Biking in Seattle – We are on Top

For purposes of this list, a multi-modal city is defined by its combination of mass transit, walkable urban places (WalkUP’s), and bike-friendliness.  The rankings below show the top-10 most bike-friendly cities ranked according to how their percentages of transit users and how walkable they are.  While both Tucson and Denver are bikable cities, neither are ranked in the top-10 for transit usage or walkability, making them decidedly less multi-modal urban environments, those which allow the greatest choice of ways to get around.  In another example, Portland ranks first in the U.S. among large cities for bike-friendliness, but its multi-modal ranking is only 5th place because only 11% of its residents commute by public transit.

Rank City Score* Population
1 San Francisco 81 837,000
2 Washington, D.C. 77 646,000
3 Boston 69 646,000
4 New York City 65 8,406,000
5 Portland 52 609,000
6 Philadelphia 46 1,553,000
7 Seattle 43 652,000
8 Chicago 37 2,719,000
9 Denver 32 649,000
10 Tucson 12 526,000

*Weighted scores based on bike (40/100) + walk (30/100) + transit users (30/100)

“Little Free Libraries” are in Seattle too!!!

In case you haven’t seen them while walking, keep your eyes open.  Some homes have library like mailboxes of free books in from of their homes! I have seen them scattered around Seattle, WA!

lilttle library

FARGO – “Little Free Libraries” have popped up across the Fargo-Moorhead area since the first one opened outside a Fargo woman’s home in 2012.

The individual libraries outside homes are manned by homeowners or generous residents hoping to encourage passers-by to take a free book and enjoy a good read.

The libraries have taken on a life of their own dependent on the owner. Each library is decorated to the owner’s liking, enticing people to take a look at the stories each library holds inside.

Here is a look at a few of the libraries set up outdoors, and in one case indoors, around the community. 

Gallery of “Little Free Libraries” photos: 

Now is a great time to invest in a rental

Have you wondered, “Is now a good time to invest in Seattle Real estate?”

This article gives great insight as to why today’s Seattle housing market supports a rental investment.  Not only are interest rates at an all time low, but prices are low as well.  If you are patient and wait for the right opportunity, there are still some fantastic deals out there!  If you have considered buying an investment property, shoot me an e-mail at, I have great expertise in this area.

Low home prices and low interest rates make this a great time to become an investor. These 5 tips will help you get started.

By Tamara E. Holmes of

Invest in a rental property (© Greg Vote/Getty Images)

If you’re thinking about investing in a rental property, experts say low home prices combined with low interest rates make this the best time in years to become a real-estate investor.

What’s more, the real-estate market is starting to recover: U.S. houses lost $489 billion in value during the first 11 months of 2009, but that was significantly lower than the $3.6 trillion lost during 2008.

“We haven’t seen home prices this low in so many years, coupled with the rates being so low,” says Jill Sjolin, an agent with Windermere Real Estate in Woodinville, Wash., who specializes in investment properties. “When the money is cheap to borrow and the houses are cheap to buy, it’s absolutely the best time to invest.”

While the timing may be right, these five tips can help first-time investors take advantage of what might be the opportunity of a lifetime.

Know your options. Since not all investment properties in Seattle are the same, it’s important to determine what type of property fits your strategy, says Harrison Merrill, chief executive officer of Merrill Trust Group, a real-estate investment company based in Atlanta. Do you want to become a landlord, or would you rather restore and resell properties? Are you interested in apartment buildings and other commercial real estate, or in buying land that can be developed? First-time real-estate investors may want to start with residential housing, since commercial real estate and land development still face challenging market conditions, Merrill says.

Partner with experience. First-time investors should find a real-estate agent experienced in investment property deals who can help you locate promising properties. “Look for relational brokers who expect to do business with you again and therefore are going to be much more careful with what they recommend,” Merrill says. A second option is to collaborate with a more experienced real-estate investor and close a deal together. In this economy, an experienced real-estate investor may be willing to work with you in exchange for the capital you can provide, giving you the opportunity to glean investment knowledge and experience firsthand, Merrill says.

