Thursday, November 6, 2008

Where to go when you want to escape: Utopia (or Mount Vernon)?

It’s Friday evening. You just left work. Driving home you get a notion to… just keep driving. Where would you go? To your cabin in the woods? A small farmhouse on a hill with a porch and a view of the sun setting over the Olympics? Maybe a modern house set next to a river that makes a sound tempting you to ditch your day job and fish professionally.

What if you had a place to go? I remember a reporter for the PI telling me about his cabin he’s building up in the North Cascades. He had to hike everything in. There was no power, no telephone, no lights. You could tell this was his idea of fun by the way his face lit up talking about it. An extreme example of escaping? Yes, but you’d be amazed what’s out there.

I was touring around Mount Vernon for a client and ran across this great escape. A charming 1920’s farmhouse situated on 20+ acres of pasture for under $400k. It’s an ideal retreat in the foothills of the North Cascades and the street address alone makes you want to go there. And best of all? Once you’re there if you want to escape your escape, civilization is just down the road and no ferry line. Take a look:

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What is Street Appeal?

I was recently holding a house open one Sunday just up the hill from the house I grew up in. The sun was out and it was one of those warm fall days right before the bite of winter starts to roll in. As I was placing my open signs (a-boards in real estate lingo) out I noticed a group of children hanging out on the grass bank in front of my old house. A few of the kids were straddling their bikes chatting with the rest who were perched on a rather steep slope of lawn. The picture was a timeless one for me. If you were to look in our family photo albums, you’d see a similar scene played out every time the sun came out.

Times have changed. The boys on the bikes were wearing helmets. Absent was the plank of wood propped up on a flimsy metal step-stool. Evil Knievel was the rage and we were busy trying to see who could clear the most squares on the sidewalk. But the vibe of that street was still there. The kids on the street were living it. I could feel it.

There is so much more to a house than the kitchen and the color of the carpets. The intangible items are sometimes what are more valuable to the homeowner than the brand of kitchen appliance. I think this is why the new construction market has taken such a hit as of late. People are looking for a house to have a character, a soul.

Today’s market as challenged as it is a great time to shop for a new house. You’ll have the time to think actually about it, look inside and out. Check out the neighborhood. Try and catch the vibe and see if it’s right for you.

Recent data out from the mortgage brokers is that applications are down some 20%. That means nobody is asking for a mortgage. The banks have money to lend. If you bought a house ten years ago, you’ll recognize the process. The lender will ask you to verify the information on your application with tax returns, bank statements and pay stubs. Gone are the pain free mortgage applications. But if you were to lend someone $400,000 wouldn’t you ask for the information to be real?

As I was leaving I noticed the gathering had evolved, like ours used to, into a game of touch football in the middle of the street. I’m not a big football fan but the noises that rolled up the hill from their game put a smile on my face and memories rolling though my thoughts for the rest of the night.