2016 Highlights: What the experts predict for the next 12 months

Yesterday was the annual Windermere kick off .  All Windermere agents, from 17 offices, gathered at the Hyatt Regency to hear some of the industry's most renowned players give their perspective for 2016.  Two of the speakers included Matthew Gardner, Windermere's chief economist and Skylar Olson, senior economist from Zillow.  Here are their highlights:

  • In 2015 home prices in the Seattle Metro area (King, Snohomish and Pierce Counties) rose by 9.2%.    Seattle itself saw double digit growth, and Bellevue/Renton 10% growth. If you're a homeowner you certainly got a good return on your investment – likely higher than anything else in your investment portfolio.
  • In 2016 they both predict a 6% rise in home values.
  • In Seattle, the rent/buy break even point is just 2 years.  Rents are now becoming so expensive that in just 2 years, it would be just as cost effective to buy.  With rents increasingly accounting for more and more of the monthly expenditure, it's proving impossible for many to get out of the rent trap and buy. As a result they are also putting off other big ticket items in life –  marriage, babies etc.
  • The current unemployment rate in Seattle is below 4%, effectively meaning that we're have full employment. Good news indeed!
  • Expect to see a 2% job growth in 2016. More good news!
  • Wage growth is predicted to rise by 4%. This compares to 3% nationally. Even better news! So, don't be too shy about asking for that pay rise come annual review!
  • They predict that Mortgage rates will rise to between 4.4 and 4.9% by the end of the year.  We finished 2015 at 3.9%.  While breaking above 4% will be a huge mental barrier for some, the cost of borrowing remains at an all time low.  Anyone remember when they were at a staggering 18%?  If you don't chances are your parents do – and not too fondly at that.

The round off the morning, the key note speaker was  Ron Culberson.  I'd not heard of him before but it turns out that he's a very, very, very funny man.  If anyone is lucky enough to be invited to any of his his 'Do It Well, Make It Fun' events throughout the year I strongly encourage you to attend. 

In a nutshell, all signs are pointing North for a very strong 2016.  Here's to success in whatever you do this year.





Posted on January 28, 2016 at 10:10 pm
Ali Mills | Posted in 2016 predictions, Market conditions |

Smart Jewelry to Keep You Safe

As a woman in real estate safety is always my top priority.  And with a passion for fashion, accessories are a big part of my wardrobe.  Finally, I can combine the two with CUFF – a good looking line of smart jewelry that notifies your contacts when danger arises.

Here's how it works:

Set up a network of people who you'd like to be notified when you need help.

In an emergency, simply press and hold your piece of jewelry for 2-3 seconds.  Your network will receive a text message indicating you need help.  All they need to do is access the Cuff app to see your location on a map, and, if needed, they can simply tap to call 911.  Finally, if the piece of jewelry is open at the time the alert is triggered, your emergency contacts will be able to hear live audio streaming from your phone.  The Cuff will work as long as the Cuff and your phone are within 20-30 ft of each other – all through the magic of Bluetooth.  

I think my favorite is the Lucky Bracelet.

To see the full collection visit https://cuff.io.

Cuff is currently compatible with iOS and Android phones only.



Posted on December 17, 2015 at 9:35 pm
Ali Mills | Posted in Safety, Technology, Uncategorized |

Refinance today. 10 minutes on the phone just saved me $766 per month.

Every once in a while I'm reminded that Corporate America rocks!  And what I've written below is 100% truthful. No exaggerations.

In recent months we've received endless letters from our mortgage lender about refinancing and promising a better mortgage rate.  Yeah, right – what corporate bank (and I am talking one of the big 5) actively encourages you to pay them less money every month?

Because of this skepticism I've been putting off calling them for weeks, months if I'm honest, because I thought it would be too painful and probably too good to be true.

I've finally made the call this afternoon because finally the knowledgeable realtor in me finally beat down the skeptical consumer.  Just 10 minutes on the phone (with a most charming lady called Kellie I might add) saved us $766 per month without changing the type of loan, or any pre-payment penalties. 