Even if you don’t collaborate with other real-estate investors, talk to them about pitfalls they’ve experienced. “Go down to the general district court in your area and listen to some landlord/tenant cases so you can get a sense of what kind of challenges landlords face,” says Jeffrey Taylor, author of “The Landlord’s Kit.”

Look for the right location. If you buy a property in Seattle with hopes of renting it out, location is key. Homes in high-rent or highly populated areas are ideal; stay away from rural areas where there are fewer people and a small pool of potential renters, Sjolin suggests. Also, look for homes with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms in neighborhoods that have a low crime rate. “Renters gravitate to a safe neighborhood, and if they have kids, they will want a good school district,” Sjolin says. Also think about potential selling points for your property. If it’s near public transportation, shopping malls or other amenities, it will attract renters, as well as potential buyers if you decide to sell later. The more you have to offer, the more likely you are to please potential renters, Sjolin says.

Have capital lined up. Speak to potential lenders or even a financial planner about whether you have enough assets to handle the ups and downs that could come with investing. Even if you plan to rent out your Seattle investment property, count on paying the mortgage whenever there’s a vacancy. “If you can have about six months of mortgage payments saved up, it’s there if you need it, and you can use that money for repairs,” Sjolin says. Even if you’re planning to fix up a home and sell it, you may end up holding onto it for several months in the current market, Sjolin adds.

Build a supporting cast. Don’t wait until a rental property needs repairs to find someone to handle them. “Line up maintenance individuals who can take care of the different challenges that occur so you can simply call the person when a particular issue comes up,” Taylor says. Other sources you may want to have relationships with are an attorney to consult with on tenant issues, a property management firm to handle the day-to-day rental affairs and an accountant to help you understand the tax ramifications of investing. The more support you have, the better you will be able to handle the problems that come your way.

Read:  Can flippers save the housing market?

Whatever you do, understand that buying investment property in Seattle is an entirely different experience than buying your primary residence. “When you go to buy your own home, you usually have emotions in it,” Sjolin says. “When you go to buy an investment property, you need to put all that aside and ask, ‘What makes sense?'”

-By Tamara E. Holmes of found on

Are Zillow Zestimates Accurate???


They can, but… MANY TIMES they ARE NOT!  I often get frustrated when I meet with clients and they “already know what my home is worth, I saw it on Zillow.” Even Zillow recommends speaking with a real estate agent vs. relying on their computer calculated data.

“The Zestimate is calculated from public and user submitted data; your real estate agent or appraiser physically inspects the home and takes special features, location, and market conditions into account.  We encourage buyers, sellers, and homeowners to supplement Zillow’s information by doing other research such as:

  • Getting a comparative market analysis (CMA) from a real estate agent
  • Getting an appraisal from a professional appraiser
  • Visiting the house (whenever possible)”


Listed below is Zillow’s disclaimer about their Zestimates.
The Zestimate® (pronounced ZEST-ti-met, rhymes with estimate) home valuation is Zillow’s estimated market value, computed using a proprietary formula. It is not an appraisal. It is a starting point in determining a home’s value. The Zestimate is calculated from public and user submitted data; your real estate agent or appraiser physically inspects the home and takes special features, location, and market conditions into account.  We encourage buyers, sellers, and homeowners to supplement Zillow’s information by doing other research such as:

  • Getting a comparative market analysis (CMA) from a real estate agent
  • Getting an appraisal from a professional appraiser
  • Visiting the house (whenever possible)

Zillow also provides a Rent Zestimate estimated monthly rental price. Learn more about the Rent Zestimate.
What’s the Value Range?

