Transforming Your House from a Summer Home to a Winter Hideaway

None of us want to admit it, but Winter is Coming. The new season of Game of Thrones might not be until 2019, but your home will need preparation before then. As the days shorten, you can mitigate many mid-winter headaches with some preemptive prep. Proper weatherizing can help protect your investment from preventable damage, save money on energy costs, and, most importantly, keep your home safe and warm for you and your loved ones throughout the winter season. Here is a useful checklist to manage your weatherization project. Setting aside some time on a couple Sundays should be more than enough to knock this out:

 

Getting started: Check your toolbox to make sure you have all the materials you need for home maintenance in one place. This NY Times article provides a good list of the tools you’ll really need to maintain your home. After your toolbox is put together, you can confidently begin the maintenance on your home.

 

Insulation: Insulating a home can reduce your energy bill by up to 50%. For the best results, your home should be properly insulated from the ceilings to the basement. By starting in your attic and progressively adding insulation to other areas of your home over time, you will avoid spending a large sum of money up-front.

 

Cracks & Leaks: Do a run-through of your entire house for cracks and leaks, from your roof to your baseboards. Winter weather is unpredictable. Whether your area gets rain, wind or snow, cracks in your house can lead to cold drafts or leaks that cause water damage. Depending on your house type, most cracks can be easily filled with supplies from your local hardware store in a do-it-yourself fashion. Use caulk to seal any cracks in the permanent building materials.

 

Windows & Doors: Another common place for heat leakage is in your windows and exterior doorways. Make sure seals are tight and no leaks exist. If you have storm windows, make sure you put them on before the cold season begins. Don’t underestimate the difference some weatherstrips and a door sweep can provide in preventing drafts and keeping the heat in.

 

Rain Gutters: Clean your rain gutters of any debris. In colder climates, buildup will cause gutters to freeze with ice, crack and then leak. Once you have removed the residue from the drains, test them by running hose water to make sure cracks and leaks have not already formed. Even in warmer locales, the buildup can put undue stress on your roof and home.

 

Pipes: Pipes are a number one risk in winter climates. A burst pipe can become a winter disaster in a matter of seconds. Remember to turn off your exterior water source and take in your hose. Internally, wrapping your pipes is a recommended precaution to take.

 

Heating System: What's one thing gas fireplaces, wood burning stoves, and central air heating systems all have in common? They all need to be cleaned and maintained. Annual checks of are vital in avoiding dangers such as house fires. If you use an old-fashioned wood stove, make sure there are no leaks and that all soot build up or nests are removed. If a furnace is what you have, remember to change the filters as recommended or clean out your reusable filters.

 

Fireplace & Wood burning stoves: Make sure to have chimneys and air vents cleaned early in the season if you are planning on warming your home with a wood-burning source. When your fireplace is not in use make sure to close the damper, some resources estimate an open damper can increase energy consumption by as much as 30%.

 

Outside: As we mentioned before, make sure you bring your patio furniture inside (or cover) for the winter- but don’t forget other, smaller items such as your tools, including a hose and small planting pot. Clear out any piles around the side of your house, checking for cracks as you go so to avoid providing shelter for unwelcome guests over the cold season. If your property has large trees check for loose branches and call someone to trim back any items that may fall in your yard, on your roof or even damage a window.

 

Emergency Kit: Lastly, make sure your emergency kit is up-to-date with provisions, batteries, fresh water, food for animals, entertainment for kids, etc- especially if you live in an area prone to power outages.

Challenges Builders Face With New Construction

Housing demand remains high across the Western United States, but home-building is still struggling to keep up. What can be done to help encourage construction of new homes? Windermere Real Estate's Chief Economist Matthew Gardner has insight.​

 

5 Reasons Rising Interest Rates Won’t Wreck the Housing Market

Interest rates have been trending higher since the fall of 2017, and I fully expect they will continue in that direction – albeit relatively slowly – as we move through the balance of the year and into 2019. So what does this mean for the US housing market?

It might come as a surprise to learn that I really don’t think rising interest rates will have a major impact on the housing market. Here is my reasoning: 

1. First Time Home Buyers 

As interest rates rise, I expect more buyers to get off the fence and into the market; specifically, first time buyers who, according to Freddie Mac, made up nearly half of new mortgages in the first quarter of this year. First-time buyers are critical to the overall health of the housing market because of the subsequent chain reaction of sales that result so this is actually a positive outcome of rising rates.

