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Home Forum Extra

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

* Sorry, no personal replies.

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October 23, 2008 8:00 AM

Homeowner lacks big down payment

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: We'd like to buy a home in a better school district and keep our current paid-off home as a rental. Our problem: we don't have enough cash for a large down payment. Will a lender OK a small down payment because we have a paid-off property?

Continue reading this post ...


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September 24, 2008 1:08 PM

Tenant wonders about displaying campaign signs

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: Seattle's Fair Housing Ordinance prohibits discrimination based on political ideology and activity. Does that protect tenants who put political campaign signs in their windows?

Continue reading this post ...


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August 1, 2008 7:30 AM

Granddaughter's land grab concerns relative

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: An 80-year-old relative, who's not always lucid, has said in the past that his will leaves a valuable piece of property to a granddaughter. The granddaughter wants this relative's son (the will's eventual executor) to give her the property now. She says the son has the power to do this because his dad isn't always competent and she's going to get it anyway. Is this true?

Continue reading this post ...


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July 16, 2008 7:30 AM

Why didn't PMI save lenders?

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: I keep reading about the subprime mortgage meltdown, the subsequent foreclosures and lenders going out of business. I thought that private mortgage insurance (PMI) was supposed to protect lenders when borrowers defaulted. Why hasn't it?

Continue reading this post ...


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June 24, 2008 11:45 AM

Does creeping wetland get a tax break?

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: My question is about paying property taxes on part of our Seattle backyard newly designated as "wetland" because of a creek running through our neighbor's yard. Over the years the "no build" area has grown from 15 feet from the creek to 50 feet. So now one third of our property is unbuildable. Shouldn't this entitle us to a tax break?

Continue reading this post ...


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June 10, 2008 4:24 PM

Reader questions property tax rise

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Noting that King County home prices are declining yet his property taxes recently increased 10 percent, a Redmond reader asks:
"Could you please ask the King County assessor to explain himself?"

Continue reading this post ...


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May 22, 2008 11:48 AM

Mortgage woes?

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Any readers have recent stories to tell about new mortgages or refinances either being easy to get or hard to come by? Anyone encountering any surprises in qualifying for a loan or closing a purchase because of lending issues?

I'd like to hear from you.

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May 9, 2008 1:00 PM

A time of uncertainty

Posted by Bill Kossen

A constant topic at this week's meeting in Dallas of the National Association of Real Estate Editors has been the volatility of the housing market. Even the experts are in a quandary about what will happen next.

Continue reading this post ...


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May 9, 2008 12:40 PM

An expert's view of the housing crisis

Posted by Bill Kossen

With the nation in an economic slowdown, if not a recession, what's ahead?

Continue reading this post ...


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May 6, 2008 4:15 PM

Homeowner wants house demolished

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: We need to tear down our house in Kirkland. Do you know of anyone or any organization that will do this at no or low cost?

Continue reading this post ...


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May 1, 2008 9:30 AM

Homeowner worried about stability of WaMu mortgage

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: I have 10 years left on 15-year fixed-rate mortgage with Washington Mutual. With WaMu having financial difficulties, should I consider refinancing with another company?

Continue reading this post ...


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April 23, 2008 11:00 AM

Homeowner stymied by "frozen" home-equity credit line

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: I opened a home equity line of credit (HELOC) last June, which cost me $2,000 in fees. I made all my payments on time and currently have a zero balance. Recently I tried to use the line to get more cash. However my lender told me it was frozen so I can't. The lender also won't let me close it without paying a penalty. Is this legal? What can I do?

Continue reading this post ...


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April 18, 2008 9:30 AM

Reverse mortgage applicant wants to forgo insurance

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: We'd like to take out a reverse mortgage and get $50,000 as a lump sum rather than in a series of payments. Can we forgo the federally insured provision, which will cost us about $5,000? Since we'll have loads of equity left over, what would be the objection to declining this insurance?

Continue reading this post ...


