Radon: Take Action

As January comes to a close, I want to take advantage of the fact that January is Radon Awareness Month. This is important as you buy or sell a home, but it’s also important simply as a human who lives in a contained environment. Whether you are buying or sell or not, you should test your house for radon.

Radon is a naturally occurring gas that is given off by granite boulders. These boulders are buried deep in the ground. You can’t see them, so you don’t know if they are there or not. This is why everyone should be doing radon tests.

I first became concerned about radon when I read an article in a local newspaper about 20 years ago. A resident of my neighborhood, in the Lake Grove section of Lake Oswego, died of lung cancer. He had been a non-smoker. After his death, his wife checked their home for radon and discovered elevated levels. It was the likely cause of his death.

It’s estimated that 20,000 deaths in the US each year are caused by radon exposure. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer, after cigarette exposure.

While some parts of the metro area are known for elevated radon levels (the Alameda Ridge is Northeast Portland is often referred to as Radon Ridge), radon can be found in Lake Oswego. I sold a house in Village on the Lake a number of years ago and radon was found. It was a lake-front house.

In Oregon, radon is fairly common in the northern Willamette Valley. This is a result of the Great Missoula Flood that occurred thousands of years ago. A huge ice dam formed in the area of what is now Sandpoint, Idaho. It contained a lake that went deep into Montana. When the ice melted it released a huge flow of water and debris that came across Eastern Washington, dug out the Columbia River Gorge, and came to rest in the Willamette Valley. This flow contained granite boulders that, today, are the primary source of radon in homes in this area.

While there is no known safe level of radon, it can be measured. The test is simple. You can buy a test at most home improvement stores. You set two canisters in your house for several days, then mail them off to a lab, and you get emailed results within about 10 days. It’s been awhile since I’ve done it this way, but I believe it costs under $100. Or you can hire a professional. This costs about $150. They set a test box into your house for 2 days and you get same day results.

Correcting radon is usually under $2000. Not super expensive.

My point here is that it’s easy to do. Realtors in Oregon are trained to make radon testing a part of the home inspection process. But do the test for the benefit of yourself even if you aren’t selling.

I hope you find this information helpful. Here’s to going into February living in the safest and healthiest home possible.

Dianne

Adapt and Learn

When I started in Real Estate 35 years ago, our sale agreement was one page, legal size, and there were few, if any, supplemental forms. If something additional needed to be added, like a home inspection, I took out a blank addendum and wrote it up myself. Over the years many, many forms have been added. The sale agreement is 11 pages long and there are about 100 supplemental forms.

Realtors are not attorneys, so it’s a good thing that we no longer write our own addendums for things like home inspections. However, we do have to know the forms inside and out. We use them and we need to be able to explain what they mean. This requires a lot of continuing education. Now, add to the mix that an entire new set of paperwork is being rolled out.

Signing Official Document

The forms that we have historically used were developed by Oregon Real Estate Forms, OREF. This entity primarily consisted of the two largest Realtor Associations in the state: Portland Metro and Eugene.

Now the Oregon Association of Realtors has developed a new set of forms. The old ones are not being retired, instead we will have 2 complete sets of forms to use and both are acceptable. This means that Realtors need to be training and learning about these new forms. There are pluses and minuses to both. I also think it’s likely that eventually one will dominate and my prediction is that it will be the new forms.

I am very proud to say that Linda and I have both been training for the past 2 months to become knowledgeable about the new forms. I think we are positioning ourselves to give the best service possible to our clients. I also want to give a shout out to Oregon First. Our company started this training, and went in depth with it, from the get go.

So, Linda and I are adapting and learning. It really is exciting and it feels good to know that we are positioning ourselves to give you the best experience possible when you buy or sell a house. We are here to be of help!

Dianne

Rising Interest Rates, What Does it Mean?

I want to talk about the elephant in the room, rising interest rates. Just yesterday the Federal Reserve raised the Federal rate by .5% to between $4.25 and $4.5%.

The Federal Reserve Rate is the rate set by the Federal Reserve to dictate the cost of money when banks borrow from one another. If the banks are paying more for money, it just makes sense that the increase gets passed along to the consumer. That is how banks make money. It’s why they are in business.

I do think that the increased cost of mortgages is having a impact on the real estate market. Higher interest rates make homes less affordable. Is this going to cause a housing decline? In a word, no.

From what I have been hearing the current situation is likely short term

Several months ago I listened to a Bloomberg podcast that featured 3 economists. The consensus was that the inventory is so low, that the demand for housing will keep the real estate market strong.