The Value Range, which is related to the Zestimate, shows the high and low estimated values of a home (e.g., the Zestimate may be $260,503, while the Value Range is $226,638 — $307,394). The Value Range can vary in magnitude depending on our historical ability to estimate similar homes. A wider range indicates less data are available or there is more volatility in the data. A smaller value range means we have lots of information to help compute the Zestimate and Value Range. When thinking about a Zestimate for a home, we believe it is critical to consider the width of the Value Range for that Zestimate as this is giving you an important clue as to the anticipated accuracy of the Zestimate. For the statistically minded, the Value Range is actually a 70% confidence interval.

My Zestimate is too low – or too high. What gives?

As mentioned previously, the Zestimate is a starting point in figuring out the true value of a house  The amount of data we have for the house affects the Zestimate accuracy. If your home facts are incorrect or missing, you can update your facts, which may affect your Zestimate value.

  • Price history and tax history: Check to see if your price history (the sale price and date you bought your home) and your tax history are correct on Zillow. Depending on the area in which you live, this can be a big factor in your Zestimate. If data are missing or incorrect, please let us know. Click “Edit” on your home details page, then “Report Problem With Home.”
  • Updates and remodeling explained: Most upgrade information is not in the public records, and is not easily quantifiable. We do not know about home updates and remodels unless they have been reported to the local tax assessor, so those items are not used in Zestimate calculations. While we do utilize user-submitted data that is measurable, (e.g., additional bedroom count, bath count, and square footage) there is no way for us to systematically gather and verify the type of remodel or build information where the value is based upon how the final product appeals to the buyer. Because of this, the algorithm can’t use that information.
  • Your home icon on the map: Region boundaries usually do not affect the Zestimate. That being said, if the home icon is in the wrong spot, either Zillow staff or the home owner can correct that. Move Home Instructions

I just changed the home facts. When will my Zestimate update?

Updates to your home facts will be factored into your home’s Zestimate, but, if the updates are not significant enough to impact the home’s value, your Zestimate may not change. In some cases, the altered data will affect the estimates slowly over about a two-month time period.  You will not see the full impact of the revision during the next estimate cycle. We refresh Zestimates for all homes three times a week. On rare occasions, this schedule is interrupted by operations associated with algorithmic changes or the deployment of new analytic features.

How does the amount of data affect it?

The number of transactions in a geographic area affects how much we know about prevailing market values of homes in that area.  More transactions provide more data and improve the accuracy of the Zestimate. Also, we use public and user-provided data for house attributes, and some areas report more data than others. The more attributes we know about homes in an area (including yours), the better the Zestimate. Remember that homeowners can also update their home facts if they feel they are incorrect or there are missing values, and the updates may affect the Zestimate value.

Is a Zestimate an appraisal?

No. The Zestimate is not an appraisal and you won’t be able to use it in place of an appraisal, though you can certainly share it with real estate professionals. It is a computer-generated estimate of the worth of a house today, given the available data. Zillow does not offer the Zestimate as the basis of any specific real-estate-related financial transaction. Our data sources may be incomplete or incorrect; also, we have not physically inspected a specific home. Remember, the Zestimate is a starting point and does not consider all the market intricacies that can determine the actual price a house will sell for.

How do we come up with the Zestimate and what’s in the formula?

We use proprietary automated valuation models that apply advanced algorithms to analyze our data to identify relationships within a specific geographic area, between this home-related data and actual sales prices. Home characteristics, such as square footage, location or the number of bathrooms, are given different weights according to their influence on home sale prices in each specific geography over a specific period of time, resulting in a set of valuation rules, or models that are applied to generate each home’s Zestimate. Specifically, some of the data we use in this algorithm include:

Physical attributes:    Location, lot size, square footage, number of bedrooms and bathrooms and many other details.
Tax assessments: Property tax information, actual property taxes paid, exceptions to tax assessments and other information provided in the tax assessors’ records.
Prior and current transactions: Actual sale prices over time of the home itself and comparable recent sales of nearby homes

Currently, we have data on 110 million homes and Zestimates and Rent Zestimates on approximately 100 million U.S. homes.*

Why do I see home values for the past?