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March 27, 2008 9:00 AM

Wife frets she's not in husband's will

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: I want my husband to put my name in his will saying I get half in case something happens to him. But he says he doesn't need to do this because Washington is a community property state so everything is divided 50/50. He also says if something happens to him he's going to let his son give me half the community property. What should I do?

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March 25, 2008 4:00 PM

King County homeowner wonders if taxes have ever dropped

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: After living at the same King County address for more than 40 years, I have a hard time remembering if real-estate taxes (not the levy rate) have ever gone down. It seems like they always go up. Do you recall any time that the reverse has occurred?

Continue reading this post ...


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March 21, 2008 5:00 PM

Mom wants to give daughter half her house

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: A single mother I know intends to quit-claim a half-interest in her house to her teenage daughter. The mother says she wants to make sure the girl is taken care of if she dies. I'm worried this could have unintended consequences, but the mom says she isn't worried because her daughter is a good girl. Your thoughts?

Continue reading this post ...


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March 18, 2008 5:00 PM

More on buying a foreclosed property with multiple liens against it

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Responding to a recent Home Forum Extra item about a foreclosure clouded by an IRS lien, a reader asks: "If all liens get wiped out after the tax foreclosure auction and even if the IRS doesn't redeem the property or buy you out after 120 days, what's left to worry about? "

Continue reading this post ...


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March 14, 2008 9:00 AM

Reader wonders about insurance coverage when home is vacant

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: Is it true that homeowners insurance policies are only good if the home is occupied? Does this mean the home isn't covered if it's vacant because it's for sale? What if it's vacant because it's being remodeled? Or about to be rented?

Continue reading this post ...


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March 11, 2008 4:00 PM

Owner wants more money from reverse mortgage

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: We've used up most of our reverse mortgage's line of credit and would like to obtain more money from this mortgage. Since our house is worth considerably more, we think this should be no problem. However the mortgage company says a refinance is required. Is this valid or simply a plot to make us pay thousands of dollars in refinance fees?

Continue reading this post ...


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March 7, 2008 11:23 AM

New loan limits and local home prices

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Three of the biggest providers of home-mortgage money, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and FHA, announced significant increases in their loan limits, effective Thursday. Details are available in a story in Friday's paper.

How the higher loan limits may improve local homebuyers' purchasing power was spelled out in numbers just provided by Cheri Brennan, spokesperson for the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.

Her numbers follow.....

Continue reading this post ...


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March 5, 2008 4:00 PM

New homeowner in the dark about homeowners association

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: Having recently purchased a home in Sammamish, I know I'm governed by association rules, and pay annual dues. However, I don't have the slightest clue how to contact the association or who they are. The only success I had was finding a very outdated Web site with no contact information whatsoever.

I suppose I could post a very large and hideous sign in my front yard that violates half of the association rules (maybe put a big antenna on top of it too, for good measure) and wait for them to contact me with a warning, but there must be a better way.

Continue reading this post ...


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March 4, 2008 9:00 AM

How to find a real-estate attorney

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: How do you locate a good real-estate lawyer?

Continue reading this post ...


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March 3, 2008 9:55 AM

Tax consequences of LLC

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Tax specialist Chris Fleck, an enrolled agent with Puget Sound Tax Services in Edmonds, offers additional information on the potential tax consequences of forming a limited liability company, or LLC. His comments follow a recent item about LLC's in this column. (Scroll down to see it.)
Fleck's comment:

Continue reading this post ...


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January 30, 2008 9:00 AM

Lien holder wonders what happens when home is foreclosed

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: What happens in a bank foreclosure when there are multiple liens against the property? Do the proceeds from the foreclosure sale also require payment to the other lien holders? Or does the title to the new owner remain clouded by the junior liens?

Continue reading this post ...


