You've found Dalton Realty, the largest independent real estate office on South Whidbey. We've been helping people just like you buy and sell homes and land on the island since 1972. This website is a great place to search for property, find agents with local expertise, and access local service providers.
Watch this space! We'll be updating it periodically with information about our favorite island.
Year End Trends
Median price for a home here on Whidbey Island was about seven percent higher in 2017 than in 2016, (not including condos.) There are presently just two homes available for under $200,000. One of them still has wheels attached, (it'll need tires, if you want to haul it away,) and the other needs an extensive remodel, or maybe just a fresh coat of bulldozer.
Expect a more modest increase in median price over 2018. Don't plan to find a home here in decent repair for less than that $200,000 mark this year, or ever again, most likely. Land values will continue to appreciate.
Advice to Sellers
I'll start, and end, this post with some advice: If you want to sell your home, talk with a Realtor. The numbers, here, are from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service (NWMLS), and pertain to South Whidbey. The underlying principles apply everywhere.
120 single-family homes sold over the past three months with a median price of $435,000. 154 homes sold during the same period of time in 2016, with a median price of $399,000 - a lot more homes, for a little less money. There are currently 139 homes available, with a median price of $569,000. Do you see a problem, here?
Your Dalton Realty professionals have noticed a decrease in the number of Whidbey Island homes sold this year. That's not because we're transitioning from a seller's market to a buyer's market. Rather, it's because there are few homes available at realistic prices. Currently, there are just two South Whidbey homes available for under $200,000. Neither is an any shape to permit bank financing.
If you want to sell your home at this time, call a professional who will provide expert service, and a realistic estimation of market value.
The Dog Days of Summer
From Wikipedia: "The dog days or dog days of summer are the hot, sultry days of summer. They were historically the period following the heliacal rising of the star Sirius, which Greek and Roman astrology connected with heat, drought, sudden thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, mad dogs, and bad luck. They are now taken to be the hottest, most uncomfortable part of summer in the Northern Hemisphere."
We're really suffering out here, on Whidbey Island! The sky is blue, the sun is shining, (and won't set until almost nine o'clock,) and it's already seventy-two degrees in the middle of the afternoon. Humidity is at fifty percent, which means you can't even run a 10K without breaking into a sweat.
Cost to Commute
Here's the bad news: If you're living around here and working in Everett, and need to drive your car every work day, the ferry commute will cost about $300 per month.
Let's factor in your house payment. Running statistics for an average-ish house - fifteen or twenty years old, around 2000 square feet, on less than a quarter-acre - gives us a median home price for Everett of about $460,000. A South Whidbey home meeting the same criteria goes for around $360,000. The portion of your payment to cover that extra $100,000, at four percent interest, is $477. So, if you're living out here, you start and end every work day with a boat ride, and put $177 back in your bank account every month. And that's assuming that you don't line up a carpool or vanpool, saving even more money.
No wonder so many smart commuters move to Whidbey Island!
Buy, or Build?
That question was easy to answer, when Whidbey home prices were at the low point. As of today, the median price for a home is up twenty-one percent from that nadir. Land prices are up, too; but the impact on the total price for a home is much smaller.
There are more factors to consider, of course. A custom home can be awfully expensive to build - one of our preeminent Whidbey builders said that his prices start at over $200 per square foot. If you can find just the right house on just the right lot, you can buy it for much less than you can build one that looks just like it. On the other hand, some of the large-volume builders are advertising house plans for around $75 per square foot. At that price point, you can probably buy a lot and build your home, and save money over purchasing an existing home. (As of today, there are precisely five stick-built homes on Whidbey Island available for less than $200,000. The largest of these is just 756 square feet in size.)
Advice to Sellers
If you read all the way through this ongoing discussion, you'll find a recurring theme: The best time to buy or sell a home is when you want to move. Beyond that, of course, there's the question of how to maximize the return on your investment.
Not so very long ago, when real estate prices were low, clients would ask whether they could get an even better deal by waiting awhile longer. Our stock answer was that the very worst time to buy was at the top of the market, and that they were too late for that. The very best time to buy is at the bottom of the market, but you can only define the bottom of the market by a rise in prices. By the time you can identify the bottom of the market, it's gone.
Now we're dealing with a mirror question: Is this a good time to sell? And our answer is very similar to the answer for the buyer's question. We won't be able to pinpoint the top of the market until it's gone. If you're worried about selling at the bottom of the market, well, you're too late for that.
We're thoroughly immersed in Whidbey Island real estate here at Dalton Realty. We have been, for around forty years - longer than any other agency on the island. While no one can predict the future with perfect certainty, we are well-qualified to deliver this educated guess: Whidbey Island home prices will continue to escalate over the next year or two. After that, the crystal ball gets hazy.
So, focusing solely on the investment aspect of selling your property, here's the same answer we've been delivering since 2008: Don't sell yet, unless you have a better place to put your money.
Here's the rerun of a post from 2012, that included a link to an essay by Skip Demuth. Skip doesn't maintain his website anymore, and it wasn't available online for a few years. Skip's essay is an excellent illustration of the roots of South Whidbey culture, so we got his permission to move it here.
