company whose “Zestimates” influence buying and selling decisions – and cocktail party chatter – across the country. Oops…

The Zillow story is the just the latest example of a business model that was supposed to upend the real estate marketplace and fundamentally change the way houses are bought and sold. Redfin’s various tech platforms and their promises of deep commission discounts with top-notch customer service were supposed to be another big market disruptor. They have since “tweaked” their model, reducing the discounts and leaving buyers in the hands of less qualified agents to show them homes. Their market share in our area remains in the low single digits and I can’t recall the last time I saw a Redfin buyer win in a multiple offer scenario.

When Compass, the big national aggregator of real estate brokerages came to town they were supposedly poised to dominate the market by attracting the best brokers and providing them and their clients with new technology and tools the likes of which we had never seen. Three years into the experiment, they too remain at single digit market share levels around here and many of the brokers who were wooed to Compass at the outset have returned from whence they came.

The fact is that at its core this is not an algorithm driven business, or a technology business at all. Technology has changed HOW we do business and it gives brokers and our clients better tools to navigate the home buying process, but this is not a tech business. This is a drive/walk the neighborhood, tour the house, understand the subtleties of clients, neighborhoods, and properties and communication business. I think that’s why I love it. Add in some smarts, professionalism and maybe a little technology and you can go a long way.

Incidentally, attracting and retaining smart, professional brokers has allowed Windermere to maintain a dominant market share position with both buyers and sellers despite all the “disruptors”. You can see the numbers HERE, but note that our 24% market share among sellers across the Eastside is equal to the shares of our next three largest competitors combined! The numbers stand up year after year and are similar throughout Seattle and when representing buyers, as well.

I’ll get off my soapbox now but just wanted to note that I’ve never heard of an algorithm finding a perfect off market property or winning the day in a competitive negotiation. As always, I’d be happy to drive, walk, tour or talk real estate (or anything else) with you anytime. Let’s just agree not to start with the most recent Zestimate on your house 🙂

Talk is Cheap. So Let’s Talk…

As you may have noticed, the widely published and often quoted S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index numbers for July were released yesterday, and they bear out what we all knew. Namely, that real estate prices in our area continue to rise at ridiculous rates…at least for now. According to Case-Shiller, for the month of July the Seattle metro area saw a 25.5% year-over-year increase in single family home prices. This compares to a robust 19.95% increase nationally, and only Phoenix and San Diego grew faster among the 20 cities tracked in the index.

For those so inclined, here’s an interactive tool that lets you compare the numbers and see 5 and 10-year trends for any of the 20 markets tracked in the index. Just to clarify, Case-Shiller monitors repeat sales in 20 of the largest metro areas based on a 3-month rolling average. Their methodology increases accuracy but takes a bit longer, which is why the data lags by a couple months and we’re just now seeing numbers for July.

Market snapshots like this can be joyful or daunting, depending on where you are – or want to be – in the market, but either way a big grain of salt and some additional analysis is probably in order if you are considering a move. As an example, Case-Shiller includes King, Pierce and Snohomish counties in their analysis of the Seattle metro area. That takes in everything from Tacoma to Everett, which is a pretty broad brush in a business that is hyper local. So, as part of any decision-making process make sure you consult with someone who can get you detailed information on exactly what to expect in your neighborhood, or the one you are looking to move to. Even in this fast-moving market, mispricing your home or making flawed assumptions about what you can afford can be costly mistakes.

Obviously, these rising prices look great for sellers who may be getting ready to cash in on years of appreciation. It’s a little more complicated if you’re looking to sell and either trade up or downsize. If that’s your situation don’t be paralyzed by sticker shock when considering the price of your next home. Instead, dial in your numbers and focus on the difference between the price of the home you are selling and the one you want to buy. This may help restore your sanity.

As always, the key to good decision making is to work with accurate, actionable information. So let’s make sure you’re working with REAL numbers that are relevant to your specific situation. This will give you the clearest look at all your options, including some you may not have considered. In addition, your wish list for a potential move might just synch up with a buyer I know of or a property I know will be coming on the market. I have upcoming listings that are not quite ready for prime time, and I know of buyers who are currently looking for properties ranging from starter homes to waterfront estates. A quick conversation can get a lot of puzzle pieces on the table, and you’d be surprised how easily they can come together in a transaction that works for everyone.

