This chapter focuses on the roles of professionals you might encounter during your space hunt, including attorneys, accountants, mortgage brokers, building inspectors, and real estate agents. You will also find tips and resources on hiring and locating such professionals.
Guidelines for Hiring Professionals
Start your search with referrals from colleagues, family members and friends. Even if you accept a referral, be prepared to do some leg work to make sure the professional meets your needs and is in good professional standing.
Basic questions to consider when hiring professionals include:
How long has s/he been in business?
Does s/he have the required license(s) to practice in Washington? The Washington State Department of Licensing (DOL) has links to all professional licenses at https://www.dol.wa.gov/
Does s/he have experience working with artists, nonprofits, theatres, etc.?
Which services does he/she provide?
What can you expect for your fee?
How will they handle conflicts of interest?
What type of insurance does s/he carry (if applicable)?
If you require a specialized service (for example, an accountant who specializes in nonprofits, or an architect who specializes in designing commercial conversions to residential spaces), make sure the professional's past clients had needs similar to your own.
There are good and bad professionals in every field. Be vigilant in your search process so that you find trustworthy, cooperative professionals. Real estate transactions involve substantial amounts of your money, so be your own advocate.
When planning to rent space, artists frequently ask, "Do I need a lawyer?" The answer depends on your specific needs and circumstances. The Washington State Bar Association has a free consumer pamphlet that describes common circumstances for when to hire a lawyer and provides helpful information to think about when making your decision. You may obtain that information by phoning the Washington State Bar Association at 800-945-WSBA or 443-WSBA. Additionally, Washington Lawyers for the Arts
offers arts legal clinics several times per month in various locations. You can learn more at their web-site at www.thewla.org.
For free legal information, visit the University of Washington, school of law library.
If you have never used a lawyer's services before, you might be anxious about what to expect. Don't be intimidated: Lawyers are important members of your real estate team.
Lawyers will ensure that the lease or purchasing agreement you sign says exactly what you agreed upon with your landlord, and that your mortgage and other documents are recorded. Your lawyer is one of the few professionals in the purchasing or leasing process who works for you and only you. For this reason, it is extremely important that you find one who understands your needs and who meets your requirements.
In real estate transactions, accountants:
Assist you in analyzing your cash flow to determine what you can afford (See Chapter 2: Costs of Space for worksheets to help you get started examining your financial picture); and
Address your tax concerns by highlighting the pros and cons of purchasing vs. leasing, and the impact the decision will have on your personal and business tax responsibilities.
In addition, an accountant can advise you on how to set up your financial records so that the financial information you need to take tax deductions is readily at hand, and you won't have to plough through a year's worth of receipts, invoices, bills and other documentation at the end of the year. Alternatively, if your financial needs are relatively simple, you can set up your own books and calculate your workspace deductions.
Accountants work in a variety of positions at all levels of the private and public sectors. They can be vital members of your financial team, and can help you to develop a clearly defined picture of your resources and capabilities.
There are six basic types of accounting services that you might encounter:
Bookkeeper: Bookkeepers represent the first level of accounting services. They might or might not be an accountant. Bookkeepers maintain the books of original entry, such as journals for cash receipts, cash disbursements, sales or accounts payable. While a bookkeeper can be helpful, you also can set up your own bookkeeping system to keep track of your expenses. It helps if your needs are simple. If you have extensive or complicated accounting requirements, then consider using a professional bookkeeper.
Accountant: These individuals have usually earned a bachelors degree in accounting, and might specialize in certain areas of accounting in large corporations and organizations. In addition, they might also be in charge of preparing financial statements for businesses and organizations.
Auditor: An auditor is an accountant who specializes in reviewing and verifying records and financial statements drafted by other accountants.
