Tuesday, January 15, 2019

2019 Economic and Housing Forecast

Market News by Matthew Gardner, Chief Economist, Windermere Real Estate

What a year it has been for both the U.S. economy and the national housing market. After several years of above-average economic and home price growth, 2018 marked the start of a slowdown in the residential real estate market. As the year comes to a close, it’s time for me to dust off my crystal ball to see what we can expect in 2019.

The U.S. Economy

Despite the turbulence that the ongoing trade wars with China are causing, I still expect the U.S. economy to have one more year of relatively solid growth before we likely enter a recession in 2020. Yes, it’s the dreaded “R” word, but before you panic, there are some things to bear in mind.

Firstly, any cyclical downturn will not be driven by housing.  Although it is almost impossible to predict exactly what will be the “straw that breaks the camel’s back”, I believe it will likely be caused by one of the following three things: an ongoing trade war, the Federal Reserve raising interest rates too quickly, or excessive corporate debt levels. That said, we still have another year of solid growth ahead of us, so I think it’s more important to focus on 2019 for now.

The U.S. Housing Market

Existing Home Sales

This paper is being written well before the year-end numbers come out, but I expect 2018 home sales will be about 3.5% lower than the prior year. Sales started to slow last spring as we breached affordability limits and more homes came on the market.  In 2019, I anticipate that home sales will rebound modestly and rise by 1.9% to a little over 5.4 million units.

Existing Home Prices

We will likely end 2018 with a median home price of about $260,000 – up 5.4% from 2017.  In 2019 I expect prices to continue rising, but at a slower rate as we move toward a more balanced housing market. I’m forecasting the median home price to increase by 4.4% as rising mortgage rates continue to act as a headwind to home price growth.

New Home Sales

In a somewhat similar manner to existing home sales, new home sales started to slow in the spring of 2018, but the overall trend has been positive since 2011. I expect that to continue in 2019 with sales increasing by 6.9% to 695,000 units – the highest level seen since 2007.

That being said, the level of new construction remains well below the long-term average. Builders continue to struggle with land, labor, and material costs, and this is an issue that is not likely to be solved in 2019. Furthermore, these constraints are forcing developers to primarily build higher-priced homes, which does little to meet the substantial demand by first-time buyers.

Mortgage Rates

In last year’s forecast, I suggested that 5% interest rates would be a 2019 story, not a 2018 story. This prediction has proven accurate with the average 30-year conforming rates measured at 4.87% in November, and highly unlikely to breach the 5% barrier before the end of the year.

In 2019, I expect interest rates to continue trending higher, but we may see periods of modest contraction or leveling. We will likely end the year with the 30-year fixed rate at around 5.7%, which means that 6% interest rates are more apt to be a 2020 story.

I also believe that non-conforming (or jumbo) rates will remain remarkably competitive. Banks appear to be comfortable with the risk and ultimately, the return, that this product offers, so expect jumbo loan yields to track conforming loans quite closely.


There are still voices out there that seem to suggest the housing market is headed for calamity and that another housing bubble is forming, or in some cases, is already deflating.  In all the data that I review, I just don’t see this happening. Credit quality for new mortgage holders remains very high and the median down payment (as a percentage of home price) is at its highest level since 2004.

That is not to say that there aren’t several markets around the country that are overpriced, but just because a market is overvalued, does not mean that a bubble is in place. It simply means that forward price growth in these markets will be lower to allow income levels to rise sufficiently.

Finally, if there is a big story for 2019, I believe it will be the ongoing resurgence of first-time buyers. While these buyers face challenges regarding student debt and the ability to save for a down payment, they are definitely on the comeback and likely to purchase more homes next year than any other buyer demographic.

Matthew Gardner is the Chief Economist for Windermere Real Estate, specializing in residential market analysis, commercial/industrial market analysis, financial analysis, and land use and regional economics. He is the former Principal of Gardner Economics and has more than 30 years of professional experience both in the U.S. and U.K.

Monday, October 1, 2018

recipes for a clean kitchen

In this two part post we will cook up some healthy, non-toxic ways to keep your kitchen clean. This first post addresses how to keep your kitchen surfaces and appliances spotless. Our follow-up post will provide healthy, non-toxic recipes for handling food and cleaning pots and pans and cooking utensils.

