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Friday, January 29, 2016

Mazama Pocket Gopher - the latest

Today, REALTORS heard from the litigation specialist, Heather Burgess of Phillips Burgess PLLC about the latest on the Mazama pocket gopher.  You may believe this creature on the Federal Endangered Species doesn't affect you but if you live in Thurston County, the likelihood is great.



[UPDATED] Changes to Thurston County Screening for Mazama Pocket Gophers for 2015; Current County HCP Timeline

On June 25, 2015, Thurston County published its gopher review process for permitting in 2015.  It follows USFWS’s recommended approach. 
A.            Gopher Screening Process for 2015
The County recommends that applicants submit their applications “right away.”  The County’s announcement suggests that some properties will have two visits while others will have up to three.  The process, as detailed, will consist of an in-office review, followed by up to five visits to some properties. 
During the in-office review, the County will check the application against existing maps.  The County will look for any prior gopher occupancy on the property, any gopher occupancy within 600 feet of the property regardless of ownership, whether gopher soils are on the property, whether gopher soils are within 300 feet of the property regardless of ownership, and whether the property has forest cover or woody shrubs exceeding 30%.  The County will exclude properties west of Black River, on Steamboat Island, properties submerged 30 days in a row since October 2014, properties “covered with” impervious surfaces, or properties that “consist of” steep slopes or landslide hazard areas.
The County will use a revised list of soils, adding approximately 50,370 acres to the soil types identified last year.  Neither the County nor USFWS has provided a public list identifying which soils are now considered to constitute gopher soils and the low, medium, or high classification maps or lists.
The second step is an on-property assessment.  During this stage, County and USFWS staff will visit the property and look for gophers, prairie plants, forest canopy, woody shrubs, mima mounds, and gopher soils.  If a property has heavy vegetation, the property owner may be asked to mow it prior to a second assessment before proceeding to the third step.
The third step is site visits.  Depending on the mapped soil type, there may be two to three site visits.  In some cases, the County and USFWS may consider the on-property assessment the first visit.  The County and USFWS biologists will visit the property between June and October, when gopher mound detection is most likely.  Unlike the beginning of last year, when landowners needed to hire an expert, this year the County and USFWS will provide the biologists for these visits, and will not charge the applicant for the visits.  The County and USFWS will continue to provide a biologist until a certification system is developed for private consultants.  However, applicants will now be dependent on the timing and workload of the County and USFWS staff.
The site visits will be on a first come first served basis, depending on when the permit application was submitted and the number of applications still pending from last year. 
A property that has “low” gopher quality soils and is more than 600 feet from the nearest mapped gopher site will receive two site visits, 30 days apart. The County and USFWS have not identified which soils are low quality, but USFWS staff said that the majority of the soils in Thurston County are low quality for gophers.  These properties must have their first site visit by Wednesday, September 30 to have their second site visit by October 30, 2015.
Every other property will receive three visits, 30 days apart.  At least one visit must occur in September or October.  These properties must have their first site visit by August 28, to have their third site visit by October 30, 2015.
Depending on the results of the site visits, 60-90 days after the first site visit (depending on whether two or three visits are needed), the permit applicant will either have the County continue the regular permitting process, or will be told that they need to work directly with USFWS or wait for Thurston County’s HCP.  The proposed timeline for the HCP is discussed below.
The survey window is June – October, and depending on workload, the County should provide public notice of the final cutoff date for applications sometime in July.
As proposed, the process does not permit an applicant to submit their own information from an expert biologist or consultant, provide information on the mapped soil types or distance to nearest occupied gopher, or explain how the distances will be mapped (property line to property line or proposed activity location to gopher mound).   The process will also require vested permits to be reviewed by USFWS.
We agree with the County’s recommendation that applicants submit their applications as soon as possible this season.  Because the survey process is first come first served, staff time is limited, and some sites could require five visits (assessment followed by mowing, followed by three visits 30 days apart), properties which receive their first assessment visit on the first day of the survey season (June 1) will not proceed to the County’s regular permitting process until mid-September, assuming that staff are available to visit their property on the 31st day of each stage and a second assessment visit (after mowing) isn’t required.  Because the County is also proposing to make the results good for only one year, or until October 31, 2016, this could limit construction options.
As discussed below, the current HCP timeline has been extended by six months since the May briefing.  Currently, if there are no further delays in the development of the HCP or EIS, the County expects the Incidental Take Permit to be issued in the spring of 2017.  This means that permit applications next year will also be subject to some review process because the HCP will not be in place before the 2016 survey season begins.  
Property owners from last year, this year, or next year who are told that they need to wait for the County HCP will now be required to wait until at least the spring of 2017.  Although USFWS also suggests that those owners can submit their own individual HCPs, currently, none of the approximately 15-17 under development have even been published in the Federal Register. Based on last year’s applications, USFWS anticipates about 10% of properties will continue to fall into this category.
B.            County HCP Timeline
On May 13, the County Commissioners received a staff briefing on the HCP timeline.  Staff recommended that the Commissioners hire Confluence and sign a Memorandum of Understanding at a future meeting.
The proposed HCP timeline has since been revised.  Currently, the County’s timeline is:
  • Unknown (previously summer 2015):  Complete draft of HCP
  • Unknown (previously November 2015):  Complete draft of joint NEPA/SEPA EIS
  • Fall 2016 (previously January 2016):  Begin public review of HCP
  • Unknown (previously July 2016):  NEPA/SEPA decision
  • Unknown (previously summer 2016):  County adoption
  • Spring 2017 (previously summer/fall 2016):  USFWS review and ITP issuance
In May, USFWS reported that 15-17 applicants are working on individual HCPs.  However, despite the extensive public discussion prior to the listing, no HCPs have yet been issued for prairie species anywhere in Thurston County and no notices of pending HCPs have been published in the Federal Register.
For questions on land use issues or the Endangered Species Act, please contact Heather Burgess or Martha Wehling.
Additional articles and information can be found here:

