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Seattle Times business reporter Elizabeth Rhodes posts the answers to your real estate questions as they pop up during the week. Join this ongoing discussion, which also features reader reaction to real-estate articles appearing throughout The Times.

Home Forum, Seattle Times, P.O. Box 1845, Seattle, WA 98111

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February 28, 2008 9:30 AM

Potentially dangerous tree worries homeowner

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: My neighbor's tree is about 2 feet away from the fence line, and about 4 feet away from my house. The tree is about 25 feet high. I was asking my neighbor about cutting down the tree since it has the potential of falling down during a storm. Of course we'll split the price. However,my neighbor didn't agree. Could you tell me what to do since this tree may damage my house?

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February 27, 2008 4:00 PM

Rental owner considers creating an LLC

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: I own one rental house. I took out a $2 million umbrella insurance policy to protect myself and my primary home in case a renter ever sued. I'm told some investors put their homes in an LLC to protect their other assets. However my mortgage company doesn't allow LLC's so I believe what I'd have to do instead is quit-claim the rental out of my name and into the LLC. Is it advisable to do this?

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February 27, 2008 10:55 AM

Neighbor wants to trim hedge

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: Over 35 years ago a previous owner planted a laurel hedge very close to the southern property line and over the years it has spread south maybe a foot or two. Do I have the right to continue to trim and remove ivy and morning glory from the whole hedge as I have done in the past?

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February 26, 2008 1:00 PM

Developer's discount price riles others

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes


Q: A few months ago I helped my son buy a condo in a small, newly refurbished building. He got it for about $10,000 off the asking price, and the developer paid his closing costs. A month later, the developer sold an identical unit on the same floor for $30,000 off. This seems quite unfair to my son. What can he do about it? Shouldn't the developer have disclosed he was desperate to sell?

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February 26, 2008 12:51 PM

Local foreclosure numbers in

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

We received local home foreclosure numbers after the deadline Tuesday's story, which reported that foreclosures are up significantly nationwide.
Here they are.

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February 22, 2008 8:30 AM

Tax liens can cloud foreclosure purchase

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: There's a condo in foreclosure that I'd like to buy. It's been abandoned by its owner, who owes the mortgage company $310,000. But I'm concerned because there are two IRS liens against the property, plus another lien for unpaid property taxes. Could I inherit these liens?

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February 21, 2008 10:00 AM

Neighboring sewer-line work worries homeowner

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: The Seattle house next to mine was torn down and a new one is being built. The contractor has torn up my front sidewalk to connect the new home's sewer line to the line that goes from my home to the city line in the street. Is this legal? I was not consulted or asked to give any written or verbal consent.

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February 20, 2008 4:10 PM

Buy now or wait for prices to fall?

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: We'd like to buy our first house and have found one in the North Seattle neighborhood we like. But it's at the top of our budget. Should we buy now or wait for prices to fall?

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February 15, 2008 11:12 AM

Reader comment grows re regulation's impact on housing costs

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

The Feb. 14 story, "UW study: Rules add $200,000 to Seattle house price," continues to draw spirited reader response. The story cited research by UW Economics Professor Theo Eicher, whose work can be found on his Web site.

Here's what some readers are saying. (Scroll down to see a previous posting of reader comments.)

A reader named Seth writes:

First of all, it is unrealistic to compare 2006, peak of the housing bubble prices, with prices from five years ago. Housing prices are on their way down, and there has been no dramatic change in real estate regulation in the past 10 years. If you look at the numbers in your article giving median prices from 1989, 2001 and 2006, most of the change has been since 2001, during the speculative bubble. In fact, this accounts for most of the $200,000. Did regulations change in 2001, or was there a change in the way houses were financed? Eliminating regulations on loan processing can raise housing prices more precipitously than the slow steady force of neighborhood zoning regulation.

Another thing to consider is that places protected by high levels of regulation are more desirable in that people will pay more money for houses in highly regulated areas. If the regulations were onerous, housing prices would stop rising, and possibly even fall back towards the national median. If regulation actually added a full $200,000 to the median house price, and awful lot of people consider it worth while.
Not everyone wants to live in a traffic wracked, zero amenity, low infrastructure slurb. Allowing less regulated growth does keep house prices lower, but at the expense of everyone already living in the area who have to pay for roads, schools, sewers and so on, or otherwise accept traffic problems, bad schools, higher crime and the like.

The numbers often give the lie to common economic wisdom. For example, anti-tax advocates often argue that people avoid high tax areas when in fact, people will pay an extra $10,000 for a house for each additional percentage point of their income that would go to taxes. Real estate prices are higher in high tax states because that is where people want to live. This is common sense. People are always paying extra for houses in low-crime areas with good school systems, and good policing and good schools cost tax money. Eicher argues that regulation is raising housing prices. This may be true. But regulation is raising housing prices by creating a more valuable product. Only an economist would consider it bizarre that a pet owner might pay more for dog food if he or she could know that it wouldn't poison their dog.



Brian writes:
Despite all the detail and length, at the end I was still left wondering just what the gist of those regulations is. Is it restricting development to single-family houses with yards instead of apartments and condos (keeping density down in the city, not up as the article suggests at some points)? Just what are these choices that residents purportedly have made that have almost doubled the median house cost? It can hardly be, as the study author suggests at the end, about parks in the city.

It would have been nice to get a clearer summary of what it is, besides the specific fees and processes the builder mentions, that drives the prices up. Otherwise, how do we know what to support or push for to make changes?