The numbers are the numbers, but this business is ultimately about talking. Let’s talk!


The days are long and sunny, the Mariners are still technically alive, and it’s the best time of year to be a buyer in our super-heated real estate market. Yes, things are still tilted in favor of sellers, but new listings continue to come on the market and lots of buyers take a break at this time of year. Whether those buyers are on vacation or just fed up with the grind, their inactivity can create your opportunity.

You will still have to be strategic and move quickly, but a little less competition may be just what it takes to push you over the top. I’ve recently helped multiple buyers secure their dream homes in competitive, multiple offer scenarios and there is a proven path to success. Here are a couple thoughts from the front lines.

First, it sounds (and is) self-serving, but you need to be working with a professional broker who knows the market and how to win in competitive situations. They – and by “they” I mean “I” – can’t predict exactly how each situation will turn out, but they can provide critical advice on price, deal terms, contingencies, timing, etc. They will also advise you on what you can reasonably ask for in a deal and what to forego. Finally, and experienced broker is talking to the listing agent throughout the process and picking up valuable intel in order to get you an “unfair” advantage.

Next, even if you are getting a loan, the goal is for you to look as much like a rock solid, cash buyer as possible in the eyes of the seller. There are many ways to accomplish this, and I can introduce you to some great lenders who can work their own brands of magic. My Windermere office also has a program that will actually act as a cash buyer on your behalf if needed. You heard that right and I’ve seen it work! Obviously, “some rules and restrictions apply”, but I’d be happy to share the details with you if you’re interested.

Enjoy the rest of the summer and feel free to call anytime. I’m working (most of the time) and with lots of others temporarily on the sidelines, this might be just the opportunity we need to get you into your next home.

Summer Days…

The stats don’t seem to change much, so I won’t waste time with a lot of numbers. Suffice it to say that real estate prices in our area continue to rise, inventory remains at record lows, and sellers remain in the catbird seat with most listings selling quickly and for more than the asking price. What else is new…

Though things are decidedly tilted in their favor, to achieve the best results sellers still need to be smart and strategic as they prepare to list a property. The better prepared, priced and marketed listings consistently attract the most attention and sell at the greatest premiums. There are pre-listing projects that sellers can ignore in a market like this, but the key is knowing which tasks will add to your ROI and which to let go. Getting (and following) some good advice on how to set your listing apart will reap big rewards on offer review day.

Obviously, things are more challenging for buyers in this market. It’s competitive, but someone wins the day and winds up buying every property put up for sale. In the immortal words of Russell Wilson, “Why not us?”. I’ve been involved in 4 successful purchases representing buyers in competitive multiple offer situations the past 30 days. In each case our success was at least partially due to an ability to create an advantage for my clients long before the offers were presented. We either had more information than other buyers or a better relationship with the listing agent…or both! As a buyer in today’s environment, there is no substitute for having an experienced, professional in your corner.

Give a call if you’d like to talk about these buyer or seller strategies in more detail. I can also fill you in on the market dynamics in your specific neighborhood – or the one you want to land in.

Thoughts From The Frontlne

In the month of February, 65% of the single-family homes sold on the Eastside sold above their asking price (up from 34% last year) and the average time on market for these listings was 5 days. Translation: Offer review dates and multiple offer scenarios are just part of the process if you are buying or selling in our area. Here are some thoughts from the frontline on how to successfully navigate today’s reality.

I’ve represented either the buyer or the seller in 11 transactions so far this year ranging from single family homes to high rise condos to townhomes in a variety of neighborhoods and at a variety of price points. These deals came together by aligning the needs and motivations of buyers and sellers, and almost all of them utilized some or all of the tactics below to make that happen.

