Thursday, January 15, 2009

List your home for sale now or list later?

If you are one of the Chosen Frozen living in the Inland Empire, you might be wondering just when IS the best time to put your home on the market? After a bad winter like this one, many of us who are transplants from warmer climes pack it up and leave.

Go ahead and ski right into the MLS now in this foul, miserable, razor-toting weather or wait until the beautiful, tender points of grass are pushing their refreshing green points out of the frozen tundra? This is the question!

The argument for waiting until late February or March to list is obvious. Real Estate sales are slower in winter—both because of the current state of the economy and the normal pace of the real estate business in colder areas such as the Inland Northwest. Also, it is harder to show homes because of the snow and ice. More hassle, more liability, more ugly landscaping.

If you go into MLS now, you will “be on the market a long time and people will feel you are desperate.

Yes, there are lots of reasons for waiting,


I propose these reasons are counterproductive to getting your home sold. Why?

The vast majority of people nationwide, if not world wide, start their searches on line. Right now, what do we have to do in our spare time besides shovel snow? GO ON LINE! If your home is listed with a Realtor, it is on line, you are in the mix. Most serious buyers look for several months before they buy. If you are not on line, you do not exist. Get your property visible NOW.

For those buyers who are moving now, the pickings are a bit slimmer than they will be in March and April. The fewer homes there are available, the better your chances of selling your home becomes.

Don’t worry if not that many folks show up to look. With a good tour on line (Check mine out at they are looking now.

Finally, most homes this year have a long days on market number. It has just been slow. Get your clock ticking sooner than later. Just like the lottery, you have to play to win.

Call me for a no pressure market analysis. Dave Atherton (509) 216-8589

Sunday, December 21, 2008

To Test or Not to Test, That is the Question

I must start with two disclaimers.

1. I do not like unions. Unions are a huge drag on the economy. My first experience with unions was as an 18 year old in my first real job with a textile company in Birmingham Alabama in 1969. A small group, 20-30 percent of the employees, went on strike. They used to stand outside of the outlet store where I was the sole employee.

They cursed me and verbally abused me in many ways. The cars of those who disagreed with them were routinely vandalized. In the 40years since, I have not seen much to disabuse me of my initial feelings.

The current congressional goal to get rid of the secret ballot in union organizing is a continuation of this attitude. (I call it the "Union Right to Harrass bill") Of all the unions, I think the teachers' union probably does the most damage because they are a huge weight against making our schools competitive.

2. I support the legalization of Marijuanna. Not because I think it is good. Not because I want to use it--I do not even drink alchol except with very rare exceptions and I do not recall the last exception. But, because it is only marginally harmful and we do far more damage trying to stomp it out. This is a war we HAVE lost.

So, I make this disclosure because Unions are NOT the reason I am upset with the Hawaii Teachers Union. They made an agreement to be subject to random drug testing in return for an 11 percent pay raise. Well, in two years of getting the raise, no one has been tested. Further, the testing is being fought and argued against, even though the rank and file accepted it.

I think random drug testing is a great idea! Of course, I spent 26 years working for Uncle Sam and was constantly subjected to this same random drug testing program. I have been called at 2 AM along with an entire corps. Two thousand people or so standing in line to take the golden flow exam.

My last military posting was, oddly enough, Hawaii. Here, each month the military spun the magic dial and picked a number from 0 to 9. Everyone whose SSN ended in that didget lined up to fill the good old bottle.

So, let's go back into history. Leading up to and at the end of the Vietnam War, April 30, 1975 officially. The military was in a very low funk. Morale was not good. As a matter of fact I can recall my time in a military school in 1971 and 1972 where any walk down a barracks hall would likely have caused a positive reading for cannibas.

In Germany, in the late 70's, the military drug empidemic was very tough. I recall the story of an officer who walked into a second floor dorm and caught some dopers. They put him in a locker and threw the locker out the window. I believe he died. It was not a pretty picture.

So, in the late 70's the military finally got some backbone. They instituted the on call Golden Flow test system coupled with a very hard "Be positive (w/o a perscription) and you are history" policy. In a relatively short time, couple of years, the military had very little problem with drugs. Not to say we stopped the problem because we did loose people after that. Unfortunately, we lost some good troops due to the policy. But, we cleaned up the system.

One of the arguments the DOE in Hawaii has used is the cost, $35 per person. Of course, you do not test everyone and after a few are fired, the random nature of the testing keeps folks in line.

