KMRES Q&A: Why do we feel it is important to specialize in condos?

At Kappes Miller Real Estate Services, we focus on condos. For 40 years, our parent company, Kappes Miller Management has been managing condominiums in the PNW. Over the years of managing condominiums throughout the PNW, the general lack of knowledge surrounding condominium transactions became more and more apparent to the team at Kappes Miller Management. Due to many factors unique to the world of condominiums, it is rare to find a real estate broker who knows enough about condos to truly understand how to navigate each transaction successfully. There was a clear need for a real estate brokerage that specialized in condominiums.

Kappes Miller Real Estate Services is that brokerage. By offering brokerage services, we are able to provide our clients with the knowledge of 40 years of condominium management. If there is something that could cause an issue in a transaction, chances are, we’ve seen it before and know how to handle the issue if not prevent it altogether. Kappes Miller Real Estate Services is in the unique position to offer our clients brokerage services with knowledge only possible through decades of condominium management experience.

3 Simple Things That Transform Your Condo's Balcony.

Your condo is your home. Even though you may not have a yard, you probably have a balcony. And in the summertime, your condo’s balcony is your “yard.” Since it’s likely your only private outdoor space and we only have a few months of perfect weather here in the pacific northwest, it makes sense to make the most of your outdoor time this summer. And making the most of the space you have is something condo owners do best.

The most thoughtfully designed small spaces take into consideration the scale of the space. In the case of the average-sized condo balcony, the space is small. This means taking measurements of your balcony and using those measurements to determine the size of your furniture or decorations you want on the balcony. In most cases, the over sized patio furniture of suburbia paired with a lounger and a hammock simply isn’t practical.

A small table and chair setup is a great start. It’s easy to find a pair of nice, comfortable patio chairs with a small coffee table for under $200. A great time to be on your balcony is to enjoy the evening and wind down. This makes a set of string lights a great addition. Most home retailers sell bistro-style string lights for around $20, and on a small balcony, all you need is one string. Hang the lights above your space and enjoy the warm glow on a nice summer evening! Adding some plants to a balcony is a perfect way to top off your little outdoor space. Pick out a pot and a plant that you love and set it on your coffee table in between the chairs to provide a little company for watching the sunset and enjoying your summer evenings on your condo balcony.

Big spaces are fun, and while the idyllic scenes of suburbia seem to fill every magazine, most private outdoor spaces in an urban environment are relatively small. Making the most of your balcony will add a whole new thing to love about  your condo. Make sure you check with your HOA about any restrictions that may apply to your balcony, and if you have any questions about your condo, we would love to have a conversation. 

3 Reasons Why Seattle Summers Are Sensational.

If you’re not from here, Seattle in the summer likely brings to mind some Seattle-based movie scene. The rain is coming down in sheets, the sky is a permanent shade of grey and everyone has an umbrella and rain boots even though it’s the middle of July. If you are from here, you know that it rarely rains in July, and even when it is raining, most Seattleites go about their normal business without an umbrella or boots, because, aside from rain just being water (and water dries), it could be sunny in fifteen minutes anyway, so why bother with an umbrella?

The truth about Seattle in the summer months is that it transforms. In the ~93 days that make up a summer season, the rain subsides for the most part and we’re treated to stunning clear blue skies, weather that is neither too hot nor too cold, and our lakes even warm up to temperatures that are comfortable to swim in! 

1 - Outdoor Events.

Summer in Seattle is cause for celebration. And Seattle knows how to party. The city and surrounding areas erupt with life as soon as we get our first week of sun. From May to September, there are hundreds of outdoor events ranging from street fairs like the legendary Fremont Fair to outdoor concerts in the Woodinville wine country. We have a short window to enjoy warm weather and sun, and we make the most of it.

2 - Natural Beauty.

Seattle is located within an hour’s drive to a wide variety of outdoor activities. The expansive hiking, camping and climbing opportunities offered in the Cascade Mountains are only 50 miles east of downtown, and it’s a straight shot on I-90. Seattle itself is surrounded by water and has over 6,400 acres of parks like the famous Gasworks Park on Lake Union for everyone to enjoy. Waterfalls like the 268’ Snoqualmie Falls are only a 30 minute drive from Seattle and offer instant tranquility and the sense that you really are away from it all, even though you are just in your “backyard.”