Certified Public Accountant (CPA): CPAs must have at least a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field and have passed a licensing examination developed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Before they can take the licensing examination, potential CPAs must have at least five years of education and at least two years of work experience. Legally, CPAs can audit and report on the accuracy of financial statements and represent you before the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). In Washington, CPAs are regulated by the Board of Accountancy. Their website offers various resources such as finding a CPA, reporting complaints, and regulatory policies, www.cpaboard.wa.gov.
Enrolled Agents: These are tax preparation specialists authorized by the federal government through the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). EAs are very knowledgeable about tax law, and like CPAs can represent taxpayers before the IRS. They are required to pass an examination in order to practice.
Government Accountant: These accountants are often CPAs employed by government agencies such as the IRS.
Finding an Accountant
The best way to find an accountant who suits your needs is through the referral of colleagues, family or friends. In addition, your lawyer should be able to help you with a referral. Find an accountant who specializes in assisting the self-employed, small businesses or nonprofit organizations with their accounting needs.
Make sure that your accountant has some experience with artists, arts industry or arts organizations. Informed questions during the interviewing process can help you determine if an accountant has the skill level and background to meet your needs.
Accountants set their own rates, which can vary widely. While most charge an hourly rate, some accountants charge a flat rate fee for specific services such as filing a standard Form 1040 tax return for you. Usually an accountant can give you an estimate of the average cost of the services you require. Ask them how to minimize your fee: For example, perhaps you can use the accountant's tax organizer or a particular software program to complete some of the tasks yourself.
TIP: An accountant can help you to calculate tax deductions for work-related expenses, and set up a simple system for keeping track of your financial records on both a monthly and an annual basis.
TIP: Talk to an accountant about how to deduct workspace expenses from your income.
A mortgage broker is a go-between who helps to arrange your mortgage financing with lenders. Their services can become crucial if you are denied financing from a traditional lending institution, such as a bank or credit union. In Washington, mortgage brokers are regulated by the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions.
The broker's role is to assess the credit risk you pose, and to match you up with a lender who has the tolerance for that risk. Mortgage brokers have access to banks, private investors and other lending institutions -- all of whom have different lending criteria and risk-tolerance levels.
Brokers do not have access to all lenders; they can only place loans with lenders with whom they have a pre-existing contractual relationship. However, many mortgage brokers have extensive contracts with a variety of lenders, and will usually be able to find you a loan.
If your mortgage broker arranges financing from a major financial institution, their fee might be paid by the lending institution, or included in your loan as an additional fee. However, should the broker secure funding from a funding source other than a traditional lending institution, you might have to pay a fee for their services. Brokers' fees vary, so discuss payment arrangements at your first meeting.
Some brokers might want all or part of the fee paid by the lender through what is typically called a yield-spread premium. Be cautious of these fee arrangements, as they involve a hidden increase in your mortgage loan's interest rate that might cost you more in the long run than paying a broker's fee up-front. If you decide to pay a yield-spread premium, \do so only after the broker explains it to you in detail and tells you exactly how much it will cost you in interest and monthly payments.
You can access a list of mortgage brokers licensed to practice in Washington State on the Department of Financial Institutions website.
There are good mortgage brokers and bad ones. If you do not do some of your own homework on current interest rates, you will not know if your broker has given you a fair deal. Real estate and financial related Websites such as http://www.realtor.com or http://www.bankrate.com list current mortgage loan rates. You can also check with lending institutions, or read the real estate and financial sections of newspapers such as Seattle Times, USA Today, or New York Times.
A home or building inspector should be a key component of your real estate team. An inspector provides an objective visual examination of a property's physical structure, condition and systems, from the foundation to the roof and all the components in between. Their observations are crucial in helping you to determine any repairs needs that need to be made.
Usually you hire an inspector for a property you are thinking of purchasing, but they can also be useful -- even necessary -- when considering a long-term or expensive commercial lease. An inspector's help can be especially crucial if your lease stipulates that you are responsible for property maintenance and repairs.
