About The Tim

Tim Ellis is the founder of Seattle Bubble. His background in engineering and computer / internet technology, a fondness of data-based analysis of problems, and an addiction to spreadsheets all influence his perspective on the Seattle-area real estate market. Tim also hosts the weekly improv comedy sci-fi podcast Dispatches from the Multiverse.


  1. 1
    The Tim says:

    Oops sorry, I goofed up when entering the dates for this poll so it wasn’t allowing people to vote for a bit. Should be fixed now.

  2. 2
    willynilly says:

    I looked at and considered lahar flow paths, soil drainage/standing water, hill side erosion, soil composition, flood maps, etc. We also relocated from a water starved area that has been getting progressively worse, and passed on the bay area and considered quake faults in our decision. I thought I outsmarted all the high risk factors, but failed to learn of the stockpile of nuclear warheads stationed at Kitsap Naval Base. We should have chosen Southern Oregon instead.

  3. 3

    I considered hills and flooding, and of course Tsunami! Actually I did consider hills for earthquake too, because proximity to a hill can apparently affect the ability to get earthquake coverage.

    I would not have been bothered by something like the Oso area for the hill slide, but probably would have rejected it for flooding. Although apparently even houses out of the flood area were hit by that.

  4. 4

    If you want to see a good example of why you should never rely on a news report, read this story on the Oso slide: http://www.king5.com/news/investigators/New-homeowner-may-not-have-known-risks-on-Steelhead-Dr-252576281.html

    It has so many errors in it I even wrote a blog piece to address the issue (linked in comments there). But the article was nuts. They haven’t even determined how many people that lived in the area knew about the risk, but they think the bank or bank’s agent would somehow know about it. And then be critical of it not being disclosed when they probably don’t even know whether or not it was disclosed.

  5. 5
    wreckingbull says:

    For the cost of the buyer’s agent commission, I’d imagine you could employ the following and still have money left over.

    1. Geotechnical evaluation
    2. Multiple home inspections
    3. Social canvassing of the neighborhood
    4. Attorney for closing
    5. Drain line/septic scoping

    Can someone remind me why we pay so much for someone to fill out boilerplate paperwork? Oh yeah, ’cause that’s how we have always done it.

  6. 6

    RE: wreckingbull @ 5 – Because there’s more to it than that? Just picking one of your items–home inspector–when the buyer picks I have had the most problems afterward. That’s good for me because then I’m clearly not responsible for the choice of inspector, but bad for the buyer. The last time a buyer picked the inspector only my wife was present at the inspection and I knew more things wrong with the house before reading the inspection than what were included in the report.

    Or take the sewer scope. I’ve found that to get a buyer to actually do one you need to mention it to them in person, and sort of press. It’s not something most buyers are inclined to do on their own.

    But beyond that, this is yet another example of “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Buying a house is not like buying a trip to Disneyland. People try to claim it’s as simple because with both you can find things for sale on the Internet, but that’s where the similarities end. Stated differently, your list above is hardly all inclusive.

  7. 7
    Matt the Engineer says:

    The areas I generally look don’t have issues except earthquakes. Which are still a big deal. After looking at many houses in Seattle I’d say maybe 5% of the older ones are tied to their foundations. That could be very bad when the big one hits.

  8. 8
    wreckingbull says:

    RE: Kary L. Krismer @ 6 – Of course it is not inclusive. I have bought enough homes and raw land in my life to know that a buyer’s agent never brought much value to the table, especially considering how much they are indirectly costing me. Then I see quotes from agents in Oso news articles how they were shocked, yes shocked, that the home they just sold was in a dangerous area.

    The best thing someone can do is actually what you noted in one of your comments – spend a weekend and several week days yourself walking the area and meeting people. That will give you far more insight than a buyers agent ever could.

  9. 9

    By wreckingbull @ 8:

    The best thing someone can do is actually what you noted in one of your comments – spend a weekend and several week days yourself walking the area and meeting people. That will give you far more insight than a buyers agent ever could.

    This situation reminds me of the grief I took here for mentioning the Tsunami risk at long beach. One of our admitted trolls really was bothered by worrying about a risk that only happens every 300 years. Note this was before the Japan quake.


    Anyway, I don’t know what percentage of the owners in Oso knew about this risk or might have mentioned it, but I do wonder what the typical reaction would have been, particularly when the hill at risk was all the way across the river.

  10. 10
    Astro Kermit says:

    RE: wreckingbull @ 5

    So why don’t you just not use an agent? No one is forcing you to. I learned to handle the paperwork myself and hired all of the above you mentioned out of my own pocket. So can you.