We not only have Zestimates for homes now, we have used massive computing cycles to go back in time to generate historic Zestimates as well. Sound hard? It is, but it’s critical because it allows you to see how a home (or an area) has changed in value over the years.

Do you ever change prior Zestimates?

Yes. When major improvements to the algorithm are made, we do re-compute the historical Zestimates for affected homes. Our purpose in doing so is to provide consumers with the best estimate of historical property valuations. A historical Zestimate is not like a historical stock price, which doesn’t change after being recorded. A stock price is a record of an actual empirical event (and, as such, shouldn’t change). A Zestimate, on the other hand, is an estimate of the market value of a home, and can change when we have a better algorithm to estimate that value.

Note: We never allow future information to influence a historical Zestimate (for example, allowing a sale in 2009 to influence a Zestimate in 2008). Each historical Zestimate only uses information (e.g., prior sales, tax assessments) known prior to the date of a given Zestimate.

Does the Zestimate algorithm ever change?

Yes, a team of statisticians working every day to make the Zestimate more accurate. Since Zillow’s inception in 2006, we have deployed three completely new versions of the algorithm (2006, 2008 and 2011), but incremental improvements are made between major upgrades with new iterations being deployed regularly.

How often are Zestimates for homes updated?

We refresh Zestimates for all homes three times a week. On rare occasions, this schedule is interrupted by operations associated with algorithmic changes or the deployment of new analytic features

Are foreclosure sales included in the Zestimate algorithm?

No, the Zestimate is intended to provide an estimate of the price that a home would fetch if sold in a full-value, arms-length sale (e.g., the sale isn’t for partial ownership of the property or between family members). Our extensive analysis of foreclosure re-sales (typically, but not always, real estate owned, or REO, sales) supports the conclusion that these sales are generally made at substantial discounts to comparable non-foreclosure sales. As such, these sales are not used by the algorithm to produce the Zestimate. That is not to say that foreclosure re-sales do not influence the Zestimate at all, as foreclosure re-sales do suppress the sale price of surrounding non-foreclosure homes, and the price signals from these surrounding homes are used by the algorithm to produce Zestimates in that area.

Who calculates the Zestimate and how do they do it?

The Zestimate is created by an automated software process, designed by statisticians, and there is no ability for humans to manually alter the Zestimate for a specific property.

Does Zillow delete Zestimates? Can I get my Zestimate reviewed if I believe there are errors?

We do not delete Zestimates. We monitor customer feedback for systematic issues with the algorithm, but do not change individual Zestimates in response to customer feedback. The Zestimate is designed to be a neutral, unbiased estimate of the fair market value of a  home, based on publicly available and user-submitted data. For this purpose, it is important that it be based on identical information about homes (e.g., beds, baths, square footage, lot size, tax assessment, prior sale price) and that the algorithm itself be consistently applied to all homes in a similar manner. This ensures that there is no preference for some homes relative to others nor are there valuations based on facts that are not accessible to all Zillow users. Some homes may be very unique in ways that are not well captured by existing data, and the Zestimate may be less accurate on these homes. To provide more data on your Zestimate, you can post your estimated value and comment in the Owners Estimate section indicating your support for a different valuation.

I don’t know of any homes that have sold lately around me, how are you calculating my Zestimate?

The number of transactions in a geographic area affects how much we know about prevailing market values of homes in that area.  More transactions provide more data and improve the accuracy of the Zestimate. Also, we use public and user-provided data for house attributes, and some areas report more data than others. The more attributes we know about homes in an area (including yours), the better the Zestimate. Remember that homeowners can also update their home facts if they feel they are incorrect or there are missing values, and the updates may affect the Zestimate value.

Our estimating method differs from that of a comparative market analysis (CMA) done by real estate agents.  Geographically, the data we use is much larger than your neighborhood. Often times, we use all the data in a county for calculation. So though there may be no recent sales in the “neighborhood”, even a few sales in the area allow us to extrapolate changes in the local housing market. However, the data we gather does allow the models to incorporate the geospatial (neighborhood) patterns of recent sales.