2. Easing Credit Standards

Rising interest rates may actually push some lenders to modestly ease credit standards. I know this statement will cause some people to think that easing credit will immediately send us back to the days of sub-prime lending and housing bubbles, but I don’t see this happening. Even a very modest easing of credit will allow for more than one million new home buyers to qualify for a mortgage.

3. Low Unemployment 

We stand today in a country with very low unemployment (currently 4.0% and likely to get close to 3.5% by year’s end). Low unemployment rates encourage employers to raise wages to keep existing talent, as well as to recruit new talent. Wage growth can, to a degree, offset increasing interest rates because, as wages rise, buyers can afford higher mortgage payments.

4. Supply

There is a clear relationship between housing supply, home prices, and interest rates. We’re already seeing a shift in inventory levels with more homes coming on the market, and I fully expect this trend to continue for the foreseeable future. This increase in supply is, in part, a result of homeowners looking to cash in on their home’s appreciation before interest rates rise too far. This, on its own, will help ease the growth of home prices and offset rising interest rates. Furthermore, if we start to see more new construction activity at the lower end of the market, this too will help.   

National versus Local

Up until this point, I’ve looked at how rising interest rates might impact the housing market on a national level, but as we all know, real estate is local, and different markets react to shifts in different ways. For example, rising interest rates will be felt more in expensive housing markets, such as San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, and Orange County, but I expect to see less impact in areas like Cleveland, Philadelphia, Pittsburg, and Detroit, where buyers spend a lower percentage of their incomes on housing. The exception to this would be if interest rates continue to rise for a prolonged period; in that case, we might see demand start to taper off, especially in the less expensive housing markets where buyers are more price sensitive. 

For more than seven years, home buyers and real estate professionals alike have grown very accustomed to historically low interest rates. We always knew the time would come when they would begin to rise again, but that doesn’t mean the outlook for housing is doom and gloom. On the contrary, I believe rising interest rates will help bring us closer to a more balanced real estate market, something that is sorely needed in many markets across the country. 

Making a Rental Feel Like Home

Stylizing your own home can be a daunting but rewarding challenge. When you own your living space, it's easy to feel a sense of ownership over every piece of your design. But for renters, the challenge is a bit different. Despite limitations, it's no less important to one's well-being for a residence to convey a sense of ownership and self. To make a rental unit feel a bit more like home, we took down a few ways to imbue your abode with your own spirit, without leaving a permanent mark in the space or your wallet. 

Storage – Let’s be honest, rentals often lack sufficient storage place, and since custom cabinetry isn’t usually an option for renters, investing in some added storage is key. Add some simple shelves, bookshelves, baskets, or under the bed storage.

Blinds – Vertical blinds may be the ultimate decorating sin. No one likes feeling as if they’re living in a motel room. We suggest you either take them down or hide them under curtains. Just don’t throw them out or you may not get your security deposit back!

Accessorize – Pillows, throws, candles, books, light fixtures… the only way to get a truly genuine space. This is by far the easiest and a MUST.

Wall Art – Those pesky holes might keep you from hanging art or photos on your walls, but when it comes down to it, they’ll only take a few minutes to patch up when it comes time to move out. This doesn’t mean you have to hang an entire art gallery, but hanging one statement piece and placing the rest of the photos on a mantel or shelf should do the trick.

Rugs – Last but not least, rugs: the peanut butter to your rental jelly. If there are scratched hardwood floors or stained carpets, you can cover those up easily with a throw rug. Not only that, a rug is a great investment piece that will add your personal flavor to any space. And they absorb noise and make a room feel comfy.

The Seahawks and Windermere Return for Another Season to #TackleHomelessness

 

 

All of us at Windermere are very excited to kick-off our third season as the Official Real Estate Company of the Seattle Seahawks!

Once again, our #tacklehomelessnesscampaign is front-and-center, with the Windermere Foundation donating $100 for every Seahawks home-game defensive tackle to YouthCare, a Seattle-based non-profit organization that has been providing services and support to homeless youth for more than 40 years. During the past two seasons, the Seahawks have helped us raise $66,800 through our #tacklehomelessness campaign, and this year we are looking forward to raising even more money – and awareness – for this important cause.  

