Sunday, January 29, 2012


Foreclosure, bankruptcy, and short sales are words that have become all too common in today’s real estate market. They embody the good, the bad and the ugly for many home owners. We all know people who bought homes at high prices and who are now underwater on their mortgages, just struggling to hold on. We also know folks who have simply walked away from their dream homes, forced to start over, and with bad credit for years to come.

For a lucky few the short sale is the doorway to homeownership. My daughter, Jonelle, is one of those. In September she decided to give up apartment living in favor of a home big enough to expand her Etsy business and display her photography and other artistic endeavors. We were all excited at the prospect, but were naïve about the process, learning many lessons along the way. Here are some of those lessons in case you want to embark on a similar adventure.

Her story went something like this. She found a wonderful pair of agents, Kathy Bowman and Cheryl Stewart, from Lake Real Estate in Green Lake,who seemed to know the market, and had a good understanding of distressed homes. Although, Jonelle, would love to live in the Ballard, Fremont or Green Lake areas, her job was in Edmonds, and the homes were more affordable going north. She decided to concentrate on Edmonds, Shoreline, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace. For the next four months she saw scores of homes that were bank owned or available for short sale, and soon learned the difference.

Almost ready to give up, on a dark, rainy night she found a home that she thought would work for her, a 4-bedroom rambler in Mountlake Terrace. It looked like a good deal and besides, weren’t short sales wonderful bargains?! She and her agent put an offer on it and waited. No guarantee she would hear anything soon. And like the proverbial saying, “when it rains, it pours” she found a second house she liked even better in Edmonds which was open for bids at an upcoming auction. Still hearing nothing from the first house, she bid on the second, and continued the waiting game. She was finally notified on the first one that there was a competing offer, so she offered full price plus closing costs. And waited. The auction for the second house came and went, and she learned that her offer was not accepted, but she was second in line. Back to the first house, while waiting we did some searching and found that there was only one lien on the property – that of the lending bank. A notice came through asking if my daughter planned to rent out the home, to which she replied in the negative. It seemed like there was some movement. More waiting. People who had their own short sale stories said it could take up to a year, and still not work. She noticed that short sale homes went pending, only to appear again later as people grew tired of waiting for a response. The “not knowing” was nerve wracking.

Finally the news came that she could have the house if she wanted it. But, she needed an inspection to the tune of several hundred dollars. She also realized the property was on a septic, not sewer system which was a surprise because she assumed sewer systems were routine in urban areas.We encouraged her to get a septic tank inspection to make sure it was in good order. Several hundred more dollars later she found out the septic tank was just fine, but a can of worms was now opened. The city informed all parties that a new owner would have to pay a $4,000 + back assessment because it was supposed to have been hooked up to the city sewer several years ago. Nowhere was such an amount listed, and it certainly wasn’t listed as a lien on the property. Aaarghh! Not only that, the old septic system would have to be decommissioned and the new sewer line connected, to the tune of several thousand dollars more.

At this point she had a decision to make. She could get out of the sale because of this new development. The inspection showed a number of flaws in the house, and any potential repairs raised the amount she would be investing. But it was still a “good buy”, right? The words “as is” are part of every sale of this kind. There seemed to be no recourse to get out of installing the sewer system, unfair as it was. The failure to disclose on the sewer assessment was galling, but the city seemed to hold the cards in the matter, as the bank would not approve the sale unless the work was done.So, long story short, she decided to go for it, and see if there was some way to recoup the loss through small claims against whichever entity was responsible.

One last insult to injury had to do with the furnace. The owner said that it would go on and off and he didn’t know why. So Jonelle had a gas furnace specialist come out and inspect/fix the furnace. To her horror she was told that the furnace had not been serviced in years, and that the filters hadn’t been changed regularly, resulting in a burned out motor and a cost of $l,000 for a new one.

So now she is a bona fide homeowner with all the perks and problems that are involved. Along with the pride of ownership comes unexpected and additional costs not found in apartments – utilities, repairs, yard expenses, and the like. She said it felt like a bottomless money pit. “Yup, that’s what having a home is all about!” said I, a seasoned owner of a house, a cabin, a rental home, and two prior rentals that lost money because of the recent recession.

