Western Washington Real Estate Market Update

 

ECONOMIC OVERVIEW

Washington State continues to see strong employment growth, outpacing national numbers with an annual rate of more than 3%. Interestingly enough, despite these substantial job gains, the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high at 5.8%. However, I’m not overly concerned about this because it’s largely due to a growing labor force rather than a declining job market. This means that those who are unemployed who had previously stopped looking for work are now resurrecting their job searches because they have confidence in the economy.

I expect to see a modest drop in the unemployment rate through the balance of the year, and believe we will continue to outperform the nation as a whole with above-average job gains.

 

HOME SALES ACTIVITY

  • There were 22,721 home sales during the second quarter of 2016, up by 4.4% from the same period in 2015. We finally saw a much-needed increase in listings, which rose by 30.1% between first and second quarter. This increase in the number of homes for sale led to an increase in sales, which rose by 4.4% when compared to the same period in 2015.
     
  • Island County saw sales grow at the fastest rate over the past 12 months, with sales up by 22.1%. This is a small county which is subject to wild swings, so I take the data at face value. That said, the larger Thurston County saw sales up by an equally impressive 19.7%. Most interesting is that King County saw sales fall modestly compared to the same time period in 2015. Price—and supply—are clearly an issue in the most populous county in our state.
     
  • Overall listing activity was down by 21.8% compared to the second quarter of 2015, but the good news is that the supply side deficit is actually getting a little less than we have seen over the past few years. The total number of homes for sale was 30.1% higher than seen at the end of the first quarter. While much of this can be attributed to seasonality, it is still nice to see!
     
  • The region is experiencing positive job growth, and with it, migration to Washington State is running at a very brisk pace. Given these factors—in addition to our lack of new home construction—it is not surprising to see demand substantially usurping supply. As I look forward, I believe inventory levels will continue to rise modestly, but it will remain a solidly seller's market for the rest of the year.

 

 

HOME PRICES

  • With demand still exceeding supply, we should not be surprised to see average sale prices continuing to rise, as is certainly the case in our region. Home prices rose by 8.1% between the second quarter of 2015 and the second quarter of this year. This is down from the annual rate of 10.1% that we showed in our last report, but the rate is still far higher than the historic average of 4%.
     
  • Regular readers of this report will remember that there were several counties where average sale prices in the first quarter were actually lower than seen a year before. I suggested that seasonality was to blame and that was indeed the case, with all counties in this report now showing annualized price gains.
     
  • When compared to the second quarter of 2015, price growth was most pronounced in San Juan County and, in total, there were nine counties where annual price growth exceeded 10%. 

 

  • The prevailing supply/demand imbalance continues to push prices higher, and persistently low interest rates are just adding fuel to the flames. If rates stay at current levels, it is unlikely that we will see much in the way of slowing appreciation for the rest of the year.

 

 

DAYS ON MARKET

  • The average number of days it took to sell a home dropped by 17 days when compared to the second quarter of 2015.
     
  • It took an average of 67 days to sell a home in the second quarter of this year—down from both the 86 days it took to sell a home in the first quarter of this year, and from the 84 days that it took to sell a home in the second quarter of 2015.
     
  • The only market where the length of time it took to sell a home rose was in the notoriously fickle San Juan County, where it rose by 30 days to 196 days. In the rest of the region, the average decrease in the time it took to sell a home between the second quarter of 2015 and the second quarter of 2016 was 20 days.

 

  • Snohomish County has joined King County as a market that takes less than a month to sell a home. At 18 days, King County is unarguably the hottest market in the region, but sales are slowing due to the lack of inventory. This imbalance is unsustainable over the long term.

 

 

CONCLUSIONS

This speedometer reflects the state of the region’s housing market using housing inventory, price gains, sales velocities, interest rates, and larger economics factors. For the second quarter of 2016, I am leaving the needle in the same position as last quarter. Inventory levels have improved, albeit modestly, and price growth has slowed very slightly. However, this is offset by a jump in pending sales, a slightly higher number of closed sales, and a drop in interest rates. As such, the region remains staunchly a seller's market.