Distilled white vinegar or real lemon juice is a natural and effective way to clean, deodorize and disinfect your butcher block counters and wooden boards. Spray or wipe on, then wipe off with a clean, damp cloth.

Combine 4 oz. water and 4 oz. distilled white vinegar with 8-10 drops tea tree oil in a spray bottle, shake to combine. If you don't care for the scent, you can replace the tea tree oil with an essential citrus oil or lavender oil. Be sure to shake the bottle each time before use to recombine the ingredients.

Pour one cup of vinegar down the drain and leave for 30 minutes, then flush with running water. A mixture of vinegar and baking soda is even more effective. Pour two tablespoons of baking soda down the sink hole followed by half a cup of vinegar, leave to bubble for 20 minutes, then flush through by running the cold faucet for a minute.

Be sure to change dish cloths and dish towels every day. Keep them clean by boiling them regularly in a solution of water, distilled white vinegar and a teaspoon of baking soda. When handling meat, be sure to use a separate towel and launder before using again.

It's easy to clean your garbage disposal and freshen your kitchen at the same time - make ice cubes with one part distilled white vinegar and one part water. Put one or two ice cubes down the drain and switch on. Flush with cold water after.

Sprinkle baking soda into the bottom of the garbage can(s) to remove any unpleasant odors. After each emptying, add a little water to the bottom and swirl the watered down baking soda around the can. Pour out the water and leave to dry, then add more baking soda for the next time.

Soak a terry-cloth rag in distilled white vinegar, then wrap it around the faucets and areas of build-up. Leave for 30 minutes, then rinse clean. A toothbrush used for this purpose allows you to get into the faucet crevices.

Fill a microwaveable bowl with distilled white vinegar and boil in the oven. This will loosen any dried on food which can then be easily wiped clean with a soft, damp cloth.

If you have a self-cleaning oven, then after cleaning, make a slight paste of baking soda and water. Brush the paste inside the oven. You'll find it will be much easier to clean the next time you go to clean your oven.

If you're having troubles with insects (ants, etc.) wipe down kitchen surfaces with vinegar neat to deter any pesty visitors. This also disinfect surfaces.

Clean the inside of the refrigerator with a solution made from equal parts vinegar and water.

Place a saucer of baking soda in the refrigerator to absorb and remove food odors. Be sure to replace every three weeks. Tip - use the old baking soda to clean the drain by following the directions for deodorizing drains above.

I haven't found a great recipe for cleaning stainless steel, but I do use this vinegar and microfiber method recommended by Clean Mama.

Dip a slice of fresh bread in distilled white vinegar and leave in any container with stale odors overnight.

Be sure to check back for my next post which will cover clean and healthy ways to handle food and natural recipes designed to clean your pots and pans and special serving utensils.

Until next time,

la chasse au bonheur

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

my top 3 all-natural homemade cleaning products

Scientists predict that, unless we reduce our impact on the environment now, the damage we are creating will be irreversible. We all need to recognize the issue and jump in and make some changes. For me, making my own cleaning products was a start. Knowing I am doing something to reduce my household's impact on the world was key. Hopefully, by sharing these remedies with you, we will make an even bigger impact on the world. Of course, the fact that these products work amazingly well is a bonus! Here's to us and here's to Mother Earth!

LEMON DUST CLOTHS (my favorite)

This is my favorite go-to cleaning method for furniture and
painted woodwork, including kitchen and bathroom cabinets. 

You will need - water, white distilled vinegar, lemon or olive oil, dust cloths or old rags, lemons and an airtight jar with a screw lid 

1) Make a solution of two parts water, two parts vinegar, and two drops olive oil. Soak your dust cloths or rags in this solution. Squeeze out the excess, leaving them just damp.

2) Pare the rind from several lemons, depending on how many rags you are preparing, and lay a couple of pieces on each smoothed-out dust cloth.

3) Fold each one, or roll it up, and store in a clean jam jar with an extra piece of lemon peel. The jar should be airtight with a screw lid.

4) Prepare several dust cloths at a time, and store them until needed. Make sure to wash or boil the dust cloths regularly after use.

To use - pull out one of the rags, discard the lemon rind and wipe over furniture and painted wood.


I love this recipe - it is truly streak free!
I recommend making it after five - wink, wink.

