Buying your home: A step-by-step approach

There is a lot to consider when you decide to buy a home, especially if it is your first. How much home you can afford? What kind of loan should you choose? Which neighborhoods are both affordable and a good investment? These are just a few of the questions you’ll be asking yourself. But with an experienced agent to help you, you’ll get the guidance you need to come up with the right answers−and a home you love.

First things first

Before you start shopping, you need to find out how much home you can afford to buy. Your agent can refer you to a loan officer who will help you determine how much of a down payment you can manage, as well as the monthly payment, taxes and insurance costs. Your lender can then prequalify you for a dollar amount, which can help you focus your search. You can also get a quick, rough estimate of monthly mortgage costs at; there’s a mortgage rate calculator on every listing detail page.

Create a wish list

Once you know your price range, talk to your agent about the home features you need and the ones you would prefer. The former might include number of bedrooms or suitable space for a home office, while the latter might include hardwood floors or a pantry. By clearly communicating your needs and preferences, you can help you agent narrow down the selection and avoid wasting your time.

Check out a few neighborhoods

Be sure to talk to your agent about what you’re looking for in a neighborhood. Are property values your highest priority? Great schools? A short commute? Small-town atmosphere? Big-city amenities? Your agent will try to narrow down the affordable neighborhoods that fit your criteria. Then you can either explore them with your agent or get a sense of each neighborhood on your own.

Shop for a loan

There are many different loan programs to choose from. You’ll want to find one that offers you the best terms for your current situation and future plans. Your agent can give you the names of several mortgage specialists who can review your options with you and help you determine which loan is the most advantageous. Once you’re approved for a loan, sellers will consider you a more attractive prospective buyer.

Make an offer

You’ve finally found the right house in the right neighborhood. It fits your practical needs, has potential and just feels right. So how do you ensure that you keep the price as affordable as possible without running the risk of losing it? Your agent has the expertise to help you make the right offer. He or she knows what comparable houses are selling for, how long they’ve been on the market, and whether or not the asking price for the home you want is fair. Your agent can also offer excellent advice when it comes to making a counteroffer.

Seal the deal

Once you’ve found the home you want and your offer has been accepted, you give the seller an earnest-money deposit. Your agent draws up a purchase and sale agreement; it’s the contract that outlines the details of the property transfer from the seller to you. This contract is typically contingent on the home passing a structural inspection and you obtaining approval for financing.

The inspection lets you know if the house has any major issues and how well it has been maintained. Remember, no house is perfect. If the inspection uncovers some problems, your agent can help you determine whether to ask the seller to handle or pay for the repairs or to renegotiate the price of the home.

When the inspection is concluded and any loose ends resolved, you “close” on the home. Closing is when you and the seller sign all the papers, you pay your share of the settlement fees, and the documents are recorded. Your agent will be a happy to answer any questions throughout this complex process.

Home at last

When you buy a home, you get more than just a place to live. You get the satisfaction of having a place that is truly yours, one that reflects your style and provides a comfortable setting for you and your family. Buying a home also gives you a substantial annual tax deduction and a way to build wealth over the years.

If you have questions about the buying or selling process, or are looking for an agent in your area, we have professionals that can help you. Contact us here.


#YourStoryIsOurStory: A Shared Homebuying Journey

Windermere agent Gina Dhom has a methodology for helping her clients; she conducts an interview to help them identify their dream home goals. At first Chelsea and Brad were unsure of what they wanted, but with Gina's guidance they were able to pin point exactly what they needed, enabling them to locate the perfect home to make their own.   

Throughout the year we will be posting some of our favorite #YourStoryIsOurStory videos, photos, and blog posts. Please take a minute to share your experiences, and follow #YourStoryIsOurStory on our blogFacebookTwitterInstagramYouTube, and Pinterest pages.


Providing food for the holidays and the rest of the year

It’s that time of year again when many of our Windermere offices are out in their communities helping to collect donations and raise money for their local area food banks. Many people rely on the food they get from food banks to feed their families. Not having the luxury to purchase their own food means that many families have to make do with what’s available at the time. You can help make the season brighter for these families by donating items that are needed most.