 

Matthew Gardner is the Chief Economist for Windermere Real Estate, specializing in residential market analysis, commercial/industrial market analysis, financial analysis, and land use and regional economics. He is the former Principal of Gardner Economics, and has over 25 years of professional experience both in the U.S. and U.K.

 

Seattle Seahawks and Windermere Real Estate Announce New Partnership

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To say that Windermere has a lot of Seahawks fans would be an understatement. That’s why we are so excited to announce today that we are now the “Official Real Estate Company of the Seattle Seahawks”!

At the center of this partnership with the Seahawks is a new #tacklehomelessness campaign in which the Windermere Foundation will donate $100 for every Seahawks tackle at home during the 2016 season. On the receiving end of these donations is YouthCare, a Seattle-based non-profit organization that has been providing services and support to homeless youth from across Puget Sound for more than 40 years. Since 1989, the Windermere Foundation has donated over $30 million to non-profits that support low-income and homeless families, so partnering with YouthCare and the Seahawks on the #tacklehomelessness campaign is a perfect fit for us.

“We are proud to partner with Windermere, an iconic and locally-based company with a deep commitment to this community,” said Seahawks Vice President of Corporate Partnerships Amy Sprangers. “Windermere’s brand and values align perfectly with our commitment to this region. It is wonderful that this partnership will make a positive impact on homeless youth throughout the Seattle area.”

If you’re not already excited about the upcoming Seahawks season, this video should do it.

Now say it with us . . . Go Hawks!

6 Alternative Flooring Solutions to Refresh Your Home

Feeling ho-hum about classic hardwood floors? Here are six alternative floor solutions that can give any room in your house a fresh sense of personality, whether you’re starting from scratch or looking for an inexpensive DIY update.

1. Rubber. Often associated with commercial interiors, industrial rubber flooring can also be a sleek and smart solution for homes. Rubber is comfortable to stand on, easy to clean and durable enough to take on plenty of mess and abuse — great for an entry, a mudroom or a laundry room. From a style perspective, it gives a room a hint of an industrial edge, but in warm muted tones that still create an inviting air.

In a kitchen, a rubber floor is a chef’s dream, as it cushions the feet while the cook is standing to reduce fatigue. Plus, the textural surface reduces slipping hazards from spills and is very child-friendly.

7 Kitchen Flooring Materials to Boost Your Cooking Comfort

 

DHV Architects, original photo on Houzz

 

Want a rubber floor with a less industrial vibe? Choose sheets or tiles of rubber with a flat surface dyed to various hues that draw from the tones in stone tile. You wouldn’t guess this floor is rubber by looking at it, but your feet would be able to tell.

Cost: Rubber flooring can be extremely inexpensive but, in general, quality materials start at $12 per square foot. Anything below that would probably be of a quality that wouldn’t look appropriate inside a home.

 

Green Goods, original photo on Houzz

 

2. Bamboo. Bamboo flooring is similar to wood flooring in many ways, but it imparts a Zen flair that can add a sense of peace to a room. And it is typically more moisture-resistant and hard-wearing than wood.

It should be noted that not every bamboo product is equally environmentally conscious. For one thing, shipping products from overseas can quickly make up for any carbon-footprint cost saved during production. However, if you are looking for a durable natural floor that’s sustainably grown, bamboo is a great option to consider.

It’s also worth noting that bamboo flooring can come in quite a variety of styles. A higher-contrast grain and stain can create an exotic look, for an effect that is playful and energetic rather than soft and tranquil.

If you love the look of walnut or zebrawood, bamboo can recreate that vibe with a stronger surface, and without cutting down any rare trees.

Keep in mind that the stains and adhesives involved in bamboo flooring can off-gas with an unpleasant odor, so those who are sensitive to chemicals may want to avoid the space immediately following an installation, or look at traditional hardwoods instead.

Cost: Bamboo is generally comparable in price to hardwoods, running about $2 to $8 per square foot.