In Washington, home and building inspectors are regulated by the Washington State Department of Licensing. Inspectors must be licensed and are required to pass an examination in order to practice. Insist on reviewing the inspector's license before proceeding. You can either ask the inspector directly, or -- for a more subtle approach -- contact the state for a list of Washington certified inspectors.
For more information about the licensing requirements for the real estate industry, visit WADOL Website or contact them at 360-664-6487.
No one can complete an official home or building inspection in Washington other than those licensed to do so. Architects, engineers, municipal inspectors and general contractors can assess properties, but their results are not considered an official inspection.
Please see Chapter 17: Inspections for additional information on the home and building inspection process, and what to expect when working with an inspector.
Hiring an Inspector
Using an inspector's services is a worthwhile investment. Take your time to find one who meets your needs. Many professional organizations provide lists local inspectors.
Find an inspector who specializes in certain types of spaces. For example, an inspector who has assessed spaces for gallery use might be able to determine whether the walls can support large and heavy paintings. An inspector familiar with examining performing arts spaces can point out specific issues with the floor that could affect performances.
Some inspectors are better versed in old buildings, while others are more familiar with newer construction. When dealing with an older property, look for veteran inspectors who have at least five or more years of experience.
Beginning September 1, 2009 Washington State's home inspector license requirement went into effect. To ensure that your inspector is licensed ask for their three digit license number, verify that your inspector is listed as "active" on the "licensed home inspector" in the Washington State Department of Licensing System at http://www.dol.wa.gov/business/checkstatus.html. Under the new law home inspectors may elect to drop their Structural Pest Inspector license make sure to ask your inspector if they have maintained their SPI license.
There are no special licensing requirements for commercial property inspection in Washington State. The American Standard of Testing and Materials (ASTM International) provides a standard of practice for commercial property inspection. To ensure the highest quality of commercial property inspection request for your inspection to adhere to these standards as they are voluntary.
When choosing someone to inspect a commercial property, make sure that they have at least five years of experience and have inspected at least 50 or more commercial buildings. If you are considering a commercial space, ask a residential inspector (preferably one whose work you are familiar with) for a referral for a commercial inspector.
Additional questions to ask when hiring an inspector:
How many years have they been in business?
Do you adhere to the ASTM standard of practice for building standards?
How many buildings have they inspected in the past two years?
Are they allowed to practice in the state of Washington?
Will they provide pricing regarding repairs? (This can be crucial. It will give you an idea of what repairs need to be made to the space, and what additional funds are required to bring the property up to par before you move in.)
Will they provide information on the urgency of particular repairs? (This will give you an idea of how much it will cost to bring the building up to appropriate standards)
Will they point out potential environmental risks, such as carbon monoxide, asbestos, etc.?
Are they fully insured?
What percentage of their inspection work deals with older buildings?
Have they inspected the type of space you are considering?
Can they provide referrals with contact information? As for information on their 3-5 most recent clients and/or those who have spaces similar to your own.
How soon can they complete the inspection report?
What type of inspection report do they provide: checklists, or written reports?
The cost of a home or building inspection varies widely, and can be influenced by the type and size of property, the time of year, and other factors.
Because the price of an inspection is normally based on the cost per square foot, be cautious in choosing an inspector. Many newly licensed inspectors must respond to market pressure when they first start out by keeping their prices low. Cheaper does not mean better.
A good inspection company is usually booked 3-5 days in advance, and charges more than the minimum. Prices vary more drastically for commercial spaces. Make sure to ask for references for inspectors and ask for the cost of the inspection, what is included in the inspection and the format of the inspection report in advance. An inaccurate inspection can ruin your ability to utilize your new space so it is important to ensure that you receive a high quality comprehensive inspection.
Real Estate Agents
Real estate agents are professionals who deal with the buying, selling and leasing of real estate. Besides doing lots of legwork, agents offer access to resources and assist with space-planning, dealing with zoning and building regulations, locating financing and other real-life issues associated with the leasing and purchasing of property. If they don't know the answers, they can usually direct you to experts who do.