During the holidays, canned pumpkin and yams, cranberry sauce and box stuffing, can help families have at least some of the traditional holiday fare. Shelf-stable protein sources are also important, especially when families cannot afford to buy meat. Donate canned tuna, salmon, chicken, and other meats, or canned chili, soups and stews. Peanut butter, nuts and trail mix are also good choices. Pantry staples such as whole grain rice and pasta, oatmeal, flour, cooking oils, and canned vegetables are always needed. Perhaps the best way you can help food banks is to donate money because they have resources that allow them to stretch dollars to feed as many families as possible.


Don’t know where to go to donate? You can check with your local Windermere office to see how you can help. Here is what some of our offices are doing this season:


The Camano Island office held their food drive on October 2 and 3 at the IGA Supermarket on Camano Island. Volunteers from the office collected 14 boxes of food, and over the month, collected $1,101 in cash to help out the Stanwood Camano Food Bank.


The Edmonds office donated $6,000 to the Windermere Foundation to help with their local area food drive to benefit the Edmonds Food Bank


The El Sobrante office is holding a holiday food drive to benefit the Bay Area Rescue Mission. They are collecting food items now through December 15. Agents will help fill and deliver collection barrels throughout the drive. Last year, the mission served over 1.5 million meals and provided over 85,000 safe nights of shelter to men, women, and children.


The Kingston office collected food for the Pacific Northwest Title’s 11th Annual Food Drive that takes place in October and November. Donations go to the local Kingston food bank to help them get their Thanksgiving baskets ready for the families in the area. The Windermere West Sound owners also buy 200 turkeys every year and disperse them to the four area food banks in Kitsap County.


The Lewiston office sponsors the annual “Hanging Out With Turkeys” food drive in November that is hosted by four local area radio stations. The drive benefits the Community Action Food Bank and Asotin County Food Bank. Last year, the event gathered over 5,975 pounds of food.


The Marysville office held raffles and luncheons during the past month, along with collecting food and money for the Snohomish County-Camano Association of REALTORS® annual food drive. Their efforts raised 20,176 pounds of food plus an additional $7,240, which equates to a total of 24,537 pounds. These donations and funds will allow the Marysville Food Bank to provide 20,447 meals.


The Mount Baker office donates $1,500.00 to Rainier Valley Food Bank at the December Rainier Chamber of Commerce holiday luncheon. The office also holds their food drive in the month of January, when the coffers have emptied out during the holiday season, filling the need that comes after the peak time when most people donate.


The Northlake office partnered with the Seattle Basket Brigade to collect food and cash donations to fill 500 baskets to feed around 1,500 people who would otherwise go without this holiday season. The Northlake office along with the Monroe and the Windermere Professional Development offices collected jars of applesauce, while the Kirkland office was tasked with collecting apple cider. They also accepted cash donations to help purchase full baskets for the Seattle Basket Brigade. Around 500 families local families (approximately 1,500 people) will benefit from the donations.


Windermere offices throughout Oregon and Southwest Washington are collecting coats and blankets now through December 18 for their annual Share the Warmth drive. Help share the warmth this winter by bringing new or gently used adult-sized coats and twin-sized blankets to one of the participating offices, Monday through Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. In the Portland area, Transition Projects will distribute the coats and blankets collected to those in need.


The four Windermere Professional Partners offices collected over 7,300 items during the 2015 food and coat drive for the Families Unlimited Network Food Bank in University Place and the Gig Harbor Peninsula FISH Food Bank. Brokers personally delivered and picked up donation bags from their clients and exceeded their collection totals from last year! They also gathered 130 coats to contribute to the Tacoma-Pierce County Association of REALTORS® Coat Drive efforts benefiting Charlie's Dinosaur. They help Pierce County's foster kids stay warm and provide emergency supplies to children in transition to emergency foster homes.


The Shoreline office is collecting food and coat donations for the North Helpline emergency food bank and Vision House temporary emergency center through December 15. Click here for details.