 

3. Parquet. Everything old is new again, and while some homeowners (and many renters) are wishing away their parquet floors, others are installing them anew. These patterned wood floors add a sense of life and richness to a home, bringing visual interest and a sense of dynamic energy that typical straight-laid planks can’t match.

Installing wood in a parquet pattern also gives a lot more character to inexpensive local woods that might not have an exciting grain. For a patient DIYer, a parquet floor gives a high-fashion look with a much lower price tag than some other choices.

 

Arnold Ziffel, original photo on Houzz

 

To give a classic block parquet layout a modern twist, use an oversized pattern in squares 12 inches or bigger. And, yes, a warm honey or orange tinted stain is back as well, especially mixed with classic modern furnishings in deep rich tones like chocolate, ruddy tan or espresso or crisp, airy whites.

Cost: Installation fees may be a bit higher than for straight-laid flooring, but the material cost can be as low as a few dollars per square foot.

See These Styles at Your Local Showroom

 

ABRAMS, original photo on Houzz

 

4. Painted. Think painted wood floors are only for cottages? As with walls, painting a floor can create as many different moods and effects as there are colors of paint. And if you choose a paint in a durable finish, it will hold up just as well as your wall paint does.

For a contemporary interior, consider a painted floor in a simple, natural hue like a muted beige or an off-white, and mix it with anything from antiques to midcentury classics or hip, trendy pieces.

You can kick up the style of a painted floor another notch by creating patterned effects that echo stone inlays, without that thousands-of-dollars investment. With a little painter’s tape and patience, this can be another great DIY approach to getting high style at home without ripping out your existing wood.

For those who do prefer a relaxed cottage air, a muted color adds a lot of charm, much like an accent wall, only underfoot. Try pale blue for a semi-neutral that will work with neutrals or other colors without clashing.

Cost: Paint and a top coat will cost a few dollars per square foot, and can be applied to existing flooring (with some good sanding and prep) or to inexpensive wood planks for a new installation.

 

Christian Gladu Design, original photo on Houzz

 

5. Concrete. Concrete floors may sound like the domain of cold, minimalist works of architecture, but they can actually come in many forms to suit various tastes and personalities. Like wood, concrete can be stained (or tinted), allowing the material to feel quite warm and human in a way that beautifully suits transitional or traditional spaces.

Why choose concrete? Well, you can imagine that if the material can handle the wear and tear in an auto factory or warehouse, it can easily handle pets, children and sharp heels.

For an added seal and a gloss effect, concrete is sometimes finished with a coat of resin. This gallery-like look typically comes with a gallery price tag, but for those who enjoy a modern atmosphere with a perfect polish, this look is definitely photoshoot-ready.

It should be noted that concrete does not retain heat well, and thus can be chilly without a heated floor system, but extremely cozy with one installed.

Cost: With heated floors and a sleek finish, the cost can definitely add up. Your budget could range from $2 to $20 per square foot and beyond.

 

6. Cork. Cork flooring, like bamboo, can be developed very sustainably, making many cork products a smart choice for those hoping to reduce their environmental impact.

In the case of cork, the finish is very important to determining how water-resistant the product will be. However, cork has natural springiness that makes it feel extra comfortable (a little like rubber) and makes it resistant to dents and dings. Plus, it has a unique visual texture that’s a little like wood’s but with a twist, for a very livable sense of flair.

 

KCS Design, original photo on Houzz

 

More Living Room Designs

Cork works beautifully for sleek modern spaces or contemporary ones, as it has a natural softness that gives it a friendly vibe. If you’re considering using carpet in some rooms and wood in others, consider cork for the entire home, and get the best of both worlds along with a sense of harmony.

Cost: Cork ranges from $3 to $8 per square foot, but keep in mind that some products may require an additional sealant to hold up to moisture and possible stains.

 

By Yanic Simard, Houzz

Planning for the Future: Housing Options to Consider

It should come as no surprise that 75% of the senior citizens polled in the latest AARP Preferences survey strongly agreed with the statement, “What I’d like to do is stay in my current residence as long as possible.” After all, home is where the heart is; and the longer you live in a place, the stronger your attachment to it becomes.

