Jen Pells | Realtor on Bainbridge Island

A One Way Ticket

Last week marked our five year anniversary of living on the island.  It really does seem like yesterday that our lives were loaded onto a large orange moving truck and we bought a one-way ticket to fly up to Seattle.

I have spent a lot of time reflecting on our five years here lately, especially since I have helped three new families arrive on Bainbridge in the last couple of weeks.  All three of them came here for many of the same reasons we did.  More often than not the move to Bainbridge is a deliberate one. And it is a recurring theme I get to relive with my clients.  Three of my clients physically arrived on the island in the last few weeks and I have talked to just as many more who are actively plotting their course to arrive next summer.

People don’t get stuck here or accidentally stumble upon Bainbridge.  People typically discover Bainbridge when they are looking for somewhere better than the status quo.  We left a big city.  We left crime, crummy schools, poor air quality, traffic.  We came to Bainbridge for that ‘change of pace’ you hear me talk about a lot in my blog.  A slower pace, a ferry commute, top-rated small schools, beaches, a small community . . . a place where we could breath, literally and figuratively.

The Deliberate Move

But getting here, making the leap to move, do something, go somewhere better is easier said than done.  Getting to Bainbridge took us three years from idea to reality. This is a very common thing. There is often a new job involved and a home to sell.  It was a journey for us and I enjoy taking the journey with others.But I talk to just as many people who don’t make the move here, but want to. They end up staying because of work or family or roots or just because it is easier. And I SO get that.  Change is hard.  A big move to a place where you essentially start over is exciting for some but scary for others.  I talk to people all the time who know they are living in a situation they want to make better. But getting from A to B is not just one step.  Some of them I have talked to for years and they rev up the idea, then drop it. Then the notion of moving keeps tapping them on the shoulder and their email pops back in my inbox.

Jen Pells | Realtor on Bainbridge Island

Five Years Ago . . .

Five years ago we moved into a very funky mid-century modern home.  In the past five years we have gutted it and are pretty much on the other side of the renovation project.  We added many things like wood floors, new kitchen and baths, a deck, a fence, a garden, a studio  . . .  I am happy the Aztec inspired berber carpet is becoming a distant memory and although a modern cottage style home is still my style preference, I have embraced the mid-century modern style that is indeed my home. Five years ago I had a preschooler and a second grader. Babies really.

This summer my girls are little women and thriving in our small community with fine schools, good friends, and an amazing sports community.  Five years ago we moved into a neighborhood that welcomed us with gift baskets and cookies.  Today we are so thankful for our terrific neighbors who have helped with kid sitting, meals, loading/unloading large objects and just being amongst ‘our people.’ Five years ago I drove down the streets of Bainbridge and everything looked odd.  Those first months it felt and looked a lot like being on vacation where everything looks angular and unfamiliar. I was discussing this notion of vacation with a client and remember that the vaca feeling lasted until about October for me.  Then it hit me like a Mack truck that I was not going home to my cute cottage house in CA. That was a hurdle in the adjustment period, for sure. But today, driving by Rotary Park and the water view on Eagle Harbor all looks and feels like home.

Jen Pells | Realtor on Bainbridge Island

Jen Pells | Realtor on Bainbridge Island

Jen Pells | Realtor on Bainbridge Island

When Are You No Longer New?

In fact I think it took me a solid two years to really feel like I had moved. That I hadn’t just misplaced my return flight ticket.  I am sure the renovation of the house added to the unsettled feel. Very sure.  And we were contemplating moving to another house on the island for four of the five years we were here too.  And this five year mark is bittersweet for me in some ways.  I had always held it out there as the benchmark of within the first five years we could return to our old community and slip right back into place.  The kids could be friends with their old buddies, go back to the old hood. But after five years, I kind of figured too much time would have gone by, sort of a point of no return. But I don’t at all feel doom and gloom that we can’t do that.  At the same time I certainly still miss the community, family and friends I still have, but used to live amongst in CA.  As a couple we had 13 years with ‘our people’ down there and it was VERY hard to pull up those roots.  I savor those memories and the foundation it gave us.  I know it helped us get here.

Jen Pells | Realtor on Bainbridge Island

Hey, Are You New?