Agents at the Sun Valley – Ketchum and Hailey offices helped the Hunger Coalition and The Sage School by collecting gravy packets and other food items during their drive to benefit around 175 families in the Wood River Valley area.


The Walla Walla office participated in the Walla Walla Annual Realtor Care & Share Food Drive in October. They set up donation bins at their local grocery stores through the month of October. Donations benefit the Blue Mountain Food Bank which provides food for families in need. Over 100 area agents, family and friends took part, collecting nearly 30,000 pounds of food even before the end of the month. 


The Walnut Creek – Diablo Realty office participated in a food drive that ran from October through November 16 for the Food Bank of Contra Costa & Solano Counties. Last year they collected 1,600 pounds of food. Their goal this year was to raise 2,000 pounds.  The food bank serves 188,000 people each month and distributes over 50,000 pounds of food every day.


While many offices hold annual food drives during the holidays, the Kirkland office participates in the quarterly Community Supper event organized by Attain Housing to provide meals to those in need throughout the year. For the past four years, the Kirkland office has provided grants through the Windermere Foundation to fund dinners at these quarterly events which serve around 70-80 people who are homeless in the Kirkland area.


These are just a few ways that Windermere offices donate their time and money through the Windermere Foundation to support local non-profit organizations in their community. If you’d like to help us continue to support these and other programs this holiday season or beyond, please click on the Donate button.


Thank you to everyone who supports the Windermere Foundation. Your generosity is truly making a difference in the lives of many families in our local communities.


To learn more about the Windermere Foundation, visit

Oregon and Southwest Washington Real Estate Market Update



Although the rate of growth has slowed somewhat, the Oregon economy continues to expand its job base. There was a decline in employment in September and the unemployment rate rose, but I do not see this as a trend so much as a temporary “blip”. I anticipate that, going forward, the State will continue to see growth at rates above the national average.



  • Sales activity rose by 21.6% when compared to the third quarter of 2014. What is more impressive is that this exceeds the 20.9% year-over-year growth rate that we saw in the second quarter.
  • Home sales were the highest in Clatsop, Skamania, Josephine and Marion Counties.
  • Double-digit percentage increases in closed sales were seen in all but three counties across the region. In aggregate, we saw over 18,800 sales in the third quarter.
  • The slowest rate of sales growth was seen in Coos, Polk and Klickitat Counties.



  • Average prices in the region rose by 6.1% year-over-year to $309,565. It is clear that the rate of price appreciation has started to slow. The current annual rate of price growth has slowed from the 7.2% rate seen in the second quarter.
  • When compared to third quarter of 2014, Coos County rose to the top with price growth of 15.1%. Other markets that saw notable price growth were Cowlitz and Crook Counties.
  • All but four counties saw prices rise compared to the third quarter of 2014, with three showing double-digit percentage gains when viewed on an annual basis.
  • Prices fell in four counties, but these are counties where relatively few transactions take place so they are prone to wild swings.



  • The average number of days it took to sell a home in the region dropped by 16 days when compared to the third quarter of 2014.
  • The average time it took to sell a home in the region was 92 days, with the Portland market dropping from 37 to 27 days.
  • There were just two markets where the length of time it took to sell a home did rise, but these are small counties and not a cause for concern at the present time.
  • It now takes less than a month to sell homes in Multnomah and Washington Counties.



The speedometer reflects the state of the region’s housing market using housing inventory, price gains, sales velocities, interest rates and larger economics factors.

There continues to be a shortage of homes for sale, which is driving prices higher. As long as home sales continue to increase and supply continues to fail to meet demand, the markets covered in this report will not be in equilibrium. Because of this, I have moved the gauge a little further in favor of sellers.


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. 


Home Security Systems: Protecting the People and Things You Value the Most

With the holidays, come new temptations for burglars. With that in mind, now is a good time to start thinking about the security of your home. From old-school security tricks to new digital home monitoring tools, there are many options when it comes to keeping our homes safe. Read on to learn more about how you can modify your home and keep it safe from intruders.