Real estate professionals in Washington are regulated by the Washington State Department of Licensing.
Washington State Department of licensed two types of real estate professionals - Salespersons and Real Estate Brokers:
Salespersons/Real Estate Agents : Must have 60 hours of state-approved real estate fundamentals classes and pass a licensing exam. Agents normally assist with the buying and selling of property, and must work for a real estate broker.
Real Estate Broker : Must have a High School diploma, be at least 18 years old, and have two years of full time experience as a real estate salesperson in Washington State or another jurisdiction with similar requirement. Additionally, real estate brokers are required to complete 120 hours of state-approved real estate classes and pass a licensing exam. Brokers can run a real estate office and employ real estate salespersons/agents.
** Note the real estate licensing requirements will change for both salespersons and brokers on June 30, 2010. Ensure your salesperson or broker's license is valid at: http://www.dol.wa.gov/business/checkstatus.html
For the remainder of this chapter, we use the term "agent" to refer to all licensed real estate professionals.
Chapter 5: Finding Space provides additional information about working with real estate agents to find property.
Finding an Agent
Your agent is the professional you will probably work with and rely upon the most during your space search. For this reason, be very strategic in your selection process. Because you might be unfamiliar with how the real estate market works, you will probably rely heavily on your agent's expertise, resources and referrals.
If you are a first-time buyer, or are seeking an unusual or specific type of space, it is often wise to work with an agent. Start your search with recommendations from family, friends or colleagues who have had productive working relationships with agents familiar with the type of space you are looking. If you are looking for a property in a specific area, the neighborhood chamber of commerce or other community development organizations can connect you with agents representing space in the community.
You can also directly contact businesses and organizations that have spaces you like, and find out who assisted them in locating the property. Or, you can contact an agent who is advertising a space that interests you, and have them search for similar properties for you.
Professional trade organizations often list real estate agents. The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) is the main national professional organization for real estate agents. The Washington Association of REALTORS® is the local chapter of NAR. Both sites offer information and resources on finding and selecting a real estate agent, as well as a database of agents. The Washington State Department of licensing provides information on the licensing status and disciplinary histories (if applicable) of specific agents.
Specialty organizations such as the Washington Commercial Association of REALTORS, Certified Commercial Investment Member Institute and the Commercial Real Estate Network provide information and databases of real estate agents who specialize in commercial and industrial spaces.
Buyer Agents vs. Seller Agents
During your search, you will encounter two types of real estate representation - Buyer Agents and Seller Agents. A Buyer Agent represents the buyer's interest in any transaction, ensuring that the buyer gets the space for the best price possible, on the best terms possible.
A Seller's Agent, also known as a listing agent, represents the seller and seeks the best price and terms for the seller.
One of the biggest differences between these two types of agents is that a Seller Agent's office lists properties for sale, while a Buyer Agent's office does not.
Some real estate agents participate in dual agency, which must be disclosed to you. In a dual agency arrangement, a real estate agent represents both parties - the buyer and the seller - in a real estate transaction.
In most cases, dual agency is not recommended. Unless you are very savvy with real estate contracts and negotiations, in a dual agency arrangement the agent can act only as an administrative go-between for the parties involved in the transaction. The agent cannot assist with the negotiation process, nor can they advise either party on the terms of the sale.
For example, if the seller is asking $150,000 for a space, your buyer's agent might tell you to offer only $135,000. If you were in a dual agency relationship, your agent could not suggest that you lower the offer.
By law, real estate agents participating in dual agency are required to inform both parties of the situation before performing any actions as a dual agent. In addition, both the buyer and the seller must agree in writing to this arrangement by signing a Dual Agency Consent Form. RCW 18.86.030. Additionally, the Washington State Legislature passed the Real Estate Brokerage Relationships Act, which states that a real estate agent who works with a buyer is presumed to be the buyer's agent unless there is a written agreement to the contrary. This effectively reduces the danger of inadvertent undisclosed dual agency since there is a natural assumption of buyers that the licensee the buyer is working with is acting as his or her agent.