But it’s important for those over 50 to assess potential lifestyle modifications that may be necessary down the road well in advance, because many will require significant research and preparation.

Whether you are planning for your own future or that of a loved one, analyzing new housing options before a change becomes necessary will help ensure you have the greatest number of options with the least amount of stress. Here are some considerations to help guide you or your loved one through the process.

 

Location and size

In planning for the future, communication with all involved parties is key to understanding where you or the senior in your life wants to be. Many seniors want to be close to family and friends.  Proximity or access to basic needs is also a critical consideration, especially for those who no longer drive.

Once an area is chosen, think about how much space is needed. Most seniors choose to downsize to a smaller home, and here are many advantages to this. A smaller home generally means less maintenance, lower mortgage or rental costs, and lower taxes. Less space can also be easier to manage. Single-level homes are a good option for those with decreased mobility and can help reduce the likelihood of falls and injuries. You’ll also want to consider whether a yard is needed, and whether you’d need someone else to maintain it.

 

Multi-family home

Multi-family homes, such as condominiums, cooperatives and townhomes, are well-suited for senior living, offering many options for budgets, maintenance and amenities. But most people don’t fully understand the differences between them.

Condominiums and cooperatives offer benefits of homeownership, but allow for certain expenses to be shared by all owners. Other benefits include security, shared building insurance and possible onsite amenities. Monthly fees are collected in both condominiums and cooperatives to maintain the property and any amenities, and both have elected boards of representatives who meet regularly to review operating expenses and building issues. Condominium ownership is based only on the unit, with taxes paid by the owner. In cooperatives, owners are shareholders, giving them sole rights and equity of their unit, but property taxes are shared by the building and included in your monthly fees.

Townhomes, on the other hand, allow for ownership of the structure and the land it sits on (front and back yards). Most are designed as row-houses, with one or two common walls. For those who prefer the legal rights of single-family ownership and do not want to pay monthly dues and do not want to pay monthly dues, a townhome may be the best option.

Drawbacks of multi-family homes can include noise from shared walls or floors, homeowner’s associations, monthly fees and CC&Rs (covenants, conditions and restrictions).

 

Renting

Renting can be a good way to avoid homeownership costs and maintenance. It may also be a more affordable way to live in a desirable area. Cons of renting can include noise through shared walls, the potential for your rent to increase over time, difficult or unreliable landlords, inattention to maintenance issues, and the possibility that you may need to move if the property is sold. It’s a good idea to talk to one or more current tenants of the rental to find out what their experience has been with the property and the landlord.

 

Alternative senior living options: independent and assisted

Another solution to consider for yourself or your family member is independent living communities (also called senior apartments, retirement communities, retirement communities, retirement homes and senior housing). Independent living communities provide privacy, independence, and the opportunity to connect with others without the demands of homeownership. They are usually full-service, offering meals, housekeeping, transportation and social activities.

For those who struggle with day-to-day living responsibilities, it may be time to consider assisted living arrangements. Some options include Adult Day Care, Elder Cottage Housing Opportunities (ECHO), Group Home, Special Care Unit (SCU) or Nursing Homes. Your state human resources department can usually provide more information about these options in your community and offer help with referrals, or you can opt for private referral services.

 

Financial factors

The costs for alternative housing can add up quickly—especially as the need for assistance increases. Medicare, unfortunately, does not pay for housing; but under strict financial restrictions, Medicaid may. To get a better feel for just how much these living arrangements can cost, visit GenWorth.com and search the cost of long term care where you live.

If the choice is made not to move, you could consider a reverse mortgage. This allows homeowners over the age of 65 to tap into their home equity in lieu of a monthly payment, with no repayment necessary as long as the property is their principal residence and they meet all the terms of the agreement. Keep in mind, however, that if the owner sells the home, dies, or does not meet the terms of the agreement, they or their family will be required to pay the remaining balance of the loan.