Our partnership with the Seahawks and YouthCare fits perfectly with the mission of the Windermere Foundation which is to support low-income and homeless families in the communities where we have offices. Through the #tacklehomelessnesscampaign, we hope to be able to do even more.

A “scorecard” will be posted after each home game with an update on how much we’ve raised. You can follow our progress throughout the Seahawks season on our Facebook page at Facebook.com/WindermereRealEstateand on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/windermere/

What You Need to Know About the US Luxury Housing Market

Luxury homes sales across the U.S. continue to perform strongly, but I’m noticing some headwinds starting to appear that are worthy of a closer look.

It’s often thought that luxury real estate runs totally independent of the overall market, and while this is true in some respects, there are definitely correlations between high-end housing and the rest of the market.

The first similarity is that the luxury market has suffered from some the same inventory constraints that are almost endemic across all price points in the U.S. But, similar to the overall market, we are starting to see a rise in inventory, which should be good news for real estate agents and luxury home buyers alike.

Impact of rising inventory 

This increase in the number of luxury homes for sale has started to have a tapering effect on price growth, which again, is similar to what we’re seeing in the rest of the market. But as real estate professionals, we know full well that all housing is local and some markets are performing far better than others.

For example, luxury markets in Maui, Northern California, Colorado, and Sarasota, Florida, are all experiencing substantial price growth, while there are noticeable slowdowns in many parts of New York and New Jersey. Even Queens and Jersey City, which have continued to benefit from high demand, have seen price growth stall recently, indicating that those markets could be losing some steam.  

Why the slowdown? 

The slowing of luxury sales in certain areas around the country piqued my interest, so I decided to explore why this is happening. The first thing I noticed is that cities with high property taxes are fairly prevalent on the list of slowing markets; this includes cities like Boston, Austin, New York City, and Chicago. It is likely that the federal tax changes limiting the deductibility of property taxes are the culprit for such slowdowns in these areas.

Something else that has undoubtedly impacted luxury home sales in markets, such as New York City and Seattle, is the significant decline in foreign buyers from countries like China and Canada. According to the National Association of Realtors, the number of purchases by international buyers fell by 21 percent between 2017 and 2018, amounting to a drop of $32 billion – the largest decline on record.  Foreign buyers spent $121 billion on 266,754 properties, making up 8 percent of the buyers of existing (previously lived in) homes.

My research tells me that foreign home buyers are pulling back amid political uncertainty in the U.S. Ongoing concerns about a potential trade war, combined with rhetoric against foreigners, have done their part to dampen some of the enthusiasm to invest in U.S. housing. Also playing a role in this slowdown is the Chinese Central Government which has started placing tighter controls on the ability to spend money outside of mainland China. And finally, rising home prices and a strong U.S. dollar are likely two other key factors behind the tumbling interest in luxury real estate from overseas buyers.

So how do I see the luxury market performing in 2019?

Luxury real estate sales in markets like Boston, Clearwater, Austin, and Alexandria, Virginia will continue to slow down for the reasons stated earlier, but in other parts of the country, home buyers will provide the demand needed to keep the market plugging along at a healthy pace. 

The changes affecting mortgage interest deductions and property taxes will also continue to impact the luxury market in certain areas, but this will, to a degree, be offset by other tax changes that favor high-income households and increase their disposable income. Something else that will help keep the luxury real estate market afloat in the coming year is jumbo mortgage interest rates which remain remarkably competitive compared to historic standards.   

On a whole, high-end real estate sales have been strong over the past few years. While I am predicting somewhat of a slowdown next year given the headwinds discussed earlier, 2019 will be remembered as a year where balance started to return to the luxury housing market. 

 

Mr. 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 more than 30 years of professional experience both in the U.S. and U.K. 

How Restrictive Growth Policies Affect Housing Affordability In Many Cities

Windermere Real Estate Chief Economist Matthew Gardner explains how restrictive growth policies are affecting housing affordability in many cities.​

 

 

 

Providing Scholarships and School Supplies to Students in Need

 

It’s that time of year again! As families prepare to send their kids back to school, Windermere agents have been out in their communities raising money to support programs that provide school supplies and scholarships to students in need.

These are a just a few examples of how Windermere agents are making a difference.