Admittedly there's an upfront fee but with the savings we're making, we've covered that in just a few payments – and even then all but $500 is rolled into the cost of the loan so the out of pocket expenses is minimal. 

So the lesson here folks is don't be as lazy and skeptical as I was.  Mortgage rates really are at an all time low.  If you haven't refinanced in the last few years now really is the time to do it.  

I don't have a crystal ball but I'm fairly certain that interest rates will go up early next year, the cost of borrowing will increase, even if only marginally. Now is the time to save some big $$$$$$.  Had I made this call just 8 weeks ago when the letters started arriving we'd have already saved over $1000.

Now, where did I see that pair of must-have shoes…


Posted on October 8, 2015 at 10:49 pm
Ali Mills | Posted in Uncategorized |


I love Fall.  Particularly in this part of the world.  It's the contrast of the bright blue skies with the vibrant oranges that just make me smile. Also, knowing that in just a few short weeks the grey skies will come and the rain will fall makes me love it even more.

While enjoying these few and increasingly few sunny days homeowners should also be prepping their house for winter.  Here's the a list of the most critical to-do's – both inside and outside the home.

1. Clear the gutters.  I get it, this is about the most unexciting thing to do yourself or spend money on. But clogged gutters can lead to serious problems. If you don't fancy climbing a ladder yourself, bring in a professional

2. Change the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.  Again, very unsexy but it could save your life, or if nothing else it will prevent a 'middle-of-the-night, whole-house-awakening' when just one little battery goes flat and sets off the entire system.  Surely, I'm not the only one that's experienced that!

3. Get all gas appliances serviced.  Another critical safety tip! And isn't it best to find out now that your furnace has a minor issue, before it turns into a major and expensive issue?  Murphy's Law also dictates that if you don't get it serviced now it will fail during the one week of winter that we have subzero temperatures and six inches of snow on ground.  Don't say I didn't tell you!

4. If you have a wood burning fireplace get the chimney cleaned out – or swept as we romantically refer to it in England.  Doesn't that sound better?

5. Clean and cover, or store inside all the outdoor furniture and BBQ.  Even the most weather resistant furniture benefits from a high quality furniture cover.  Buy the best you can afford.  A few additional dollars spent now will ensure your outdoor furniture last years, not just a few seasons.

6. Aerate your lawn and remove leaves.  Admittedly, keeping on top of the leaves is a bit of a losing battle at this time of year, but wet rotting leaves don't do your grass any favors.

7. Replace outdoor light bulbs.  Trick or treating is so much more fun when everyone can see where they are going!

8. Plant Spring bulbs.  My favorite Fall task. Ok, planting is a little tedious but come Spring that hour or so spent on your hands and knees this month will repay you in spades with an abundance of colorful spring bulbs.

Happy Fall!

Posted on October 7, 2015 at 11:44 pm
Ali Mills | Posted in Uncategorized |

Good news for buyers and sellers should make for a strong, balanced housing market

The housing market continues to be buoyant, and it remains a seller's market with record low inventory on the Eastside.  But there's good news for buyers too – which hopefully will encourage on-the-fence sellers to go live with listing.

Last week's news from the Fed that they wouldn't raise interest rates immediately led to a drop in mortgate rates.  For a few days it was a little volatile, with rates bouncing around a little. Those making a loan application, were faced with the tough decision of when, or indeed if they should lock in a rate. 

Following a few days of volatility, mortage rates seem to have got back on track with most lenders offering rates between 3.875%-4.0%.  This is great news for buyers,and encouraging for sellers too.

Read more from the experts at Mortgage News Daily at http://www.mortgagenewsdaily.com/consumer_rates/513918.aspx

More good news for buyers: economists are predicting that the current 10-15% increase in property values will level out to a more sustainable 7- 8%. 

In a perfect world, these two factors combined will continue to give us a strong housing market, but one that is a little more balanced. Sellers will continue to see their property values rise, buyers continue to get a great deal on mortgages and, all being well, inventory will rise, taking the pressure of both buyers and would-be sellers.  I'm excited to see how the next 3-6 months play out.