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Village at Mill Pond: CRAFTSMAN STYLE + CONTEMPORARY LIVING

A COMMUNITY AND HOME THAT ARE UNIQUELY YOURS




When searching for your next home, it’s important to know that it is one of a kind. Select the home design that fits your lifestyle, then choose one of our professionally designed color palettes to make it your own. We encourage you to look around and see why The Village at Mill Pond is not just an ideal place to buy a home, but an exceptional place to live.
The Development team of Mill Pond has put forward a one of a kind vision which Ron Thomas, our nationally recognized local architect, has brought to life. Together, the development team has built several beautiful and significant projects in the Olympia area; but the Village at Mill Pond is destined to become the crown Jewel of the Region. As a team, Mill Pond brings many years of experience in custom home design and construction and delivers a truly exceptional quality home in a neighborhood that is unsurpassed in its unique and desirable features. We are building only a limited number of each of these fine homes, you will need to reserve yours now!
The Village at Mill Pond contains not only a Commercial Center and Community Building at its center, but it is also located in the heart of Olympia, close to hospitals, schools, parks, waterfront access, and the famous Olympia Farmers Market. Nestled along the Puget Sound, Olympia boasts sweeping views of the Olympics, dark evergreen forests, and thundering rivers, all accessible within just a short drive from the city limits.
Open daily 12-5
Directions: Follow Lily Road NE Northbound (about mile past St. Peter's Hospital) Mill Pond community is on the right.