 

 

Education First Scholarship Program

Seattle, WA:  For the second year in a row, agents with the Windermere Wall Street Group offices have pooled their local Windermere Foundation funds to sponsor college scholarships for low-income youth who strive to improve their lives. Through a partnership with Education First, students receive tuition assistance along with access to college coaching services to stay on track.

The Windermere Wall Street, Magnolia, and Queen Anne offices used their funds to sponsor Yosef Yirdaw, who plans to study computer science at Eastern Washington University. Originally an orphan from Ethiopia, he shined in high school with both academics and cross country.

The Windermere office in West Seattle sponsored Brandon Olivera, a Chief Sealth High School graduate heading to the University of Washington, who is setting an example for his younger brothers to follow. During high school, Brandon spent many hours working in his father’s restaurant while making sure to help his siblings with their homework.

Both scholars will be the first in their families to attend college. The Windermere Wall Street Group offices have generously donated a total of $12,000 to Education First’s scholarship program since 2016.

 

Equipped 4 Success School Supply Drive

Alameda, CA:  Through the Windermere Foundation, Windermere Bay Area Properties offices donated $1,000 to the Alameda Education Foundation (AEF) to purchase new backpacks and supplies for their Equipped 4 Success School Supply Drive. Contributions to the drive provide homeless, formerly homeless, and low-income students with the materials they need to be ready to learn on the first day of school.

The mission of the Alameda Education Foundation is to engage the community, raise funds, and coordinate programs to support and enhance the quality of K-12 public education in Alameda.

 

Make The “Change” For Lewis County

    

Centralia, WA:  On August 21, the Windermere Centralia office teamed up with KELA/KMNT Radio to host the Make The “Change” For Lewis County fundraising event. A school bus was parked next to the Windermere office to collect school supplies, checks, cash or change, and KELA/KMNT Radio was on site broadcasting live from the event. Over $2,000 worth of school supplies were collected for Lewis County schoolkids in need.

 

High Point Healthy Families Celebration

    

Seattle, WA:  Approximately 830 community members attended this annual event on August 15 hosted by Neighborhood House, whose mission is to partner with diverse individuals and families to build community and achieve their goals for health, education, and self-sufficiency. With the help of a $3,000 donation from the Windermere Foundation, Neighborhood House was able to purchase enough school supplies to stuff 500 backpacks and serve 100 more school-aged youth than last year. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan was also on hand at the event to help distribute backpacks.

 

Thanks to the generous donations and support of Windermere owners, agents, staff, and the public, the Windermere Foundation has been able to raise over $36 million since 1989 to support local non-profit organizations that provide services to low-income and homeless families in our communities. If you’d like to help support programs in your community, please click on the Donate button.

To learn more about the Windermere Foundation, please visit WindermereFoundation.com.

Building Character – Balancing a Home’s Personality and Amenities

It's sometimes said that the limitations of a house are what help make it a home. For many, however, it is a point of pride to accept only the finest in their new residence. How can you find the balance between cultivating a lived-in home with personality and quirks versus a house with cutting-edge amenities that improve quality of life? To get to the bottom of that, we gathered a list six keys to consider when selecting and developing the home of your dreams:

The neighborhood

Surprisingly, one of the biggest factors in choosing a new home isn’t the property itself, but rather the surrounding neighborhood. While new homes occasionally spring up in established communities, most are built in new developments. The settings are quite different, each with their own unique benefits.

Older neighborhoods often feature tree-lined streets; larger property lots; a wide array of architectural styles; easy walking access to mass transportation, restaurants and local shops; and more established relationships among neighbors.

New developments are better known for wider streets and quiet cul-de-sacs; controlled development; fewer aboveground utilities; more parks; and often newer public facilities (schools, libraries, pools, etc.). There are typically more children in newer communities, as well.

Consider your daily work commute, too. While not always true, older neighborhoods tend to be closer to major employment centers, mass transportation and multiple car routes (neighborhood arterials, highways and freeways).

Design and layout

If you like VictorianCraftsman or Cape Cod style homes, it used to be that you would have to buy an older home from the appropriate era. But with new-home builders now offering modern takes on those classic designs, that’s no longer the case. There are even modern log homes available.