Posted on September 23, 2015 at 8:04 pm
Ali Mills | Posted in Uncategorized |

Shut the Front Door

There was a post earlier this week on the Windermere blog about refreshing your front door. As I am preparing (mentally at least) to repaint our front door, it resonated strongly with me. And was the inspiration of this post.

I've said it before, and I know I shall say it again, but when it comes to buying, or selling a home appearances matter. While we all like to think beauty is only skin deep the reality is that most buyers will make a 'like' or 'don't like' decision about a house before they've even walked in the door.  If the curb appeal, or in this case porch appeal is not up to par, they will struggle to fall in love with the rest of the house regardless of what's inside.  The good news is that it works in reverse.  If they love what they see on the outside, they will be less concerned that the bedrooms are a touch smaller than they ideally wanted. Why?  Because mentally they are already visualizing themselves in the house – possibly even sitting outside on a summer's evening with a cold refreshing drink in their hand.  You are not just selling your house, you are selling the lifestyle that comes with it.

Here are my top tips for adding some porch appeal.

  1. Repaint both the doors and the frames.  Opt for a color that is traditional yet welcoming. Deep reds, dark blues, even green or black.  While bright colors such as yellow or paler blues can look great they are very polarizing. Here you want to appeal to the masses, not make a bold design statement. Whatever color you chose, make sure it complements the hero color of the house.
  2. Update the hardware.  The current trend is for brushed nickel or black. Brass is so 1990.
  3. Don't forget the kick plate.  It should match the hardware.
  4. Declutter.  An extensive outdoor shoe collection does not impress a buyer. If you must keep shoes outside consider creating some storage cubbies and adding a padded cushion to make a bench.  Hide the hose pipe and the dog lead.  Get rid of the Amazon Fresh home delivery boxes and last year's Halloween decorations.  You laugh at this but I saw it yesterday while walking round my neighborhood.
  5. Wipe down the milk box.  There's no need to hide this as many buyers would be happy to see that milk can be delivered to their door.  Just make sure it's clean and presentable.  If necessary put in a call to the milk company and have them replace it.
  6. Consider some seasonal staging.  In the summer, some potted flowers look lovely. But be sure to water them daily. Nothing looks sadder than a thirsty and wilting hydrangea. Instead of flowers consider some contemporary statues and outside ornaments, or even a table and chair. A contemporary rug also goes a long way. www.jossandmain.com is my current go to for inexpensive home decor items.
  7. Remove any political signs that may be visible from the outside your home. Now is not to time to be publicly declaring your political allegiances.
  8. Make sure all light bulbs are working. It's unlikely you'll get any viewings in the dark, but buyers do switch on lights to check they work.

If for whatever reason you can't do any of the above, at the very least sweep and wash down the entire area, including walls and ceilings if you have an enclosed porch.  No-one likes to walk through cobwebs or see five year's of dead spiders above their heads.  If you cannot do this yourself, ask your agent to do it.  It's something I will do for all my clients.  If your agent is unwilling, then I would seriously question his commitment to your listing.

As I said at the outset, the inspiration for this post came from the Windermere blog. Check out the original post at http://www.windermere.com/blogs/windermere/posts/front-door-refresh












Posted on July 9, 2015 at 9:30 pm
Ali Mills | Posted in Curb appeal, Home renovation, Listing preparation, Seller's advice |

Money isn’t everything!

Even before I entered real estate I've often said there are few things more depressing than house hunting.  Oftentimes it's so hard to find the one that's right for you and there are many times when you honestly believe you're never going to find the right house.  But all it takes is one house – the house – and all those lows are forgotten and you're feeling euphoric. 

In today's market buyers are getting beaten up but it's important to stay positive.  With many properties receiving multiple offers, they are doing all that they can to make sure their offer is the winning offer. This means doing pre-inspections (where sellers allow), waiving contingencies for financing and inspection – both are risky but that's the reality. Many buyers are thousands of dollars down having paid for pre-inspections on multiple properties and they've got nothing but a bunch of rejected offers to show for it. They are getting knocked down many times – and every time it's harder and harder to get back up.