 Security bars and gates:

Sometimes the simplest security is just deterring people from trying to get in. While security bars across windows are a great way to keep intruders out of your home, they can be a real eyesore. Luckily, there are now options for decorative security bars that simultaneously protect your home while enhancing its beauty.

Upgrade you locks:

A poorly installed deadbolt can make it easy for an intruder to kick in your door. Start by making sure that your doorframes are in good condition and then look into getting a higher quality deadbolt. You’ll find everything from classic models with keys, or digital options that require passcodes or a fingerprint.

It’s also a good idea check all the locks on your windows. Some older models are easy to jimmy open with a little wiggling. For ground floor windows, you may want to consider double locks. It goes without saying, leaving windows open during the summer is a bad idea – especially those that can be easily accessed.

Exterior and interior home lighting:

Having your exterior lights on timers or motion sensors is a good way to deter nighttime snoopers.  Add sensor lights to key entry points on your home, including the front door, back door, and/or basement entries. If you have an unused side yard, consider lighting there too. Keeping your home lit makes unwanted visitors weary of being seen.

If you will be gone from your home for an extended period of time, consider using timed lighting options in your home to make it appear someone is around. You can select timers for bedrooms or living areas. Also, you can program a radio to turn on and off for sound.

Alarm systems:

If you are considering an alarm, you have an array of options that vary from self-install motion detection kits to full-service home security systems.  If you choose to do-it-yourself, you will want to install motion detectors on doors and windows – especially those that can be easily accessed on the ground floor. In most cases, these kits also offer a 24 hour call service for an extra fee.

Full-service security systems can include everything from an alarm system and panic buttons to and integration with your smoke detectors/ fire prevention system. These services are expensive up front, but usually have a reasonable monthly rate. And keep in mind, having a home security system installed can also reduce your insurance rates.

If installing an alarm system is cost-prohibitive or does not fit your lifestyle, consider purchasing stickers and a sign that state that your home is monitored by a trusted security system, and place them so they are visible at every entrance.

Security cameras:

Security cameras are readily available for home installation. You can install these in prominently viewed places to deter burglars. There are do-it-yourself install options, and professional systems that come along with monitoring services.  There are even options that will work with your smart phone. If the cost for security cameras is too steep for your budget, you can purchase fake cameras to act as a visible deterrent for intruders.

Build your community:

Programs like Neighborhood Watch are very successful in some communities, by creating an environment where everyone is looking out for each other. Building close-knit relationships with your neighbors can go a long way in making you feel safe at home. Whether this is through a formalized program, or a shared agreement with your community, developing relationships with your neighbors is a great way to keep your home safe.

Sometimes the best part of security systems is the peace of mind that comes with knowing your home is protected. Many of our personal items can be replaced thanks to homeowners insurance, but you cannot put a price on feeling safe at home. How do you keep your home safe?



#YourStoryIsOurStory: Finding a Miracle Home

You know you found a special relationship when you consider your real estate agent to be a part of your family. Not only has Julie Huff helped Shirley & Jerry find their miracle home. She also helped their son & his family find the home that has become the gathering place for multiple generations.

Throughout the year we will be posting some of our favorite #YourStoryIsOurStory videos, photos, and blog posts. Please take a minute to share your experiences, and follow #YourStoryIsOurStory on our blogFacebookTwitterInstagramYouTube, and Pinterest pages.


Understanding the Chinese Home Buyer in the U.S. Housing Market


Earlier this week, Bill Russell, head of International Development for Chinese real estate website, Juwai, spoke to a large group of Windermere agents about how to connect to Chinese buyers. Since China is a country with very different marketing tactics and a culture drastically different than our own, we were able to learn a great deal. To put things in perspective, currently has 2.6 million unique views per month from Chinese consumers who are searching purely for western properties; 20 percent of whom live outside of China. The United States is the number one searched country by far, followed by Australia and Canada.