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January 24, 2008 10:00 AM

Mortgage firm's demise stuns loan holder

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: We took out a home equity line of credit with American Home Mortgage, which came with checks we've used to pay bills using the credit line. On Jan. 11 we received a copy of a Delaware court order. It said effective that day the line was canceled, any checks in transit wouldn't be honored and our outstanding balance is being transferred to another company. We had no clue this was coming. Can a lender really do this without giving its customers notice?

Continue reading this post ...


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January 23, 2008 10:30 AM

If there's a will is probate necessary?

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: Do you have to go through probate in Washington state if you have a will? What determines whether you will or won't go through probate?

Continue reading this post ...


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January 11, 2008 5:08 PM

Help for homeowners with problem loans

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Homeowners who are having trouble with their mortgages are invited to attend a free workshop Saturday, Jan. 19, designed to educate them about their options.

Sponsored by the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, the program will provide information about predatory lending practices, foreclosure rescue scams, various mortgage products -- and most of all what to do when payments fall behind.

"The workshop can help those individuals who have a subprime loan, are paying interest only, or have an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) that will adjust soon," says A. Linda Taylor, the Urban League's housing specialist.

It will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at First AME Church, 1522 14th Ave., Seattle, in the Leona B. Jones Fellowship Hall.

A light breakfast and lunch will be served. Children ages 5 and up are welcome.

For reservations call the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle at 206-461-3792, extension 3004.

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December 28, 2007 9:46 AM

Older homeowner needs property tax break

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: I'm trying to help my aunt (she is in her late 60s and struggling financially) find ways to economize. I've heard there may be a way for her to get a break on property taxes. Is this true?

Continue reading this post ...


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December 12, 2007 6:00 AM

Relating median price to home values

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: What bearing does the median price based on closed sales have on what is actually happening to property values?

A: Here's where Seattle-based Zillow comes in handy. Based on its proprietary mathematical model, the real-estate site estimates the value of most homes in the U.S. Not just the ones for sale, or recently sold.

Stan Humphries, Zillow's vice president of data and analytics, says home sales are a good indicator of prices in the area, at least for those homes that sell. But neighborhood values "can be quite different than median sale prices," he says.

Here's an example of how that can be.

Each month the Northwest Multiple Listing Service compiles home sales statistics. If there are enough sales, and they're spread across all price ranges, then the median sales numbers can be a decent indication of which way property values are moving. But those are big ifs.

Take for instance, October's condominium sales in MLS Area 715 - Richmond Beach/Shoreline. The MLS data showed prices there dropped an astonishing 33 percent compared to a year earlier.

But here's the kicker: that area had just two condo sales that month versus 14 the previous October -- obviously too small a sample to be reliable.

And the median price of those two condos was $161,950. Is that indicative of overall condo values in that area? Not likely. Nor is November's median sold price -- $200,500 -- any better. It also reflects just two sales.

Quarterly and annual neighborhood sales numbers are much larger and thus more likely to reflect true neighborhood values.

Like the MLS, Zillow uses median instead of average. Humphries says median -- the midpoint between the highest and lowest numbers -- "is a better indication than average" of where prices really are because it's less vulnerable to skewing.

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December 3, 2007 2:55 PM

Flood insurance information

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

With torrential rains spawning flooding throughout Western Washington, it's important to note that standard homeowners insurance policies typically do not cover flooding.

However owners whose homes are most at risk of flooding may be able to buy special coverage through the National Flood Insurance Program.

"NFIP studies show that people living in flood plains are 27 times more likely to experience a flood during their 30-year mortgage than they are to have a fire," said Karl Newman, NW Insurance Council president, in a statement.

The insurance council recommends homeowners contact their city or county government's building department to see if their home is in a flood plain.

Owners who are at risk for flooding should consider buying as much flood coverage as they can afford, the Insurance Council recommends.

Primary homes (not vacation residences) insured for at least 80 percent of their value, or the maximum allowed, get replacement cost coverage.

There's normally a 30-day waiting period from the time a policy is purchased until coverage begins.

The Insurance Council has two flood brochures available by request through its website. They are "Flood: Are You Protected From the Next Disaster?" and "Things You Should Know About Flood Insurance."

