A bit About Condos

I have always felt that my real estate business goes in waves. There have been times when I was heavily working waterfront on the lake, times when all my business seemed to be new construction, and times when I seemed to be selling older houses. Today I am in a condo wave. I have two listings that are condos and this weekend I have written offers on two more condos. I am up to my ears in condos. I think it is the universe telling me that I need to write a blog post about condos. So here are a few things to keep in mind if you are considering buying a condo.

First, and in my opinion the most important, is that you are not just buying a home, you are buying into a community. Condominiums are governed by Home Owner’s Associations. Your home inspection will have all of the usual criteria for checking out the structure and the components, but you will also have an inspection of the HOA documents.

HOA documents include rules and regulations that tell you what is and what is not allowed. All usually have a clause for “nuisance” behavior, but some can be pretty restrictive. I have seen rules that don’t let you have anything showing inside of your window that could be objectionable. The two most common issues that you will want to be sure of is whether or not pets are allowed and whether or not rentals are allowed. You need to know these things going in and not after you own it.

Other important documents are about the financial health of the association. You want to see that they have money in reserve to take care of maintenance and repairs. This will include the current year’s budget, and also a reserve study. The reserve study projects into the future for replacement of big items like roofs and siding. While I know everyone hates to pay a monthly HOA fee, and often will rule out buying a condo because the fee seems too high, it is actually super important that the fees collected are enough to not just pay for the current maintenance like mowing the lawns and paying for garbage removal, but also are enough to over time add up to some rather significant amounts of savings. If proper saving isn’t done, then when the time comes to do major repairs the association will be forced to do a special assessment to cover the costs. A special assessment is much more financially painful than smaller amounts collected monthly over time.

You will also want to see the meeting notes from the HOA meetings of the last year. If there is a problem in the complex, they are likely talking about it at the meetings.

Financing of a condo can also be challenging when you go to get a mortgage. Most HOA’s restrict how many units can be rented out and this is important. Fannie Mae lending guidelines require that at least 50% of the units be owner occupied. For financing such as VA and FHA, the criteria to obtain these types of loans require that the Home Owner’s Association apply for the qualification. The VA loan application is a one time issue and runs with the complex forever once it’s approved. FHA is more complicated and must be renewed every few years at a cost of both time and money. So to have FHA approval it requires a Board of Directors that is motivated and on the ball.

Condos are terrific because they are generally less expensive than a house, require much less personal labor to up keep, and are ideal if you want a lifestyle where you can lock your door and be away for extended periods. With the cost of housing being a premium, they are truly the only option for many people.

There are also a really wide variety of condos. Some are super luxurious with top-of-the-line finishes and services. Others are bare bones and feel like what they once were, apartments. The least expensive condo for sale in Lake Oswego right now is a 1 bedroom, 1 bath unit on State Street. It has 829 square feet and is for sale for $170,000. The most expensive has 4 bedrooms, 4.5 baths, with 4911 square feet and is listed for $1,798,000.

If you have other questions, please contact any one of us. Linda, Whitney and I are all here to help.

Buying A Condo

Condos appeal to buyers for a couple of very specific reasons. First is the appeal of having all of the exterior maintenance taken care of for them. If you travel a lot, are physically unable to do yard work, or simply prefer having someone else take care of things, a condo might be a good fit in your life. The other significant reason people may choose a condo is it is a great first purchase. Condos can often be bought for significantly less than a detached home.

Lake Oswego has a very large assortment of condos. Mountain Park was one of the first planned communities in the U.S. and a big part of that plan was an assortment of condominiums. At the very top of Mountain Park is Oswego Summit with it’s 2 swimming pools and views of Mt. Hood. Then there are the luxury condos that have been built on the Willamette River, on the Lake, and in First Addition. These complexes are located in highly desirable areas and have features such as secured parking and large terraces.

Some quick stats:
There are currently 68 condos for sale in Lake Oswego priced from a low of $43,500 (932 square feet with 2 bedrooms and 1 bath) to a high of $1,895,000 (on the Willamette River with 4784 square feet, 3 bedrooms and 3 1/2 baths).