One way to avoid dual agency is to discuss your concerns with your agent as early as possible. Find out how the agent will handle a dual agency situation, were one to arise. Another option is to work with a real estate office exclusively for buyers. These offices do not list properties, and thus negate the chance of dual agency. There are a small number of buyer brokerage offices in Washington.
The National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents and the Real Estate Buyer's Council are national organizations that represent buyer agents. Their websites provide listings of local real estate offices that specialize in buyers' needs.
Hiring an Agent
Agents have many different work styles and habits. Some will email property listings for you to consider, or call you with updates, while others might take you on tours to visit their favorite properties or areas. Some are client-directed, while other agents are very sales-oriented and aggressive. Finding an agent whose style and personality compliments your own will enable you to develop a productive work relationship.
Whatever their working style and personality, a good agent will know the Seattle market. Before beginning a search for properties, s/he will discuss what you need and can afford. When you have identified a potential space, the agent can provide you with information and sales data so that you can compare the property to others that have sold in the area. This comparison will help you during negotiations.
If you are leasing, agents can provide information on current rental rates and, to some extent, help you to decipher the complex language of leases and contracts. Ultimately, the right agent can make your space search run a little more smoothly.
Once you have a list of several agents you want to interview, ask the following questions:
How many years have they been in business?
How many sales have they made in the past two years?
Are they licensed to practice in the State of Washington?
Does the agent have a specialty? Certain neighborhoods, types of properties, types of clients (artists, senior citizens, north side, south side, galleries, industrial spaces, etc.)?
Which services do they provide? Do they send emails with listings daily; or show properties during the evenings on weekdays and on weekends? How late do they show properties? Etc.
How often will you hear from them? Frequently, or only when they have a property in mind for you?
How accessible are they? Do they use email or cell phones? Will you be able to contact them at home, or only on their office line? What is the turnaround time for them to return your phone calls?
Have they previously worked with artists, businesses and organizations with needs similar to your own? If so, can they provide at least contact information on 3-5 of their more recent clients?
Are they experienced in finding properties like the one you need?
Are they familiar with the community in which you hope to purchase?
What resources can they offer in helping you through the purchasing or leasing process? Can they find attorneys, financing, etc.? If so, which firms and/or individuals do they work with, and why?
How do they expect to be compensated?
How will they handle dual agency or conflicts of interest?
There are a variety of ways to pay real estate agents. In Seattle, the most common method involves the property seller paying a commission to their listing agent, who in turn splits the commission with the buyer's real estate office. In the Seattle area, a commission based on 4-7% of the property's selling price is customary. In other words, if you purchase a space for $150,000, and the commission is a 50-50 split on a 5% commission, then your agent's office earns $3,750 on the sale [($150,000 x 0.05)/2]. If you pursue for-sale-by-owner or other non-listed properties, you might have to pay your agent's commission out-of-pocket.
If you were leasing a commercial space, then the agent's commission might be based on the amount of rent over the term of the initial lease. However, leasing of commercial property is complex, and commission arrangements might vary drastically from situation to situation.
Other leasing arrangements might include a flat-fee for service, or an hourly rate. If you are working on a fee-based system, stipulate that payment is contingent upon the agent locating and putting you into a space. If you pay by the hour, obtain an agreement (preferably written) that explains how the agent will charge you for their time. Ensure that the agreement specifies what you get for the fee.
Some real estate agents might ask you to sign a buyer contract, which often stipulates how the agent will be paid, how they will handle dual agency and conflicts of interest, and what you can expect from them in terms of time, research, etc. As with any contract, the terms of an agent contract are negotiable. Review, discuss and amend its terms thoroughly before you sign.
Consider having your attorney review the contract, especially if you are looking for space for a business or organization or purchasing or leasing an expensive property.
TIP: Information about working with a real estate agent to find property is discussed in greater detail in Chapter 5: Finding a Space