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What should I know before buying a house in Seattle?
August 20, 2014 9:51 PM   Subscribe

What should I know before buying a house in Seattle? We have a pretty good sense for the neighborhoods (leaning toward Queen Anne or Magnolia) but... How does one find a good real estate agent? (How important is that?) Are there some months that are much better/worse? (We can rent a while before we buy.) Other stuff?
posted by CruiseSavvy to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I suggest reading Seattle Bubble for a data-specific look at the Seattle market (full disclaimer, the site owner is employed by Redfin).

Have you lived in Seattle before? If you haven't, I suggest not buying a house immediately and renting instead. Seattle's neighborhoods are surprisingly different from each other, and you may very well find that your current neighborhood preferences change pretty quickly when you are actually living in the city. For instance, Queen Anne is quite hilly and Magnolia is rather difficult to get into/out of by road. Neither of those may matter to you, but I'd want to know about those sorts of things before buying a place.

The Seattle market right now is highly seller-biased, and multiple offers on desirable properties is common. You should be examining your financial state right now and determining the absolute maximum you are comfortable paying for a house - because that's likely what you'll have to bid to get a place you want. Further, you should make sure you are comfortable with losing to a 100% cash bid with no contingencies for over asking price - because that's likely to happen on the property you like the most.
posted by saeculorum at 10:00 PM on August 20 [3 favorites]


Look at actual sold prices, not list prices to get a feel for what stuff is going for in your target areas. Hot neighborhoods are going for more than asking (we looked at one that ended up going for $80k over!). Pre-inspections are common (an inspection you get done before your offer). A common pattern we saw was house listed early in the week, open house over the weekend, offer deadline on Monday morning. Then they basically take the highest offer. Start looking at open houses now to get a feel for typical houses -- we realized that a lot of basements were counted as square footage but were barely livable, for example. Stay on top of Redfin, it updates fast and can help you pounce on a listing. Our agent didn't really help on this front, we usually knew about the houses before he did. The house we ended up getting was listed around noon, we saw it within a couple hours and got the first offer in in the morning. This one didn't hold offers, so that helped. Inventory tends to drop in the late fall/winter, but might also be less competitive. Our experience is in West Seattle, but I imagine Queen Anne/Magnolia are worse!
posted by wsquared at 10:06 PM on August 20 [1 favorite]


The market is as high as it has been lately. If I were you, I'd rent and research carefully as to what neighborhoods appeal to you most, prevailing prices, and commute times. And then move in like a shark that has zeroed in on its prey and bid immediately in cash when you find what you want.

FYI there may be better options out of the city. King County has a lot of choices.
posted by bearwife at 10:46 PM on August 20 [2 favorites]


One thing you will find is that East-West travel in the Puget Sound basin is ridiculously difficult. Having lived here forever I can't say that it's by design but it is the reality. Which means that if you plan on working at some specific locale keep in mind that getting there from North or South takes approximately half the time of going a similar distance East or West. Home prices reflect this.
There are certain areas that are very pricey because of their proximity to high paying employers, Fremont/Ballard/North Queen Anne for example is getting high very fast because of the software corridor along the ship canal. Redmond of course is notorious. Laurelhurst because of the university.
Think transit and bike trails as options if you need to commute and pay accordingly, you will find the research taking that into account will pay off.
It is an overheated market and an agent will be useful only if you don't have the time to follow-up on the offers. In my own neighborhood it looks like a house might be on the market accepting offers for about 7 days before there's a sold.
Oh, and be careful about water problems, most houses are on hills and most of them are sitting in the path of a small creek.
posted by ptm at 11:53 PM on August 20 [2 favorites]


Does public transit matter to you? Because in addition to the east-west issue mentioned above, magnolia has the worst public transit of any neighborhood in the city. I don't know how you could statistically measure this, but it's just emphatically true. The buses don't run after 10pm and some may be cut soon. They take stupid, convoluted slow routes. There's only a couple buses that serve the entire neighborhood and there's huge swaths of it that are many blocks from any bus stop. It's a bedroom neighborhood, and it's also a completely car-centered one. It's the kind of area where you're never walking to any store, you're driving. Everywhere.