At the beginning of the Great Recession, in about 2008, builders pretty much not only stopped building, but they also stopped laying the ground work for new neighborhoods. Coming out of the recession, in about 2014, the home building industry rebounded, but there were about 6 years of missing inventory and they just simply have not caught up, even to this day. To meet our population needs, Nationwide, we should be building 3,000,000 new housing units per year. These are houses, condos, and apartments. We have only been building 1,300,000 per year: not even half of the population need. It is going to take decades to catch up.

Economics is all about supply and demand. With the demand high and supply low, that supports housing values.

Interest rate forecast according to the NAR

The other source of some interesting information was a Brian Buffini class that I took on Monday. It featured Lawrence Yun, the chief economist for the National Association of Realtors. Their discussion included several key points:

  • Government regulations put into affect after the Great Recession tightened up the mortgage lending industry so that people actually had to qualify for their loans and prove credit worthiness and employment stability in order to get a mortgage. In other words, people can afford to make their payments.
  • There is usually a 2% margin between the Federal rate and the mortgages rates. There is an anomaly happening where the spread is currently 3%. This means that the Federal rate can increase without there being an increase in the mortgage rates.
  • Mr Yun predicts that 2023 will see interest rates come back down within the year to under 6%
  • Mr Buffini predicts that 2023 will be flat with little or no home appreciation. However, he thinks that in 2024 the housing market will rebound with as much as 10% appreciation.

Here are my thoughts. It remains a great time to buy a house. With houses taking longer to sell, people who are selling are more negotiable. For a buyer, that means addressing repairs within the sale and negotiation on the price when you make an offer. For people wanting to sell, the inventory is still very, very low. Yes, it will take 30-60 days, but your house will sell and you likely continue to have a great deal of equity.

I have to say that no one knows for sure. These are simply thoughts shared by people with some knowledge and whose opinions I respect.

As always, thank you for reading the blotter.

Dianne

The Power of 20

Years ago, I realized that the number 20 is very powerful in real estate. It applies both when buying and when selling.

When Buying

I think most people do the bulk of their house hunting online. The Internet is an amazing tool. However, it is also super important to physically visit houses. I think you need to go into them to get a feeling for value. What does $500,000 look like? By the time that you have gone through 20 houses you will have a strong sense of value. You’ll know what feels like a good deal and what feels like it is overpriced.

This does not mean that you absolutely have to see exactly 20 houses. No. In fact, the first house that my husband and I bought was the first house that we looked at. We walked in, fell in love, and made an offer.

20 is simply a good guide and a way to set some expectations for the experience of house hunting.

When Selling

When selling, you need about 20 showings to get an offer. Again, it can happen faster than that, but 20 is a good barometer.

So, if you put your house on the market and you get 20 showings in the first few days, you are going to get an offer quickly.

If the reverse happens and you get 2 showings the first week, and then 2 the next, this means you’re going to be on the market for about 10 weeks to get an offer. If you need an offer more quickly, then you need to drop the price or fix what people are objecting to.

If you get 20 showings and no offer happens, again, you need to drop the price or fix what people are objecting to.

I hope you find this concept useful. As always, thanks for reading the blotter.

Dianne

Getting a Great Inspection

When buying a house, it is just super important to have a really great home inspection. It’s a big deal to buy a house; probably the biggest investment of your life. You want to get it right.

So who should you hire? How do you know you are hiring a professional who will do the most thorough inspection possible.?

I have come to believe that the expensive inspectors ($700+) are worth every extra dollar. First of all, to successfully stay in business at the higher cost level, they have to do a good job. But even more than that, when you hire an expensive inspector, what you are paying for is time.

A less expensive inspector ($350 or so) has to do 2 inspections to make as much money as the person who is charging $700. In other words, they have a schedule to keep. They have to watch their time to be certain that they can conclude the current inspection, get a bit to eat and find a restroom, drive to the next appointment and arrive on time.

The inspector who is charging more, in my experience, only does one inspection a day. At least this is the case with inspectors that I recommend. If they need time to explore the house more and to figure things out, they have the time.

Along with a thorough inspection, a good inspector will also take the time to teach the home buyer some basics about the house. Things like how to change the furnace filter and how often to clean the gutters.

Along with a general inspection, you should plan to have a sewer scope done and to do radon testing. If it’s an older home, you need to find out if there is an in-ground oil tank. The whole process will cost about $1000. As I said, every dollar is worth it.

Both Linda and I recommend excellent inspectors. Feel free to reach out if you would like more information.

Dianne

Moving and Packing Tips

As a Realtor, one of the most educational moments I ever experienced was when I sold my own home and moved with my family to Lake Oswego. We’d had our kids and lived in our prior home for 13 years. I was pretty clueless about how much more complicated our household and possessions had become. I put off packing until about a week before our move. It was a disaster! I was so pressed to get it done on time that I was literally just throwing stuff in boxes! Live and learn, right?

Cardboard boxes and potted plants in empty room. Moving objects are on hardwood floor of new apartment.