The brochures also are available by calling the council at 800-664-4942.


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November 29, 2007 11:00 AM

Owner fears neighborhood character threatened

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: In my neighborhood, Ballard, a number of charming Craftsman homes have been torn down and replaced by bland town homes. This is undermining the neighborhood's architectural legacy. What can I do as a citizen to stop the demolition of historic homes and buildings in Ballard?

A: "This is happening nationwide. It's not just Ballard. It's not just Seattle," says Christine Palmer, who heads the advocacy program run by Historic Seattle, a nonprofit historic preservation organization.

Concerns like yours are common, Palmer says. And it's been an issue in Ballard for years. However, there are no simple solutions.

Washington has a law, the State Environmental Policy Act, or SEPA, that requires a property over a certain square footage be assessed before it can be demolished. Its historical significance is part of the assessment.

"But if a house is average to small, it falls through the cracks of SEPA and the owner can get a demolition permit over the counter," Palmer says. "My personal advice as a preservation advocate is: don't wait until a demolition sign goes up."

Instead, people everywhere who are concerned about this issue should see if their city or county has a historic preservation officer. Many do, including Seattle. Write to the officer about your concerns; include why you think a particular structure or structures are historic and worth saving.

Will that do the trick?

"There's not a great chance," Palmer concedes. That's why she says people in your situation need to "generate lots and lots of letters to your local officials" asking them to tighten up on the demolition of older homes and their replacement by dissimilar structures.

In your letter say, "I'd like to see more strict design review of insensitive infill construction." Those are the terms to use, says Palmer.

"Ultimately saving the character of older neighborhoods goes to the political will of the community. It has everything to do with how the local politicians feel about development," she says.

For more on Historic Seattle and its advocacy program, go to www.historicseattle.org.

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November 2, 2007 6:00 PM

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Home Forum Extra is taking a break until Nov. 12 while Elizabeth Rhodes is out of the office.

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October 19, 2007 8:00 AM

Reader questions rising property taxes

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: According to my King County tax valuation, my Central Area town house is now valued 62 percent higher that what I paid for it in September of 2006, and my property taxes are increasing more than $1,000. Given the onset of a major housing slump, including the decreased rate of growth of Seattle home values, do I have a better case for petitioning the county for a lower valuation?

A: It's not likely because "at this time we have not seen a decline in property values in most areas," says Lynn Gering, chief appraiser for the King County Assessor's Office. Instead, what is declining is the rate of annual appreciation, from the double digits of a year ago to single digits now. Further, price growth isn't declining evenly. Some neighborhoods are falling off less than others.

"If the market value and assessed value were to decline, it would not necessarily mean a reduction in property taxes," Gering says. That's because there are many elements in play, including the costs of various voter-based levies and such that determine much of what constitutes a property tax bill.

Homeowners who want to appeal their valuations before the King County Board of Appeals/Equalization (and several thousand do annually) must do so by the deadline: July 1 or 60 days after receiving their valuation notice, whichever comes later. To prevail, they must be able to demonstrate that the fair market value of their property is less than the assessor's valuation.

For more information see the board's website or call 206-296-7300.

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August 13, 2007 11:44 AM

Challenging a notice of proposed land use

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: A notice of proposed land use went up next door to my Seattle house. It calls for tearing down one house and building six cottages, which is fine, however the plan also calls for a parking lot for six cars. I think that's extremely inappropriate in a residential neighborhood. I have the e-mail address to PRC but want to know if there is anything else I can do to stop a parking lot in my neighborhood?

A: Alan Justad, spokesman for Seattle's Department of Planning and Development, doesn't have enough information to speak directly to your situation. But what he can tell you is that accessory parking is required for multi-family projects in residential neighborhoods. The city won't let developers build housing with the expectation that inhabitants will park on the street. Still, stand-alone parking lots per se aren't allowed.