How accurate is the Zestimate overall?

Our accuracy depends on the home data we receive; see our Data Coverage and Zestimate Accuracy table to see how accurate we are in your area. When it comes to unique homes (e.g., luxury mansions, unusual designs) we are less accurate in our Zestimates.

Can I remove the Zestimate while I’m selling my home (it should be higher)?

It’s important to remember that Zestimates track the market, not drive it. People ultimately have more fundamental reasons that drive what they choose to buy or not buy. Our data shows that half of all sales are generally above the Zestimate. To provide more data on your Zestimate, you can post your estimated value and comments  in the Owners Estimate section. The purpose of the Zestimate is provide data in a user-friendly format to promote transparent real estate markets and allow people to make informed decisions.

Can I use the Zestimate to get a loan?

No, you can’t. To get a federally guaranteed loan, a law called FIRREA (the Federal Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act) requires an appraisal from a professional appraiser. Without limitation, lending professionals and institutions are prohibited from using the services in making any loan-related decisions. The Zestimate is our estimate of fair market value, a starting point for home buyers and sellers and anyone just plain interested in the value of houses. You can use it in judging market trends, and in calculating all sorts of things for your personal purposes. Click here to view our terms of use.

I have two Zestimates for my home? How do I fix this?

If you see two Zestimates for the same property, you can click on Edit, Report a Problem, then choose incorrect facts from the drop-down menu. However, if you are a homeowner with multiple parcels, and this is the reason there is more than one Zestimate for your address, we match the parcels on record with the county. If you officially combine parcels with the county, they will send us the updated information.

* Zillow Internal, March 2013


Buying vs. Renting

buying vs. renting in Seattle

A First-Time Home Buyer? Here is the Home-Buying Process

A First-Time Home Buyer? Here is the Home-Buying Process

Shopping Cart

Thinking of buying a home for the first time? Here is a synopsis of the home-buying process:

Hire a Real Estate Agent
This professional will be your guide from beginning to end and will assist in your home selection, purchase negotiations and closing. Work with someone who listens to what your housing needs are and is knowledgeable of your market area. Here are some of the activities your agent will coordinate with you:

  • Learn what home features are most important to you – condition of the home, age of home, design of home, quality of home features, etc…
  • Do you prefer a newly built home or a re-sale home?
  • Make arrangements to tour homes
  • For each home tour, provide details about the property
  • Discuss benefits and drawbacks of each home toured in relation to your needs
  • Provide current comparable market analysis of homes in the areas of most interest with information that includes: active listings, sold homes and pending home sales and sale histories of the home of interest
  • Insure you understand all of the terms and conditions of the purchase contract and other documents
  • Perform detail work and negotiations that arise from submitting your purchase contract to the seller
  • Insure all parties involved are performing their roles to bring about a smooth purchase transaction through to the closing

Qualification for Mortgage Loan – Determine Your Purchasing Power
Before beginning a home search, it is best to have pre-qualification for a mortgage loan so you can determine the amount you can afford as well as an estimate of what costs you will incur with the mortgage. Pre-qualification gives a buyer stronger negotiating power over non-qualifed buyers.

Your mortgage loan officer will also educate you on the different type of loans that are available and will help you choose the one that best serves your needs.

Take time to figure out where you want to live. Factors may include:

  • Near to schools or work
  • Proximity to highways (or other transportation) and airport
  • Ambiance of the area: Does the neighborhood have well-maintained yards? Is it a walkable area? Is there a nearby business district or recreation area? Do you prefer a neighborhood that offers an outdoor pool and other amenities?

Make An Offer
Your real estate agent will assist you in making an offer on a home. This purchase contract will include the price you are willing to pay, along with any terms you have included (such as occupancy date and inclusion of appliances, to name a few). Many contracts also have contingencies to purchase such as a house inspection or financing.