Washington State has two distinct regions with differing cultures, nicely divided into East and West by the Cascade Range. Whidbey Island has two cultures, too. The northern end of the island is strongly influenced by the Navy. The south end is different. Skip Demuth can help explain why.
Here's a link to an article he's posted on his website: Makin’Hay A quick read will help you understand South Whidbey culture.
Groundhog or no groundhog, winter wears out around here on Whidbey Island late in February. We'll see catkins on the pussy willows in a week or two, and the crocuses will start to bloom before the end of the month.
Yesterday's blizzard dropped an inch or two of snow on Clinton, and a good deal less than that in Oak Harbor. That's likely to be the heaviest snowfall we'll see this season.
The numbers are in for the end of the year.
No fewer than 1261 Whidbey Island homes sold through the MLS in 2016, not including condominiums. The median price was up about eight percent from 2015, to $305,000. The real estate market behaves a bit differently on the south end of the island. The South Whidbey median home price in 2016 was up ten percent over the year before, to $382,608.
There are some interesting trends in the number of days it takes to sell a home, and in island prices versus mainland prices. Call us, if you'd like to know all about them.
I was back to the books today because I was curious about how today's South Whidbey home prices compare to prices in 2007, when they were way too high. It turns out that the median price for a home over the past year was $372,700, compared to $391,500 for 2007. When you adjust for inflation, (15.2% since 2007, bringing the 2007 price to $450,851 in 2016 dollars,) the median home price for the last 365 days was just 83% of the median price in 2007.
Whidbey Versus the Mainland
Here's a true story: We're helping John and Jane buy a waterfront home here on the south end of the island. It's a bit of a fixer, (absolutely liveable with a solid structure,) and almost twice the size of the Bothell house they're selling. John will have a faster commute to work, even with the ferry ride. And get this: They'll pay almost seventy thousand dollars less than they will receive for their nicely maintained, but otherwise nondescript, house on the mainland.
Median home price for a single-family home (not condo) in John and Jane's neighborhood was $530,000 over the last 365 days. For South Whidbey, it was $368,000. If you plan to buy a home north of Seattle, and don't mind living where other people go for vacation, call us. We'll help you explore the possibilities.
We're late with this update, but we have an excuse: We've been busy helping people buy and sell homes. It's what we do.
The median Whidbey home price for 2015 was up eight percent over 2014, meeting or beating expectations. We're still catching up with the mainland price surge, so this is still a good time to buy a home here. But don't expect to scoop up an amazing bargain. There's too much competition from other buyers.
There are still some great deals on undeveloped land. There's too much variation, and too few sales, for a meaningful statistical snapshot, but we've found that a truly motivated seller won't find a buyer without bringing the price down to an investment-worthy level.
Real Estate Bubble?
I wouldn't bother addressing the question, but the merchants of doom (internet "news" providers) asked, so here we go.
Bubbles are for gamblers who think they're investors. Back in 2006 and '07, there were a lot of those buying real estate, because it was so easy to gamble with Other People's money. Well, the Other People (banks, mostly) took a beating, and they don't want to play anymore. We're not experiencing a real estate bubble, because "investors" are able to buy only those homes that they can actually afford.
Here's some hard data, to back that up: The Consumer Price Index shows that inflation has driven prices up twenty-six percent since 2004. We care about 2004 because the real estate market was quite stable then. I've crunched the numbers, and can tell you that the median price for a home on Whidbey Island is up thirty percent from 2004; a little bit better than inflation. So, no bubble.
I'm pretty sure you can find this advice somewhere else on this page, but here it is, again: The best time to buy a home on Whidbey is whenever you want to move to this little corner of paradise, part time, or full time. The best time to sell is whenever you have a better place to put your money.
Renting on Whidbey
Are you looking for a rental? We can't help you, much. Rental agents rarely post their listings with the MLS. Too, we'd rather hone our expertise on helping people buy and sell real estate, rather than invest time in learning the rental industry.
Here's how we can help: Call us, and we'll send you to a rental expert. Barbara Taylor, at South Island Properties is good with South Whidbey, and Brad and Karen Jaeger, at Tara Property Management, too. Jason Joiner covers more of the island. He's another fine choice as a rental agent.
Call us, if you're thinking about buying or selling a home! If you'd rather rent, call us anyway, and we'll fix you up with contact information.
Here's a look at Whidbey Island real estate prices for the first half of 2015, compared to the first half of 2014. We're not really interested in the numbers, here, as much as we are in how they predict future values.
We were expecting an uptick. South Whidbey real estate is becoming more attractive as mainland prices rise. The North Whidbey home market is becoming tight due to more families moving in with the Navy.
As it turns out, both regions are experiencing a bit of a boom. The median Whidbey Island home price for the first half of 2015 is up almost eight percent over the same period in 2014. 532 single family homes were sold in 2015, compared to 440 in 2014.
This does not constitute a feeding frenzy. Rather, it's indicative of a healthy market, with fair value to both buyers and sellers. I expect a similar increase in Whidbey Island home values over the next year or two.
After that, my crystal ball gets too hazy to be useful.
I don't know what the Ragnar Relay is, but it made me late to the mainland Saturday night. Ferry traffic was still backed up to the Clinton post office at ten o'clock.