So, you Hawaii teachers, suck it up. Step out smartly. Fill the old bottle and get to work. You are, after-all, the primary adult model our kids see. You agreeded to the program. If you do drugs, you do not belong at the podium.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sub-Irrigation. What is it?

I recall a few years ago an appraiser making fun of my listing. He thought it was absurd a farmer would install sprinklers that spouted underground or some such way. He was pretty derogatory about this description.

He did not understand what the word meant, and I imagine many city people moving to the country to enjoy the rural lifestyle also do not understand that term. It is both cause for rejoicing and cause for concern.

What causes sub-irrigation? Typically, this results from an impervious layer of rock or clay fairly close to the surface. Ground water flows to the bottom of the ground then hits this layer and can go no further, or seeps downward very slowly. This results in the ground being “irrigated” from this collected water when normally, it would have dried out. In much of Williams Valley which is just west of Deer Park in Eastern Washington, you can dig a hole in the ground in late August and within ten feet hit water.

So, what is good about this? Obviously, you can really grow a lot of grass and other agricultural crops. Again, check to be sure what you grow is compatible with the water level in the ground. That is a good subject for another discussion and I am not going to go there now. But, if you are driving around a rural area in the late summer and there has been no rain for a month or two, look for nice, lush green growth. You have probably located a sub-irrigated field.

So, What is bad about this? Two things come to mind.

Basements. You may want to think twice about putting a basement in your home or be very careful if buying an existing home with a basement. If the home does not have a sump pump, you may need to install one later. Expect drainage issues. A killer? No, just be aware and learn how to work with it. Especially if you are building. Make sure to factor this issue into the construction equation.

Septics. Septic systems work on two equations, drainaige and evaporation. In our area, we need about six feet of drainable land before hitting an impervious layer. When your six foot deep perk holes rapidly fill with water, you have a problem. Again, not a killer, just plan to spend extra money on your septic system. If you are buying raw land and it is very green in the very late summer, you better include a perk test as part of the contingency. Know what you are dealing with. That is the key to success.

Sub-irrigation is a real state and like most things in life, it has both good and bad wrapped up in the equation. Also, like most things in life, do your research before you buy, not afterward.
Call Dave Atherton to Buy or Sell or talk real estate. (509) 216-4985.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Big City Realtor or Active Small Town Realtor. What is your best move?

There is always a struggle between smaller companies located in the satellite towns located around the bigger cities and the larger companies located in the cities as to who can best service the real estate needs of people who want to buy or sell in the rural towns and areas outside of the metropolitan centers. Of course, in large part, that depends on the aggressiveness and nature of the smaller companies.

So, let's talk about Real Estate Marketplace whose 20 or so agents are experts in the northern Spokane and Southern Stevens and Pend Oreille (Pronounced "Ponderay")Counties. Deer Park, Elk, Clayton, Loon Lake, Springdale, Chewelah, Addy, are some of the towns located in this general area. Additionally, it includes Deer Lake, Eloika Lake, Loon Lake, Davis Lake, Sascheen Lake, Long Lake and Diamond lake.

Besides Real Estate Marketplace, in this area and in Spokane, there are a number of smaller agencies who each serve their own circles of influence. In Spokane, two companies dominate the market, Tomlinson (Black) and Windermere. These two companies have, I believe, in excess of 300 agents who serve their clientele well.

(Disclaimer, I spent 7 years working with Tomlinson Black North and have nothing but good feelings for that company in general, the North office in particular and the many friends I have there. Leaving four years ago was a very difficult decision for me. I look forward to working with them every time I sell one of their listings.)

A quick review of all current active listings and all sales of properties in our general area of operations listed on or after 01/01/08 show generally the same ratios.

RE Marketplace Tomlinson Windermere
40 62 60 Active listings
11 17 16 Sold listings

When you consider Real Estate Marketplace's 20 agents are competing with the 300+ agents in these two companies, it is obvious how much more efficiently the 20 agents in Real Estate Marketplace are working our area of influence. Listings at roughly 66 percent against each of the large companies. Sales at roughly 60 percent against each of the other offices.

The rest of the companies both in and out of Spokane trail well below Real Estate Marketplace.

Now, we come to the question, "I want to list my north Spokane, Southern Stevens or Pend Oreille County home. I see looking at your numbers Mr. Atherton, Tomlinson has sold more than you guys have and has listed more than you guys have. Why shouldn't I list with them and get ALL the advantages of the Big City Realtors over you little town Realtors."

Well, because the law of averages says 300+ agents are more likely to sell more real estate than 20 agents. In Fact,they should sell fifteen times more. Yet, they do not. What this says is the Real Estate Market agents are out there working this area very hard. Our smaller numbers are bringing more energy per capita to each listing or sale in this area.

