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Open Thread Answers: Finding The Right Neighborhood, Buying vs. Renting

On Friday, we opened it up to you guys to ask a real estate expert anything and everything you want. We'll do it again this Friday but in the meantime, real estate agent Christian Nossum has some answers for you...

Q: We've been looking to move to a bigger house in a somewhat active neighborhood in Seattle, vegan friendly, close to parks or running routes. Narrowed it down to Capitol Hill and Madison Valley. Maybe Green Lake. Are there other neighborhoods we should be looking at and why?

A: I think you are right on as far as Capitol Hill, Madison Valley and Green Lake meeting your requirements. You might also want to consider somewhere near Ravenna or Wallingford. There are a lot of vegan friendly stores and restaurants near there, as well as the beautiful Burke Gilman trail. My wife can't eat dairy, so we are often on the hunt for good vegan bakeries, and when we lived in Wallingford we found quite a few close by.

Q: Hi Christian, thanks for hosting this. I have a question about fixing up a home with resale in mind. We always hear about kitchen and bath remodels being the best bang for your buck in terms of resale value, but what other improvements are hot these days? Master suites, opening of floor plans, more windows to take advantage of views? Any resale improvement pitfalls to avoid?

A: First of all, thanks for your question. I am always happy to help. Without knowing how your house is currently configured or how it looks, it's tough to say exactly what I would recommend for you. Because of this, I'll be speaking in generalities (much like every other article on the web). If you want specifics, you can always get in contact with me and I'll give you a no pressure (and no sales pitch) answer to your questions.

As far as cosmetic updates, it's true that kitchens and bathrooms are the key to adding value. If those aren't up to date, you need to start here to increase your resale value. Next, I would look at how your house compares to others in your neighborhood. Are most homes 3 bed, 2 bath houses, but your house is only a 3 bed, 1 bath house? If that's the case, you need to see if adding in that additional bathroom is feasible (taking into account the expense and your square footage).

One trendy improvement I am seeing a lot these days is the removal of the traditional tub in the master suite (as long as there is a tub somewhere else in the house). People are removing the tub and instead opting for a larger walk in shower with multiple shower heads, or a steam shower, in the master suite.

As far as other improvements, the suggestions you mentioned are good ones. Opening up the floor plan is a great way to add value and make the house flow nicely. In Seattle we are lucky to have some incredible views. If you have a view you should promote that to the fullest with bigger windows and removing brush or trees that are blocking the view.

Q: I've been told by quite a few people that Beacon Hill is a great up and coming neighborhood. Would you recommend looking into property there?

A: North Beacon Hill is a great little neighborhood. In fact I just showed a new client of mine the area this morning, and she found a new townhouse there that she's going to be making an offer on. Pretty exciting!

After living there myself for the last 5 years, I recently moved because my wife and I had a baby and quickly learned that being close to family was important to us. What's great about North Beacon Hill is the location. It's close to 1-5 and 1-90, and with the light-rail it takes just minutes to get downtown or to the airport. The prices on North Beacon Hill are also very reasonable, especially compared to other neighborhoods with quick access to downtown. There are some amazing views of both Lake Washington and Mt. Rainier on the east side, and the downtown skyline, Elliott Bay, and the Olympic Mountains on the west side of the hill. Many new restaurants, pubs, and coffee shops are opening up there, including the popular Bar del Corso. This neighborhood is definitely one to consider. If you want a private tour from a former resident, I'm happy to give you one.

Q: I have a $250k budget and would like to buy a condo in the downtown/belltown/capitol hill area. I need min 2 bedrooms....With the current state of housing "boom", is this realistic or do I continue renting and save more? I am in my late 20s and thinking of settling down...

A: I know you could find a condo in this area in your price range, but its hard for me to tell you one way or another if you should buy now or wait without knowing more about your situation. For instance, how long do you plan to stay in this condo? What kind of down payment do you currently have, and how much more would you have if you waited? Do you have pets? As far as you know, how stable is your job?

There are many factors to take into account when buying. Some real estate agents will sell you a house just because you want to buy one. Personally, I want to make sure it makes sense for you long term since I know that if I do, you'll be calling me when it comes time to sell, and between now and then, you'll also tell all of your friends about me. Making a quick buck off of screwing you over isn't my style. Making sure you're happy and set up for success is.

One question I would throw out there to you is if you would ever consider being a landlord? If so, I'd float out the idea of buying a duplex or house with a separate ADU (aka Mother-In-Law apartment). The reason why I say this is due to your age. If you're willing to live in a shard wall environment (like a condo), then it's probably not a stretch for you to also be cool with living in a duplex.

By owning a duplex or house with an ADU that you can rent out, you could still buy in a desirable Seattle neighborhood while also setting yourself up long term financially with a rental unit. The beauty of buying a rental unit this way is that you're going to live in it, which means that you'll qualify for "owner occupied" financing (which get's you the best interest rate and terms). This also means that you could possibly afford to purchase a higher priced property since it will be generating rental income. I could go on and on about the benefits of buying a property this way, but that might be for another day. I can tell you that this is a great way to buy because it's what I've done myself (twice). Being a landlord really isn't all that difficult as long as you buy in the right areas and put the right systems in place. Since I'm doing this myself, I'm more than happy to help you and teach you how to do it as well. If you, or anyone else reading this, would like to meet up for a beer or coffee to chat about this (or any other real estate topic), hit me up here.