    For those unfamiliar with the task at hand, they need to outsource the task, let it be a plumber, doctor or real estate agent. That is how it works. The best part is unlike a lawyer or doctor, you can self teach yourself to be an agent.

  11. 11
    sam says:

    What about Sammamish, Klahanie, Issaquah and Issaquah Highlands? Are these prone to mudslides or other disasters?

  12. 12

    By sam @ 11:

    What about Sammamish, Klahanie, Issaquah and Issaquah Highlands? Are these prone to mudslides or other disasters?

    Check out this map (zoom into the area and click landslide)


    By Astro Kermit @ 10:

    The best part is unlike a lawyer or doctor, you can self teach yourself to be an agent.

    LOL. And you get the added benefit of being the agent’s first (and likely only) client! You can rely on all that experience.

  13. 13
    Erik says:

    RE: sam @ 11
    These areas are prone to tournedos.

  14. 14
  15. 15
    Peter Witting says:

    An agent raved to me about the views on three bluff properties above the Stilly on the Stanwood/Sylvana area. There is no way I can be convinced that building on the top off a bluff overlooking a flood plain is a good idea, even with this logic: “This hillside is so stable, you’ll be dead before anything happens to it.”

  16. 16
    Erik says:

    RE: Peter Witting @ 15
    My parents live in Camano hills. It is a house on a hill in that area. They have lived there 11 years with no problems or big scares. It is only 1 story with a basement. I am not familiar wth the exact area you are talking about though, but i am sure you are concerned for good reason.

    If I was developing that property, I would build 1 story biuldings with basements. Dig out the backyard so it is lower than the front yard. Make the basement lead to the backyard and the top lead to the front yard.

  17. 17

    I agree that a traditional agent doesn’t deliver value commensurate with the usual cost (3%, although 2.5% is becoming more common). But they do provide value, even to experienced buyers like Wrecking Bull and AstroKermit, because at the end of the day they’ve handled far more transactions and seen many more wrinkles than you’ll ever see.

    And regardless of whether you are saving money on the buyer side – whether by foregoing an agent entirely, or using a reduced-fee agent – due diligence is the key to making a sound decision. So those hypothetical costs/experts listed by Wrecking Bull? They’re appropriate regardless of whether you’re using an agent. Indeed, this is some of the value provided by a knowledgable agent: The ability to assist the buyer in completing the due diligence necessary for a sound purchase.

  18. 18
    Erik says:

    RE: Craig Blackmon @ 17
    If I didn’t get an agent like Ardell, I wouldn’t have got as much for my place. She used her own money to design my place to look nice. I got 5 offers of full price or better as a result of her design work. I had hoa issues I didn’t tell her about because I forgot. She researched my legal rights and got me out of a very tough situation that could have cost me lots ofmoney. I would have had to pull my floors out and install new ones. Point is that a good agent is worth their weight in gold. If I had an agent that wasn’t as good, I would have gone under a lot more financial stress. I would not have closed.

    If I was a lawyer like yourself, I would sell condos because you can help your clients navigate through legal issues. I like your business though. I can see how I would feel comfortable with a real estate attorney looking out for me.

  19. 19

    RE: Erik @ 18 – Erik, you flipped the conversation on me. I think listing agents provide more value than selling agents, because of all of the effort that goes into successfully marketing the property. And I’m sure you did very well with Ardell’s assistance, she is certainly at the top of her game. Congrats on the successful sale.

    That said, you note that she “researched [your] legal rights and got [you] out of a very tough situation that could have cost [you] lots of money”? Well, two comments. First, yup, that sounds like Ardell!! ;-)

    Second, you know she’s not a lawyer, right? And what you describe is clearly the practice of law for which agents – even Ardell – are not authorized to engage in? I’m sure she handled it very well, again she’s a highly competent agent who has pretty much seen everything before. But at the end of the day, she clearly exceeded her authority as an agent (based solely on your description of her actions). Generally speaking, that’s not good. You had at least one sticky legal issue. You should not have relied on a real estate broker to address it. People in your situation should consult an attorney.

    Sure, I sell condos. I also help people buy condos. I also help people sell and buy single family homes. When I do, though, I don’t act as a lawyer. I act as a real estate broker. But I provide my clients with a lawyer as well, and pay the legal fees out of my commission (which itself is only 2% with the balance rebated at closing). Consumers deserve nothing less.