Why do we sell and list so much of the real estate in this area? We live here. We know the history of many of the properties in this area, we intuitively know what is going on in the area. We actively work the area. We know people who want to buy and sell but who may not be quite on the market yet.

Our agents are sprinkled throughout this roughly 2000 sq mile area (50 miles NS and about 40 miles EW). So, each of us bring a subset of knowledge to the office then by actively cooperating with each other weave a thick mat of expertise and knowledge which blankets the area from which you the buyer or seller can benefit.

Another factor is the servicing level. Spokane is 15 miles south of Deer Park. Chewelah is yet another 30 miles up the road. Diamond lake is 25 miles or so north. We live here, we do not have to drive here to show a home. It is far more convenient for our agents to service the listings in this area. Time is money and gas can get pretty expensive.

Finally, we need to look at the technology driving today's market. Eighty-five percent of the searchers start on line! We are all on line. You are reading this because you are on line. The MLS is on line. Everything to do with real estate is on line. The Internet has been the great influence leveler. The larger companies do not bring more to the table than do the smaller companies. In fact, it comes down to each individual agent. How hard do you work and where do you work.

We work very hard and we work in your back yard. We are the one who can help you best! Dave Atherton (509) 216-8589,

Friday, November 28, 2008

Who Is Your Mama?

I said I would do an occassional blog on other than real estate issues. I am a political junkie and I am going to step into that pond here.

In the past election, I did not like any of the candidates very much. In the end, I had a choice of McCain or Obama or a totally wasted vote. While I have a lot of problems with McCain, I do not think Obama ever verbalized a position with which I agreed. No brainer. Vote McCain. Lesser of two evils.

I have to say, and I am not going to go deep, I think for the "Race in America" issue, Obama is good. It was the only reason I even considered a vote for him. But, what you stand for is far more important than if you wear a dress or have a bit darker pigmentation. So, why am I rehashing this issue? Because it is important to understand what I am NOT. I could care less that Obama is Black. I could care less that he is recently from Chicago. I could care less he was born in Hawaii--BUT HERE WE ARE AT THE QUESTION!!! Was he?

We just do not know where he was born. Personally, I think Hawaii. Having lived all over the world, I can not imagine a woman leaving the American medical system to have a baby overseas if she does not have to. Further there does not seem to be a history showing she went there. I am also not too stressed over technicalities arising because his parents took him to Indonesia for a couple years.

Regarding Obama's birthplace and state of being a Naturally born American, I have the following positions.

1. You SHOULD have to prove your eligibility to run for this office. You have to prove it to do virtually everything else. I would be content with there being some government agency who has this as a duty. With the massive amount of legal and illegal immigration we have experienced over the past 30 years, this issue will only get worse. Let's fix the problem before it is a problem. Let's define what is and is not a naturally born American. (Are my children? All were born before their foreign mother obtained her citizenship. Two were born overseas in military hospitals. Should the officials of our representatives abroad, both business and government, be able to have their kids run for president? This is NOT a partisan issue, but, it is an issue.

2. Because this IS an issue and an issue that can be answered quickly, simply, cheaply and without controversy, why does Obama continue to act like his birth certificate is a classified document? This defys logic. It also bespeaks arrogance. It is also consistent with everything Obama did through the race. Hide your past, dissemble, lie and make adjustments as the lies are found out. Those of you who thought Bush and Cheney were secretive may have a real shock in store for you.

3. I do not care what the Governor of Hawaii said. It was vacuous and did not address the issues. Even then, that is not the correct venue.

4. With current technology, the birth cirtificate posted on line by the "Stop the Smears" site is completely meaningless.

So, Mr. President elect. Do your administration a favor. Do yourself a favor. Do the American people a favor. Tell the state of Hawaii to release your birth cirtificate to the FBI so they can put this question to rest. Untill then, your refusal to do this makes many of us who did not buy the question in the first place begin to wonder if there is not some fire under all that smoke.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

I hate to monopolize the conversation, but...

The Multiple Listing Service, AKA "MLS". Is it good? Is it evil? Is it a "monopoly"? Just what is going on here?

In short, the objection to the MLS is "The public does not have FULL access to the system." Of course, much of the data IS easily available. For spokane, go to and you can search properties there.,, and hundreds of other sites also provide significant access to MLS information around the US. But, the commenters were correct, John Q does not have the same access as do MEMBER Realtors.