Queen anne is fairly similar honestly. The only buses that go through the vast majority of it only connect to downtown, and they're slow meandering trolleys. There's also silly stuff like a bunch of people in the neighborhood lobbying for a mini mart/bodega to have to close at 9pm because any later somehow besmirched the character of the neighborhood, and other super insane NIMBY stuff.

I think you've gotten some really good advice here, but i think you should really map out what your commute would be and how you're going to undertake it for each neighborhood, and each house you look at. Some areas are deceptively really, really sucky. Some very similar feeling areas are totally great.

I also think if you're willing to look in magnolia, there's parts of the north central district/madison, north ballard, and greenwood that you're really kind of selling yourself short if you don't check out. Ballard and greenwood offer way better transit, and are just more interesting neighborhoods. And the CD and parts of madison are really just undervalued compared to a lot of other areas now simply because it isn't where the huge run on the banks of buying is going on as much.

Also keep in mind that while queen anne and greenwood have some of the nicest old houses in the entire city, magnolia is a glut of ugly slightly messed up 1950s sprawl. Just regretable postwar boxes with no soul that get shoveled for way more than they should be worth. It's also getting slowly raided by people moving to town to work at tech companies for $$$, and the prices are climbing up really fast*.

Really i think the thing to do here is move to town, rent, and spend time in a lot of different neighborhoods. There are several, including ones separate from what i mentioned above, that are almost criminally underrated and undervalued. Some of this is "ewww, there's actually a few brown people" in this comedically white town, and some of it is just totally ???. There's plenty of cheaper parts of town than queen anne which is basically almost the most expensive in the entire city, and there's plenty of places that are just as pretty to walk around with a similar feel and lots of pretty houses on most blocks.

Another reason i vote for moving here, renting, and exploring is that every neighborhood has a bit of an awkward taint. Queen anne near nickerson and near SPU is fairly weird. Some of it doesn't even have sidewalks, and a lot of the houses are just kinda banged up and there's plenty of cheapo rentals that aren't really congruent with the rest of the $$$$ feel of the area if that's what made you like it. I get the feeling that people who just move to town often get steered in to areas that are right up next to the slightly odd part of the neighborhood because they don't know any better. Inversely, you'll also get a feel for what the perfect zone of that sort of thing is where you can get a really nice place in a good location, but it's just close enough to that slightly odd zone that you get a good deal. i've been in the solidly nice part people think of in neighborhoods, the weird part, and inbetween. And i'm telling you, inbetween is where it's at unless you're loaded.

*My uncle is a real estate appraiser in town, and now an agent as well who owns several rental houses. Some of them are over there.
posted by emptythought at 1:37 AM on August 21 [4 favorites]


As I recall you have kids. Seattle schools, sadly, sort of suck. Don't buy until you're sure about schools.
posted by k8t at 2:21 AM on August 21 [4 favorites]


I know nothing about Seattle, but for real estate in general you can usually find slightly better deals around the winter holidays because fewer people tend to be hip to moving at that time.
posted by WeekendJen at 5:04 AM on August 21


This may sound counterintuitive, but I recommend looking for houses in the fall or winter during torrential rain, if possible. This way, you will be able to see whether a house has any issues with drainage, which can cause mold, erosion, dry rot, and other problems. Most homes is the neighborhoods you mentioned are older and have basements. All you need is one whiff of basement mold for you to cross that one off your list quickly.

Another reason to buy during the darker months is that you'll have a better idea of how much natural light the house gets at its minimum. And you can be surprised to see what plants come up in spring. Good luck!
posted by oxisos at 10:43 PM on August 21 [2 favorites]


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