Here's where buyers and their agents need to get creative.  Many buyers, and sadly some agents, believe it's all about the price.  That's not always so. To a degree money talks, but every seller has different motivations – and as a buyer's agent it's my job to discover these motivations on behalf of my client. 

Before I write up any offer, I make it my job to have a lengthy conversation with the listing agent – ideally in person, but if that's not possible over the phone.  There's one question I always ask: "what does the seller really want or need in an offer?  What would make my client win this house?  Perhaps you're surprised to hear that money is rarely the answer. 

Some sellers need more time to find somewhere to move to so a rent back period or a longer closing window is often more appealing than an extra $5,000 in a escalation clause. 

Others need money now, so turning earnest money into a non-refundable deposit can sway in the buyer's favor.  Don't get me wrong, this should not be offered lightly but if a buyer is confident about their financing, and an inspection clause is in place it can work. 

Many sellers are downsizing and have furniture to sell which is time consuming and rarely worth the effort for the financial return. Consider offering to buy some of that furniture, or including a clause that states seller can leave anything in the house and buyer will remove it after closing.  At worst you'll be a couple of hundreds bucks down.  Or you might need to hire a truck and make a trip to the dump and do the move out clean yourself.  But you may also see some good furniture left behind.  Also remember, these could be things your agent is willing to pay for.  Removal of furniture and a move out clean are certainly costs I would cover for  some of my buyers.

These are just three examples, there a many more. The trick is to get creative.  My advice to buyers is to find an agent who's prepared to do more for you, and can think outside of the box.  It will pay off and you will find the perfect house.

Stay positive!



Posted on June 23, 2015 at 8:38 pm
Ali Mills | Posted in Uncategorized |

Safety in a Glympse

As a female realtor, safety is one of my top concerns – in fact it is my number one priority.  When you think about it at at a very rudimentary level realtors do many things on a weekly basis that our parents told us never to do. Don't let a stranger into your home.  Don't offer rides to people you don't know.  Yet a huge element of real estate is hosting open houses and showing homes to your clients – both of which technically involve letting strangers into your home, or at least the home you're responsible for that 2-3 hour window, and driving relative strangers around from house to house on the days that we're showing properties.

There are many tricks and tools we use to protect ourselves, vet our clients and ensure we're in control of the situation at all times.  And I'm grateful that today technology can play a role in our safety.  I recently discovered two great apps that almost every women should know about – not just realtors.

The first is GLYMPSE.  It's a fast, free and simple way to share your location.  Send a Glympse to your selected contacts to let them know where you are.  Request a Glympse from a friend who's running late. It's easier and faster than a phone call or a text message, works across mobiles, tablets or a desktop. Once you've downloaded the app, you can send a Glympse to anyone in your contacts – no software is required at their end to receive.  When I host open houses, I always ensure my husband knows where I am, and what time to expect me home.  Sending him a Glympse is a lot more convenient than remembering to write it on a Post-It and stick it to the fridge.  Download it at www.glympse.com

React Mobile is a safety app that turns your smartphone into a lifeline.  With GPS and tracking capabilities you can alert your selected contacts to your whereabouts with just one click.  It features three different alert capabilities – 'I'm Fine' giving everyone piece of mind, 'Follow Me' allowing your network to literally track your whereabouts, or 'Help Me' which will trigger a call to 911.  You can use the app via your smartphone, or buy the Sidekick device for those times that taking a phone is not practical. Learn more at www.reactmobile.com

Be safe my friends!


Posted on June 4, 2015 at 7:33 pm
Ali Mills | Posted in Safety, Technology |

And the [credit] scores on the doors are…

Chances are if you own a house, or are buying a house, you have or need a mortgage.  And kudos to you if you don't!  If you're seeking a mortgage, the first thing a lender will do is pull your credit score.  And the higher your score, the more investors and lower interest rates you'll have access to.