So why are so many Chinese investing in land abroad? According to Juwai, 36 percent are buying for investment, 34 percent for immigration, and 16 percent for education (i.e. buying a house for their kids to live in while they're studying in the U.S.). What many people may not know is that there is a minuscule amount of inheritance wealth in China, the majority is “new money” made in the last 10-15 years. With an average budget of $2.6 million, the Chinese typically take a year to search for the right home in which to invest, patiently taking time to research everything thoroughly. On average, they end up spending about $933,723 per property.


There are 297 different Chinese dialects, making it nearly impossible for local agents to market their properties effectively. It can also be time consuming and stressful trying to market to China since they don't use any social media from the Western world; China has their own Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. which all have different names. is their version of, which is bridging the gap between East and West by translating all property and marketing comments. It may come at a price, but real estate companies, like Windermere, don't mind paying the cost of marketing on Juwai since the Chinese buyer is such an important part of the housing market (especially in Seattle’s Eastside neighborhoods).


Cities like Seattle, San Francisco, and LA are popular destinations for Chinese immigrants and investors, and they’re representing larger and larger pieces of the real estate pie. Experts don’t see this changing for the foreseeable future, so it’s in a real estate professional’s best interest to get to know the Chinese consumer. A big thank you to Bill Russell for coming out and helping us do just that.


Western Washington Real Estate Market Update


After a period of above-average growth, Washington State has seen a modest slowing in employment growth, but we continue to add jobs at a respectable rate. The State unemployment rate was measured at 5.3%, marginally above the national level, but it is trending in the right direction.

Although growth continues to be uneven across the state, there are some encouraging signs which suggest that all of our main metropolitan areas should see positive job growth for the foreseeable future.



  • There were 22,207 home sales during the third quarter of 2015, up by 14.1% from the same period in 2014.
  • For the first time in several years, there were no counties that saw annual decreases in home sales.
  • The growth in sales was most pronounced in Kittitas County, and all but two counties saw double-digit percentage increases from the same period last year.
  • The lack of available inventory in the region continues to be a concern. Listings in the third quarter were down by 18% from the second quarter, and down by 24.5% from the third quarter of 2014.



  • Prices in the region rose by an average of 6.3% on a year-over-year basis and were 9.6% higher than seen in the second quarter of 2015.
  • The only county where home prices fell on an annualized basis was in Kittitas County, but the drop was a miniscule 0.5%. Kittitas County saw sale prices grow by 5.8% between the second and third quarters of this year.
  • When compared to the third quarter of 2014, San Juan County showed the fastest price growth with an increase of 14.6%. Double-digit percentage gains were also seen in four other counties.
  • As long as inventory constraints persist, it is likely that price growth will continue. However, if interest rates rise in 2016, as they’re expected to do, we will likely see price growth slow.



  • The average number of days it took to sell a home dropped by nine days when compared to the third quarter of 2014.
  • It took an average of 74 days to sell a home in the third quarter of this year—down from 84 in the second quarter.
  • There were just two markets where the length of time it took to sell a home did rise, but the increases were minimal. Jefferson County saw an increase of eight days while Mason County rose by two days.
  • King County remains the only market where it takes less than a month to sell a home.



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 third quarter of 2015 I have moved the needle a little farther in favor of sellers. Although sales did slow between the second and third quarters, I attribute this to a lack of inventory rather than any other factors. Additionally, interest rates dropped between the second and third quarters, which made buying more favorable.

The persistently low levels of inventory in the region remain a concern. Such an imbalance between supply and demand is unsustainable. When I look at the ratio between listings and pending sales there are some counties with less than two months of inventory, which is troublesome. Any number below four months is certainly considered to be a seller’s market and, in my experience, a prolonged period of time with less than six months of inventory results in an unstable market.

In normal housing market cycles, when such an imbalance exists we could expect home builders to fill in the gap with inventory, but this has not happened thus far. Unless we see a rapid escalation in construction activity, the market will remain remarkably tight well into 2016.


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. 