So then the issue becomes where to put the parking, and the city solicits input on that (as well as the project itself). That's the purpose of the notice of proposed land use sign you saw.

The "Public Resource Center (PRC) is the right place to send comments, along with the project number," says Justad. "However, if the use is allowed, including access parking, which is likely, then we would be looking at mitigating impacts ... not stopping the project from being developed."

That's where your comments are valuable.

More information on land-use changes can be found on the department's Web site: http://www.seattle.gov/dpd

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July 25, 2007 11:19 AM

Home sales decline

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

The National Association of Realtors reports today that home sales nationally fell in June, but prices continued to rise.

This mirrors what happened in the Puget Sound region last month, although exact comparisons cannot be made based on the available data.

Nationally, June sales of existing homes were 11.4 percent below the previous June and prices were up 0.3 percent.

King County's pending sales for new and existing homes were down 9.4 percent last month compared to a year earlier, and prices were up 7.1 percent. That's according to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service, which does not divide new and existing home sales.

Snohomish County's pending sales were down 18.1 percent and prices were up 8 percent.

Pierce County's pending sales were down 24 percent and prices were up 1 percent.

Kitsap County's pending sales were down 21 percent and prices were up 12.4 percent.

All four counties also reported the number of homes on the market increased significantly last month compared to the previous June, with King County seeing a 53 percent increase, Snohomish a 61 percent increase, Pierce a 53 percent increase and Kitsap a 37 percent increase.

These figures reflect combined activity for single-family houses, condominiums, town homes and co-ops.

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July 23, 2007 9:50 AM

Avoiding a blocked view problem

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Ed Wootton, a real estate appraiser on Whidbey Island, weighs in on an item posted here last week, "What to do when view is blocked" that addressed buyers' options when the home they bought quickly had its view blocked by neighboring construction. It also ran in the print version of Sunday July 22 Home Forum.

I'd like to add my two cents to your great answer on the Shoreline house with the view problem.

As a state certified appraiser my definition of a view is one that can be only enjoyed from the comfort of the living quarters (not the bedrooms, bathrooms or the deck), and one that cannot be taken away.

If the buyers did have an appraisal the appraiser would (or should) have seen the vacant lots and used his or her due diligence to determine if the lots could be improved and if so what effect that would have on the homes view/value. That of course would be noted in the report along with any value or loss of value given for the view amenity.

If they did not have an appraisal then that's one of many good reasons for a buyer to get an appraisal regardless of their circumstances.

An appraiser can also look at neighboring properties and gauge whether remodeling them might compromise a view. E.R.

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July 18, 2007 3:29 PM

Sidewalk responsibilities in Seattle

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

A July 8 story about sidewalks that ran in the Real Estate section said homeowners are usually responsible for maintenance and repair of the sidewalk in front of their home, although not all cities enforce this.

A number of readers have responded by saying that this is not true in Seattle.

Seattle's Department of Transportation has jurisdiction over sidewalks.

Here's what its Web site says about sidewalk responsibility.

A Property Owner's Responsibility

Streets and sidewalks are for everyone's use. They add value to private property by providing access to the property and a way to get to other places in the city.

When property is developed, property owners dedicate part of the land as "public right-of-way" for streets, sidewalks, utilities and similar public uses.

What some property owners do not realize is that they are responsible for maintaining part of the right-of-way next to their property, including the sidewalk and planting strip, or the roadway shoulder if unimproved. Property owners are also responsible for maintaining unpaved alleys next to their property.

Sidewalks

Property owners are responsible for maintaining the sidewalks adjacent to their property. They must make sure snow and ice does not pose a hazard to pedestrians. They must also repair cracks and other damage.

If a property owner installs a new concrete sidewalk, the owner or the contractor must obtain a Street Use Permit to make sure the walkway meets the City's current standards, including wheelchair ramps at street corners and proper drainage of the street area.

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July 16, 2007 3:14 PM

Incomprehensible legalese

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: I recently received two letters regarding my home mortgage; the first, entitled Substitution of Trustee, and the second, entitled Deed of Reconveyance. The letters are almost entirely in incomprehensible legalese. Can you help translate?