Larry writes:

Eicher's conclusions implies that without these rules the actual raise in price over those 17 years would have been $26,800 or less than 1 percent per year. I don’t think so. We are not talking micro processors here.

Have Eicher try again and arrive at reasonable numbers. This would certainly help policy makers create justifiable regulations and point to real reasons for unaffordable Seattle housing.

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February 15, 2008 9:00 AM

Condo landlord questions insurance requirement

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: My partner and I own a condominium that we rent out. We were recently informed that our condo association has voted to require all renters, including our tenant, to purchase renters insurance. Although we are all for renters insurance, we were wondering about the legality of requiring it, especially in the presence of homeowners insurance purchased by us.

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February 14, 2008 11:04 AM

Readers comment on story about regulation's impact on housing costs

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

The Feb. 14 story, "Rules add $200,000 to Seattle house price," that appeared on Page 1, has generated considerable reader comment.
Here's what some are saying. Additionally, University of Washington economics professor Theo Eicher, whose research formed the basis of the story, has a Web site with more information on the topic.
If you have questions about his study, you may find them there.

From a reader named Gayle:

Thank you for this lucid and well-researched column. The exaggerated costs of Seattle's building requirements came home to us when we wanted to replace our 1910 vacation shack in southern Seattle. Because we were on a slope, we were required to retain all the run-off water on the site. The cost to build concrete underground structures to retain the rain water came in at well over $100,000 - and that was before any building was done! We had a very modest 1,400-square-foot house planned, and the total costs were over $500,000, about twice what we wanted to spend.
Thanks again; both your reporting and your writing are a delight; what I think of as true journalism.

Clay, a Seattle reader, says:

Thank you for writing the article.
As a developer of in-city multi-family housing, I face the costs and barriers referenced in your article on a day-to-day basis. Consumers (both renters and buyers) often complain about the cost of housing, but, as your article illustrates, this cost is not due to the "greedy" developer, but rather the prolific regulation and onerous review cycles imposed by the state and local government.
Providing housing in this city is a noble and challenging endeavor. It is about time someone pointed out the government's culpability in the gap in affordability and overall historical housing price increases.

A reader named George comments:

The basic assumption, that high prices are necessarily bad, and low prices are good, comes from lobbyists with a special agenda, not from thoughtful people trying to create more beautiful, safe and comfortable communities.

Scott in Ballard says:

"Good intentions" huh Elizabeth? These warm and fuzzy feelings brought to me/you be whom? Just who runs this state? Just who really lives here these days? Didn't "good intentions" bring us busing, too? Didn't "good intentions" bring us "the great society" Elizabeth? These "good intentions" are going to be the ruintation of our country as we knew it. So now we'll get these same limo-liberals bitching for controls. The same idiots that a mere 20 years ago has thos "die yuppy scum" bumper stickers on THEIR VW vans etc!! Yup, now they have nannies, 3-4-5 vehicles per household, kiddies in private schools, and they still feel guilty about something. Guilty white folks, next on Oprah. I can see that. Born/raised here, I have witnessed this area go from Hooterville (with some skyscrapers) to Berkley North, with a few more skyscrapers, and a whole lot more lear-jet liberals, and their little dogs. Perhaps most can't see the forest, due to all the trees Elizabeth? Or tree huggers?

Burt, a builder, wrote:

Thanks for your article. I am building a 40-unit apartment in Seattle and I figure the design review and related approval delays have added $500,000-600,000. to the cost to build. It took me 18 months for the design review and 11 months for the permit. The cost estimate I received at the start of the process and the actual contract increased by $1 million. The building is economically inferior to what I proposed because they forced me to change the driveway access to a steep side street, which took away from the commercial space. Every idea anyone at the meeting proposed they included in the requirements.
I could go on and on but your time is valuable. It might be interesting to look at Greg Hill and what he has cost Seattle or what he has added to the cost of housing. He is a housing activist that sits on one of the design review committees. He sat on mine and told the committee that developers just site the building to suit them and it is no problem to move it to suit the committee. We will just move it back 5 feet, no problem. His vision of Seattle is no building over two stories.
Thanks again for shining a light on a very significant problem and its relation to the high cost of housing and apartments.

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February 13, 2008 6:20 PM

Homeowner is concerned easement is being created

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: My rural, wooded neighborhood has a private driveway, a half-mile long, for the use of several neighbors. Branching off from this is my quarter-mile private driveway. Some neighbors have been using my driveway early in the morning as part of a circular walking path. This apparently has been going on for some time, although I didn't know it until recently. My property records don't mention this path. Should I be concerned that an unofficial easement is being created? Also, what's my liability if someone is injured while walking on my property?

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February 1, 2008 10:30 AM

Sex offender worries neighbor

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: We just got notice that a Level 2 sex offender has moved into a rental in our upscale neighborhood. The notice stated that this person has a long criminal history besides the sex offense, including theft and vehicle prowling. Can we give the rental's owner written notice that he'll be responsible if anything happens to us because of this tenant's actions? Do we have any other options, or must we live with this criminal in our neighborhood?

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Recent entries

Feb 28, 08 - 09:30 AM
Potentially dangerous tree worries homeowner

Feb 27, 08 - 04:00 PM
Rental owner considers creating an LLC

Feb 27, 08 - 10:55 AM
Neighbor wants to trim hedge

Feb 26, 08 - 01:00 PM
Developer's discount price riles others

Feb 26, 08 - 12:51 PM
Local foreclosure numbers in

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