Buying a house in Seattle

I mentioned a few weeks ago that we bought a house here in Seattle – which is the biggest commitment I’ve made since getting married. Or maybe since having kids… but we may be in this house longer than our kids live with us! (OK, that’s probably not true, I can’t imagine living in one place that long!)

The housing market in Seattle, especially when we bought the house a few months ago, is crazy. It was actually the hottest housing market in the country for many, many months (years?).

What to expect when you're looking to buy a house in Seattle or a similarly hot housing market

Let me give you a brief synopsis of what you can expect if you’re buying a house here (or in a similarly hot market):

Waived Contingencies

To make a competitive offer, most prospective buyers in Seattle waive all contingencies: finance, inspection, and title.

Pre-Inspections

Of course you don’t want to buy a house without having an inspection done, so you can expect to schedule pre-inspections for every house you want to make a bid on. These run you a few hundred dollars, and you may need to do quite a few during your house search. Sometimes buyers also have inspection reports available for prospective buyers to peruse, but of course, you probably want to have your own inspection done.

Quick Decisions

Houses here are usually on the market for less than a week, and sometimes they’re only listed a few hours before the sellers accept an offer.  This means that as soon as a house is listed on Redfin, Zillow, or a comparable site, prospective buyers need to figure out that day how to see it. This allows enough time for one visit to the house, a pre-inspection, and an offer within a few days.

We visited one house the day it came on the market, and there were quite a few other people walking through it. It had an inspection already done by the buyers, and we knew it would go quickly (and for way over asking price) so we decided to draft an offer. Our realtor got a call later that day saying that the sellers were reviewing offers in two days (originally they said they would be reviewing offers five days from when the house went on the market). Then, as we were trying to decide whether we really wanted to make an aggressive offer, the realtor called back and said they were actually reviewing offers the next morning because they had received such a strong offer. Bottom line: We decided not to make an offer, but if we would have wanted to get the house, we would have had to offer $100k over the asking price with all contingencies waived.

Bidding Wars

I have friends who put offers on 5-10 houses (that’s a lot of money in pre-inspections!) before they finally got a house. There are just that many people out there bidding on good properties! Or even not-so-good properties! This means that no one offers asking price on a property unless it’s  been on the market for quite a while. Prospective buyers always include escalations in their offer to go well above the asking price. It wasn’t unusual, for a while, (I’m not sure if it’s still the case) for houses to go $100-200k over asking price.

A Time Intensive Process

We were only on the hunt for a house for 3 weeks, and then we basically decided we needed to buy a house ASAP before we went completely crazy. I would look at houses with our realtor at least 2-3 days during the week, and we’d always go at least one day on the weekend. Since we don’t have family living nearby, we had to drag our 2 & 3 year olds with us to practically every showing. I would go see a house during the day, and if I loved it, we’d all go back with Tim in the evening. Basically, this schedule was not sustainable for us… who has this much time to search for housing?! Not us! Not anyone! Plus, we cast a wide net of neighborhoods we’d consider, which meant that we were driving all over north Seattle and I was trying to research a bunch of different schools/school districts/crime reports in my ‘free time’… if you have bought a house recently with the intention of raising kids there, you know how it goes. It all takes a ton of time.

Stress

All of this makes buying houses a super-stressful process. Needing to make a quick decision about something so major is difficult, plus, with waived contingencies, it really makes it hard to back out of the offer if you change your mind. For instance, if the bank comes back and says the house is worth $1M instead of the $1.2M you paid for it, guess who needs to pay the $200k difference in cash?! The buyer, of course. Hopefully a good realtor will be able to tell a potential buyer what the bank will probably appraise the property at, but the idea of paying much more for a property than it’s worth (and needing to cover the difference), is stressful. And then there’s the risk of buying a property without an inspection contingency… it’s all a lot to consider.

… And I won’t even go into how expensive houses are here in Seattle. In the past few years the prices have risen about 13% a year, which means houses we could have afforded a year or two ago are no longer in our price range. That’s a hard concept to handle and it puts even more pressure on potential buyers to buy a house quickly, before it, too, drifts over the affordable price range.