Monday, January 11, 2016

7 Features That Date Your Home

There’s a fine – and often subjective—line between “vintage” and “dated” when it comes to home features. Buyers tend to be willing to pay more for a contemporary-looking property. But how do you determine whether to invest in an update? Here are a few features it’s pretty safe to say are long past their expiration date.
1. Popcorn ceilings
Also known as acoustic, or cottage cheese ceilings, they were styled using a popular spray-on ceiling finish for decades. Fortunately, the finish is easy enough to remove using a variety of DIY methods.
2. Tiled countertops
Even if they’re not from the 40s or 50s, once you’ve wasted time scrubbing grout clean, you’ll understand why these should go.
3. Brass
Back in the 80s, brass fixtures shone from everywhere they could be screwed or plugged in. That kind of home bling worked back when everyone wondered who shot J.R. To appeal to today’s buyer, update to a more neutral shade such as black or gray, or you can go with the very trendy copper.
4. Mauve
Also known as dusty rose, in the 80s this color infested everything from walls and carpets to Don Johnson’s “Miami Vice” blazers. Try swapping out for more neutral colors.
5. Short backsplashes
Popular in the 90s, colored glass and funky tile short backsplashes added color to kitchens. But they also visually shortened the kitchen walls. Replace them with tiles that reach all the way to the ceiling to make the space look larger.
6. Light wood cabinets
They were everywhere in the 90s, but are a quick, inexpensive update. Just grab some paint or stain from the hardware store.
7. Wood paneling
Generally speaking, if you can envision Marsha, Cindy and Jan giggling in front of it, it needs to go.
Not sure what to scrape, paint or replace? I can help suggest what updates may be worth the investment. Call or message me today.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Puget Sound area home sales, prices still strong as backlog of buyers compete for scarce inventory

KIRKLAND, Washington (January 6, 2016) – Home prices have “clearly recovered” in King County and a few other areas served by Northwest Multiple Listing Service. Many member-brokers say prices are likely to keep rising as a backlog of buyers compete for depleted inventory.

Those were among reactions from brokers upon reviewing the December statistics from the MLS. The latest report shows the year ended on a mostly positive note with pending sales, closed sales and prices all showing year-over-year increases. Not surprisingly, listing activity dropped, in part because some sellers are balking at listing their home for fear of not finding a replacement.

Selling prices for single family homes and condominiums that sold across the Northwest MLS 23-county service area surged 8.6 percent from a year ago, rising from $290,000 to $315,000. The price of a single family home (excluding condos) that sold in King County during December jumped nearly 15.5 percent, from $440,000 to $508,000, prompting one local broker “If December told us one thing, it’s that home prices have clearly recovered in King County. Last month the median price for single family homes broke the pre-recession record of $481,000 that was set in July 2007.”

Another industry leader, noted the 9.2 percent drop in King County’s pending sales during December, saying “The only reason pending sales dropped in King County was due to a lack of inventory.” MLS figures show active listings in King County were down 39 percent (about 1,400 fewer properties) from 12 months ago.

Area-wide, inventory was off 29 percent from a year ago, plunging from 17,659 active listings to 12,522. That total includes 4,041 new listings the MLS brokers added during December, which was down from 4,367 the members added during the same month a year ago.
Inventory levels dropped well below the threshold many industry experts use to gauge a balanced market.

Area-wide there was just under 1.8 months of supply, with four-to-six months generally considered to be a “balanced” level. In King County, inventory dropped to less than one month (0.84). It was slightly better in the adjacent counties, with Snohomish at 1.13 months and Pierce at 1.76 months. Kitsap County also reported less than two months of supply. Only five of the 23 counties in the MLS report had more than six months of supply.

“The lack of inventory makes buyers twitch when a new listing hits the market,” observed Dick Beeson, a member of the Northwest MLS board of directors. “These buyers and their brokers are ready, willing and able to pounce on well-priced, well-located properties,” added Beeson, the principal managing broker at RE/MAX in Tacoma. These prepared buyers helped propel last month’s 15 percent increase in pending sales in Pierce County compared to a year ago.

Pending sales system-wide, which totaled 5,970 during December, clearly outpaced the brokers’ ability to replenish inventory. The sales volume was up 3 percent from a year ago when members reported 5,794 mutually accepted offers. Measured another way, last month’s pending sales outnumbered new listings by a wide margin – a differential of 1,929 units.

“With the backlog of buyers waiting in the wings, any new inventory that comes on the market will be snapped up immediately,” predicts Northwest MLS director Frank Wilson. He expects 2016 may be “very stressful” for some buyers, citing low inventory, increasing prices, rising interest rates, plus a growing pipeline of qualified buyers as sources of house-hunter anxiety.