  20. 20
    ARDELL says:

    RE: Craig Blackmon @ 19

    Not to worry Craig. My out of pocket 3rd party costs on Erik’s sale were more than 1% and closer to 1.5% of the commission…and included an attorney consult by a very prominent real estate attorney in the Seattle area.

    I am smart enough to know when I need to pull in other professionals in various fields and I’m not the least bit reluctant to pay for those special assists out of my own pocket.

    To assume an agent doesn’t consult with outside professionals, as needed, is incorrect.

  21. 21

    RE: ARDELL @ 20 – Ardell, I made no such assumption. I commented based entirely on what I learned from Erik, and nothing else.

    But since you’ve provided additional information, let’s dig a little deeper. It sounds like you consulted an attorney about Erik’s issue, and paid for that consultation out of your pocket. You then took what you learned and counseled Erik as to this legal issue, including – it sounds like – some steps to address the issue. If that is correct…

    In your conversation with the lawyer, who exactly was the client? If Erik was the attorney’s client, then Erik and the attorney should have discussed the issue, and arguably you should not have even been present (since your presence would jeopardize the attorney-client privilege that would otherwise attach to the conversation). Talking to an attorney about your client’s legal issue, and then counseling your client based on that conversation, is simply not appropriate, at least not in the eyes of the law.

    Indeed, I’d wager dollars to doughnuts that the “very prominent” attorney with whom you spoke was not even fully aware of the nature of your consultation. No competent, ethical attorney would agree to speak with a real estate broker about a legal issue facing the broker’s client, where the attorney never speaks with the actual client nor establishes an attorney/client relationship with the actual client.

    Your willingness to go out of pocket on client costs is commendable. Your extensive knowledge of real estate matters is beyond dispute. But at the end of the day, the law required you to refer Erik to an attorney, not consult an attorney yourself and then rely upon that input in rendering legal services to Erik. I have no doubt you exceeded your authority in regards to your practice of law.

    But it turned out well, and the client is very happy. So this discussion is entirely academic in nature.

  22. 22
    ARDELL says:

    RE: Craig Blackmon @ 21

    Clearly that was “the” attorney’s call, Craig. The one who was privy to the particulars and being paid for the advice. I cannot discuss the particulars as those are confidential to the interested parties. But clearly the attorney knew what he was doing.

    I can see your questioning every agent as to doing everything right, as that is your business model. But do you seriously also question the attorney who was “in the room”?

    The buyer, the seller, and the two agents involved can all hire an attorney for guidance. They are all free to do that. My consulting an attorney does not preclude any one else in the transaction from also doing so.

  23. 23
    wreckingbull says:

    I think my comment was misunderstood by most. I will gladly pay a buyer’s agent a fair, hourly rate to consult on issues in which they are experts. Will this end up to be tens of thousands of dollars? No way.

  24. 24
    wreckingbull says:

    RE: Astro Kermit @ 10 – Agreed! Can you talk a little bit about how you approached the sellers agent? Did they actually give you the commission that would have been due the buyers agent? I have no problem with a no-agent sale, but when the home is being listed by an agent, I still don’t feel I understand the approach.

  25. 25
    wreckingbull says:

    RE: ARDELL @ 22 – I find this an interesting subject. Did you consult the attorney for your own advice or for that of Erik? How can an attorney serve two masters like this? Seems like a situation that is ripe for a pear-shaped outcome.

  26. 26
    ARDELL says:

    RE: wreckingbull @ 25

    Every situation is different. Since the legal issue involved contract wording beyond filling in the blanks, it was appropriate for me to consult an attorney as to that wording, since I was the one preparing the document. Most all brokers/brokerages have access to an attorney to provide this type of legal advice.

    It was very common on the East Coast for an agent and their client to consult an attorney together to resolve issues or simply get legal advice or oversight on issues that are not adversarial between the buyer/seller and their agent.

    The reason there are very few transactions here in WA that have an attorney during the transaction (as opposed to ALL having an attorney in NYC, as example) is that seems to be more problematic here than in other parts of the Country. That’s sad really, as the end result is most transactions end up with no attorney, and that is a disservice to many.

    I would pay for an attorney on every transaction, as I did when I worked in PA, but the lawyers here won’t let me. Odd but true. I used to pay an attorney to be with the buyer (more than seller) at the time the buyer was signing their closing documents, as example. For some reason here it appears to be a problem for an agent to not be adversarial with their own client. Not sure why that is.