Trustor: myself

Trustee: Chicago Title Insurance

Beneficiary: Wells Fargo Bank

The letters seemingly transfer Trusteeship from Chicago Title to Wells Fargo, making Wells Fargo both Trustee and Beneficiary.

Without your seeing the letters, does this sound right? And if so, is this of any importance or consequence? And is this done commonly?

A: Did you recently buy your home, refinance it or pay it off? I'm wondering if these documents pertain to one of those actions.

The quickest way to get to the bottom of this is to call customer service at Wells Fargo's mortgage division and ask for an explanation in plain English.

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July 13, 2007 5:04 PM

Walls and fences removing "elbow room"

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

A reader named Jorgen sent this comment:

It was refreshing to read an article about Seattle sidewalks. Pedestrians in Seattle's neighborhoods encounter another problem:

Encroachments by builders and owners into street right of way with walls and fences next to paved sidewalks. Walls and fences remove the elbow room on the inside of the pavement and push people toward the curb. Such encroachments effectively expand the area of the abutter's private property while squeezing pedestrians.

Several years ago, the Seattle Department of Transportation adopted a tolerance policy that lets a builder or owner build such a wall or fence. If neighbors or the neighborhood association complain while work is in progress, its Street Use Division issues a permit blessing the encroachment. The Department of Development and Planning issues Certificates of Occupancy for new construction with encroachments in place. Builders then sell the new dwelling (usually megahouses or townhouses) and the buyers plead ignorance and innocence.

Our Ravenna-Bryant Community Association got fed up and has been trying for six weeks to get the last two encroachments removed. One is a wall of a new expensive house and the other by an owner up to a five-foot pavement used by middle-school students next to a busy arterial. There are no results so far.

Seattle Community Council Federation took up the problem; other community associations are experiencing encroachments and City lassitude.
It's a matter for investigative reporting.

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July 12, 2007 11:48 AM

Concrete construction

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Reader Janet Vincent says:

I am writing regarding the July 1 article "Home Concrete Houses."

We are currently constructing two zero-lot-line homes using Insulating Concrete Forms (ICF) that were discussed in the article. The dividing wall between the homes will extend from the ground level to the roof at the third level; the exterior walls will go to the second level. Each home will have three levels, including a daylight lower level.

The first concrete pour was July 10. There will be one or more additional concrete pours. You may want to have a look at some point.

For further details, we can be reached by e-mail at jkvince@aol.com or Latitude@speakeasy.net.

Thanks for the information, Janet.
Unfortunately we can't link to this story because it was a wire story out of Kansas City.
However I can provide readers who didn't see the story with a sampling of information from it:

Concrete houses cost 4 to 8 percent more nationally than traditional frame houses, depending on the floor plan and finishes.

A 2,000-square-foot home in the U.S. that is built of concrete will save about $200 in heating costs and $65 in air-conditioning each year, according to a study by the Illinois-based Portland Cement Association, the national concrete industry's trade group.

Homeowners insurance costs up to 25 percent less for concrete houses because they are more resistant to fire, high winds and pests.

More money can be saved on building a concrete house by using smaller heating and cooling equipment and by building a reverse story-and-a-half floor plan that incorporates living space on a lower level rather than adding a second story, says builder Steve Stewart of Independence, Mo.

"Just a few years ago, building a concrete house cost about 25 percent more than a stick frame," says Stewart, owner of Perfect Concrete, whose average home costs $350,000. "Now, after building more, they can cost about the same."

Building a concrete home is also less taxing on the environment, says Steve Thompson, the construction director for Heartland Habitat for Humanity in the Kansas City area. An abundant supply of natural and recycled materials goes into concrete, whereas more than three dozen trees are used on an average wood-frame home in the United States, he says.

"There's hardly any waste with concrete," says Thompson, who has been building homes for 30 years. "I firmly believe that 20 years from now, the majority of houses built will be from ICF."