You will need - water, white distilled vinegar, vodka, essential oil of your choice and a 16 oz. spray bottle

1) In your spray bottle, combine 1 1/4 cup water, 1/2 cup 80 proof vodka (the cheaper the better), 1/4 cup white distilled vinegar and 8 drops of any essential oil you like (I love using orange but change to peppermint during the holidays). Add nozzle - done! Now, while the vodka is out.....

To use - give the bottle a little shake before using, spray onto glass, then rub the glass dry with a soft cloth. Polish to a sheen using a crumpled newspaper.


This works beautifully on counter tops, sinks, toys,
outdoor furniture, or anything that needs a good cleaning. 

You will need - water, your favorite eco-friendly liquid soap and a spray bottle

1) Pour 12 oz. of water into your spray bottle. Add 2 tablespoons of your favorite liquid soap. I like Mrs. Meyers and change up the scent depending on the season.

To use - give the spray bottle a little shake, then spray and wipe with a clean old rag.

Next week we will get into the nitty gritty of kitchen cleaning!

Until next time,

la chasse au bonheur

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Keeping a natural house - an introduction to a month long series for keeping a cleaner, greener home

Our lives have changed immeasurably during the past century and life has become so much easier, richer, and more comfortable for those if us lucky enough to be born in the affluent, developed parts of the world.

Because of this, I believe we've become entitled, lazier, more stressed and more dependent on quick fixes, with little or no thought to our environment.

With the availability of the thousands of toxin laden cleaning products our homes can be sparkling clean. Sadly, this clean and easy way of life is having a huge impact on our lives and our environment. It is, quite literally, making us and our world sick. The time has come to stop and smell the roses, to take stock of the damage we have done and are doing, not only to our environment, but ourselves and our families, and quietly, gently, wisely alter our habits.

The most wholesome path to take is to stop accepting the unacceptable. It is within the scope of every one of us to vote with our wallet and to protect ourselves and our families by making sure we know what we are introducing into our home.

Consumers are demanding good, honest, natural products from ecologically sensitive and sound, sustainable sources. In 2003 Greenpeace initiated a "chemical home" database. Its aim was to demonstrate that is was possible to substitute safer alternatives for the hazardous chemicals in cleaning materials. By 2006, many manufacturers had found effective and safer alternatives, but there is still a long way to go.

In this month-long series you will find effective and affordable alternatives to the thousands of 'off the shelf' chemical laden cleaning products and learn other ways to implement healthy change in your home.

Before going any further - here is a list of housekeeping and cleaning products I recommend you keep stocked in your cleaning cupboard (I never need anything more than this).

- Beeswax polish

- Baking Soda - buy in industrial size packaging

- Borax

- Chamois Leather

- Distilled White Vinegar - buy in large quantities

- Enamel Buckets - buy old/vintage - no need for new

- Long-handled Feather or lambswool Duster

- Jam Jars with Screw Lids

- Lemons - lot and lots of lemons

- Old Toothbrushes

- Olive Oil

- Rags - you can easily make rags from worn-out cotton dresses and T-shirts, towels, dish towels, and bed linens that are beyond mending. Cut cloths into squares. Wash or boil used rags regularly

- Refillable Spray Bottles

- Washing Line and Wooden Clothespins

- Wooden-handled Bristle Scrubbing Brush

- Wooden-handled Bristle Brush Brooms - hard-bristle is best for outdoors and soft-bristle brush for indoor sweeping

- Wooden-handled, Small Bristle Brush with Tin Dustpan

We will pick up next week once you've sourced all your supplies!

Until then,

la chasse au bonheur

Saturday, May 26, 2018

keep cool and carry on

Summer’s almost upon us. That means more ice cream, fewer snowball fights and, of course, the battle to keep your house cool as the heat bears down. As it turns out, you don’t have to build your own ice cave to keep cool until fall. There are plenty of easy changes you can put into action to get a lot more out of your air conditioning budget this year.

How Air Conditioners Work
To really get to the heart of the matter, it’s important that you understand how an air conditioner works. This way, you can strategically plan ways to help it work better, rather than doing things that are counter to its function.