Along with Labor Day, which falls on the 7th this year, I expect two events to generate heavy ferry traffic before the end of September: The Whidbey Island Fair, which runs from August 6th to August 9th, and the Oyster Run, which is scheduled for the 27th of September.
Reservations are available for the boat to Port Townsend if you call or email a couple of hours in advance. You'll want to make them, whenever you sail from Keystone. (The city fathers of Coupeville want you to think of it as the Coupeville ferry, although the boat docks on the other side of the island.)
There are several reasons that most of us don't purchase repossessed homes at auction. The first of these is that a buyer has to have all of the purchase funds immediately available. It isn't possible to arrange a loan secured by the available home. The second reason is that the property isn't available for inspection before purchase. The final reason is that a buyer will usually have to compete with an unlikely buyer - The lender that held the loan.
Here's an example: The owners of a home in Scatchet Head couldn't keep it, and the home was foreclosed. A trustee, (not the lender,) processed the foreclosure, and brought the home to auction. It made sense to the lender (HSBC) to pay the amount that they were owed for the home - $115,627. HSBC then sold the property through the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) for $66,000. (The home was in rough shape. It just wasn't worth any more than that.)
The point, here, is that there's no profit in searching for repossessed homes. They end up listed with the MLS. If the home meets your needs, a Dalton agent will find it for you there.
I checked the numbers. 142 of the 1,013 Whidbey Island homes that sold through the MLS were owned by lending institutions. That's pretty close to the rate in 2010, when 115 of 626 homes that sold were bank-owned.
Deception Pass Bridge Closure
I cribbed this word for word from the WSDOT website:
Deception Pass bridges nightly closures start July 12. Five consecutive overnight full closures of the Deception Pass and Canoe Pass bridges are scheduled to start Sunday night, July 12. The nightly closures will be from 7:30 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. through Friday morning, July 17. When the bridge is open between the nightly closures, from 5:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., drivers should be prepared for a rough roadway. This work is extremely weather dependent. Roadway paving: Expect single lane roadway closures 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday nights through Friday mornings. Work will be complete in September 2015.
I thought I'd explain why I quit paying for print advertising, but my managing broker, Mike Dalton, already did, in a message to one of our clients:
Yes, your listing is on our site. In addition to our web site, your property listing shows up on all of the following sites:
The list actually contains every office that is part of the Multiple Listing Service and has a public web site. [Every real estate office on Whidbey Island is part of the Multiple. Ed.]
Seventy to eighty percent of buyers shop online before contacting a broker. They will look for property on a Whidbey-specific website such as DaltonRealtyInc.com, a well-known search engine like Zillow, or even one of the franchise websites. Because of this, the internet levels the field, and allows Dalton Realty to compete effectively.
My point is that every real estate office in the Northwest Multiple, and over fifteen thousand brokers, have access to you listing. Our best marketing tool is to price the property correctly, and make sure that all brokers have access to it. This is also the best way to get the listing out to the public.
You might be interested to know that on Zillow.com your listing has had 215 views in the last 22 days, and three shoppers have saved the information.
I do not do any "paper" advertising for these reasons: If a property is listed at a competitive price, brokers and buyers will find it. If it is not competitively priced, brokers will use it to sell something else. The simple fact is that the more competitive a price is, the faster it sells. Unfortunately, paper advertising does not change that fact.
Thank you, Mike.
If you're older than fifty, you remember when newspapers received most of their funding from pages and pages of want ads. (If you're older than fifty and from around here, you remember buying and selling stuff through The Little Nickel - five cents a word, twenty word minimum.)
I'm currently helping a family in California sell their Whidbey property to a couple in Alaska, who found the land listing through their agent in Bellingham. The last home that I helped sell was on Smugglers Cove Road. The new owner moved from New York City. I hear from people from all over the United States, asking about homes here on the island. So far, I haven't had a lot of out-of-country enquiries, except from that guy in Nigeria. He sends me stuff all the time.
This would never have happened, with print advertising. I won't much care if I never, ever hear from someone who is trying to send me millions of dollars from mysterious sources, but all in all, I'm happy to be living in the Age of the Internet.
I've crunched the numbers, and can report that the median home price for a home on Whidbey Island in 2014 was $260,000, a very healthy increase of four percent over 2013. That's just about right - a very large increase would hint at unusual market pressures. (Think of the loose lending rules ten years ago, that led to inflated values, followed by a crash.) About fifteen percent more homes sold in 2014 than 2013, and they found new owners faster, by about twenty percent.
Given these numbers, I'll stick with my advice to potential home buyers and sellers: If you like Whidbey Island, and expect to stay awhile, (and you'd like to own your own home,) this is a fine time to buy. I don't believe we'll see the current combination of low prices and interest rates ever again. If you're thinking of selling a home, don't, unless you have a better place to put your money. And for goodness sake, before you make a decision, ask an expert what your home is worth, and what it'll cost to sell it. We'll be happy to help you with that.
Coupeville's Big Rock
There's a lot to see out here: Fort Casey, Deception Pass, Greenbank Farm, Meerkerk Rhododendren Gardens. And don't forget the Big Rock.
It's in Coupeville. If you're northbound from the ferry, turn left at the stoplight, and watch for the Big Rock as you get close to Coupeville Coffee and Bistro.
