Washington Land

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Search for Land for Sale in Washington State

There is a new website launched today http://www.searchwashingtonland.com which is a free site that allows you to search for land for sale in Washington State. You can also search SOLD listings to find out what your property is worth. This is a free service with no registration required and no personal information to give out.

This website uses google maps and satellite photos to help you find where the land for sale is. You can also sign up on this website to have new listings emailed to you, at no charge or obligation.

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Title Companies Caught in Illegal Actions

Zachary Smith, broker of DouglasFir.net
The State of Washington Office of Insurance Commissioner has released a report 3 days ago reporting that title companies routinely engage in illegal incentives to steer business their way. Looks like the Pierce county branches are the worst offenders. You can read the whole report here.

Photo by Tore UrnesOne of the worst offenses is paying for advertising for real estate agents, which is a common unethical practice among agents. I am glad they are finally cracking down on this. One of the most ironic offenses was paying for the Realtor® association’s lunches (what ever happened to their staunch ethics code?).

The insurance commissioner thinks that these thousands, tens of thousands and in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars in incentives really belongs to the consumer. I disagree, they are charging what the market will bear—this money actually belongs to the stockholders. If I was a stockholder I would be pretty upset over these companies actions.

Well, what companies broke the law; let’s take a look shall we? If you want to see them all, read the report. I am just mentioning the publicly traded ones as I think the stockholders need to know.

Chicago Title Insurance Company had multiple violations and the commissioner ranked them “somewhere in the middle of the pack when its violation record is compared to other companies.” I believe that Chicago is a subsidary of Fidelity.

LandAmerica (NYSE: LFG) group of companies has some minor violations for overspending on wining and dining, and in one instance chartered a boat for $25,000 to entertain people who steered business their way. A $25,000 yacht cruise, that's pretty expensive, did it have cocaine and hookers on board? I'm sure they had champagne, at least. The insurance commissioner said “the violations and their frequency were not as extensive as some of the worst offenders.”

Fidelity Title (NYSE: FNT) has some pretty major violations; I think the insurance commissioner sums it up well, “While the company’s King and Snohomish operations tended to operate closer to the intent of the law, albeit still in violation, the Pierce County offenses were similar in breadth and scope to those of the worst offenders identified during the investigation.”

First American
(NYSE: FAF) was “the worst offender in the investigation” (insurance commissioner’s words not mine), and “a prime example of how illegal inducements can help a company attain superior market share.” They spent $120,000 per month on these illegal activities!

Old Republic Title, Ltd. (ORI) had some minor wining and dining violations.

Ticor Title was “one of the major offenders” as well, wining and dining, ski trips, golf tournaments and cigars (hopefully not Cubans!). I think Ticor is a subsidary of another title company but I am not 100% sure so I will not name names.

Stewart Title, Pacific Northwest Title, Rainier Title
were minor offenders and as far as I am aware are private corporations so I will not go into detail.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Land that had a Repo'd Mobile Home

Every once in awhile you run across land that has had a home on it in the past but it has been removed. Sometimes a house burns down but usually it is a mobile home that has been moved. Since these properties have all utilities already on site, they are usually popular.

Repo'd MobileMobile homes are frequently foreclosed on and lenders use this as an excuse to tighten up lending on them. One of the reasons is that mobiles don’t usually appreciate in value, usually it is the land only. So if a person buys a stick built house and runs into problems making payments, if they have lived in the house for a few years the equity should protect them. But often with a mobile there is no equity, especially when the person bought the mobile new off the lot on a zero down loan.

But what is the story of the people who used to live there? This particular piece of land is in Roy, Washington. It used to have a mobile on it. Well they wanted to sell in 2000. They had it on the market at $124,900. It didn’t sell, so they switched brokers. It still didn’t sell. So they took it off the market and lived there a few more years.

2004 rolled around and they were having problems making payments. They put it up for sale at $129,000 with no takers. So they switched brokers. Then it was on the market for over a year and still didn’t sell, even though the agent wrote “seller motivated” in the marketing remarks. Then they got foreclosed on and the bank came and took their home away.

They purchased under a land contract and the seller ended up with the land back.