Room air is cooled by an air conditioning unit (or heat pump) in three basic steps:

1. The fan located inside your indoor air handler or furnace kicks on, sucking room air in through your cold air returns. The air passes through your filter, so make sure it’s clean!
2. The warm room air then moves over a set of coils that contain a refrigerant, which cools the indoor air and causes it to release water. The water drops into a pan and is removed via the condensation line. At the same time, the liquid refrigerant inside the coils absorbs the heat, changing into a warm vapor, which is then pushed outside to the condenser coil in your outdoor unit, where it releases the heat from your home.
3. Since the fan is still running on your air handler, cold air comes out the vents and more warm air is sucked across the evaporator coil (also known as the a-coil because of the inverted v shape). Meanwhile, the fan in the outdoor unit is cooling the refrigerant down until it turns back into a liquid and moves back into your home toward the evaporator coil where this whole cycle started.

It’s the cycle of life for refrigerant. That sounds more epic than it is, but hey, air conditioning is pretty great when it’s hot enough to cook an egg in your hammock.

Help Your Air Conditioner Out
Though your A/C unit is absolutely doing the best it can, it could probably do a lot better if you’d lend it a hand. As a homeowner, this benefits you in two ways: first, your house is cheaper to cool and secondly, not pushing your condenser unit as hard as it possibly can go can help prolong its life. Some of the things that can make a big impact should really be performed by a pro, but there are lots of little ways you can contribute to the health and happiness of your entire household. Try these out:

Start with the outside unit. Your condenser unit should always be free of weeds and debris, no matter what time of year it is, but it’s doubly important in the summer. The more garbage that’s plugging up the fins on the coil, the less air movement — and more effort required — for cooling the refrigerant down.

You can also help your unit by giving it a bath at least once a month. Just take a regular garden hose with a trigger sprayer and go all the way around the unit, spraying between the fins, until the water runs clear. Lots of dirt and sand could be hiding up in there, reducing your unit’s efficiency. A fin comb can also help straighten bent fins.

While you’re at it, make sure that unit has plenty of shade. Plant a tree, erect a sunshade, build a little roof over it (but allow at least two feet all around and on top for adequate air flow). The heat from the sun is yet another enemy of the refrigerant in the coil. Keep it as cool as you can with what you have to work with.

If you don't have whole-house air conditioning, try one of the many hard working portable unit - they work wonders in cooling down a room.

Or, try a portable mechanical fan. These hardworking devices move hot air around the room, providing a slight break from even the hottest days and nights. Bonus - they come in a million different styles to match your decor.

Take advantage of those ceiling fans. As the days get warmer, make it a point to set your ceiling fans to rotate in a counter-clockwise direction, pushing air down. You do double duty with this one. The proper rotation creates a chilling effect that allows the average homeowner to keep their thermostat as much as four degrees Fahrenheit higher than they would without the fans blowing. It also helps keep the cold air more evenly distributed, assuming you have ceiling fans in all or most of your rooms.

Cover the windows. Seriously. It doesn’t matter how good your windows are when the worst of the summer’s heat is beating down on them, there’s going to be a noticeable warming coming from that direction. This is when having heavy curtains, thick blinds or other heavy-duty window coverings comes in handy. During the part of the day when the sun hits your windows the hardest, cover them up to reduce heat radiating into your cool spaces. Another option for places where it stays hot a lot of the year is to add awnings over windows that are chronic sources of radiant heat.

Do hot stuff at night. Meaning your cooking, your drying, your extra hot baths — whatever produces heat that’s not really tied to any specific point in the day should be moved to the night shift. If you absolutely need to do these things during the day, keep the cooking limited to the small appliances, dry your laundry outside in the smouldering heat and maybe try a warmish shower. Remember, the more heat you add to the house, the more heat your air conditioner has to move out of your house. Don’t make it an unwinnable battle.

Monday, May 21, 2018

laying down roots

Being a homeowner means more than just cleaning, decorating and maintaining your house. It’s also your responsibility to take care of whatever land is yours. For a lot of people, this means putting their own mark with landscaping like perennials, shrubs and trees. Unfortunately for those trees, many are planted in the wrong place and end up being cut down in their prime. It’s a great loss to the neighborhood and to your yard. When you plant a tree, you’ll need to be careful about where you put it.

Three Things to Know About Trees
Planting a tree is a commitment, don’t ever think otherwise. You’re placing a sapling that has the potential to spread to enormous heights, overshadowing your house, your neighbor’s cars, and maybe even getting tangled in power lines or uprooting sidewalks. This is why it’s vital that you choose the right tree and put it in the right place the first time. So let’s talk about trees!