Have you given much thought to your floor plans? If you have your heart set on a family room, an entertainment kitchen, a home office and walk-in closets, you’ll likely want to buy a newer home—or plan to do some heavy remodeling of an older home. Unless they’ve already been remodeled, most older homes feature more basic layouts.

If you have a specific home-décor style in mind, you’ll want to take that into consideration, as well. Professional designers say it’s best if the style and era of your furnishings match the style and era of your house. But if you are willing to adapt, then the options are wide open.

Materials and craftsmanship

Homes built before material and labor costs spiked in the late 1950s have a reputation for higher-grade lumber and old-world craftsmanship (hardwood floors, old-growth timber supports, ornate siding, artistic molding, etc.).

However, newer homes have the benefit of modern materials and more advanced building codes (copper or polyurethane plumbing, better insulation, double-pane windows, modern electrical wiring, earthquake/ windstorm supports, etc.).

Current condition

The condition of a home for sale is always a top consideration for any buyer. However, age is a factor here, as well. For example, if the exterior of a newer home needs repainting, it’s a relatively easy task to determine the cost.  But if it’s a home built before the 1970s, you have to also consider the fact that the underlying paint is most likely lead0based, and that the wood siding may have rot or other structural issues that need to be addressed before it can be recoated.

On the flip side, the mechanicals in older homes (lights, heating systems, sump pump, etc.) tend to be better built and last longer.

Outdoor space

One of the great things about older homes is that they usually come with mature trees and bushes already in place. Buyers of new homes may have to wait years for ornamental trees, fruit trees, roses, ferns, cacti and other long-term vegetation to fill in a yard, create shade, provide privacy, and develop into an inviting outdoor space. However, maybe you’re one of the many homeowners who prefer the wide-open, low-maintenance benefits of a lightly planted yard.

Car considerations

Like it or not, most of us are extremely dependent on our cars for daily transportation. And here again, you’ll find a big difference between newer and older homes. Newer homes almost always feature ample off-street parking: usually a two-car garage and a wide driveway. An older home, depending on just how old it is, may not offer a garage—and if it does, there’s often only enough space for one car. For people who don’t feel comfortable leaving their car on the street, this alone can be a determining factor.

Finalizing your decision

While the differences between older and newer homes are striking, there’s certainly no right or wrong answer. It is a matter of personal taste, and what is available in your desired area. To quickly determine which direction your taste trends, use the information above to make a list of your most desired features, then categorize those according to the type of house in which they’re most likely to be found. The results can often be telling.

Outfitting Your Home to Survive the Threat of Wildfires

Much of the Western United States is grappling with the same issue this summer – the specter of smoke and fire from some of the largest forest fires in recent memory. For individuals, even the decreased air quality can be a threat, while the destruction that the fires themselves can wreak is devastating. Homeowners living near impacted areas are often left with an impossible choice – pack up what they can and evacuate or remain in a dangerous location and hope for the best. Thankfully, homes needn’t be defenseless against the heat. To help fortify your home against damage stemming from fires, we brought together advice from a few experts.

 

Opt for Flame-Resistant Walls and Roofing

  • It may be obvious but building a home out of non-flammable materials like brick, stucco, metal, or concrete is a key way to prevent a fire from taking hold initially.
     
  • The troublesome spaces tend to be beyond the core of the home. Decks, balconies, and overhangs all commonly include wooden components that can be easy points of egress for embers.
     
  • Replacing or coating these accent points with fireproof materials is a short-term expense that, much like insurance, prevents far greater financial strains in the future.

 

No Space is Too Small to Protect

  • Think that little vent in the attic is too small to be an issue? Think again! 
     
  • Even vents built into kitchens and dryers should be considered as potential problem areas. Protecting these can allow continued circulation of air without incurring an excess fire risk.
     
  • Wire screens with 1/8th” to 1/4th” between screen bars are typically enough to keep treacherous embers from sneaking into your home.

 

Fortify Your Windows

  • The most vulnerable spots in most homes are glassy exterior windows. While their views are understandably gorgeous, they can be easy pressure points for fires to overpower.
     
  • If you have the means to replace single-plane glass with wire glass or fireproof safety glass, that’s a worthwhile expense to ensure neither flames themselves nor radiant heat can shatter into your home.
     
  • Beyond simply upgrading the glass, installing retractable fireproof exterior panels is the safest route to fire protection. And don’t forget your skylights!