E.R.

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July 12, 2007 10:44 AM

NovaStar comment

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

A June 22 article reported that a class action lawsuit against NovaStar Mortgage had been settled out of court in Tacoma, following certification, last fall, by a federal judge who ruled then that NovaStar's failure to disclose its payment of yield spread premiums was unfair or deceptive under Washington law.

That story drew a response from Norton Tait, first vice president and senior manager of Washington Mutual Bank's Recourse and Recovery Department.

He wrote:
In your recent article regarding the NovaStar legal settlement, you stated that a Yield Spread Premium (YSP) is a "controversial practice in which lenders pay independent mortgage brokers a premium to put borrowers into a loan with a higher interest rate than what they qualified for." Regrettably, you have wholly mischaracterized the purpose and nature of the YSP.

Mortgage brokers are agents for the borrower -- the broker is selected by the borrower and accountable to the borrower. Accordingly, the borrower is responsible to pay for the broker's services, which fees can cost several thousand dollars depending on the contractual agreement between the borrower and the broker. Often a borrower does not have sufficient cash at closing to pay for the broker's services, in which case the borrower may elect to have the lender "advance" the payment to the broker on the borrower's behalf outside of closing. The borrower then repays the lender for this advance in the form of a slightly higher interest rate. This payment is for the broker's services rendered on behalf of the borrower. The payment is not a premium in exchange for a higher interest rate. In fact, given that borrowers frequently refinance in today's mortgage environment, the lender often will not fully recoup the advance because the loan is paid in full within a few years of origination.

The issue in the NovaStar case was not whether the YSP is appropriate, but whether NovaStar properly disclosed to the borrower the option of paying the broker upfront, resulting in a slightly lower interest rate over the term of the loan. Full disclosure is essential in order for the borrower to make an informed decision. Accurate reporting is equally critical.

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July 12, 2007 6:00 AM

Who will buy our trees?

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: Our Woodinville home is surrounded by fir trees. Are there any companies that will pay you for the trees? We really do not feel safe in our home anymore and don't want to go through another winter like last year.


A: We ran your question past Heather Baldwin at Windfall Lumber in Olympia. It's a company that specializes in milling reclaimed wood. Baldwin says there are small-scale sawmills that will take your trees. Some buy them; some don't.

However last winter's big windstorm knocked down a bumper crop of trees so there may be no demand for yours. Don't be surprised if the best you can do is get rid of them for free.

Washington State University has a list of small-scale sawmills on its Web site. Some mills also provide felling and hauling services. Most are located in Western Washington.

The list includes descriptions of what each mill handles and provides addresses and phone numbers for you to call.

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July 6, 2007 12:00 PM

Spending assets or getting reverse mortgage

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: My 94-year-old mother, who lives out of state, refuses to go into a nursing home. Instead she has round-the-clock in-home care that costs $10,000 a month. Would it be better for her to draw down her investments ($250,000) and then get a reverse mortgage on her $600,000 home or vice versa? The home is not in her name. It's in a living trust.


A: Having the home in a trust doesn't disqualify your mother from getting a reverse mortgage, says Dale Peterson, a reverse mortgage specialist for HomeStreet Bank in Seattle. However there are some legal hoops she'd have to jump through.

In general, Peterson advises spending down investments first, then getting a reverse mortgage. But that may not always be the best option, which is why he strongly suggests you and your mother get professional advice tailored to her situation.

Senior Services, a nonprofit social services agency, can help you there, even if your mother lives out of state, says Terra McCaffree, manager of information services.

"One thing we do is long-term care planning," she says. "We can get more information and look at their assets and when Medicare comes into play and even look at the possibility of long-term care assistance."

The goal, McCaffree says, is to explore all options and make sure you're not missing anything. Senior Services can refer you to elder law attorneys with expertise in asset management as well as services where your mother lives.
Call 206-448-3110 or 888-435-3377.


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