I think, though, that she will do just fine. She has dealt with every obstacle with inside trepidation and and an outside calm demeanor. She got a good enough deal, even with all the financial angst, that she will probably do well even if the future economic picture looks bleak.

If you are thinking of pursuing a path like hers, here are some things to think about.

1. Read up on short sales and bank foreclosure comparisons. There are many good sites, but an excellent one put out by Twin Cities Real Estate has a one page comparison of traditional short sale and foreclosed/bank owned properties.

2. Find an agent who will take as much time with you as Jonelle’s agent, Kathy, did. They went out night after night and many weekends for months on end. Bless you, Kathy. Both Kathy and Cheryl advised Jonelle and held her hand throughout.

3. Get pre-approved. Jonelle went with Sterling Savings Bank and her loan officer was Barb Huber-Read. Barb is kind, helpful and went the “extra mile” in spite of the crunch at the end caused in part by unexpected and heavy snow and a Fed Ex truck that was late because of icy road conditions.

4. On short sales determine if there is more than one primary lien holder. This can slow down the process.

5. If you are lucky enough to live in Seattle you can go to Seattle Short Sales for possible assistance.

6. If you need help with a sewer/septic system, we were truly fortunate to find Dustan Bunt, owner of Above Grade Septic. He responded quickly with a bid, was amazingly adept at what he does, and was able to handle a difficult problem concerning the depth of the sewer hook-up. I can’t say enough good things about him.

Finally, make sure you have a sense of humor and a healthy dose of patience. Finding someone who can do the leg work and field calls while you are stuck at your office desk is necessary. Also, have a big group of friends who have generally helpful natures. Lure them over with a promise of beer/wine and pizza. By this time it’s probably all you can afford. Good luck and God bless!

Sunday, January 22, 2012


"Memoirs are the backstairs of history." George Meredith

Last week I wrote about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and how his existence made a difference in my life, both personally and professionally. I also mentioned the many people of color who have enriched, challenged and mentored me. One of those mentors was Louise McKinney, an amazing woman I first met when she was a principal at Sacajawea Elementary School and I was assigned to that school as a beginning teacher. Her belief in me and the example she set as an academic leader was the foundation on which I built my own success in the classroom, and the inspiration to be all that I could be.

Our paths touched throughout the years, even as she rose to be the Director of the Office of Academic Achievement in Seattle Public Schools, and I went from Sacajawea, Alki and finally to Martin Luther King Elementary School (MLK) where I stayed for l8 years.

It was logical then, that when financial good fortune allowed my husband and I to found the Martin Luther King School Dream Foundation, Louise would become a board member. Our mission was to give scholarships to former students of MLK and we have been doing that since 1999. Since then she has retired, I have retired and the school has closed, but her belief in me and my appreciation of her have not wavered.

In addition to her academic endeavors, she was also the wife of Rev. Samuel McKinney, retired pastor of Seattle’s Mount Zion Baptist Church. I have long known about their importance and influence in the Seattle community, and that they knew Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife, Coretta, personally. It was only in a recent conversation with Louise that I learned the extent of their friendship with the Kings, and just how big a role they played in helping bring racial equality to our country. We have in them a local treasure trove of historical stories and insights.

How Martin and Samuel met, became friends, and later classmates at Morehouse College, and how they and others like them changed the face of America with planned peaceful demonstrations is another story, among many already written, that needs to be told. It was fascinating to hear firsthand how Martin went from being a shy, quiet child, to the dynamic inspirational speaker we all knew. Somehow hearing Louise talk about those early years of the peace movement, as one who had been there and participated, makes Dr. King and that time period more real. Here is another anecdote she shared that touched my heart and made this god-like man seem so real.

In November of 1961, Martin came to speak in Seattle at the Eagle’s Auditorium, now ACT. At that time Louise was a young mother of a six year old and a 2 month old. She desperately wanted to hear the speech, but the baby was colicky and would not stop crying. When Martin arrived at their home and saw the crying baby, he picked her up, comforted her, and within short order the baby was sleeping in his arms. He insisted that the distressed mother find a babysitter so that she could attend the performance along with her husband.