A lot of my friends have been buying houses here recently, so it can be done! And then the home renovations start, since almost no houses here are affordable and move-in ready! As I type this, our ‘new’ kitchen is being put in! Work on the bathrooms start next week. Our hardwoods are already down. And at some point painting is going to happen… but I’ll talk more about that later. We’re planning on moving in about 3-4 weeks. Wish us luck!

Do you own your house?! What was your house hunting experience like?!

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14 Responses to Buying a house in Seattle

  1. Man, I do not envy you one bit. Trying to make that big of a decision in that competitive of a market would leave me a blubbering mess, I’m sure. No one should have to make that expensive of a decision on such short notice! Or drop their entire lives to make that decision–what if you and Tim both worked office jobs?? How would you have EVER found a house?! Sheesh. I’m glad everything worked out for you and hope you’re all very happy in your new home, once it’s ready for you to move in 🙂

    • Lisa says:

      It’s super weird to make such a big life decision in the span of a few hours! I don’t know how other people do it… and am really thankful that me and Tim have flexible schedules so we could find a house. But there is no WAY we would have survived months and months of that chaos!

  2. erinhzauner says:

    This made me so stressed out. Mostly because our market in the twin cities is similar to that right now (but not that insane) and I hate it so much. As a seller it’s amazing, we will hopefully sell our house in a weekend, as a buyer it’s the pits. I’m so happy you guys found one!!

  3. We just bought a house across the water from you in Bremerton and it wasn’t quite this intense, but it was pretty close! We were in CT looking at listings and found one that we loved, but were scared to make an offer sight unseen. We called our realtor and told her we were going to sleep on it and her response was “You probably shouldn’t. There are two other offers so if you want it, you gotta act now!” Luckily, we love it, but it was definitely a wild ride!

    • Lisa says:

      Ohhhh I didn’t realize the market was so hot over there, too! It’s so hard to make such big life choices in the span of a few hours… nice for the sellers but it definitely makes it stressful for buyers!

  4. Julie Hood says:

    100-200k OVER asking price?!?!?! OMG. We are in a suburb of Philly and it seems like the houses around us are going fairly quickly for more than we think they’re worth…I’m hoping it doesn’t turn competitive though because I wouldn’t want a huuuge mortgage! Haha

    • Lisa says:

      I was just in the burbs of Philly the other month for a bridal shower! And yeah, it’s crazy how far over asking these houses are going for… negotiations aren’t even an option – everyone just gives their best and final offer.

  5. So I’m not in a hot market, but I am in a huge medical area, and we moved to town at the beginning of the “medical new year” when everyone new comes. Good grief, houses would be gone in under an hour!

    • Lisa says:

      It is so stressful to think that your ‘perfect’ house might not even be available the next day if you don’t jump on it – right?! It’s chaos.

  6. Oh ma goodness. So Cal real estate is expensive (my city is usually in top 5, always below SF), and moves fast, but not that fast and furious. That’s insane! The idea of waiving contingencies AND having to pay 1-200k over asking is insane. How many people must end up stuck without sufficient financing?? It’s just not right. We’re currently in the selling and buying situation and I’m finding it incredibly stressful as is.

    • Lisa says:

      Oh gosh I can’t even imagine the prices in SoCal… although we’re probably getting closer to that level here! We had friends who ended up having to pay an extra $200k in cash because they waived the finance contingency and their house was appraised for way under what they paid for it. It’s really just stressful and chaotic and people can get very screwed over if they aren’t careful or if they don’t have a good realtor! Good luck on your housing search/selling!

  7. I thought the market in Colorado was hot. We had two offers the day after our house went on the market, and one was over asking (by $5000, not $100,000). I cannot imagine the stress of waiving contingencies and paying that much over asking. Glad y’all found a place!

  8. Pingback: Our Decision To Buy A House | Naptime Chai

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