I’m guessing that the amount of money they were asking was the amount just to get them out of the place free and clear as it was a pretty consistent amount over the 5 years.

I’ve never met a person who has a mobile home that has said that they thought about resale value when they bought it. I bet it sure looked nice in the showroom. A person should always think about resale value because you never know what will happen to you in the future that could affect your ability to make the payment.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Septic Systems

Zachary Smith I had a sale fall through recently after the buyer did the soils analysis. The result of the test was that the property did qualify for a septic system. However it did not qualify for a simple gravity system but an engineered system. There are many people out there who run from an engineered system because they are afraid of the cost or feasibility of such a system. While it is true that engineered systems do cost a bit more, it is not an impossibility nor something that should break your project.

Septic TankYou should never expect to get a gravity system. The vast majority of properties simply do not qualify for this type of system. It is not realistic to expect to get one; you should anticipate and budget for an engineered system. If your property does qualify for a simple system, it’s a bonus.

A gravity system can be build when the soils are capable of absorbing all the effluent from the septic tank. Wastewater flows from the septic into the drainfield trench just by gravity alone at an irregular pace. You will need four feet of usable soil for this type of system. The estimated cost on this type of system is $7000.

All other types of septic systems require a pump to move the waste around and are called pressurized systems.

A pressure distribution (aka Pump) system is very similar to a gravity system except that it has a pump that slowly releases the effluent into the drainfield trench at a speed that the soils can handle. They require 2 ½ feet of usable soils. The estimated cost on this type of system is $10,000.

These previous two types of septic systems are what laymen refer to as standard systems and the following are engineered systems.

A pressure distribution system with pretreatment is the same system as described above except before the effluent gets pumped into the drainfield it gets treated. Building a wastewater treatment system on a septic adds quite a bit of cost. The estimated cost on this is $17,000. Having a wastewater treatment system in your septic also requires more maintenance than if you didn’t. There are many different pretreatment methods you can use, some public domain, some proprietary. So many people will use a mound system instead as an alternative. You only need 18 inches of usable soil for this type of system.

A mound system doesn’t have a drainfield trench; instead the effluent is pumped into a pile of sand and rock that filters the wastewater before releasing it into the soils. The mound system requires 18 inches of usable soils. The mound system estimated cost is $17,000. It is usually used instead of a pressure with pretreatment because it requires less maintenance. Some people prefer the pressure distribution with pretreatment for aesthetic reasons as they don’t want to look at a mound.

A mound system with pretreatment is used when the soils are marginal, with as little as 12 inches of usable soils. The system is the same as the mound but with an added wastewater treatment system. Again, this adds cost and maintenance to your system. An alternative to this type of system is the Glendon system. The mound with pretreatment estimated cost is $25,000. But really you wouldn’t put this in when you can do a glendon for much cheaper.

A Glendon® Biofilter system is a proprietary system. Some soils engineers do not like to do them because they don’t make as much money doing the design as it has to be purchased from the company and if they do a public domain design the engineer gets the money for the design. This system is somewhat like a mound. You have a septic tank that runs a pump into the biofilter. The biofilter is a box of sand and gravel that the wastewater goes through before being released in the soils. The estimated cost on this is $14,000.

So the cost of an engineered system is $4,000 to $15,000 more than a simple pump system. If you use the alternative to the mound with pretreatment, it is only $4,000 to $7,000 more than a simple pump system. If you are trying to build a house on acreage, your total project is hundreds of thousands of dollars, your budget shouldn’t be so tight that a few thousand breaks it.

The cost associated with the engineered systems are: more design fees and more dirt work, as the soils that don’t drain have to be dug out and replaced with something that does.

There are even more types of systems than I have laid out here but these are the most common. You do have options on which type of system will work for you. If you don’t want a pretreatment system, you can do something else instead. I mention the soils depths here for general reference but always consult an actual soils engineer because the soils depth can change due to other factors on the property.

The estimated costs here were taken from a recent estimate I got from a septic engineer for a 3 bedroom septic and are not a guarantee of your actual cost. This will vary from area to area and if you want to know what it actually costs you will need to go get an actual bid from a contractor.

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