Today’s sellers are looking for offers without escape hatches that would allow buyers to exit the deal without penalty. In addition to waiving inspection, financing and other contingencies, which is often required these days, one effective way for a buyer to indicate that they are qualified, serious and GOING TO CLOSE is to release their earnest money to the seller as a non-refundable deposit. If you think this one through it’s not as crazy as it might sound. The released earnest money is fully applicable towards the purchase price and still counts as part of the down payment if there is a loan involved. In other words, you are going to part with the money anyway and giving it to the seller up front makes the offer that much stronger in their eyes without adding any additional cost to you.

Much is made of how buyers can compete with “cash” offers. Keep in mind that except in rare instances, the seller is going get “cash” at closing anyway, and the only real difference between a cash offer and one that is financed is the risk to the seller that the deal might fall apart because the buyer’s financing doesn’t come through. Having $50,000 or $100,000 of the buyer’s money in their pocket and non-refundable makes it a pretty good bet that the buyer is going to close and effectively as good as cash.

Since buyers effectively give away any rights to exit a deal without penalty when they release earnest money, some serious due diligence is required before doing so. I’d recommend working with a known, local lender who can give you the needed confidence in your ability to get financed. Buyers also have to be completely confident that they understand as much as possible about the condition of the home, its main systems and the property being purchased before waiving an inspection contingency. This often means hiring a home inspector to conduct a thorough inspection BEFORE making an offer.

Give me a call if you’d like to talk in more detail about how all of this works in a real transaction scenario. There are proven strategies for both attracting airtight offers as a seller, and for making them as a buyer and neither has ever been more important than in today’s competitive marketplace.

You Never Know…

It’s been a couple months since my last newsletter and the anticipation is palpable. As you may know, the local real estate market maintained its frenetic pace right through the holidays and the first month of 2021. While the COVID lockdowns have devastated portions of the economy nationwide, the sectors that are driving the residential real estate market in our area continue to thrive. Those who can do their job with a laptop and a smart phone are adapting to the new reality and forging ahead. Many are looking for new housing arrangements that include more flexible spaces for offices or classrooms and others are moving out of the city (or state) entirely, having been liberated from physical offices and daily commutes. Buying power is enhanced by extremely low interest rates, but buyers still heavily outnumber sellers in our market, and face lots of competition for the historically low number of homes available for sale. Sound familiar?

We’re back to the future of the seller’s market of 2017 and 2018, complete with offer review dates and multiple offer scenarios. Half of all single-family homes sold on the Eastside last month closed at or above their list price – up from 22% a year ago. And 65% of January’s sales sold in 15 days or less! One by-product of this new market reality is a thriving ecosystem of off market sales. Sellers hesitant to list properties in COVID times are being paired with buyers willing to “hit the bid” in order to avoid the hassle of competing on the open market. I’ve helped several clients through such deals already this year and there are potentially more on the horizon. Here’s a sampling of some current buyer and seller profiles that could turn into win-win scenarios by putting the right parties together. Food for thought.

Seller Profiles:
2-bedroom Bellevue condo in the $300s
2-bedroom West Seattle condo in the $400s
2-bedroom Kirkland view condo – $2M
4-bedroom Enatai home @ $2.5M

Buyer Needs:
3-bedroom Kirkland house (east or west of Market) — $1.5M+
3+ bedroom house in Madison Park (fixer ok) –$1.5-$2.5M
West Bellevue waterfront lot/remodel — up to $10M

If anything here piqued your interest, or if your property or wish list should be added to one of these lists we should talk. You’d be surprised what might happen.

Q3 Market Insights

Pulse of the Market…

As you probably know, the real estate market around here has been beyond resilient since the COVID outbreak hit in March. (Yes, it’s been that long! The National Emergency was declared on March 13 and the Washington State Stay Home, Stay Healthy order was issued on March 23. Time flies…) The big technology companies that dominate the local economy are not just surviving in the current environment – they are THRIVING. Many companies are shedding employees, but they continue to hire, and their share prices are through the roof. Add in historically low mortgage interest rates and you get the picture: the demand side of the real estate equation is stronger than ever.