Some states offer assistance with property tax, or special assessments for seniors based on age, disability and household income. Check with your State Department of Revenue to see what options exist in your state and whether you qualify. Long-term care insurance is another option. An LTC policy will help pay for the costs not covered by traditional health insurance or Medicare (which can include assistance with daily-living activities, as well as the care provided in a variety of living/care facilities).

 

For more help and information

Your Windermere Real Estate agent can help you make the transition when the time is right by assessing the local property market, helping you properly price homes for sale, and finding a new home that best meets the unique needs of you or your loved ones. 

The Timeless Appeal of the Equestrian Life

 

Bronte Jacket with Fox and Horn Scarf, photo: O’Shaughnessey Apparel

 

Recently, I put my well-worn paddock boots away for a weekend and treated myself to a trip to New York. Though I love my horses and thoroughly enjoy taking care of them (yep, I even enjoy mucking their stalls!), I needed a little vacation, and New York is my version of Disneyland so off I went. It had been a few years since my last visit to the Big Apple and, as I walked the streets happily window shopping and people watching, I just had to giggle to myself. No matter what part of town I was in - Soho, Midtown, Upper Eastside - I saw well-dressed ladies wearing tall riding boots, snaffle-bit style belts and purses with a distinctly “horsey” feel to them.

 

Flynn Equestrian Jacket, photo: O’Shaughnessey Apparel

 

It struck me, in the midst of a big bustling city where the only horses are the giant stone ones gracing the façades of old buildings and the few scattered cart horses pulling excited tourists through Central Park, that no matter who you are or where you live, the equestrian lifestyle has ubiquitous appeal.  We all know that Ralph Lauren played a big role in defining this style in America, and clearly his influence has not dampened in decades but rather given inspiration to dozens of new designers creating in the same milieu. Lauren has built an empire on equestrian life images but, let’s face it, none of the folks running around in his famous Polo shirt just left a match. It’s probably safe to say that the majority of folks wearing a Polo have never even been to a match, and most polo players are probably not wearing Ralph Lauren (sorry Ralph).  So, what is this appeal?

 

Tara Hacking Jacket and Leila Ombre Scarf, photo: O’Shaughnessey Apparel

 

I don’t think it’s simply because equestrian sports are often favored by the mega wealthy, and hence that wearing equestrian-styled clothing somehow puts one in a league with the rich and famous. I believe it’s also about the feeling you get when you are near a horse. Horses have a regal quality and it is they who give meaning to the sport and the lifestyle. A horse would just as soon throw a prince off his back as a pauper. Likewise, he will just as likely love and care for a little girl astride his back for the very first time as the 90-year-old Queen of England.  Being in the presence of a horse makes us feel special, and who doesn’t like feeling special?

 

Pure and simple, horses are magic and we all want a little more magic in our lives.  Horses have carried us through war and peace, pleasure and competition. And even if you can’t have one to call your very own, wearing horse-inspired apparel makes us feel special, refined, and maybe even a little bit powerful. Just like the beautiful animals we so admire.

 

KiamaLise Herres is an equestrian properties specialist with Windermere Equestrian Living. She lives in Fall City, WA with her husband, two children, three horses, four dogs, one barn cat and a very sassy goat.

Refinancing: What you need to know

Thanks to all-time-low interest rates, the number of homeowners refinancing their mortgages is at an all-time high. Of course, no one should refinance just because everyone else is doing it. But, for many homeowners, the benefits are simply too hard to ignore any longer.

Save money each month. According to Freddie Mac (The country’s largest purchaser of home mortgages), the average homeowner who refinances is able to cut their monthly payment by $108 (almost $1,300 per year) for a $200,000 loan.

Save even more in the long run. If you currently have a 30-year mortgage, refinancing with a 15-year version can save you thousands of dollars in interests over the life of the loan, plus allow you to build equity in your home faster than ever.

Switch to a fixed-rate mortgage. Refinancing with a fixed-rate mortgage gives you the security of knowing that your monthly payment will remain steady, regardless of whether lending rates rise or fall in the years ahead.