3 - The San Juan Islands

Okay, this could fall into the natural beauty section, but it could also be its own blog post. The San Juan Islands are a collection of islands in the northern part of the Salish Sea very close to the Canadian Border. The Islands are a step back in time, and offer a truly slower pace of life. The summer time turns the Islands into a summer camp-like setting. Whether you get ice cream in downtown Friday Harbor and walk the shops, or hike Moran State Park’s trails searching for rope swings and hidden lakes on Orcas Island, the San Juan Islands are a dream summer vacation spot. The best part?  It takes less than 4 hours to get to the town of Friday Harbor from the Seattle city center and includes a scenic drive and breathtaking ferry ride through the Salish Sea. The San Juan Islands are a short trip away, but promise to leave a lasting impression.

Those of us who live in Seattle year-round do so under dark grey skies and rain for the better part of the year. It should be no surprise that when the summer months roll around, the city changes. We know it’s temporary so we take advantage of it. It’s impossible to list all of the opportunities for summer fun in Seattle, and impossible to experience it all even when you do live here. Seattle is a one of a kind place and I am proud to call Seattle my home. Feel free to reach out to us if you have any summer activity suggestions or if you have any questions about Kappes Miller Real Estate Services and how we serve the Seattle area.

The KMRES Blog and What to Expect.

We love to write, we love to inform and we love to help others learn.

This blog is the home for helpful condo tips, interesting information and features from industry professionals. Expect long form content about things that we find interesting updated weekly and written from a real estate broker’s point of view.

Inquiries for features, interviews or guest articles, please refer to our contact page.

Condominium Transactions Aren't Easy - Example #5 - HOA Due Fluctuation

Many would-be purchasers of a condominium have an idea of what they’re looking for. They know what location they want, what kind of amenities they prefer and probably even how they’ll decorate their home when they find the perfect one. But what many people don’t understand is how many moving parts exist in a condominium. The amenities and the quality of the building as a whole depend upon HOA (Homeowners Association) dues, and unlike most single family homes, condominiums require HOA dues to stay in top shape.

This is why it is so important to factor in the cost of HOA dues as well as your mortgage. In some cases buyers can afford the mortgage, but when you factor in HOA dues, it becomes a stretch. HOA dues also fluctuate. Unlike most mortgages, they are not fixed and in some cases, HOA dues can increase to more than the mortgage payment itself.

Don’t worry though. As scary as this sounds, it’s pretty rare to have a mortgage payment be eclipsed by HOA dues, and like most problems, there are solutions. In almost every case of this happening, there were ample warning signs and the problem could’ve been avoided if the homeowner had been more educated about the topic or had the guidance of an industry professional who was.

Let’s use a fictional example. Candace is a resident at the ABC condominium community. Her mortgage is $800 a month and her HOA dues are $100 per month. Her community was built 28 years ago and has five buildings total. What Candace doesn’t know is that all five buildings are due for roof replacements in two years. The estimate is $100,000 but the HOA will not be able to raise the money at the current HOA due rate. The roof cannot be put off, so they have to raise the HOA dues to match the need. This results in the dues being raised to $400 a month.

Shortly after the dues are raised, there is a change in the board of directors which results in many urgent issues being brought to light. There are rotted eaves, windows due for replacement and faulty wiring which has not been addressed due to lack of attention from the previous board of directors. The financial state of the association is in disarray, and the current board of directors resolves to “right the ship.” Unfortunately for Candace, this means her new HOA dues are $834.

One of the major ways Candace could’ve avoided this situation is to have been more involved in her HOA. If she had simply attended meetings there is a good chance she would’ve picked up on the nature of the previous board of directors. Being a part of the board is the best option because she could’ve had a say on preventing these issues. A red flag that Candace did not notice was very low HOA dues. If the building is not new and HOA dues are remarkably low, that can be a bad sign. All buildings require maintenance and low dues on a 28 year old building can mean the association doesn’t have sufficient money saved in their reserve fund to account for repairs.

Remember that condominiums aren’t for everybody. If the idea of being involved on a board of directors or paying HOA dues sounds like something you aren’t interested in, a single family home without an HOA may be a better fit. If you prefer the lower maintenance nature of a condo or want/need to live in an urban area, then a condo could be the perfect fit for you. Just make sure that you know what you are getting into before you are in a situation like Candace.

Consulting an industry professional is a great place to start. Our brokers know condos, and if you have any questions, we are happy to have a conversation with you and point you in the right direction.