21 Condos are in escrow with accepted offers waiting to be closed.

54 condos have sold in the last 6 months.

At any given time you’ll find a good selection to choose from.

There are some specific things you need to think about if you are considering a condo purchase. When you make an offer, make sure it is subject to review of these items:

Ask to read the last 12 months of minutes from the Home Owner Association meetings. If there are problems in the complex, people will be talking about them at these meetings. This is probably the easiest way to find out issues.

Make your offer subject to obtaining and approving of financial statements for the HOA (Home Owner’s Association). You want to see that the HOA has been doing maintenance and upkeep. That they have reserves being built up on account for significant repairs such as roof replacement or paving. And you want to see that they are projecting future expenses and not just working on an emergency basis.

Ask the seller for full disclosure of any upcoming special assessments or any litigation that the HOA may be involved in.

When you have your home inspection done, have the inspector walk the complex and inspect it as well. Does he/she see dry rot on decks or worn roofing shingles? If so, find out if the HOA has plans to address correcting these issues.

Buying a condo is different from buying a house. You are buying into a community with shared responsibilities and obligations. You want to make sure the HOA will be a good fit for you and not throw any surprises your way after you move in.

There is a tendency to want to buy a condo with small HOA dues. The HOA dues are paid monthly, in most cases, and cover things like landscape maintenance and repair of the exterior of buildings. Sure, it’s nice to have small monthly expenses. But the problem with small HOA dues is that money is then not collected for future expenses. And when those expenses arise and there is not enough money in reserve, then all of the members of the HOA have to pony up and pay a special assessment. These assessments can be in the thousands of dollars. So do your homework and get to know the HOA before you buy. Don’t necessarily opt to buy a condo just because the HOA dues are small. Small monthly dues can mean big special assessments later.

Please let us know if you have any questions about condos. Linda and I are here to help.

Green Water (ing)

perennialThough you wouldn’t know it today to look out my window (cloudy & some drizzle), it is summer, sunbeams have been out in force, and temps have been shooting up along with the plants in our yards and gardens. Some of this has to do with the heat, and some has to do with the fact that we are watering things while there is heat. At this time of year, and especially during a recession, we all need a refresher course on watering, and Lake Oswego is only too happy to oblige!

7dees2Water conservation experts from the Regional Water Providers Consortium (RWPC) are visiting Lake Oswego for a session with local residents where they plan to hand out free water gauges and lots of good tips for water-efficient landscaping and maintenance. This event will be held this Saturday, June 13th, at Dennis’ 7 Dees Garden Center, 1090 McVey Ave., from 10 AM to 2 PM.

The Consortium has an amazing website that reminds me how much there grass4is to learn. I remember thinking, when I was much younger and of course knew much more than I do today (or thought I did), that being a native of Southern California (Hey… No ribbing… I’ve been here since 1978!) , I had a very hard time believing that there was truly any need to conserve water in Oregon… I mean come on! With all the rainfall, the huge river running through town, the snowy mountain peaks dribbling water through Portland all year long… How was I supposed to believe that we actually needed to pay much attention at all to water consumption? Well, in recent years we have all learned how integral our activities are to maintaining the living environment we so cherish and want to hand to our children. There really are limits to what nature can provide us in our current numbers & given the constraints of our infrastructure. Then, there is that money thing… Practical tips for saving money while saving water? I’m all ears!
Among the vast array of uselful material to be found at the RWPC site are the following good pieces of information:

  • Use Mulch! It is important to know what kind to use however: –Organic Mulches (aged manure, bark chips, wood chips) and compost material will significantly decrease the amount of water you will need for plant health. Specifically, the addition of as little as 5% organic material can quadruple your soil’s ability to store water, decreasing the watering needed. – Inorganic mulches like stones, concrete and gravel can be great for creating landscape patterns etc., but also “re-radiate” the sun’s heat and cause an increase in the amount of water needed to care for surrounding plants.
  • Create Watering Zones – These would be areas of your property wherein similar types of plants reside hopefully having similar watering requirements. (Lawn areas, rose garden, annual garden, perennial garden etc) This way you avoid the “one system fits all” mentality and the over-watering that results for some garden areas.
  • Adjust Watering Schedules Frequently – As the temperatures shift during the summer, you will want to adjust your watering schedules accordingly.
  • Managed Stress in the Landscape – There are all sorts of seemingly complicated formulas to help you determine how much to water a lawn at any given temperature. The RWPC site simplifies this information and helps you understand the “Stressing” concept, which basically means watering as little as possible forcing lawns to use their natural coping mechanisms and give you a green lawn all summer without the heavy over-watering that is so prevalent.
  • Water Plants Thoroughly but Infrequently – This causes roots to go deeper and therefore be more drought resistant/require less watering.
  • Water When Temps are Cooler – Preferably before 10:00AM or after 6:00PM.
  • Use Drip Irrigation Where Possible – Large water droplets close to the ground are much more efficient than sprinkler systems which lose a lot of water to evaporation.
  • Don’t Water in the Rain – Use rain sensors and gauges to eliminate unnecessary automatic watering when it is raining.

First Time Home Buyer? ~ What to Expect:


I was reading an article recently regarding the $8,000. tax credit for first time home buyers, and the writer expressed shock at how many people are completely unaware of it. I have noticed in my own practice recently that the larger PR machine has evidently not been doing a very good job at educating the public, as some of my clients reveal innocence on this subject as well when they discuss their leisurely plans to purchase “sometime in January of next year” etc. (the tax credit is only applicable if the home purchase is completed before December 1st of this year.) I also have heard more & more folks lately talking about attending “First Time Home Buyer Classes” presented usually by Realtors and Mortgage Brokers as a service to the public.

It seems to me that there is a real need for information out there right now. I thought I’d give a little primer below on at least the basics of what to expect during your first home-buying experience. Hope you find it helpful!

(Note: The sequence below does not apply to each and every transaction as each is individual and scenarios/time lines obviously vary. Your Realtor will be doing many more things behind the scenes than I indicate below as well, but I am sticking to outlining YOUR experience and how you can expect that to unfold… generally speaking.)

  • Retain services of a mortgage professional (lender) to give you best options for financing, and have an approval letter ready for you when you make an offer. Discuss “closing costs” with your mortgage professional, and review the “good faith estimate” that they will provide to you. (If you have a relationship with a Realtor first, ask them to recommend good resources for you.)
  • Work with your Realtor to find the home that meets your needs.
  • Work with your Realtor to determine appropriate offer & details/then write it up.
  • Realtor submits offer to Seller along with approval letter from lender and earnest money check. Note: The EM check is to show good faith, and is applied to the sale should your offer be accepted and proceed to close. Talk with your Realtor about what amount will put your best foot forward. (*Sometimes Promissory Notes may be used, and/but I highly recommend using an EM check to be taken most seriously.
  • Receive response/acceptance/counter from Seller in time frame you specified on the offer (in a normal transaction you typically ask for response within 24 hours, but if it is a “short sale”, the process of hearing back that you are indeed accepted by all parties concerned can take months.)
  • Upon mutual acceptance (usually within 1-3 days), schedule an inspection ASAP (you have 10 business days to conduct inspections & may back out if concerns arise during this time). Your Realtor will help you with this- Ask him or her for good resources to guide you through the process of inspecting the home. Prices vary, but a 2000 square foot house will often run around $400. more or less, and size as well as other factors come into play in the cost of an inspection.
  • Upon mutual acceptance, your earnest money check is sent to the Escrow Office, and held by them on your behalf until closing, or until nullification of the offer if this occurs within your inspection period.
  • Realtor writes and negotiates any Inspection Addendum items during this period according to your wishes (you will work with your Realtor to discuss and determine any give and take in the negotiation process that may occur. Your Realtor will offer you information and give professional advice, negotiating on your behalf and with your permission. You are in the driver’s seat, and you make the final decisions albeit under good counsel.
  • Upon mutual acceptance & reaching the end of your inspection period, your Realtor notifies the lender who orders the appraisal.
  • Your Realtor continues to work with the lender as the lending process moves forward. As long as the appraisal comes back at or above sale/offer price, you will proceed to closing through the underwriting process of the lender. Should the property not appraise for at least the sale amount, the lender will bring this to your attention and there will be some decisions for you to make around the sale price and your desire for the home (you are not required to pay any monies over and above the appraisal amount, and lenders will not lend more than the appraised value generally speaking.)
  • You may be requested by the underwriter to provide additional information on a case by case basis. Your Realtor will work with you and help in any way possible and appropriate to facilitate the flow of information required from you, but you are in the driver’s seat as far as responsibility to provide the necessary information to the lender.
  • When all underwriter/lender requirements have been met, the file is signed off by the underwriter, and passed to Escrow. The whole lender process usually takes around 3-4 weeks.
  • Escrow processes all paperwork, title insurance, and all distribution of funds between you and the seller as per the contract provisions agreed upon between you and the Seller. Documents are drafted, and a “signing date/time” is scheduled. (“Signing” is not the same as “Closing”.)
  • Your Realtor will often attend your signing with you to help with any questions that arise, and to offer moral support. (Frankly, I just love being a part of the exciting culmination of the home buying adventure!)
  • Escrow will then send signed documents back to the lender, and to the county. The transaction will then “close” or “fund & record” in 1-2 days after signing, at which time you will receive a call that you are a homeowner!
  • Your Realtor will usually meet you at your new home and deliver you the keys. (More fun!)
  • The whole process from offer to close usually takes around 30 days… sometimes 40-45. It can take a little longer depending on the lender, and sometimes it takes less time than that. You and your Realtor will assign a “no later than” date on your offer in conjunction with talking to the lender about their current load & closing time line. All parties are then obligated to “perform” within that time frame, or draft an addendum extending the closing date if that proves necessary and IF all parties agree to do it. (Because there always exists the possibility that one party may not agree to sign an extension addendum, and the contract specifically states “on or before” a particular date, the closing date is a binding contractual agreement and should be taken very seriously. As a buyer, your earnest money is at stake if you should not “perform” to contact terms.)