Access emergency funds. Something the mortgage industry calls “cash-out refinancing” allows you to take out a new mortgage for more than your current principal balance and use the additional money for other expenses (remodeling, college, a major medical procedure, etc.). Of course, this option should only be considered if you have a real need for the money and a solid plan for paying it back.

Consolidate debt. While consolidating credit card debt under a home loan may not be wise (unless you have a plan for controlling any additional spending), refinancing to consolidate two mortgages at these record-low rates can provide significant savings in both cases.

 

Things to consider beforehand:

Before moving ahead with a refinance of your own, a number of factors need to be considered (and numbers crunched) before you can determine how much you’ll actually benefit and if you can qualify for the best rates:

Closing costs. The fees associated with refinancing your mortgage are called “closing costs” and generally add up to somewhere between three and six percent of your loan amount (between $7,500 and $15,000 for a $250,000 mortgage refinancing).  While there are ways to lower some of those costs, you’ll still want to weigh those expenses against how much you stand to gain.

For example, let’s say you figure you’ll be able to save $100 per month by refinancing, and you’ve calculated the closing costs at about $10,000. That means you’ll need to continue living in the house for at least eight more years before the savings surpass the closing costs. In the mortgage industry, this is referred to as the break-even point; and the longer you continue living in the house beyond the break-even point, the more money you’ll save.

Your credit score. It depends on the circumstances, but most borrowers will need a credit score of 700 or higher to get access to the best rates and closing costs. To determine your score, get a copy of your credit report from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. (Why all three? Because, if there’s any difference, most banks will use the lowest score.)

Your current level of home equity. To qualify for refinancing, your current level of “equity” (the difference between the market value of your home and the balance of your current mortgage) typically must be 20 percent or more. That means, if the market value of your home is $250,000, the remaining balance on your loan would have to be $200,000 or less.

Pre-payment penalty. Check to see if your current mortgage includes a pre-payment penalty for refinancing. That would likely make refinancing too expensive even at these record-low rates.

 

The importance of timing

Mortgage rates have sustained record lows over the last few years, and they will likely stay relatively low for the next few years. However, even a small increase can make a drastic change in the amount of money you will pay over the duration of your loan. Getting the lowest rate you can, will benefit your finances over the long-term.

Getting the process started is easy. Begin by checking your equity and credit score, then crunch the numbers using one of the many online mortgage calculators. 

If the initial results look promising, ask your Windermere Real Estate agent for a recommendation on a reputable lender (or mortgage broker) who can provide you with an actual quote. 

3 Garden Alternatives for a Patchy Lawn

I’ve met with more than one client while standing on a struggling lawn. “I keep trying,” they tell me, “but the grass won’t grow.” I tell them that maybe this means there’s another option, something even better than a lawn. Maybe it’s time for a garden. And it’s as if I’d just told them the secret to eternal happiness and long life.

Still Have Hope for Greener Grass? Ask a Lawn Professional

Don’t keep tossing grass seed on your bare lawn. Instead, put a garden there, or at least plant something that has a better chance of surviving. Here are three situations where a languishing lawn may call for a new vision — a self-supporting garden that wildlife will love to call home.

BE Landscape Design, original photo on Houzz

 

1. Blazing sun. Whether it’s out in the open on a flat grade, on a slope or atop a hill, lawn just never does well in hot sunshine. It burns away each August, opening up holes for advantageous weeds to move in. 

You could seed or plant drought-tolerant native grasses like sideoats grama and blue grama (Bouteloua curtipendula and B. gracilis) and little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium). Or try sedges like shortbeak and Bicknell’s (Carex brevior and C. bicknellii). And while you’re at it, get some flowers. If it’s a larger area, think self-sowers like upright prairie coneflower (Ratibida columnifera), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) and skyblue aster (Symphyotrichum oolentangiense). For smaller areas, ‘October Skies’ aromatic aster (S. oblongifolium ‘October Skies’) works well, along with pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida), purple and white prairie clover (Dalea purpurea and D. candida), many species of Baptisia, and more.