If you choose a tree from a nursery or home improvement center, it’s a good bet that the tree will succeed in your climate. After all, they’re not going to stock trees that will die over the summer or winter (though certainly ask if you’re not entirely confident). There are other things to pay extremely close attention to, though, like:

Size. Trees get big, even the little ones. You can expect even the smallest ornamentals, known as understory trees, to grow to be 15 to 25 feet high when they’re fully mature. In the forest, these trees are found growing on the edge of groupings of taller trees. Those bigger trees can grow to be 80 to 100 feet tall and just as wide, depending on the tree’s natural shape. Ultimately, there’s a lot of difference between the space required for a dogwood than a white oak.

Water needs. Just because a tree can theoretically survive in your area doesn’t mean that it can do it alone. During establishment (the baby years), that tree will need a lot of regular waterings to keep it going, no matter the species. Obviously, you won’t need to water on days that it’s raining, but as it starts to warm up and during the heat of the summer definitely plan to be on watering duty. Keep the tag around because you’ll need to know how to care for the tree as it ages. If it needs more water than naturally occurs, you’ll want to set up a sprinkler, drip irrigation system or get fancy and redirect gray water to it to keep it alive.

Spacing. This is where the rubber meets the road. Or rather, where the tree roots get under the sidewalk and your foundation and start breaking stuff. It says right on the tag how far to place your tree from anything else. When there’s a range, like 10 to 15 feet, go as far away as you can. This is the hardest part of tree planting, honestly, because other elements in the yard have to be considered. It’s 10 feet from the house, but only seven from the mailbox and not quite 11 from the sidewalk (weird yard, I know). Best to choose your tree, then check spacing requirements and stand out in your yard with a tape measure to ensure that tree will work where you want to put it. It’ll look a little sparse the first year or two, but you’ll be glad you took the time when it’s bigger.

Tree Roots and You
Some of the most serious issues a house or cement pad can experience are caused by tree roots. Big, glorious trees are amazing to have in your yard, they provide shade and protection for wildlife, but it comes at a cost. This is why spacing matters.

Many trees will put out roots that are as far across as their canopies. A tree with a 25 foot wide canopy has the potential to send roots out 12 ½ feet from the trunk. A tree with a 60 foot canopy is often surrounded by a 30 foot root zone.

Besides considering the above ground elements, you need to know where your gas, water and sewer lines run. Deep rooted trees can get into sewer lines, causing the line to fail or wrap around utility lines, slowly shifting them out of place. But deep roots aren’t the only issue, shallow rooted trees create a nightmare when you’re mowing, since you have to somehow deal with them as you go along. Landscaping is a good option here, but also keep in mind that a good stiff breeze may cause that shallow rooted tree to uproot.

Choosing trees is tricky, but that’s why you ask a lot of questions before you leave with your new baby. The very best trees for your home are trees that are native to the area (so they can handle the climate without extra care), grow relatively quickly to let you can start reaping the benefits of a nice tree in your yard sooner and fit in the space properly, keeping all those roots away from anything they can break.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Shopping our local farmers markets and the bags to bring it all home in

I'm loving our warmer weather, and am looking forward to shopping at our local farmers markets this summer. I'm also loving all the unique and pretty straw tote bags that are so popular now. These make great farmers market shopping bags - they are super cute and functional, as well as being eco friendly, which is perfect, as I am making a big effort on cutting down on our plastic consumption this year.

French Baskets on Etsy

The Woven Basketry on Etsy


I think it’s so important to support small business owners because I know how much of their heart and soul they pour into their products, that's why I try to shop locally whenever I can. Even on the mega site Amazon, you can find products sold by small business owners. 

Whatever you use for your market shopping, I hope you enjoy the best our local farmers have to offer at one of these farmers market. 

33rd Avenue W and W McGraw Street 
NE 50th and University Way

Ballard Avenue NW - between 20th NW and 22nd NW
Seattle Central Community College - Broadway and Pine

37th Ave S and S Edmunds Street
Meridian Avenue and N 50th Street

NE 125th Street and 28th Avenue NE
W Crockett Street and Queen Anne Avenue N

Martin Luther King Blvd and E Union Street
N 67th Street and Phinney Avenue N 

Until next time,

la chasse au bonheur (and bon app├ętit)