At the same time, historically low housing inventory keeps the market out of balance, pushing prices higher. According to the Case Shiller Home Price Index for July, home prices across the Seattle metro area were up 7% vs. a year ago. (See an interactive graph and all the numbers HERE) Transaction volume is also up. The number of new Pending transactions (i.e. listed homes going under contract) plummeted immediately after the stay at home order was implemented both in Seattle and across the Eastside. It climbed back quickly, however, and has been hovering about 30% ABOVE pre-COVID levels for the past three months. Amazing.

It seems counterintuitive, but while new listings continue to sell very quickly in all price ranges, a thriving market for private sales is also flourishing. Sellers worried about having their homes on the market during COVID or just not wild about the idea of listing their homes are being matched with eager buyers frustrated in the open market. So, if you have a wish list as either a buyer or a seller, let me know. I have quietly matched off-market buyers and sellers in some great deals over the past few months and would love to do the same for you.

Come On Autumn!

We’re about a week away from the official end of the “Summer of Love” here in Seattle and most agree that this summer will look best when it’s in the rearview mirror. In our new normal bars, restaurants and beaches are mostly closed, mini-weddings are all the rage, our masks are doing COVID/smoke double duty, NFL and MLB stadiums are empty, the Huskies aren’t playing at all, and classrooms have taken root in garages and bonus rooms everywhere. It might be funny if it weren’t all true!
Meanwhile, from the “challenges beget opportunities” file, many are using their current reality as impetus to take the blinders off, adjust their perspective and consider new options and opportunities. I’ve heard from lots of people who are re-evaluating their plans for everything from employment and commuting to caring for family members and retirement.
If you are among those considering new options (or even considering considering new options) it might be a good time to take stock of your real estate situation. While generally holding up quite well, the local market can be a bit tricky to navigate these days. Historically low inventory levels have brought back offer review dates and multiple offer scenarios at many price points and in many neighborhoods. It is nearly impossible to underprice a property in the current environment, as properly priced homes will attract eager buyers and be bid up, if worthy. That said, the market remains very efficient and overpricing a home will leave you sitting on the sidelines wondering why your property is not selling in this hot seller’s market.
I like to say that a quick conversation with a good realtor to get all your real estate goals and options on the table is almost always worth the time. This statement has never been truer than it is today. It remains as important as ever to get all aspects of the home selling process right in order to achieve the best possible result. 
Let me know how I can help.

Strange Days, Indeed…

When I wrote back in April that these were “strange days, indeed” I had no idea. No idea that we’d still be largely locked down heading into June. And no idea that we’d see protests hijacked by violent rioters across the region and across the country. Strange days, indeed. I’m not here to make political commentary, but if you’re ready for a 5-minute break from the madness, the virus, the news videos and the blackouts I’m here for you with a quick dose of free real estate chatter.

So far, our local real estate market seems remarkably unfazed by everything going on around us. Last month I highlighted the fact that despite the COVID-related business closures, stay at home orders and general economic upheaval, King County real estate activity was “only” down 25-30% depending on your neighborhood. The analysis compared the weekly volume of new real estate contracts to the same week a year ago. The Eastside was a bit slower due to some sluggishness at the higher price points, but this generally seemed like incredibly robust activity.

Fast forward one month to the week ending 5/27 and the volume of new contracts is actually AHEAD of where it was a year ago in all 3 geographies (see charts below). Interestingly, all price points are now contributing, with five West Bellevue homes priced over $4M going under contract in the past 2 weeks alone. Two of them sold in less than a week. Amazing. 

Obviously, there is no guarantee that the current activity levels will hold. Headwinds, including new listings not keeping up with demand and major structural damage to the economy from a prolonged shutdown could still slow things down. But so far things are full speed ahead. We’ve figured out how to list and show properties safely and according to the state’s guidelines and we’re helping buyers and sellers are navigate their way to listings and through transactions. If you’re considering a move don’t wait for things to “get back to normal”. The strange days may be with us for a while and right now there’s no time like the present! I’ll keep you poste

Click HERE and I’ll leave you with the best thing I saw yesterday. Stay safe and be kind, everyone.