Try to create a base layer of sedges and grasses that will work to mulch and cool the soil, adding clumps or drifts of flowers among them for seasonal interest and pollinator action.

Attract Pollinators for a Productive Edible Garden

 

Anne Roberts Gardens, Inc., original photo on Houzz

 

2. Ponding water. After a heavy — or even moderate — rain, water may collect in an area of your lawn, drowning grass for days or even weeks. When that water finally vanishes, you’re left with barren soil that’s both unsightly and open to weed invasion.

This sounds like an area where rain garden plants may work. These are the plants that thrive in the boom-bust cycle of spring and fall flooding with dry summers. Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), Virginia mountain mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum), Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), muskingum sedge and fox sedge (Carex muskingumensis and C. vulpinoidea), New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), queen of the prairie (Filipendula rubra), white turtlehead (Chelone glabra), and Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum) are all good options.

If it’s a large area and you want privacy, a shrub hedgerow is an option. Plant redtwig dogwood (Cornus sericea), red or black chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia and A. melanocarpa), or elderberry (Sambuca sp.) — they will slowly sucker to form a massive bird and native bee habitat.

Sisson Landscapes, original photo on Houzz

 

3. Dark or dappled shade beneath a tree. Trees are great: They cool homes, clean the air and provide for so much wildlife. Oaks (Quercus spp.), maples (Acer spp.), elms (Ulmus spp.) and willows (Salix spp.) are near the top in serving a diversity of pollinators and other insects, specifically, that use the leaves and blooms at different life stages. But grass doesn’t often grow underneath these tall trees — mostly because they cast dense shade.

If you have rich, moist to medium soil, there are many spring ephemerals to choose from: Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), trillium (Trillium spp.), shooting star (Dodecatheon meadia), yellow trout-lily (Erythronium rostratum) and Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica).

For gardeners with dry clay soil, early meadow-rue (Thalictrum dioicum), zigzag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis), calico aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum) and wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) are solid choices. Sprengel’s sedge (Carex sprengelii) is a grass-like option.

If you don’t want a large bed of strictly plants, weave a path of mulch or stepping stones through. Place a chair or two, a hammock, or a potting bench.

The Philbin Group Landscape Architecture, original photo on Houzz

 

It’s always important to carefully research the plants before you buy them to make sure that they suit your conditions. Clay soil is different from sand or rocky loam, and while some plants may do well in several kinds of soil and light conditions, others won’t. You may also prefer plants that create short drifts rather than tall ones, or vice versa, or clumping plants instead of aggressive spreaders.

When you take the time to carefully match the plant to the site and your region, you’re setting yourself up for more success and beauty with less maintenance — unlike sowing grass seed over the same area year after year.

 

By Benjamin Vogt, Houzz

Windermere Foundation Quarterly Report

 

Dear friends of the Foundation,

Thanks to your generous donations, the Windermere Foundation has collected nearly $818,000 in donations during the first half of 2016. This is an increase of 11 percent compared to this time last year! Individual contributions and fundraisers accounted for 61 percent of the donations, while 39 percent came from donations through Windermere agent sales transactions. So far, we have raised $31,677,000 in total donations since 1989.

Each Windermere office has its own Foundation fund account that they use to provide grants to organizations in their communities. Year to date, a total of $793,000 has been disbursed to non-profit organizations dedicated to providing services to low-income and homeless families throughout the Western U.S.

 

One recipient of Windermere Foundation funds was the Brigid Collins Family Support Center in Mount Vernon, Washington. The center is dedicated to ending child abuse by protecting children and building strong families. Founded in 1990, Brigid Collins Family Support Center is the legacy of a core group of volunteers who had a hope of better coordinating the community’s response to child abuse. Today, they have grown to serve more than 2,000 families each year throughout the Northwest corner of Washington State.

Here is how the Foundation donation from the Windermere Mount Vernon office has made an impact on this organization…

 

“Thanks to you, three-year-old Lucas, who was being neglected, is now thriving at home and in day care. Your generous contribution will help support services for children. Your care, concern and commitment are what make a difference for these children in our community.” ~Brigid Collins Family Support Center

 

Thank you to everyone who supports the Windermere Foundation. Because of you, kids like Lucas have the care they need to thrive. If you’d like to help support programs in your community, please click on the Donate button.