What a story! In my recent conversation with Louise I urged her to write her memoir, and that her husband do the same. It is so important to hear what really happened from those who were present, rather than reading a biography that might be incomplete and carry some mistruths.

Sadly I was not able to take my own advice. I had planned to write a family memoir called “Point of View” which would have shown how birth order over a twenty year span of time affects family dynamics. I was second youngest of seven children whose lives spanned the period before the Great Depression until the present day with all its technological advances. My procrastination meant that two sisters passed away before I could accomplish my task. If I ever do manage to write my family’s story, it will certainly not be as accurate as it could have been.

If you are reading this article, then you are showing an interest in people and events. You too have memories that need to be documented in order to recognize your place in history and what it might mean for those in your family who come after you. Here is an example. My husband’s grandfather left a small daily journal among his belongings, and many entries were simply the day to day events of his life at the time. Simple as it was, it was fascinating to read about his going to town in a horse drawn wagon, buying supplies, returning to do farm chores and the like.

I guess what I am saying is that your history doesn’t have to be as dramatic as that of Louise McKinney. It will still be of interest to your children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. So don’t delay. Start tonight and write a few sentences about your day. Future generations will thank you.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Nearly twenty-five years ago I started teaching at Martin Luther King Elementary School in Seattle. I knew a little about the man for whom the school was named, but was ignorant about black history, black culture and black people in general. The ensuing eighteen years brought about enlightenment on all fronts. After many classroom experiences with predominantly minority children, interactions with black parents and workshops dealing with racism I became an active anti-racist.

During those years I harangued my students into doing their best in school, being proud of themselves and reaching their potential. "Who knows," I would say, "one of you might be the first black president some day." Now, if I had my own classroom, I would have to qualify my words to say "One of you might be president someday" without the color adjective. We have come a long, long way, and I think most people would agree that Martin Luther King, Jr. played a major role.

Learning about him over the years, and preparing my students for the assembly honoring him each January, I gained a keen appreciation for his courage, conviction and message. His "I have a dream speech", delivered on August 28, 1963 during the march on Washington, sends chills through me to this day. Here is one of my favorite passages, which I hope will touch you, the reader, the way it touched me.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.

We have indeed come a long way since these words were spoken. We have racial equality on most fronts not seen in the sixties. We have black children being judged by the content of their character. We have little white boys and little white girls joining hands with little black boys and little black girls. We have the ultimate proof of acceptance, President Barak Obama, our nation's first African-American leader.

It's personal with me as I watch an amazing friendship grow between my granddaughter, Lily, and her African American friend Kiyah. The two thirteen-year-olds hang out at school, after school and on the basketball court. They have a fist bumping routine that must be seen to be believed, and it gets more complicated each time they do it. I would not be surprised if they remained close friends throughout their lives. Thank you, Dr. King. At least in this corner of the world, your dream was realized, and it has enriched us all.

Of course many say we still have a long way to go, that there is still bias and racism, but I take comfort in a story related to me by Lily's mom. She is a kindergarten teacher in Bellingham and told me how she teaches the concept of fairness, by connecting it to Martin Luther King, Jr. Prior to reading a story to her young charges last Friday, she set it up so that only the little blonde children could be sitting on the floor in front of her where they could hear and see well. All the children with black, brown or red hair had to sit at a back table. You can imagine the resulting hue and cry. From there she was able to have a discussion on their level, that opened their eyes to how unfair it was in the past that children of color were not treated fairly. Their sense of fairness versus unfairness was so entrenched her students could not comprehend how such behavior could have existed. Yes, we've come a long ways.

Doctor King’s birthday tomorrow will be a day of celebration all across the land. I urge you to watch his “I have a dream” speech via Youtube video. It will transport you back to a tumultuous time in our country’s past. If you haven't seen it before, or heard its life changing message, you will be awestruck by the scope of history you are observing. And perhaps like me, you will feel the thrill that comes from knowing that a man of vision took our country to another level of understanding, compassion, and justice.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


It was my fault really. Armed with a 3 month Spanish language class from Edmonds Community College, I just wanted to take my knowledge to the next level - really communicating with native Spanish speakers. Well I flunked. Big time. My Spanish professor who had given me a well deserved “A” in the class would have been disgusted and disillusioned. I worried that maybe I had beginning Alzheimers. But enough, here’s the whole sad story.