Put the Big Rock on your bucket list. You can't claim to know Whidbey until you've seen it. And if you are nothbound from the ferry, stop by the Visitor's Center, in the yellow farmhouse just outside of Clinton. We'll fill you in on those other, lesser known attractions.
How's the Weather?
Well, our weather hasn't been newsworthy. We had one cold week without a thaw, although winter temperatures have been mostly between forty and fifty, as usual. It snowed once in December and once in February, with about an inch on the ground that melted away over the next twenty-four hours. Rainfall was light early on this season, and a bit heavier than normal over the last few weeks. We get an early spring, here. The crocuses are already in bloom.
What I'm getting to is this: If you love your snow shovel and tire chains, don't move to Whidbey. Or have them bronzed, and come on out. You can keep them on the mantle, next to your baby shoes.
Here's a helpful tool, if you'd like to know more about Whidbey Island, or any other region in Washington State, for that matter. The link leads to a list of towns and cities. Click on any entry, and you'll get climate, population, and economic data for the designated town or city, and a whole lot more.
Here's a note for ease-of-use: The page defaults to Bigger Cities (as defined by the website.) Oak Harbor will appear there, but Coupeville, Langley, and Freeland will not. Find the drop-down menu at the top of the page, and select All Cities for the full list.
That won't help you with information about Greenbank. I guess the population is too low (about 250, according to Wikipedia) to qualify.
These photos are just for fun.
I've taken the Whidbey Island ferry hundreds, and perhaps thousands of times, dating back fifty years or so. Without exception, the trip has been pleasant, at least, and occasionally exciting, when the weather kicks up a bit.
One of the more exciting trips was on October 18, 2007, when the wind was up to about fifty miles per hour. The ferry crew kicked me and my camera upstairs, so I didn't get any good photos, but a fellow named Ross Fotheringham did, from the park in Mukilteo. The link below leads to his website.
Ebey's National Historical Reserve
We all know it's there, but a lot of us don't know what it is, or what it does. Here's what the Park Service has to say:
The Reserve was established by Congress in 1978 as a non-traditional National Park Service unit based on partnerships. The legislation called for the Reserve to be managed by a unit of local government. Administration and management of the Reserve is the responsibility of the Trust Board of Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve, which is the unit of local government created by a cooperative planning process between the NPS, the state, county, town governments and the residents of the Central Whidbey island community. The composition of the board includes seven residents appointed by the town and county governments, a representative of State Parks, and a representative from the NPS. The members have four-year appointments which are staggered to ensure continuity on the board. The residents appointed to the board serve as volunteers. The board has a full-time manager and administrative assistant. The group promotes sound preservation practices and serves as an advocate for the rich and diverse natural and cultural resources of the Reserve. Since so much land is in private ownership, having trust board members who live and work within the community is helpful in balancing the needs of the community with the protection of the Reserve resources. Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve is the first unit of its kind within the National Park system.
Here's the word from Island County:
"Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve was established in 1978 in order to preserve and protect a rural community which provides an unbroken historical record from nineteenth century exploration and settlement in Puget Sound to the present time." (Public Law 95-625 and USC Sec. 461.)
Island County goes on from there for about forty pages, detailing what can, and cannot, be done in the Preserve. You'll find the document here.
I've found plenty to do lately other than crunch numbers. It's about time, though, to take another look at South Whidbey home sales.The most reliable information is derived from a large sample. Whidbey is a small market, so I use data from each quarter, and compare them to the data from the previous year. I found that activity in the third quarter was up from 2012, with 106 homes sold in 2013, compared to 86 sold last year. The median price is down marginally, from $356,000 to $337,000. Homes sold more quickly, on average. The median number of days on market for the homes that sold was 72 for 2012, and 59 for 2013. I expect a down-tick for fourth quarter closings, primarily because of the lack of confidence engendered by the shenanigans in the other Washington. We'll recover from that, (if the boys and girls in DC can behave,) and see a continued return toward a normal real estate market.
Langley Shoreline Bluff Seminar
Here's another educational opportunity. The City of Langley is sponsoring a four-hour seminar on shoreline bluffs May 29th, 2013, from 12pm to 4pm, at the Methodist Church, on Anthes. (The Methodist Church has served as a meeting hall for as long as anyone can remember. You won't have to wear your shiny shoes or sing to attend the seminar.)
You'll find everything you need to know here.
Shoreline Master Program Update
We've heard a lot over the last couple of years about the Shoreline Master Program that Island County submitted to the Department of Ecology, so you might feel as if it's a done deal. Well, it's not. We're entering a month-long public comment period, starting tomorrow, April 24th.
This stuff matters. The Shoreline Master Program helps establish the balance between waterfront property owners' rights and public access. If you have an opinion to share, this is the time to do it.
For more information, click here.
If you're not from around here, the crossing from Mukilteo to Clinton will seem like a major event.  In fact, you really are embarking on a voyage across the briny sea, albeit a short one. The same safety rules apply. Yes, you really ought to know where the life jackets live, and you definitely, absolutely must follow all instructions given by the crew. Well, I'm going to impart a little local knowledge, and tell you something you might not know.