 

To learn more about the Windermere Foundation, visit http://www.windermere.com/foundation.  

Will Rental Prices Continue to Escalate?

Over the last ten years, the U.S. has added more than nine million rental households, increasing demand on apartments throughout the country, escalating rental rates faster than wages. Windermere’s Chief Economist, Matthew Gardner, shares his view on what to expect for future of rental prices and when long-term renters will start to buy.

How the Neighborhood Impacts a Home’s Value

Whether you’re buying or selling, accurately pricing a home requires professional assistance from someone who knows the neighborhood.

 

The “estimated” home prices you see posted online can be off by tens of thousands of dollars—not because they are dishonest, but because the computer programs generating these guesstimates don’t take into account the current condition of a house, the amenities that are included, the qualities of the surrounding neighborhood, and so much more.

A real estate agent’s appraisal will not only consider the selling prices of surrounding properties, as the online services do, but also take into consideration a host of other criteria. For instance, when it comes to assessing the surrounding neighborhood, the following factors can often significantly affect the market price of a home:

 

School quality

The quality of neighborhood schools has a dramatic impact on home price, whether buyers have school-age children or not. In the most recent study on the subject, researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that above-average public schools (those with math scores 4.6 percent better than the average) increased the value of nearby homes by 11 percent (or an average of $16,000) in the St. Louis area.

 

A park within walking distance

Parks are so important to families today that simply having one within a quarter mile can increase the value of a house by 10 percent, according to a new study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

 

Stores nearby

The impact that retail areas have on home values depends on the type of community. According to a study recently released by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, homes in urban areas sell for six percent to eight percent more than average if they’re within a quarter mile of a retail cluster (shops and restaurants). However, in suburban communities, it’s the homes that are a mile from any retail centers that sell for the most (homes located closer than that actually sell for eight percent less than average).

 

Freeway access

Because we’re a car-oriented society, most people are willing to pay more to live within a couple miles of an on-ramp to a major highway or freeway, which saves gas and speeds commute times. However, if the home is located too close (within a half mile of the freeway), the associated noise and air pollution can push the price in the opposite direction.

 

Vacant lots in the vicinity

Being surrounded by vacant land can be a good thing in rural areas, but it’s usually a negative for urban homeowners. A recent Wharton School study found that higher concentrations of unmanaged vacant lots in an urban neighborhood drag down the values for surrounding homes by an average of 18 percent.

 

Proximity to nuisances and environmental hazards

Two recent studies (one from an Arizona assessor’s office, the other by the University of California Berkeley) show that homes located near a landfill or power plant usually sell for four to 10 percent less than more distant homes. The same can usually be said for homes located too close to manufacturing facilities—especially those that make lots of noise or produces noxious odors.

 

Neighborhood foreclosures

According to a recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the value of a home decreases by one percent for every foreclosed home within 250 feet of it. Why? The lower sales prices of foreclosed homes can quickly drag down the neighborhood’s comparable prices. Plus, the owners of these properties usually don’t have the money or interest in maintaining them after they go into foreclosure, which can create an eyesore for all the other homes in the vicinity.

 

Percentage of homeowners

Are there more owners than renters living in the neighborhood? If so, property values are usually better than average. Homeowners tend to take better care of their property than renters or landlords, which improves the curb-appeal for the whole community.

 

Public services

Some communities have a wealth of quality public services available to them—including regular street cleanings, scheduled street repair, graffiti removal services, landscape maintenance, neighborhood beautification efforts, and more. Needless to say, homes lucky enough to be located in those areas typically command higher property valuations.

Home sellers can use these factors to justify a higher asking price. Buyers can use them to try and negotiate something lower. However, when it comes to attaching specific dollar amounts, that is something best left to your real estate agent, an objective professional with a deep understanding of the local market.