The thing I love about Skagit County is that it’s truly a tight-knit community, where everyone looks out for one other. I moved to La Conner 30 years ago to raise my children here, drawn by the small-town feel, support and generosity of the community, abundant running trails, and gorgeous scenery. I’m proud to call Skagit County home.
I started working in real estate lending in the late ‘90s and I love being a part of the home buying process. For most customers, it’s the biggest purchase they’ll ever make, and I enjoy helping get them through the process and following them to the end when they finally get the keys to their dream home. It’s a fun and fulfilling experience.
Our industry is going through an interesting time. As anyone who’s read the headlines knows, our market has really taken off, influenced in large part by the competitive housing market in Seattle and that trend pushing northward. Unfortunately, the lack of inventory in certain price ranges – especially for first time home buyers –means customers are competing with five or six other full price offers for a home. My biggest piece of advice for customers is to be prepared. Here are a few other recommendations given the current market conditions.
- Start early. To present the most attractive offer against multiple buyers in a competitive market, it’s important to be ready. This means getting all your financial information together and looking at what you might need to work on, whether it’s saving more money or paying down debt. Even if you’re not ready to buy, it’s a good idea to meet with a real estate lender early to learn how the process works and get your questions answered. When you are ready to buy, you’ll benefit by having your paperwork in order and being preapproved, so you’ll be able to hit the ground running.
- Save money. I often get asked “what’s the maximum amount I can borrow?” I think it’s better to determine how much you can afford and are going to feel comfortable paying each month and start saving money, so you have some reserves in the bank and can still do the things that you love to do. Keep in mind, there are several programs that offer zero down or minimum down payments, so you don’t necessarily need to make a 20 percent down payment.
- The process is easier than you think. Customers are often surprised when I tell them we just need a W2 and some pay stubs if they’re not self-employed. Usually they’re expecting to have to provide much more paperwork. This is an exciting purchase, and my goal is to help make the entire process easy and fun for people. Sure, you need to provide documentation, but the process is oftentimes not nearly as daunting as people think it will be.
- New construction isn’t always better. While I wouldn’t want to dissuade anyone from building their dream home, it can be very expensive to build right now. If you choose to go down this path because you’re frustrated by a lack of existing inventory, it’s important to do your homework and understand all the costs involved. Building permits and materials are expensive, and supply for builders is low. Overall, it’s probably more expensive to build than buy something currently available, so it’s important to crunch the numbers first.
- Consider bridge financing. Bridge financing allows homeowners with equity to have more control over the timing of a sale if they are planning on buying another property. It’s a good idea to check with your bank to see what kind of bridge financing terms are available, and how this type of loan can enable you to pay cash for a new property without a contingency.
Even though the Skagit County real estate market is influenced by what’s happening in Seattle, we’re seeing interest rates dropping, and it stands to reason that things will cool down in the next year. In the meantime, I encourage buyers to be prepared, and to find trusted partners to help them navigate the home-buying process.
Jennifer Thompson is a Vice President and Senior Real Estate Loan Officer at the Peoples Bank Mount Vernon Financial Center, where she has worked for 18 years. She is a 30-year resident of Skagit County.