The boats are designed to distribute weight evenly, with car decks on each side to balance the load. And there's a very good reason for having staircases on each side: That's the device that the designers used to make sure that the weight of the passengers is also distributed evenly. The theory is that with two sets of stairs, passengers who choose to go up to the cabin will end up on the same side of the boat as their cars. Now, the weight of the passengers won't make much difference near the bottom of the boat, but once everyone is on the second level, their combined weight has enough leverage to tip the boat right over, if everyone ends up on one side. You'll notice that there are two boats on the Whidbey run. Most people assume that that's to make sure that we don't have to wait too long to get onto the island. That's true, but there's another reason: If too many people crowd onto one side of the boat, and the boat tips over, there will still be a spare ferry.
Anyway, Happy April Fools' Day, and come visit us, soon. And when you do, please remember to stay on the same side of the boat as your car.
I like to remind, from time to time, that the difficulty in buying at the bottom of the market, (when prices are at their lowest,) is that you can't identify the bottom of the market until it's gone. That's technically true; the only certain indicator is a subsequent period of time with consistently higher prices.
However, we do have another, only less slightly accurate gauge for Whidbey. Real estate prices here on the island tend to mirror, but lag behind, mainland prices. And guess what? Agents in King and Snohomish Counties are reporting a booming market, with bidding battles for attractively priced homes.
So, I'm calling it. We're at the bottom of the market, or perhaps just a little bit past the bottom of the market. The median price for a home on South Whidbey was almost exactly the same in 2012 as it was in 2011. I'm betting that it'll be up in 2013.
If you want to buy a home, but have been waiting for the best possible market, quit stalling. It's just not going to get any better. Wait too long, and you'll be kicking yourself for a lost opportunity.
Part of our island slid down onto the beach early this morning. Nobody here on the island knew that that would happen - this morning. Nobody in our office was particularly surprised.
We can't tell you when, or where, a landslide will happen. But we can tell you which neighborhoods have a recorded history of unstable soils,and who to call for a geotech report.
Why Work with a Whidbey Agent?
Over the years, the Northwest Multiple Listing Service has expanded to cover almost all of Western Washington, including Whidbey Island. We all use the same forms and follow the same rules, and have access to all of the real estate listings on the island. So, why would you call a Whidbey agent, when your brother-in-law's friend Herbert from Bellevue has a license? I'm going to tell you.
Your Whidbey Island real estate has answers, where your Bellevue agent doesn't even know the questions. Where does the sun shine on Whidbey, and where does the wind blow strong? Which beaches are sandy, and which ones are muddy? Which community wells are fully subscribed? (I happen to know of one buyer from Bellevue who really wishes that he'd known to ask.) Why is the inspection schedule in the Holmes Harbor area different from the rest of the island, and how does that affect homeowners? How often does the Navy practice carrier landings at the outlying field, and how loud do they get? Where is the Whidbey Island Center for the arts? And Mukilteo Coffee Roasters? Yep, Mukilteo Coffee is here on the island. It's a great place for lunch or live music, but you'll never find it, unless you ask someone who has been there.
Yes, I know; you'll be more comfortable working with someone you know. That's fine. If you're moving to Whidbey Island, come on out, and get to know a Whidbey Island real estate professional. You'll be glad you did.
I drove past Paine Field this morning, and thought about how fortunate it is that the Puget Sound region has such vigorous economic engines, like Boeing, Microsoft, and Amazon. And I wondered why.
It comes down to real estate, really, or rather, one of the oldest rules of real estate: that one about location. Proximity to a deep water port is still important, but doesn't really apply to the software industry.
Living in the middle of paradise applies. There are good reasons for living in Peoria or Fargo or Wichita, but for climate and sheer physical beauty, forget it. They can't compete. You can move company headquarters to Chicago, but you can't transplant your workforce. They won't go.
The bane of existence along the Puget Sound corridor is traffic, now that our secret is out. I had to commute on the mainland for a year, back in the 1900's, to and from Bellevue. Average time to cover the twenty-one miles was one hour.
Guess what? We don't have traffic on Whidbey, except for that old codger in the '49 stake bed, who insists on driving ten miles an hour below the speed limit. And if you're employed at Boeing, you can arrive at work just thirty minutes after you leave the island. Twenty minutes of your commute will have been a boat ride.
Right in the middle of paradise.
The Big One
We experienced a fairly significant earthquake in the Puget Sound region February 28, 2001. I was working in a one-story concrete building. I stepped outside until the ground quit moving, just to be safe, but some of my colleagues chose to stay at their work stations. I didn't much care, until my phone rang. It was my lovely wife, Laura. She worked downtown in The Columbia Center, sixty-eight stories above street level. As it turned out, the building was meant to sway during an earthquake, and the rending, tearing noises were just interior walls loosening up a bit from the main structure. Nobody in the building was hurt, and no one had a bad day, except for the window washers suspended outside.
That wasn't the big one.
January 26, 1700, the Cascadia Subduction Zone, just off our coast, slipped a bit, causing a tsunami as far away as Japan. Our oceanfront tidal wave probably crested at about thirty feet. Fortunately, the interval for this sort of event is every three to nine hundred years. The downside, for those of you who have done the math, is that it's been over three hundred years since the last one. Those tsunami escape route signs that you've been wondering about might be helpful some day.