Here are some moving and packing tips that I hope you’ll find helpful:

Moving

  1. Start Early. See my comment above. Weeks, if not months, before your move start planning. It will be so much stressful. It will also help prepare your house for marketing.
  2. Get rid of stuff. As we live in our homes, we accumulate stuff. So much of it is neither wanted nor needed. Do you really want to take it with you? Do you want to spend money moving and packing this “stuff”? Get rid of it.
  3. Create a folder. This folder should contain addresses, moving or rental contracts, insurance information, perhaps an itemized list of what you are moving, anything you anticipate in the way of paperwork. Consider creating a hard-copy file. This will be vital if you loose battery charge on laptops or phones
  4. Book early. This helps in two ways: getting the best rates and being assured of availability. Especially in the spring and summer, the moving companies book at least several weeks in advance.
  5. Plan for utilities. This includes both shut off at your old place and start up in your new place. You do not want to be moving into the new house and not have electricity.
  6. Keep essentials with you. A day or two prior to moving pack your luggage: change of clothes, toiletries, etc. Just like when packing for a vacation. In addition, I recommend packing a box of cooking basics like a few plates, cups, bowls, utensils, These would be for an unexpected delay in the delivery of your household goods. Remember to plan for pets and medications.

Packing

  1. Invest in equipment. You’ll need boxes, packing tape, markers, paper towels, garbage bags. If you are moving yourself you’ll need a furniture dolly, furniture pads, tie-down strips and a truck loading ramp
  2. Use the right size boxes. The basic idea is the boxes need to be a weight that can be lifted without straining yourself. Heavy stuff in small boxes (books, etc.), light stuff in big boxes (linens, etc.).
  3. Heavy stuff on the bottom of the box. This will keep the heavy stuff from crushing the light stuff. It will also balance the weight of the box as boxes are stacked.
  4. Don’t leave empty space in the boxes. This will maximize the use of the packing materials, but empty spaces can allow the box to be crushed in transport.
  5. Avoid mixing items from different rooms. When unpacking it will take twice as long if you are running from room to room.
  6. Label each box with what room it is for and a list of the contents
  7. Tape the boxes well. You want a couple of strips across the seams at the bottom and the top, but then do two wraps completely around the box in two places around the top to the bottom and back up to the top again: all the way around.
  8. Take care of your art. You can purchase special boxes and crates for art. Don’t wrap oil paintings in packing paper; it may stick to the paint. Wrap art in bubble wrap. You can also wrap it in bubble wrap, box it, and then place in a second box padded by packing paper.
  9. Kitchen dishes. You can purchase special boxes and packaging for dishes and glasses. They make it all so much easier! If you do end up wrapping with boxes and backing paper try wrapping each piece and then bundling in groups of 4 to 5 pieces and wrapping those together as a bundle with packing paper. Consider packing plates on their sides rather than stacking. Get the boxes with cardboard dividers for glasses. The world of packing materials is pretty broad. Yes, it costs money, but think about the cost of replacing these items. Not to mention, as it is for me, the sadness it would bring to loose special pieces.

I want to give credit to realsimple.com where I got a good bit of guidance for this article.

As always, thank you for reading the blotter,

Dianne

Attached vs Condo, What’s the Difference?

I think that most people think that the word attached (also commonly called townhouse) is based upon the design of the property.  Either one or two story with no neighbor above or below. That is not the case. Attached does mean that you don’t have a neighor above or below, but, more importantly, it means that you own the dirt underneath.  Because you own the dirt, you are responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the crawl space.

There is a huge advantage to purchasing an attached home. Besides not having someone living above you, it is much  easier to finance, which makes it easier to sell. Lenders treat attached houses just like any other house.

 

With a condo you own the interior walls and everything inside of those walls. The exterior walls, crawlspace, and roof are all part of the limited common areas of the home owners association.

Condos can be a little bit problamatic when it comes to financing.  Federal lending guidelines requre that at least 50% of the units be owner occupied, and one individual or entity can not own more than 10% of the units. Additionally, to be FHA financeable, the HOA must apply for and maintain their FHA eligibility. This is often neglected by the HOA and so it is not always availble. Because condos tend to be more affordable, they are often purchased by first time home buyers. With out FHA financing, it can be too hard for first ime buyers to come up with enough of a down payment to purchase in communities that don’t have FHA approval.

When Linda and I do the Market Activity Report, we always indicate if a property is Detached, Attached, or a Condo. I thought it would be helpful if you understood the differences.

As always, thanks for reading the Blotter,

Dianne

Radon and Granite Countertops

At Oregon First we have a gmail group called Haves and Wants. A recent discussion happened about the topic of radon and granite countertops.