The other major point of objection was the exclusion of For Sale By Owner (FSBO) properties from the MLS and most other sites tapping into the MLS and the lack of listed properties on the FSBO sites.

The net result was to search any neighborhood, there was no central clearing house where all the data could be perused at one time. Several non-realtor bloggers felt this "monopoly" was wrong. Here is where I stand!

I pay about $50.00 a month plus one time fees, lockbox fees etc etc etc as does every other Realtor in town to support the collection, compilation and maintenance of this data. Additionally, each Realtor pays their office a split of every commission much of which goes to support the people who manage the data and provide it to the MLS for input into the system. Folks, creating and maintaining this system is very expensive. It is unrealistic to expect people who pay for and work on this system to give the information away.

Because most realtors in any area are MLS members, any buyer can see any home that is available with one point of contact! This is a huge benefit.

What does the MLS do for you? It pulls together a huge amount of information, sales, listings, expired listings, property histories, property data and historical data. It let's your Realtor quickly figure out the likely value of the home you want to sell or the home you want to buy. Also, it puts the majority of homes for sale in any area into one bucket. While it does not include FSBO's, recent evolution of the system has permitted "flat rate listings" where the FSBO pays a realtor to list his property in the MLS. One complaint about this was the FSBOs were "required to pay a compensating broker commission" (CBC). I am going to talk about that at greater length in "Show Me the Money" but for now, I will leave it to the reality of "If they do not pay a fair, competitive CBC, they probably won't get much cooperation from realtors because no one wants to work for nothing!

The MLS is responsible for the data that populates virtually all the real estate sites people look at that involve listed properties. is paid for from the dues realtors pay and loads MLS data every 24 hours., and many other sites also draw directly from MLS input. These sites are free to the public and let you search in significant detail. I still recall looking for Spokane property while I was in Thailand and the internet real estate venues were in their infancy or even perhaps the mothers were still in a state of pregnancy. I much prefer the current system.

IF you work with an agent, you will have access to all the detail available. The solds, the actives, the listing history of any property, huge data pertinent to that property and the sales history for any area that interests you. You do have to pay to play, but, that pay is usually wrapped into the sales cost of the house.

What is the biggest effect of the MLS? I think it has evened the market out significantly. Believe me, waiting for that unsuspecting Californian with a lot of money to come and pay you three times what your home is worth is just not going to happen. The MLS and associated sites on line make determining asking value very easy. If you are working with a member agent, you can access the solds with the same ease.

In the end, the MLS resulted in a market where you do not get massively ripped off because you do not know the market and you can not get rich quick by finding someone who does not know the market.

Monopoly? No. (2000 realtors to choose from with all kinds of business models in my area). Beneficial? Absolutely. Call your realtor today for quick access!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Cry Me A River

Sellers and buyers are often their own worst enemy. They struggle with many burdens which they just can not overcome. Their weakest point is their emotions.

Yes! We are emotional beings. God made us that way. Cold hearted people with zero feeling are the saddest of all individuals. There is a place and time for everything.

If you are a Buyer you need to use your emotions when determining where and in what you are going to live. Obviously, this is important. After you figure that out, throw away your heart and engage your mind.

Likewise, Sellers, it really does not matter that Uncle Willard made that pie table and Aunt Millie made a hundred thousand pies on it, 380 of which you ate while growing up. These are sweet memories for you. They are meaningless to your buyer. They like cake!

Check your heart at the door. There is really only one thing that matters to you as a seller. The Bottom Line.

I think the most common complaint from Sellers, especially older ones who have not bought in the past 20 years is "Why should I pay his closing costs? No one ever paid mine. (See the emotion oozing out of the statement?) Who really cares. The only number that matters is the one on the check. If that is enough, you should be happy as can be. Take that trip to the Bahamas.

Buyers, on the other hand, seem to feel any offer they make is just and generous. Probably not. The Seller is just not going to leave Uncle Willard and Aunt Millie's pie table in the house. That puppy is gone!

So, Buyers, ask away but do not expect to get it all or even any of it. Look at the numbers and see if the counter works.

Sellers, we agents, especially in this market, are going to be really, really creative to get things done. That is our job. Do not get wrapped up in indignation when the Buyers offer 30k less, want the tractor, lawn mower, tiller and the cats, not to mention expecting you to pay 8k in their closing costs. It may not be rational, but, does it work? Do you walk away w/ what it takes to make you content, if not happy?

Do not sweat the small stuff. Park your heart at the door and look at the numbers. Vizualize drinking pina colladas on that old pie table at the Beach and sign the papers.