And do we care? Maybe. If you plan on being here for the next fifty years, there's a ten-to-fifteen percent chance that you'll see another earthquake just about as big, according to the geologists. If your schedule resembles mine, that works out to a five-to-ten percent chance that you will be home during such an event.
Personally, I'd much rather be here on the island during a major earthquake, utilizing one of those escape routes, than downtown, dodging falling bricks.
Hurricane Sandy blew into New York last night, and most of us on Whidbey Island feel pretty lucky to be where we are. And we are lucky. We just don't have the history of natural calamities that much of the rest of the world does.
We do have a pretty good storm out here, on an average interval of fifteen years or so. The weather feels dramatic, but for the most part, it's inconvenient, not dangerous.
The problem stems from wind and trees. I watched a power outage in the making. A limb blew off of an evergreen, and lodged across a set of power lines. It would crackle and smoke, and then produce a flare, whenever the electrons found a good bridge. The third flare ended with an explosion. The nearest transformer had had enough, and let the smoke out. (It's the smoke in electrical devices that makes 'em work. Once you let it out, they're no good anymore.) Bigger storms bring down bigger limbs, and trees, too. We had a a pretty good blow in December of 2006 that put the lights out all over the island.
What I'm getting to, here, is an explanation for the number of homes with generators. If you move to Whidbey, you won't have to ride out any hurricanes, but you will will go without power from time to time, unless you have a generator. Candles are kind of romantic, but they won't run the refrigerator, and they especially won't run the pump, if you have your own well. Puget Sound Energy is pretty quick, but the truth is, we are kind of out in the sticks, here, and when the entire region needs repair, our little island has to wait its turn. My friend Lin, from Langley, had to keep those candles burning for five days, back in '06.
Before I hang up my keyboard, I want to remind you that I said that we don't have a history of natural calamities. That's because the folks who lived here in 1700 weren't writing history books. If they were, they might've mentioned the January 26th earthquake. It was a big one.
I'll tell you a little bit about it in a week or so.
Washington State has two distinct regions with differing cultures, nicely divided into East and West by the Cascade Range. Whidbey Island has two cultures, too. The northern end of the island is strongly influenced by the Navy. The south end is different. Skip Demuth can help explain why.
Here's a link to an essay he's posted on his website: Makin' Hay. A quick read will help you understand South Whidbey culture.
Do you have your new construction assessment yet? If you've just built or bought a new home, your 2012 assessment was mailed the 21st of September. If you want to argue, you have until October 21st to let them know. Here's what the county has to say:
To appeal your new value, an appeal petition form MUST BE filed with the BOARD OF EQUALIZATION 30 days after the date this notice was mailed. Appeal forms are available online here: Property Assessment Appeals Page. Forms are also available in person at the Board of Equalization office in Coupeville or the Camano Annex. For further information about the appeals process please call the Board of Equalization at 360-679-7379 between 9:00am and 4:00pm Monday-Thursday.
And there you have it. If you want to go straight to the form, you'll find it here.
You can use the same form to challenge the assessment of your existing home or property, but it's probably too late for 2012. If you're successful, the change will apply to your 2013 taxes.
Third Quarter Report
This posting will make the most sense if you read it right after you page down to the August 8 entry.
Back again? Good. You know now that I've been comparing year-to-year South Whidbey home sales. (South Whidbey includes Clinton, Langley, Freeland, and part of Greenbank.) Results are in for the third quarter.
The median price is up, as predicted, from $315,000 to $364,750, a change of about sixteen percent. The number of homes sold is up about ten percent, from76 to 84. The homes that sold went faster this year than last year; the median CDOM was 72 days this year, and 109 days last.
Okay, it's time for another prediction. I expect the median price to be up about ten percent for the fourth quarter. Of course, that doesn't mean that fourth quarter prices will be better than third quarter prices. But if I'm correct, here, we'll know that our third quarter price improvement is part of a trend, not just a fluke.
Islands in Island County
Most people who live in the Puget Sound region can name two of the islands in Island County: Whidbey and Camano. Most people who live on Whidbey Island can name at least one of the remaining five islands in the county.  (Camano Island residents live a bit like mainlanders. When they leave Camano, they cross a slough instead of navigable water.)
Baby Island pops to mind for residents of South Whidbey. It's at the point of land where East Harbor Road, out of Freeland, meets Saratoga Road, running up from Langley. Deception Pass Bridge crosses Deception Island. You can see Strawberry Island and Ben Ure Island from the bridge. Smith Island looms in the distance if you're standing on West Beach, looking out toward Vancouver Island. Minor Island is out there, too, but I can't see it from the beach.
Island County borders also enclose Kalamut Island, or so I've heard. A Google map search puts it just off Forbes Point, near Oak Harbor. The online navigation chart I found shows shoal water about where Google plants its pin.
I guess that must be Kalamut Island.
Hunting in Trillium Woods
This is important: Trillium Woods will host deer hunters for several weeks during October, November, and December. Whatever you feel about hunting, schedule your Trillium Woods hike, bike or horse ride for a different day. (My father kept us out of the woods during hunting season, way back in the 60's. That's still good policy today.)
Sheduled deer hunting days in Trillium Woods are October 13th through October 31st, November 15th through November 18th, and November 21st through December 13th. Feel free to enjoy the woods any other day, but don't pick the trilliums! (That's important, too.)