My husband and I were taking a 25th silver anniversary holiday in San Carlos, Mexico, and staying at the beautiful Sea of Cortez Beach Club. We found out online that the daytime temperatures were going to be in the mid 80s. Perfect! Night time temperatures didn’t register on our consciousness, but once there we realized that we were ill equipped to hang out in an unheated room with temperatures in the 40s. After two nights of cold that beat Seattle, I decided I needed something warmer than my romantic teddy in order to sleep.

Having seen a Walmart on the way from the airport, I thought, “Ah-hah, a great place to pick up some warm nightwear.” Telling my long-suffering man that I would only be a minute, I dashed into the store. It was huge, with few English words in sight. I finally spotted some long pants in what looked like the ladies’ sleepwear department, but I wasn’t sure that size CH would work. In fact I couldn’t figure out what it even meant. Three sales ladies visiting nearby were completely baffled by my question about sizes, and stared at me without comprehension. It was at that moment that an overwhelming need to use a bathroom struck and would not be denied. Switching questions I asked about a bathroom. I absolutely could NOT remember the word for toilet. I gestured, and said “toilet, toiletten, too-ah-let” but to no avail. Short of taking down my pants and squatting, it wasn’t going to work. Finally one gestured to follow and we headed to the back of the store which proved to be a very long walk. Once there she pointed to the back corner, smiling and nodding.

I smiled and nodded back. This made sense, I had been in stores like Home Depot or Lowes, where the bathrooms were in the rear corner, so headed quickly in that direction only to find a dead end. Turning in desperation I found another saleslady who was equally unskilled in English and I went through the same charade. She nodded, then went to a phone at the pharmacy counter. No luck. She didn’t understand what I wanted, and I was truly desperate. Because I can speak a little Swedish, a little French and a very little Russian I tried all the words that might work - toaletten, toilettes, and tualet – to no avail. Finally I asked for paper and pencil and drew a picture of a toilet. To this she simply shook her head vehemently and said “no, no, no” and with a few more gestures I finally realized she thought I wanted to BUY a toilet. I shook my head equally vehemently, and she finally seemed to get what was needed. Again nodding and smiling, she beckoned for me to follow her back to the very front of the store, pointing victoriously to a huge sign proclaiming something like los sanitarios, with the familiar man-woman symbols underneath. I had walked right by it, unseeing, on arrival, and then it hit me….bano! The words los banos had eluded me. A 5 minute shopping expedition had turned into a 25 minute misadventure with the uncomfortable realization that I had a very long way to go before I could claim any knowledge of the Spanish language.

I guess the moral of the story is to take a pocket size phrase book with you whenever you are visiting another country, and not to assume that people will understand your needs. For your information I have researched the word for toilet in every country to which you might travel. The variety of words are astounding.

The other lesson learned was that I had better get serious about making use of my Rosetta Stone CDs before I head south again. And I DO want to take another trip to visit our southern neighbors. What a friendly, helpful and delightful group of people! Perhaps, in a later blog, I will tell you more about the outdoor market and beautiful harbor in Guaymas, great tasting coffee and buns at Barracuda Bob's, the amazing view while having a drink at Charlie’s Rock, the anniversary dinner at Blackie’s, a truly authentic Mexican lunch at Rosa's Cantina, the funny music at Bananas, the pearl farm near the university, the nature cruise with Gary and Donna, birdwatching everywhere, especially dive bombing pelicans, the quaint little fishing village at the end of a dirt road, and the hotel’s outstanding restaurant-bar, pool and hot tub.

Though originally influenced by all the cautions listed on certain web sites, as well as those uttered by friends and family members, we felt perfectly safe in both Guaymas and San Carlos. We learned that tourism is down by over 70% in that area, and that this area which depends a lot on tourism is suffering economically. We met several people who had driven down from Phoenix and California, and we ourselves rented a car to do some exploring. So, put this part of Mexico in your travel plans. You definitely won’t be sorry.