You can tell spring is coming to Seattle. The sun starts to come out more; the flowers & trees start to bloom; the directional “house for sale” signs start springing up all over. Like weeds.
I was catching up on some West Seattle neighborhood news feeds today and read a post from a neighbor frustrated with the number of these signs sprouting up in her area. Her post was supported by comments from neighbors who not only shared her frustration with their unsightly appearance but also raised legitimate security concerns.
I continued to read with some dismay as a “seasoned” local realtor not only defended these signs but proceeded to explain why they needed to be used and why they were “good” for the neighborhood. I wrote a quick response to that thread, explaining the facts… but I thought this subject merited a little additional explanation. So let’s get our facts straight and debunk some myths about these directional “for sale” signs in the City of Seattle.
- They’re ineffective. Homes don’t sell this way.
Nationwide, more than 80% of homes are sold through their MLS listings and in Seattle that statistic is much higher. Even if a home is a FSBO (for sale by owner), you’re virtually guaranteed to find those listings on Zillow or Trulia and even the NWMLS. Any potential home buyer in Seattle knows that you need to do your homework and be well prepared to navigate the current shortage of homes available. They don’t stay on the market long and competition is often involved. And the idea that “marketing” a home by placing cereal box sized signs on a few street corners is a “strategy” is mind-numbingly ridiculous. Now they might generate some neighbor curiosity, which is not a bad thing, but that can be done much more effectively with a postcard if deemed necessary.
- They’re impolite. People tend to dislike them.
Let me repeat that. People dislike them! Especially in Seattle where we labor all winter to enjoy the beauty of nature in spring, only to have that beauty spoiled by signage. I know I’ve driven past corners with 2 or 3 of these signs on them at once. Not only are they not color coordinated, but they’re stuck in the ground all over the place! Seriously, though, because these signs are cheap they are rarely cared for and easily become broken and an eye sore, staying in the ground for many weeks after a home is no longer on the market just because the agent can’t remember where they put them all. Now I am sure there are some folks out there who don’t mind them, but I also assure you there are more than a few “corner lot” home owners that get really tired of folks staking signs in the right-of-way in front of their house.
- They’re a safety concern. Prowlers take notice.
That’s right. Buyers may not be roaming the neighborhood looking for homes for sale, but prowlers do roam neighborhoods looking for break-in opportunities. Vacant homes or in-progress moves can be inviting targets for folks looking to do mischief and it just doesn’t make sense to advertise this opportunity on every street corner in a 4 block radius. Potential home buyers will find the home, their agent is likely to have previewed it for them and will give them a guided tour. Folks cruising the neighborhood in the middle of the night don’t need an invitation and directions.
- They’re unnecessary. Seattle’s on a grid.
Yes, buyers will find the house just fine. If someone tries to tell you these signs are to help people find the house… well that’s a stretch. In some places you might actually need some signs on a few farm roads or dead ends. Heck, in Atlanta you might need signs on a few “Peach Tree” roads to help narrow down the neighborhood. But here in Seattle, we mostly live on a nice master-planned grid that makes things super easy to find. Throw in a little GPS, Google Maps or simply the listing printout… and 95% of Seattle homes are going to be insanely easy to locate.
- They’re against the law. Yep, not legal.
You read that right. They are actually a violation of the Seattle Sign Code, section 23.55.012. Now I’ll be the first to confess that reading ordinances is tricky… if you read this I guarantee you will be confused, at least until you’ve gone through it a second or third time. However, in this case we also have some help from the Seattle King County Realtors association. Now this group works hard to help ensure that Seattle Realtors are a thoughtful, ethical and professional group. And to that end, one of the things they produce is a guide to what signage is permitted in different jurisdictions. You can download their Sign Code Matrix and check out this Seattle reference for yourself.
“Not allowed on public right-of-ways, street medians, planting strips or city property. Noncomplying signs may be impounded by SDOT staff. Impounded signs are subject to at least $97 per sign impoundment fee when retrieved by the owner. Failure to comply may also result in a citation of up to $500.”
OK, so what do you do if a bunch of signs start showing up in your neighborhood and they’re driving you nuts?
First, take a breath. As much as I personally dislike these signs, they could be helping the seller (your neighbor) feel better. When someone really needs their home to sell quickly they’re probably not thinking too much about etiquette and, unfortunately, there are some agents who either don’t know the code or are unwilling to explain it. I recommend they bookmark this blog for future reference *grin*.
If you’re intent upon seeing the signs removed, you might consider contacting the office of the selling agent and ask to speak to the office manager or office managing broker. Be polite. These folks should know the rules their agents are supposed to be following and will probably respond appreciatively to you informing them of the problem. No brokerage likes to see their agents get in trouble as it also reflects poorly on them.
If you don't have any luck with the selling brokerage you can also go directly to the Seattle King County Realtors association we mentioned previously. They actually have standing committees to handle consumer grievances and enforce professional ethics. You can call them by phone at (425) 974-1011 or use their online contact form.
Finally, you can also report these issues to the City of Seattle as ordinance violations on the DPD Complaint form or by calling (206) 615-0808 during normal business hours; this is the same group that handles complaints on building inspections and other land use issues. However, if your goal is to see the signs removed I highly recommend the softer approach mentioned previously.