By the way, I dropped by the parking lot to see whether there are accomodations for horse trailers. There are not. But that'll change.
We're working on it.
Modular vs. Manufactured
If you're thinking of buying a modular home, you'll probably wonder whether it's pretty much like the other "m" home - not mobile, (anymore,) but manufactured. That's a pretty good question, as manufactured homes won't hold value as well as "regular" homes.
Here's the technical difference: A manufactured home, even a double- or triple-wide, conforms to HUD specifications, not local building codes, and is designed to roll. Just add wheels. Components of a modular home are built in factories, just like manufactured homes; but once they're trucked to a building lot and assembled, the new home will conform to local building codes, and will not be easy to move.
So, what's the difference in resale value between a manufactured home and a modular home? Aside from condition and perceived build quality, it'll depend on whether a modular home looks like a manufactured home. If it has a rectangular footprint, and pitched ceilings throughout the home that match the roof, it's a manufactured home, at least in the eye of a potential buyer.
That's irrelevant if you plan to never sell our home. But if resale value is important to you, keep in mind that perception can be more important than reality.
Over the Slump?
I was awfully busy helping South Whidbey home buyers the first three months of this year. I'm a curious sort, and wondered whether the real estate market really was heating up, or whether it just seemed that way. So I did a little research.
The multiple listing service divides Whidbey into three areas. I concentrated on South Whidbey, which runs as far north as Bakken Road, just south of Greenbank. Twenty-eight homes sold through the multiple listing service (MLS) during the first quarter of 2011. That number jumped to forty-one the first quarter of 2012. That's an increase of almost fifty percent! The median price, though, dropped ten percent, and the median number of days it took to sell a home, (cumulative days on market, or CDOM,) increased from 134 to 234.
Given the increased volume, I anticipated an improving trend in median price for the second quarter. Sure enough, second quarter home sales increased from thirty-nine to sixty-four from 2011 to 2012, and the median price flat-lined, from $275,000 to $275,000. CDOM improved second quarter year-to-year, from 136 to 116. Given the sixty percent increase in second quarter home sales, and the declining CDOM, I believe that we'll see a modest increase in median home price for the third quarter.
Boring stuff, huh? The numbers, yes; the trend, no. It looks as if we're finally - after five long years finally - at the end of our real estate slump here on the rainy end of the island.
So, here's the take-home message: If you're thinking about selling your home, you really don't have to hurry, unless you need the money for that once-in-a-lifetime buy at Tiffany's. If you're thinking about buying, don't wait too long. I don't expect prices to ramp up suddenly, but I'll bet you won't find prices lower than they are right now. Not in my lifetime, anyway.
Tune in at the end of September, for up-to-the-minute statistics.
Whidbey Island and Cell Phones
Moving to Whidbey and bringing your cell phone? I'm going to help you.
I've spent a lot of time and money finding cell providers and phones that work well on the island. Population density is too low here to motivate the providers to install an adequate number of towers. Consequently, there are a number of locations where your cell connection will work some of the time, and a few locations where it won't work at all. My office here in Clinton is in one of those some-of-the-time spots.
Here's the information that matters: If you're shopping for a phone on the mainland, the helpful staff member at the telephone store will probably tell you that all of the phones he or she sells will transmit and receive equally well. That's true, on the mainland, because tower saturation is so high that you'll be able to use any phone, anywhere. You might find a staffer who knows that there is a difference. Then again, you might not. (Just one of the four mainland phone purveyors that I've patronized gave me good information about connectivity.)
Fortunately, I had the good sense to marry a woman who's much smarter than I am. Laura told me to quit bothering with the mainland stores, and to go phone shopping in Oak Harbor, instead. There are knowledgeable people in the world who can recommend a phone that'll work on Whidbey Island. They're living and working on Whidbey Island, not on the mainland.
Here's what I know about the providers: The two largest cell phone companies have the most towers. I'd been with Verizon for that reason, despite the relatively expensive service, but switched to Sprint, because Laura's Sprint smart phone worked at our Hastie Lake Road house, and my Verizon smart phone did not. I can't tell that I drop any more calls with Sprint than I did with Verizon. I think thats's because the cell phone companies have cooperation agreements, allowing them to route calls over each other's networks. The downside to using Sprint is that Is have to pay extra to use the internet in areas where Sprint doesn't have its own towers. That's easy enough to cope with. I simply restrict my mobile internet use to places where Sprint has towers.
Whidbey Island is simply a great place for them. We still have ample space, and a great number of folks who are interested in having a close relationship with the earth. What could bring you closer to nature than turning sun, soil, and water into food for your community? All of that, plus the sweat of your brow, naturally.
The Bayview Farmers Market is located in Bayview, of course, and is open Saturdays from ten 'til two, April through October. To get there from the ferry in Clinton, drive right on up the highway to the third stoplight and turn right. You'll find the farmers market on the left, along with a nursery, a bike shop, a pretty decent restaurant (The Basil Cafe), and the historic Cash Store. The Bayview Farmers Market maintains a website here.
The Tilth Farmers Market is another half-mile up the highway past the third stoplight, on the corner of SR525 and Thompson Road. It's open Sundays from 11:30 to 3:30. Yes, there is a website. I haven't included a link; now that you have the location and schedule, you have the meat of it.