Condominium Transactions Aren't Easy - Example #4 - Common Area Foreclosure

Condo Tx's #4 Picture.jpg

Homeowners Associations (HOA’s) are unique. Each one is run differently, and while there are commonalities between them, they all pose mutually exclusive issues and problems. Common areas, while owned fractionally by the homeowners through the homeowners association are not always attached to the main building/living spaces. In the case of a walk-up style condominium, where there is more space than a high rise style condominium, the amenities are sometimes added on later. Let’s take a look at a fictional example to help illustrate this point.

Susan has lived in a condominium for almost one year and she loves it. She’s an avid tennis player and her association has tennis courts as one of the amenities. It was one of the big reasons why she chose this condominium over the others she was looking for at the time. One day, Susan gets a notice in the mail from her association stating that the tennis courts are being foreclosed on. A developer buys them and now her beloved tennis courts are being turned into part of a nearby expanding strip mall. Suddenly the part she loves the most about her condo has been taken away. How could she have seen this coming?

There are a couple of documents that help to build a picture of the overall financial health of a given HOA. Taking the time to read through these and finding a broker to interpret each document could have saved Susan from this unwanted surprise.The resale certificate is a document provided to buyers once they have made an offer on a home. It contains vital information about the HOA. From meeting minutes to the Covenants Conditions and Restrictions, (CC&R’s) the resale certificate is an essential document in gaining a better understanding of what kind of an HOA you are thinking of buying into.

Reviewing the plat, parcel and survey maps is the way to find the boundaries of the lot. This document also discloses the phases of property development and shows if different parts of the property have been added at different times.

Combining this information would have shown Susan exactly where the HOA stood financially. It would have also helped her understand that the tennis courts weren’t developed at the same time. These two pieces of information could have shown clearly that the tennis courts weren’t going to be around much longer. A competent condominium broker would have known where to find this information and had no issue interpreting it for Susan.

If you’re in the market for a condominium or have more questions about HOA’s, our brokers will be happy to answer your questions.

Condominium Transactions Aren't Easy - Example #3 - Parking Spaces

In many neighborhoods, parking isn’t a huge issue. Especially when it comes to single family residences, if you have to park on the street it’s often a quiet subdivision where there isn’t much risk of your car getting hit and no risk of getting a parking violation. In the world of condominiums, however, it’s a different story. One of the classic gripes about owning a condominium has to do with parking restrictions.

In a condominium, the units are owned separately and the common areas are owned fractionally by the homeowners. This is why condos are classified as Common Interest Developments. (CID’s) The best example of this is the parking area. The parking accommodation as a whole is owned by the HOA, but each spot is deeded to a respective unit. Which unit gets what spot is determined on a case by case basis, so there aren’t any blanket rules. In this case we’ll make up a scenario for example’s sake.

Let’s say Tim is looking for a condo in Downtown Seattle. He drives an SUV and has a sports car for fun. He currently lives in Belltown and only has one parking spot in his apartment, so his SUV is exiled to parking on or near Battery Street. (if he’s lucky enough to find a spot) One of the big things he wants in his new condominium is a parking spot in a garage for both cars. In the Belltown neighborhood, it’s a tall order to find two deeded parking spots for one unit so this may take awhile, but Tim understands this and is in a position to be patient.

When looking for potential homes, Tim should understand where to look to find the information about parking spaces. For condominiums listed on the NWMLS, there is an option for the listing agent to list the number of spaces available. If there is nothing listed he should look through the HOA documents or ask his broker. Sometimes, the resale certificate mentions parking arrangements as well.

Let’s pretend that Tim has found a condo that is exactly what he wants, but it only has one deeded parking spot. Is there any way he can add another parking spot? Sometimes there is flexibility, but it depends on the way the board is run. Remember that an HOA is made up of fellow homeowners. These are people, and people make deals. Every situation is unique so there isn’t a one size fits all answer. Just make sure you know what you’re getting into before you sign anything.



Condominium Transactions Aren’t Easy - Example #2 - Rental Caps

It’s certainly not a new thing to hear of horror stories regarding condo buyers getting in over their heads. From not fully understanding the governing documents to not knowing that an HOA due can go up significantly in a short period of time, it can seem like HOA’s are out to “get” you. It can be daunting when you are starting out a search for a condo. The good news is that almost every single instance of someone having a terrible time with their HOA has to do with a lack of information.