Other factors could also come into play to squeeze inventory, according to Wilson. They include buyers whose credit has been repaired after foreclosures or short sales, investors who see real estate as an alternative to the stock market, escalating rents that prompt renters to consider home ownership, and buyers from outside the U.S.

Wilson said the limited selection means “buyers are going to find themselves settling on a house because they need one instead of leisurely shopping for the home of their dreams.” He also foresees a fast-paced, “intense” market, with prices escalating in areas where inventory is low. “The lack of inventory near job centers persists,” he remarked. Buyers come out in big numbers beginning January 1, he noted, but new listings come later, typically toward the end of February.

The low inventory in the Seattle area market will send many first-time homebuyers looking at suburbs and put additional pressure on multifamily properties. He points to the formation of new households due to the strong job market as a factor in the imbalanced market. “Our economy is being charged by a multi-faceted job base and this is driving employment to new all-time highs,” he observed. Both long-time homeowners and new homebuyers are feeling the impact of rising prices and interest rates.

One consequence noted is decreased buying power. “For buyers, every 1 percentage point increase in interest rates decreases buying power by about 10 percent,” he explained. He believes the diminished power coupled with rising prices will push buyers who are on the fence to make their move. “The same two factors will also motivate long-time homeowners to jump into the market as they looking to maximize their profit and find suitable replacement properties,” he remarked.

Gary O’Leyar, a former chairman of the Northwest MLS board, also commented on interest rates. “There’s been a lot of buzz about the recent increase in rates. It has been nearly 10 years since the Fed raised its benchmark rate. Many current homeowners and would-be homeowners may not have been born, and/or may not recall the days when long term mortgage rates were 10 percent or higher.”

Some brokers say rising prices are more worrisome than upticks in interest rates.  Noting differences in the tri-county area where pending sales declined by 9.2 percent in King County but increased by double digits in both Snohomish and Pierce counties, he thinks price hikes in King County are “clearly pricing many buyers out and into the adjacent areas.”

MLS figures show wide differences in prices within the Central Puget Sound region. Pierce County had the lowest median price for December’s sales at $249,950, while King County had the highest at $450,000. Homes and condos that sold in Kitsap County last month had a median price of $266,500; in Snohomish County the median sales price was $335,500.

The median price on December’s sales increased 8.6 percent area-wide compared to a year ago. Ten counties reported double-digit gains; four counties had year-over-year decreases in median sales prices.

Condo prices increased about 6.7 percent, from $239,000 to $255,000. In King County, which accounted for about 55 percent of the sales, the median sales price was $279,975. That’s up about 7.7 percent from a year ago.

Despite rising prices in most areas, closed sales ended the year on a strong note. Brokers reported 7,091 closings during the month to outgain the year-ago total of 6,284 by more than 12.8 percent. For the year, Northwest MLS members logged 88,831 closed sales, up from 2014’s total of 77,276 for a 14.3 percent gain.

Note:Northwest MLS will publish a comprehensive summary of 2015 activity on Jan. 21.

Commenting on prices, Beeson said, “Although prices have risen year over year throughout the NWMLS region, it has not been a phenomenal rise as seen in the mid-2000s.”Beeson also dismissed speculation of a housing bubble – unless “lenders get greedy again.”

“The housing bubble created in 2005-2008 does not appear evident at this time,” Beeson stated, adding, “Today’s buyers are generally very well qualified and they are using real money as down payments -- their own money. They are not relying on creating a second mortgage as their down payment, thereby disguising the fact that they had no real money of their own for a down payment.” Beeson remains wary of some lenders, however. “Watch out for lenders if they begin allowing buyers with lower credit scores to qualify to buy homes as interest rates tick up. Those days are to be feared.”