If you live here, you'll find a vendor for fresh eggs. They're everywhere! The eggs aren't defined as organic unless the hens have been dining on organic mash, but you'll notice a difference anyway - Whidbey chickens forage the old-fashioned way, adding color and flavor to their eggs.
Moving on beyond Vegan and Ovo-lacto will take you to the Three Sisters Beef Company, near Oak Harbor. They don't run a farmers market, but they are farmers, and they market locally and naturally raised beef, chicken, and pork. They have a website, too. (Doesn't everyone?) You'll find it here.
A "spec" home is one built on speculation, by an investor or builder, with the expectation of profit once the home is completed, marketed, and sold. Most builders and individual investors have quit building spec homes on Whidbey because there are so many vacant homes currently available. The bank owned homes, especially, tend to supress prices.
However, vacant land prices have gotten low enough to put the profit back in to property development. At the top of the bubble, a vacant lot on South Whidbey with no issues (perc problems, lack of a water source, steep slopes) commanded no less than $60,000. Now, you have a choice of vacant building lots with city water available for $30,000, or even less. One of our local builders will erect a 1700 square foot home with a two-car garage for $78,900. There are additional costs, of course, including site preparation, water hook-up, and a septic system. But with an approximate final value of $240,000, one should hope to earn a pretty good return on their investment.
Whidbey Home Price Trends
I'd been keeping track of the homes that sold through the multiple listing service here on Whidbey Island on a month to month basis through 2009.
I checked back to October of 2009, and found that seventy-one Whidbey Island home sales closed. ("Closed" means that ownership transferred to the buyers. Most closings take around sixty days, so the majority of these homes actually sold in August.) The median price was $292,000, and the median number of days on the market (without being tied up in a purchase contract) was 84. The median price in October of 2010 for a Whidbey home fell to $267,425, and the median number of days on the market was a whopping 146.
The number of days that a home has been listed for sale, (known in the business as Cumulative Days On Market, or CDOM,) is actually a pretty good indicator of future prices. A high number (over 100) predicts falling prices. A low number (under 60) is usually paired with increasing home prices. The obvious conclusion is that we haven't hit bottom yet.
I'm sure I've said this before, but I'm not advocating that you wait for prices to go lower. If you can afford a home now, and want to move, then why wait? There's value in every day that you enjoy your own home, and if you're planning to stay more than a year or two, you'll end up with a good investment in any case.
I'm going to put my crystal ball back in the closet and add a caveat: I can predict home prices with some accuracy because I know the business. But I cannot predict interest rates. If they go up, your chance of home ownership will go down.
Is This the Best Time to Buy?
If you're waiting for prices to bottom out before you buy a home, you have a problem: You won't be able to identify the low point until prices have already escalated. That's the only way to know for sure.
Here's an alternative investment strategy: Avoid the top of the market, (unless you're downsizing,) and purchase a home when you want to move. It's clearly too late to buy a home at the top of the market; whether this is a good time to become a homeowner or to step up to that special island retreat is up to you. Prices could go down somewhat, but I wouldn't count on it. Here's what I know for sure: In the long run, home prices will escalate, and interest rates will rise.
I happen to believe that we'll look back, someday, to 2010 as a time of golden opportunity for home buyers. When that times comes, some of us will reminisce wistfully; others, smugly.
Managing the Ferry
I was ten minutes late to work this morning.
I expected to catch the 124 car MV Kittitas at 8:30. I was at the terminal on time, but the Kittatas was nowhere to be seen. It had broken down Saturday, and had been replaced by the older, slower MV Evergreen State. The Evergreen State was only half-way across the channel at departure time, so I bought a newspaper and a cup of coffee and took an unscheduled break.
Well, that's life on the island, and a good reminder that the world doesn't revolve around getting to work on time.
There are techniques for handling your commute, if you live on Whidbey and work on the mainland, or vice versa. Here are a few:
Well, that's life on the island! It's a great alternative to a grueling drive to work.
There is a difference!
I’ve lived in the Puget Sound region since 1965, and have seen towns and cities grow and merge into a gigantic metropolis, sprawled along the I-5corrider. I’ve seen Whidbey change, too; but not much. The commute to Seattle from Clinton, Langley, and even Freeland seems much more reasonable, compared to the old days, when Lynnwood was an outer limit for a “bedroom” community, so we have fewer farms and more residential areas. And we’re squarely in the twenty-first century, with cell towers, internet hot-spots, and coffee booths dotting the landscape. (So far, we’ve escaped the plague of “bump and grind” espresso outlets, thank you very much.)
Still, the ride on the ferry is very much like a trip in a time machine. You can count the stoplights from the dock to Oak Harbor on one hand. The sidewalks in Langley and Coupeville can be crowded. The streets, not so much. The island is short on big-box outlets, but long on well-supplied hardware stores and family-owned grocery stores.
The trip to Mukilteo is another matter. It’s necessary, and even helpful, from time to time, to return to the world of malls and Costco’s, but we tend to avoid it. You’ll hear that someone is going to “America,” or to “the world,” or most commonly, simply “to town.” These trips don't last very long. When you live where other folks want to go for vacation, you tend to stick around.