Once the contract has been submitted, there may be a period of negotiation of price and terms. Your real estate agent will guide you through this back-and-forth process, and hopefully the result is an accepted offer.

Home Inspections
Once you have an accepted purchase contract, you will want to schedule a whole-house inspection to evaluate its structural and mechanical condition. This inspection reveals observable conditions and the professional inspector may make recommendations to consult a specialist (such as a roofer, engineer, etc.) You will receive a detailed report from the home inspection. Based upon the results of this report, you may have more negotiations with the seller.

Finalized Your Mortgage Loan and Obtain Insurance
At this point your loan will be going through its final steps with your loan officer. The mortgage institution will require an appraisal of the property. You will need to obtain home owner’s insurance. And, you will need to consider purchasing an owner’s title insurance policy to defend and protect your investment from future liens or disputes of title claims. Learn more about title insurance here.

Closing Day
An exciting day is when you sign on that dotted line and take ownership of your first home. Usually the sellers, buyers, their real estate agents and the closing officer meet together at an agreed upon time and location. Your agent will review all of the documents with you so there are no surprises at your closing. Congratulations, you are now a home owner!

What do I PAY in closing costs?

Money bagsYou are undoubtedly wondering what all are included in closing costs and how much is it going to cost YOU!

If you’ve never been through a real estate closing before, you might imagine convening around a large table where, at the end of escrow, you’re presented with an itemized list of big expenses required to close the deal.

But that’s not always the reality. While people still do meet around a table at the closing, today some closings happen virtually. The buyers and sellers can sign the necessary documents remotely and wire money for the closing.

More importantly, it’s unlikely that a buyer or seller would show up to closing without any idea of what their costs will be. If you’re new to real estate, or haven’t bought or sold in a while, here’s what you need to know about closing costs.

Buyers have more costs, but usually pay less than sellers

In a closing, both buyers and sellers have costs. Usually, the buyer is faced with more line-item expenses than the seller. For starters, most buyers are getting loans to make the purchase; many of the charges stem from the loan.

A buyer should receive a “Truth in Lending” statement early on in the sale process. This document spells out all the approximate costs the buyer will face when making the purchase, so there aren’t any surprises at closing. Some buyers use the “Truth in Lending” statement to shop for different lenders, interest rates and costs.

Aside from the costs of getting a loan or buying a home, some expenses, such as property taxes or homeowners association dues, are pro-rated and paid at the time of closing. For example, if you’re buying a home and you close toward the end of the property tax period, you’ll likely need to pay the balance of taxes upfront. The same holds true for pre-paid loan interest. If you close toward the end of the month, the lender may ask for the first month’s payment upfront.

Typically, buyers getting a loan will see some of the following costs:

  • Appraisal fee
  • Origination fee
  • Pre-paid interest
  • Pre-paid insurance
  • Flood certification fee
  • Tax servicing fee
  • Credit report fee
  • Bank processing fee
  • Recording fee
  • Notary fee
  • Title insurance

Be sure to go through these fees line by line with your mortgage professional to understand exactly what they are and how they apply to your loan.

Sellers pay the commission

For sellers, there are always fewer line items on an estimated closing statement. But the seller generally bears the biggest brunt of the fees: the real estate commission.

The commission is based on a percentage of the total sale price, so it tends to be the biggest fee. In addition to the real estate commission, sellers may have to pay the balance of their property taxes, if they haven’t done so already.

There’s some room for negotiation

All fees and charges can be negotiated during the real state transaction. For buyers, coming up with an extra 1 to 2 percent in closing costs can be a bigger deal than a $5,000 reduction in the purchase price. A credit for $5,000 to go toward closing costs will be a much bigger bang for your buck for the buyer. The price reduction won’t amount to much more than a few dollars per month over the length of the home loan. Saving $5,000 at the closing will be money right back in the buyer’s pocket.