Northwest Multiple Listing Service, owned by its member real estate firms, is the largest full-service MLS in the Northwest. Its membership of nearly 2,100 member offices includes more than 25,000 real estate professionals. The organization, based in Kirkland, Wash., currently

Monday, January 4, 2016

4 Things (We) Agents Consider When Setting Listing Prices

There’s no online calculator for setting the perfect listing price for your home. It takes experience, market savvy, and even a bit of psychology. A strong listing agent can help you set the right, most competitive price for your home. Here are a few things they might look at:
1. The competition
Your agent will look at the prices of similar homes in your area that either are currently listed or sold during the past few months. They’ll take into account how many days the properties were on the market, and how the listing prices for those homes differed from the final sale prices.
2. Market trends
What’s affecting the market in your neighborhood, and your region? Your agent will consider national factors that shape the real estate market, such as possible rising interest rates, as well as local factors, like whether the average home price in your neighborhood has been rising or falling. They’ll also think about things such as new companies moving to the area in the near future, or plans for improving local amenities, like parks and shopping districts. All can increase the value of your home to a buyer.
3. Your neighbors
Although a home the same size and age recently sold for a high price, your own place might not fetch the exact same fortune if, say, junky cars continue to proliferate in your neighbor’s driveway. On the flipside, if the grass is in fact greener on the other side of the fence, your home’s value may be higher due to your neighbors’ curb appeal.
4. The Goldilocks price
Listing your home at a price that’s “just right” from the start is critical to selling it quickly, for the best price. Overpricing your home, and then dropping the price a few times while it sits on the market, could lead to a lower final sales price than if the home was priced appropriately from the beginning. And, of course, setting a price that’s too low leaves money on the table.
Wondering how much your home might be worth in today’s market? I can explain how these and other considerations could factor into a pricing strategy for your home. Call or message me today.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Septic: The Skinny on the Stinky


When a home is sold in Thurston County, it's customary for the seller to have the septic tank pumped prior to closing.  Specifically, if the transaction is financed by the buyer, the septic tank is required to be pumped 12 months or less from the closing date.  This expense can range between $400-$1200, depending on the pumping company and the size of the tank/amount of waster.

Septic pumpers I have worked with and recommend:

Enviro Tech Septic Solutions LLC*
12627 183rd Ave SW
Rochester, WA 98579
(360) 273-3840

Economy Septic & Construction Inc.*
P O Box 637
Rochester, WA 98579
(360) 459-2759 

*Certified to inspect intermittent sand filters in Thurston County 

Further, Thurston County’s sewage system regulations (Article IV) have a requirement for the evaluation of Septic System when the property they serve is sold or transferred. The requirements were put in place to help inventory septic systems, and identify and assure the timely repair of failing septic systems.  (adapted from the Thurston County Environmental Health Department)

Time of Transfer FAQ's
We have tried to answer some of the common questions regarding this program and the requirements - Frequently Asked Questions. We will be updating this document with new information periodically, please check back.

Is an Operational Certificate renewed during a property sale? 
A septic system must be inspected and all septic tank(s) pumped when property ownership changes, or it must have been done within one year of the sale. An inspection and pump out done at the time of transfer can be used to renew the operational certificate for the new owner if the system is functioning properly and permits are in order.

Application and Supporting Documents
Part of this process requires an Industry Professional, either a certified Pumper, Installer, or Monitoring Specialist, to inspect the system. The following documents must be submitted to our office either by mail or in-person along with the fee. Click here for the fee schedule (Near the Bottom of Page 6, Section C-10) [PDF]

Application [PDF] (can complete on computer, saved and printed)
Sketch of Property [PDF]

Where is Information Submitted? 

By Mail 
Thurston County Environmental Health
2000 Lakeridge Drive SW
Olympia WA 98502 

In-Person Permit Assistance Center (PAC)
2000 Lakeridge Drive SW Building 1,
2nd Floor 

Hours of Operation: 
Monday thru Friday; 8:00 AM to 12:30 PM 
Drop-Off Box Available after 12:30 PM and is located to the left of the PAC doors. 

 At this time we are unable to accept applications, fees, and sketch of property documents electronically. We hope to be able to offer this feature in the future.