  27. 27
    Erik says:

    RE: Craig Blackmon @ 21
    Mr. Lawyer, you are twisting this to make it look like someone did something wrong by not paying a bunch of money to your profession. This didnt go to court. We only only negotiating outside of court. You don’t have to be licensed to do that, right? Anyway… Ardell did many hours of research on comparable situations and chose what she felt was the best course. I agreed on that course of action. She didn’t say not to hire a lawyer. She said this is what I can get for you based on my research and you can hire a lawyer if you would like. The compromise she negotiated was $13k over asking price. It was a great deal without having to pay a lawyer, so I gladly took it.

    Ardell, this was meant to praise what a great job you do. I think lawyers can take anything and twist it so that the good person is really the bad person. You wore many hats and any home seller would be lucky to have you on their side. You are more than worth your commission.

  28. 28

    RE: Erik @ 27 – I’m not “twisting” anything. But obviously I’m not saying what you want to hear, because what you want to hear simply is not correct.

    Yes, to practice law – whether in court, or not – you need a license or other legal authority to do so. Agents have the legal authority to engage in the practice of law to the extent of filling in blanks in pre-printed forms that were drafted by an attorney. Period. If you don’t believe me, read the law yourself (Cultum v. Heritage House).

    I have no doubt you got a great result using Ardell, and I’m not surprised AT ALL because I know she is an outstanding – and highly ethical – real estate broker. But in this instance, it looks like she went beyond her scope of authority as to this narrow issue. Does that make her a bad person? Of course not! C’mon, man! She is just a broker who went a little further in regards to the practice of law than what the law allows. And I promise you, that happens all the time.

    Nonetheless, laws exist for a reason. And of course, my model falls squarely within the law and provides consumers with the professional services of the right professional. So I make comments like these.

  29. 29
    Erik says:

    RE: Craig Blackmon @ 28
    I think your last paragraph sums this all up. I am a utilitarian, so the end result is my only concern. That said, if I was selling millions of dollars in real estate, I would have a lawyer watching every step. I sold for $233. Not a huge transaction. I didn’t feel the margins were large enough to make it practical to hire an attorney. If Ardell wasn’t a rockstar agent, I would have consulted a real estate attorney. She came up with a solution everyone agreed on.

  30. 30

    RE: ARDELL @ 22 – You bet I question the attorney who was “in the room” because based on the facts as stated here there are some legal issues raised as to his conduct. The attorney needs to speak with the client, not the broker who represents the client. That’s a basic principle.

    But one that brokers often forget (or perhaps are not aware of in the first place). Yes, brokers usually do have access to attorneys, and yes brokers consult them about issues in a particular transaction. But the next time you consult with an attorney like this, ask him or her: Who are you counseling? Who is your client?

    If the attorney is competent and ethical, he or she will say “you.” And your interests as the broker may – or may not – be completely aligned with the interests of the client. The attorney simply must consult with the client and should not provide legal counsel via an intermediary. If the attorney says, “your client” then I don’t care how prominent the attorney may be, he’s not too attuned to his professional obligations.

    I certainly respect the need to keep particulars confidential (although both principals are now discussing it at length in this thread!). So the conversation is likely played out. Thanks for chiming in.

    Finally, no, my model is not based on “questioning every agent as to doing everything right.” My model is based on providing my clients with the appropriate professional services from the right professional. This differentiates me from more traditional agents such as yourself. When I come across a situation that illustrates this difference, like the one raised by Erik initially, I speak up.

  31. 31
    ARDELL says:

    RE: Craig Blackmon @ 30

    No…the conversation is not “played out”, as I am not going to reveal confidences in a blog comment. You are using this to your own grandstanding purpose…at my expense…without having the facts. Very unethical and unprofessional. Suffice it to say that just because a consumer says it was a “legal” issue does not mean it was by your definition. It was a gray area worth clarifying.

    Real Estate Agents have to deal with the business at hand in the midst of multiple offers, and do the very best they can. RARELY is an attorney in that room during multiple offer review, and your biz model would be no different. You are not the only attorney to suggest that an agent can’t do all the things we do to effect a positive outcome for our clients. And yet tens of thousands of us do it every day nonetheless.

    It is clearly the wet dream of every attorney that there be an attorney in every real estate transaction like in NYC. No attorney will be happy until that happens and will constantly say agents have to stick their thumbs up their butt and put duct tape on their mouth…but that just isn’t practical “advice”. We do what we do and we do it well.

    You could try moving to NYC…all transactions have an attorney or two who handle all the closings there. Not sure who the represent at that closing. Probably themselves. :)

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