Q: Does a condominium developer have a legal responsibility to disclose whether it's granted exclusive service rights to one cable company over another in the preselling phase...

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Q:

Does a condominium developer have a legal responsibility to disclose whether it’s granted exclusive service rights to one cable company over another in the preselling phase of the project? I’m considering buying a new unit, and the developer’s sales office won’t tell me if it’s granted this right.


A:

As background, attorney Danny DeWalt says it’s not uncommon for condo developers to enter into such an agreement with cable providers (or providers of other utilities) because “it allows the builder to install all necessary equipment and wiring, and, if necessary, to grant easements to utility providers for access for maintenance and repair.” Having these agreements in place prior to sales also insures that the developer can include the necessary easements in the individual units’ titles.

DeWalt, of the Seattle firm of Goff & DeWalt, says the state’s Condominium Act has very specific disclosure requirements mandating what a developer must tell potential buyers. That information is given to buyers in the “public offering statement” and covers such items as a survey map, current budget, bylaws, rules and regulations. But one thing the law doesn’t do, DeWalt says, is require the developer to disclose the existence of a binding agreement with a cable provider. “However, if a utility easement has been recorded as to the cable provider, that easement should be reflected in the title of the unit.”

All this doesn’t mean you don’t have options should you buy a condo with such an agreement in place. The deal is, though, that you can’t make any changes on your own. Once the developer turns control of the condominium over to the purchasers, their owners’ association has the legal right “to terminate certain contracts without penalty upon 90 days’ notice after the elected board of directors takes office,” DeWalt explains.

“The board can terminate any management contract, employment contract, or lease of recreational or parking facilities. Finally, the board may terminate any contract or lease which is not bona fide or which was unconscionable to the unit owners at the time the contract or lease was entered into.” What defines “unconscionable?” You’ll find the answer by reading the law, RCW 64.34.080, which you can do by Googling that specific citation.


Q:

I’d like to add a deck on our house and my wife would like to update the main bathroom. It’s not realistic for us to do both because we can’t afford it, and also we probably won’t live here very long. Which of these two projects would bring us the best return on our money?


A:

For an answer we turn to the just-released “Cost vs. Value Report,” compiled annually by Remodeling and REALTOR magazines. Now in its seventh year, the report calculates the average cost of various home-remodeling projects in cities throughout the nation. The report finds that a bathroom remodel costs $11,237 in Seattle and returns $14,800 upon resale, recouping 132 percent of the cost. What’s considered a remodel? The report defines it as the updating of a bathroom that’s at least 25 years old by replacing all the fixtures “to include standard-sized tub with ceramic surround, toilet, solid-surface vanity counter with integral double sink, recessed medicine cabinet, ceramic tile floor and vinyl wallpaper.”

Add a 16-by-20 foot deck made of composite material, throw in a built-in bench, stairs and a planter of the same decking material, and you’re looking at spending an average $7,498 in Seattle, according to the study. On resale, this project is expected to return $8,900, or 119 percent of its cost.

Both projects cost more here than the national average, but both also return significantly more. To see the numbers for yourself, go to www.realtor.org/realtormag. Included in that report are the costs and returns for a master-suite addition, window replacement, basement remodel and other projects.


Q:

Can you please reprint the information on where I can get a copy of a historic photo of my home?


A:

From 1937-72, the King County Assessor’s office took at least one photo of every building in the county for its records. These photos now reside in the Puget Sound regional branch of the Washington State Archives and are available for purchase by the public. The archives also have “data sheets” for some early homes that list original building materials used. To request your home’s photo and data sheet, leave a message at 425-564-3940. Prices vary according to what’s available and photo sizes.

Home Forum answers readers’ real-estate questions. Send questions to Home Forum, Seattle Times, P.O. Box 1845, Seattle, WA 98111, or call 206-464-8510 to leave a question on a recorded line. The e-mail address is erhodes@seattletimes.com. Sorry, no personal replies. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.