In this example, we’ll look at how rental caps can catch you off guard if you aren’t careful.

Let’s say you’re looking for a condo as an investment property. You want to rent it out for a number of years, have the rent income cover the costs of your ownership and sell it when the market is right to make a profit. After searching, you find one that’s perfect and you seal the deal at $250,000. Everything seems great and you’re ready to list it for rent and make some money!

Then you find out there is a rental cap in the association and your unit is not able to be rented. So now what?

Well you could sell it, but that incurs all of the closing costs, documentation fees and agent commission again. Not to mention that buyers and agents would notice that you didn’t own it for long, raising red flags and posing questions as to why the quick sale. Or you could keep it and sell it later, but without rent income you’re back at square one..

The real move here is to take it slow during a transaction. If you don’t understand what you’re signing, don’t sign it until you do.

In this case, read the community Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&R’s). Within these documents are the details on rental caps as well as a host of other information. Reading the CC&R’s is essential to understanding what you’re getting into even if you aren’t planning on living there.

Special Assessments and What to Look for in a Transaction.

Real estate transactions can be very complicated. They aren’t easy to navigate even before you add in the detail-oriented nature of condominiums and the homeowners associations (HOA) that come along with a common interest development (CID). There are many pitfalls associated with condominium transactions. It wouldn’t take more than a Google search to find enough horror stories to make your head spin with reasons to not buy a condo, or avoid buying into real estate altogether!

The good news is that every single horror story involves preventable mistakes. In this article, we take a look at special assessments and one of the ways that they can cause an issue during a condominium transaction.

Let’s say you are looking for a condo, and after searching for two months, you find the one. You make an offer, and *gasp* it’s accepted! You can’t believe it. You go through the transaction, sign all of the documents, and feel confident that you got a great deal. Then, one month after you move in, you find out the association is putting a new roof on the building and you receive a special assessment for $12,500. Wait. What?

A special assessment is like a bill. And the owner of the home must pay it within the specified terms. Special assessments can be for government projects like sewer upgrades. They can also be for HOA specific projects like replacing worn out windows or upgrading common areas. HOA dues are intended to cover maintenance costs like these but sometimes there simply isn’t enough money in the HOA’s reserve account and the board votes to levy special assessments against the home owners.

So you’re sitting in your nice new condo, and it suddenly feels a lot less nice and new.

Why didn’t anyone bring it to your attention that there was going to be a special assessment? Was the information even available to you so you would know what you were getting into?

Chances are, your real estate broker had no ill intentions. In fact, they probably didn’t know about the special assessment in the first place. In Washington State, the current real estate licensing course only touches on the intricacies of condominiums and condominium transactions. This means there is a slim chance that the average broker would know where to look to find out if there were any future special assessments, or how to see if the respective HOA had sufficient funds in their reserve account to cover surprise costs.


So, how do you avoid this issue? In short, take your time, and make sure your broker takes the time to explain to you what it is you are signing before you just go ahead and sign it. Make sure you obtain the board of directors meeting minutes and study them to look for any signs of special assessments on the horizon. Also, obtain a reserve study and examine the financial health of the HOA. Are the monthly dues sufficient to cover the maintenance costs of the building? The main way to avoid issues during a transaction is to be present. You are buying a home. Remember that the whole property is partially yours, and the HOA exists to help govern the upkeep of your home.

Condo Q&A #1

Q:

“Why does this HOA payment feel like someone is out to get me?”

A:

Well, HOA payments aren’t meant to “get” anybody.

In fact, the whole reason for HOA payments is for the beautification and maintenance of the respective property. Everyone pays into an account called the reserve. The reserve account is meant to be used to pay for anything from general maintenance to upgrades or big projects like a common area remodel.

In a perfect world, the association will be run in such a way that the HOA dues create a reserve fund sufficient to cover the costs of maintaining the property and the necessary upgrades.

Since it isn’t a perfect world, the costs of building maintenance sometimes exceed the amount in the reserve account. When this happens, a special assessment is levied against each homeowner in the association for them to split the cost(s) of the project.

Remember that even in associations that are run flawlessly, a special assessment may still occur. This could be due to an emergency expense, or some other uncommon issue.

While the goal is to mitigate risk when searching for your home, it is helpful to remember that there is no risk-free solution, so make sure when you buy a condo, you factor in unforeseen costs in your budget.

This helps avoid surprises!