The above may be missing some pieces of the puzzle as each transaction is different, and various issues can arise during the process, but hopefully this give you a basic idea of how it will go!

~ The Dog Whisperer ~

valerie_3There is such a panoply of amenities in Lake Oswego that Dianne and I have been talking about incorporating profiles of local favorites from time to time. I thought I’d begin with a very special person who I would be lost without… my local “dog-whisperer”, Valerie Pulley.

Ever notice that periodically certain topics tend to pop up any time you turn on the television or are in conversations with different groups of people? Lately itnyree1 seems it has been the subject of pets, and dogs in particular. We all know what a Portuguese Water Dog is now, thanks to “Beau” at the White House. I know our own friend & blogging cohort, Ron Ares, wrote a post most recently about his own dog, Nyree (left), adopted by the Ares family to save her from becoming a casualty of foreclosure. I’ve seen pieces on local and national news about the amazing number of dogs that have been abandoned or taken to shelters as fallout from the current economy, and it is heartbreaking to consider.

Recently, a friend of mine who has been experiencing the stress of the economy herself, told me a story that made me race out the door, camera and notepad in hand. My friend’s dog was badly in need of grooming, being a breed that really needs some professional upkeep. It had been awhile, and though she felt horrible about it, she just didn’t have the funds to spare. We both frequent the same wonderful dog groomer, Valerie Pulley, and she told me that Valerie was so concerned about her pooch that she called & asked my friend to please just come in and consider it her gift. Valerie knew the dog needed her attention, and decided that this was the most important thing. Well… word about special people like Valerie spreads quickly in a community like Lake Oswego, and while I don’t want to encourage others to solicit favors : ) I DO want folks to know about her, and others like her, and so a few words about this exceptional person:

Valerie has been a professional dog groomer since 1994 when she completed her schooling in Phoenix. Her mother was a dog breeder, and Valerie’s plan in the beginning was simply to assist her mother. It didn’t take her long to realize that she had a special talent, and wanted to make this her career. Valerie just loves dogs, and they tend to sense it. Her ownkato1 Staffordshire Terrier, Fedore, is her pride & joy, I’ve been taking my crazy black Standard Schnauzer, Kato (right) , to Valerie for years, and she is the only one who can calm him down enough to let his toenails be clipped. Turns out others have noticed this talent as well, and dog owners from far and wide bring their “hard to handle” pets to Valerie for tender loving care. Valerie mentions that “Some dogs have been kicked out of every grooming salon in Portland for biting, scratching, and generally squirming and freaking out. They bring them to me because I am the only one they’ve found to be able to handle them.” I valerie_4ask her why she thinks this is, and she says “I’m just not afraid of them, and I care about them.” She has been working in the Lake Oswego area for around 12 years now, spending some of her career at the Lake Oswego Dog Shoppe, and now is working for Groomingdales in Tualatin on Nyberg Rd., just about five minutes from my house & a toe over the Lake Oswego borderline. A customer notices that I am interviewing Valerie and volunteers “I come here all the way from Sherwood. They’re so nice & so good I wouldn’t go anywhere else.” For my part, I’ll go anywhere Valerie is… and Kato is very grateful.

You can reach Valerie at: 503 692 WOOF (9663).

Condos, Town Homes, HOA’s, Oh My!

townhomeWhen looking for a new home and desiring easy care and potential community amenities such as pool, larger grounds, meeting space etc (without the responsibility of upkeep), most people will consider either a condo or a town home. Most also aren’t necessarily familiar with several relative factors important to the selection process, so I thought I’d highlight just a few for you here.

First of all, there is a difference between a condo and a town home ~

Let’s start with condos: A condo (condominium) is a kind of home ownership wherein the purchaser owns the air space inside the unit and joint interest in the common areas, typically the grounds, parking lot, any structures and amenities such as swimming pool, meeting rooms etc. Condo owners belong to an HOA (homeowners association) and pay dues for common expenses such as insurance and maintenance of common areas.

Townhomes are what we call “attached” homes, considered not free-standing and usually containing two or more stories. A purchaser owns the structure and the land on which it sits, and like a condo, generally joint interest in the common areas . Often with town homes you will have a small backyard or patio area which is in excess of what many condos provide, so gardeners or pet owners often find this more attractive. As in condo ownership, the town home owner typically pays monthly dues for upkeep of common areas and other amenities. It is wise to check into the insurance setup of on HOA to find out if it is supplied and therefore included in the monthly dues, or whether the town home purchaser needs to secure their own hazard insurance on the property.

Generally speaking, condos and town homes are attractive for more reasons than just low maintenance and the amenities they afford. They usually are priced well below what one would pay for a similar detached single family residence… or “house”. One thing to give attention to however, is finding out how much the HOA dues are, and what they cover. Does the HOA offer parking? water & sewer? trash collection? cable TV? Take these things into consideration and ask yourself how positively you are offset financially (or not) by being free of these normal expenses of home ownership.

Another thing to take into consideration is the solvency and efficiency of the HOA. I have listed condos and town homes and experienced neighbors in surrounding HOA’s visiting on Open House days, exploring the option of getting out of their own nearby complexes! This is reportedly due to the perception of either oppressive or mis-managed HOA’s. I’ve heard stories of frequently raised dues, extreme restrictions, and just plain inattentiveness… while the HOA next door treats its members with appreciation and service. Bottom line- check out the HOA:

  • Call & obtain copies of at least the two most recent board meeting minutes,
  • Obtain financial statements,
  • Take a look at the Bylaws and Regulations,
  • Find out how much the HOA has in reserves so you have an idea of whether they are in need of maintenance funds,
  • Talk to a few neighbors and get a feel for their level of satisfaction ,
  • Find out whether you might or might not be able to rent your unit out in the future if you so choose,
  • Ask how many units are in the complex, and how many are allowed to be rental units,
  • Does the HOA allow gardening in the back patio area?
  • Are there any restrictions that will impact your lifestyle?
  • Determine if there are any lawsuits anticipated or pending,
  • Ask whether there are any big improvement projects planned which will require capital infusion (i.e. significant dues increases).

Condos and town homes are wonderful options for home ownership, and can be a great place to start as first time buyers, as well as a fantastic way to downsize once the kids are gone. Talk to your Realtor about what makes sense for you, and be sure to get all the facts!