Five Essentials for Your Home Office

Most people dream of working from home, but ask anyone who does it on a regular basis, and they’ll tell you how hard it can be to stay productive when you work where you live. The most disciplined telecommuters will tell you that you need a structured routine and organization to rise and grind and get into work mode.

Having a designated work space is quite possibly the most important piece to the WFH pie. Even if you live in a small space, you need to find a balance between home and office. People who work from home often have a difficult time separating work hours from their non-work hours because it's so easy to keep at it late into the night. But maintaining a balance and shutting down the computer is important for overall wellbeing. What are some other must-haves for a successful home office? Here are the top five:

  1. Natural Light - Study upon study tells us that natural light is needed to boost productivity and mood. Make sure to set your desk up as close to a window as you can. If being near a window isn’t an option, a natural light lamp is the next best thing. It helps balance your body clock and leaves you feelings rested and refreshed.
  2. To-Do List or Planner - Start each day off by making a to-do list outlining what you need to get done before the end of the work day. Make sure to set a realistic time frame in which all of that should be completed, so you can check each one off the list and feel immense accomplishment once you've completed them all.
  3. Storage - If you have a big enough space, put in a large bookshelf where you can organize everything (think storage boxes). It reduces clutter and looks stylish. Using your walls and cabinetry is the most efficient use of space.
  4. Calendar - Many people tend to rely on digital calendars these days because of their convenience. When all of your devices sync together and pop up with reminders, you never have to worry about missing an appointment. However, many people find that it helps to keep a paper calendar handy too so you can easily view your whole month at a glance.
  5. Space for Inspiration - It doesn't matter what field you work in, having a source of inspiration in your work space is essential. Whether it's a photo of your family, your dream car, or that vacation you've been dying to take, having that inspiration right in front of you provides a constant reminder of why you do what you do.


Over the Top: What’s the Most Outrageous Feature You Have Seen In a Home?

It’s not every day you get to tour a $16.5 million dollar mansion. But Wednesday we were lucky enough to be able to crash an invite-only Brokers Open event that drew more than 50 Windermere agents from throughout the greater Seattle area. You’ve heard the saying “fit for a King” but this place really is FIT. FOR. A. KING. Walking through this jaw-dropping 13,610 square-foot masterpiece honestly takes your breath away. If you don’t believe us, check out the pictures.


While we had all of these luxury real estate experts in one spot, we thought we’d ask them what the most opulent feature was that they’d ever seen in a home. When in Rome, right?


It’s probably hard to think of anything else when so much opulence is staring you right in the face. For Patrick Crowthers from Windermere’s Bellevue South office, it was the pool room of the very home we were standing in. “The attention to detail and the time it must’ve taken to mentally create and then execute the fine details,” were what stood out to him. His business partner, Leighsa Francis agreed, “It’s so over the top luxurious, huge, and high quality.” Karl Lindor, one of the agents representing the listing, told us that the mosaic tiles of the pool room were the most over-the-top feature he’d ever seen. Specifically, “the artistic design and the fact that each time you view the mosaics, new colors, new materials, and new creatures appear.” John Kritsonis, Karl’s co-listing agent on the home, was in awe with the Onyx powder room. He said it had “opulent translucency.” We should mention this place boasts exquisite marble, granite, and Onyx gleaming from floor to pillar. And a 300 bottle wine cellar. And Italian fountains. Need we say more?


Ruth Harle, also an agent from the Windermere Bellevue South office, told us about a different pool she had seen that might just be on the same level as the one in this home. She said it was “an outdoor pool with a giant movie screen so you could watch movies and swim at the same time.” Ruth also mentioned another home with an underground shooting range and an equestrian barn converted into a car museum. Not too shabby. Last but not least, Windermere agent Rick Franz said the most outrageous luxury feature he had ever seen was “a house that had its own recreation of a sports club and hair salon. It was very decadent.”

This home may not have a hair salon or underground shooting range, but it has just about anything else you can think of when it comes to luxury amenities and design. Even if you can’t afford the $16.5 million price tag, you can still get a taste of what it might be like to live there by watching this video. As for us, we’d be fine living in the pool room.