Radon comes from granite. When you purchase a home, you should alway do a radon test to see if the radon levels in the house are higher than the EPA limit of 4.0 picocuries. (The World Health Organization recommends a level of not more than 2.7 picocuries.) Generally speaking the granite is in the form of boulders underneath the house, in the ground. You just don’t know whether the house is built over granite boulders or not, so you always test the radon levels.

So if radon comes from granite, what about granite countertops?

This subject came to my attention about 15 years ago. So I dialed up my favorite radon mitigation company and asked if I should be concerned. I was told that, generally speaking, the radon given off by granite countertops was not at a level high enough to be concerned.

Here is the offical EPA information. Click here.

White kitchen design features large bar style kitchen island with granite countertop illuminated by modern pendant lights. Northwest, USA

The bottom line is that you should be concerned about the possibility of radon in a house. Always get it measured. Even if you aren’t buying a house. If you live in a home where you have never measured it, get it measured. You can buy a do-it-yourself test at your local home improvement store, and there are numerous companies who perform this service. The cost to test is $60-$150. Cheap for the peace of mind. If radon is found, the cost to mitigate it is $1500-$3000, generally speaking. Again, cheap for the piece of mind.

I also think that when planning a remodel, don’t assume that just because it is available for purchase it has no issues. Do your research. There are alternatives to granite that are also gorgeous.

I hope that you find this useful. Thank you for reading the blotter.

Dianne

Choosing a Home Inspector

There is a tendancy to shop for good value. It’s bread into us by the reality that making our dollars go further enhances our ability to invest and plan for the future. This is a good trait in people, but when it comes to home inspectors, you really do get what you pay for.

You can get a home inspection done for around $300-$400. The inspectors that I recommend charge twice that. So what’s the difference? Time, my friend. The difference is time.

The good inspectors book 1 or 2 inspections a day. The cheap inspectors book 3-4 a day. This means that in saving money you are probably hiring someone who is checking their watch and thinking that they need time to drive to the next appointment to get there on time.

You just don’t know what is going to turn up in a home inspection. Your inspector needs time to dwell on details and figure the house out. The two companies I recommend most highly are Associated Master Inspectors and Inspectek West. Both have mulitiple employees and anyone of them is terrific. In addition, AMI maintains a contractor list that is long and well vetted. Painters, asbestos abatement, electricians, you name it, they have it. For the AMI contractor list click here.

I want to assure you that I am not in kahoots with either company. I have attended many, many home inspections. I know what a good inspection looks like. In my entire career, I’ve never had a client come back to me after the sale with a horror story of something missed in the home inspection.

I also had a client a few years ago that was certain that I must be recommending people who would go easy on the house so that the sale would be more likely to happen. She hired an inspector who inspected the roof from the driveway. He did not even walk on the roof.

I want my clients to know what they are buying. If something so bad turns up that makes them change their mind about buying the house, I am happy it happened early in the process and that they didn’t buy a problem.

As always, thanks for reading the blotter,

Dianne

Oswego Lake

In the heart of Lake Oswego is Oswego Lake. I decided that today I’d focus on the homes that are actually on the lake. I’m going to share with you a bit of what I have learned over the years.

When I got my real estate license in 1987, one of my very first clients was my former boss, and he bought a home on the lake. Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of working with both buyers and sellers who were involved with properties on Oswego Lake. I’ve learned a bit about the types of housing and the various waterfront options.

There are actually 3 different waterfront options. There is the lake itself. Oswego Lake is a natural body of water that was enlarged by development. The most valuable homes are on the lake itself. Then there are 2 “bays”. The bays are extensions of the lake, but not on the lake itself. There is one at the East end of the lake, Lakewood Bay, and one at the West end of the lake, Westbay. The bays have slightly less value than the main lake, but not by much. Then there are the canals. One of the canals is natural and it is where the water comes into the lake from the Tualatin River. There are two more canals, one at Kelok and one at Blue Heron. The canals are the least expensive of the waterfront homes.

I will also mention that on the main lake, the Northside tends to have higher values than the Southside. This is because the sun exposure is better on the Northside, and the sunlight directly benefits the waterfront exposure. There are a couple of streets on the Southside that pretty much don’t get sun exposure at all.

In the last 12 months 47 lake front properties have sold. The least expensive was in the condominiums “Villas on the Lake”. It was 1 bedroom, 1 bath, and 636 square feet. It sold for $215,000. These condominiums share a community dock and several of them have boat slips. The most expensive home that sold on the lake was a 6675 square foot home with 4 bedrooms and 5.5 bathrooms. With a gated entry and 100 feet of lake front, it sold for $6,175,000.

I think that the condominiums are a bit on an annomoly because most of the lake front properties are just so much more expensive. The average sales price is $2,388,000.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this over view. Please let Linda or I know if you have any questions or are interested in learning more.

Dianne