FICO credit scores range between 350 and 850, with 850 being the very best score you can get. If you have a score of 680 or below, there's work to be done to bringthis up above700 — and if you’re score is even lower than that, you might be feeling hopeless. 

Here are some key points about what makes up your FICO credit score:

  • 35% is based on your payment history for all accounts
  • 30% is based on the amount you owe, especially revolving accounts
  • 15% is based on how long you've been using credit
  • 10% is based on your applications for new credit
  • 10% is based on types of credit used

The good news is that if you have a lower-than-you'd-like credit score there are some things you can do to improve this. The even better news is that some of these simple steps can boost your score by as much as 40-50.  That's enough to open the gates to many more investors and a far lower rate of interest.

How to improve your credit score:

  • Pay active past due accounts to a current status
  • Pay down outstanding revloving debt as close to zero as possible.  If you are unable to pay off accounts completely, them pay them below 30% of the credit limit
  • Request deletion letters for any derogatory information that does not belong to you
  • Don't be in a hurry to close existing accounts. This may affect the length of credit history and lower the credit score
  • Do not open numerous accounts prior to loan funding

There are many urban myths about how you can hurt, vs improve your credit score.  Here are 7 myths that will not lower your credit score – http://www.gobankingrates.com/personal-finance/7-credit-myths-thought-could-hurt-score-but-dont/

Posted on May 18, 2015 at 10:05 pm
Ali Mills | Posted in Uncategorized |

Top 5 tips to boosting your curb appeal

Whether you're looking to list your property, or are just demonstrating pride in your home, here are a few quick and affordable ways to immediately boost your curb appeal.  Yes, appearances can be deceptive and I'd be the first to say you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover, but sadly appearances do matter and first impressions count – a lot! 

  1. Pressure wash your driveway and patio.  It's an afternoon well spent. A well swept driveway looks good, but a pressure washed driveway looks better. You'd be surprised at the difference it makes.  Unless you've already got a pressure washer, I'd advise again buying one – a high quality one that will do the job properly can easy cost $300+, so you have to do a lot of pressure washing for it to deliver a return on investment.  Instead, there's plenty of places you can rent one at a fraction of the cost.  Make sure you get one that's at least 2500 PSI (pounds per square inch if you're interested!), – 3000 or 35000 PSI would be better.  In my experience the likes of Lowes or Home Depot rarely have the high powered ones.  Instead I'd recommend a specialist tool rental shop.  R&R Rentals is a good one, and I even saw Sherwin Williams are now renting them. A 4-rental should be more than adequate to do a 3 car driveway and a small rear patio.  Learn from my mistakes and have some additional gas at the ready.  There's nothing more frustrating than running out of gas before the job is done, particularly if you're on a 4 hour rental window.
  2. Give your front porch a quick makeover.  Sweep away the cobwebs. Polish the hardware and the kick plate.  If you've got brass hardware, consider switching to brushed nickel or stainless steel – it instantly gives a more modern look.  If you don't have a kickplate, consider getting handy with a can of spray paint and spray your hardware black.  Against the right color door it can look amazing.  And a new lick of paint on the front door and trim will go a long way – but be sure to chose a color that coordinates with the rest of the house. 
  3. Throw down a new layer of topsoil or bark.  It transforms the look of your landscaping.
  4. Add some color by planting some seasonal annuals.  Petunias, lobelia, coleus all look great and are very cheap to buy.  A couple of well planted pots flanking a porch or front door give an inviting feel
  5. Clean your windows and gutters.  Crystal clear windows and clear gutters give the impression that the home has been well cared for.  Trust me, buyers will notice your gutters as they look outside from an upstairs window and even if they love the house and are considering making an offer, clogged gutters will plant ideas in their head that the inspection will raise some issues – and therefore an opportunity for them to get the price lowered.  

Posted on May 13, 2015 at 9:56 pm
Ali Mills | Posted in Uncategorized |