Five years ago I stood in the Blakely Elementary Auditorium on an Open House Night, alone and feeling very fish out of water.  A woman and her husband said “Hey, are you new? We’re new too. Come stand with the new people.”  Those very people became part of our new community.  Several of us moved her over the summer of 2007 and we remain friends today.

This is a summer of big changes and benchmarks.  I turn the big 4-0 next week. My older daughter starts junior high in August (and got her braces off).  My younger daughter will begin her last year of elementary school, having been fortunate enough to spend all her years there since Kindergarden (and got her braces on). Good stuff.

In another five years both of my girls will be in high school.  And five years after that both of my cuties will have graduated from high school and we will likely be empty nesters.  Hard to believe right now. These past five years flew by lightening fast and I hear they just get faster. But I do know there is nowhere we’d rather be than right here on Bainbridge for all the benchmarks, birthdays, games, dances and graduations in near our future. We’ll be sticking around. I think we’re very officially ‘not new’ anymore . . . and this is home.

On July 7, 2012, in Community, Moving, Personal, by
Bainbridge Island Real Estate | 2012 | Jen Pells

The Big Picture on Bainbridge Island. The tide it is a changing.

The Big Picture

If you consider only the number of homes (or condos) that sold during the first quarter of this year, your initial reaction would probably be, “Ho hum.” Look carefully, though, and you will see some interesting things. If you include what is happening now, in mid-April, you might get even more intrigued.

There were 55 homes sales in the first quarter this year, compared to 56 last year, which indicates stability more than improvement. Nonetheless, these are good numbers compared to 2008 (when there were only 34 sales) and 2009 (with 37 sales). Condos dropped from 19 sales in 2011 to 12 this year.

So far, not a lot to get excited about. But when we look at the median price, we had a 6.2% increase. Our first quarter median price has been declining steadily since its peak in 2008 – until this year. When you look at the distribution of the sales, the median increase becomes clear. Sales over $800K were up 320% from last year. In all of 2011, there were 24 sales over $1 million; this year we have already had 12 just in the first quarter. (I cannot help but point out Windermere Bainbridge was involved in 10 of those 12 sales and Windermere represented 50% of the parties involved.)

Bainbridge Island Real Estate | 2012 | Jen Pells

The stats are looking up, especially in the over million dollar market.

Stats Tell a Positive Story

On March 30th, there were only 59 homes under contract. By April 5th, there were 74 homes under contract. By April 10th, there were 80. Of those 80, 22 are over $800K and 13 over $1 million. We have not seen these kinds of numbers in several years. Not only are the numbers good, they have grown quickly this month.

Over the past five years, we have had strong individual quarters like the first quarter just ended. But we could not sustain the momentum, and poor performance followed. In 2011, the first quarter was up 14% but then dropped 14% in the second quarter (from the previous year). Our market has gone up and down on an almost quarterly basis while prices have steadily decreased. Now we see a strong first quarter, prices inching higher and a very strong start to the second quarter. These are all positive indicators. Optimism is beginning to creep in, but it will take more time for many of us to feel comfortable making any proclamations. We’ve been lured by the sirens before only to find ourselves on the rocks.

This week’s blog post is written by islander Amy Lenahan  – a good friend and client who moved to Bainbridge Island from Chicago in 2010.  Amy now writes her own blog, Little Blue Journal, which features her own observations about island life.  As I have done in the past, I like to let “Island Newcomers” share what it is like to live on our little island . . . in their own words . . . a fresh perspective about what life really looks like here.

Island Curiosities by Amy Lenahan

We have been living on this island we now call home for almost two years.  Most of the time, it still feels brand new to me, perhaps because of the contrast to the urban environment we left behind.   I am trying to hold on to this feeling of newness for as long as possible in an attempt to be more aware, more present – to notice.  As a lover of travel who doesn’t always have the budget to go everywhere I would like to go (confession:  I have used Google Maps’ street view to ‘wander’ the streets of another city), I thought in sharing some of the observations I’ve had about my new home may allow you to visit here in a similar cyber-fashion.   I thought I would  share some island curiosities.  An apt title, taking advantage of both meanings of curiosity – both the desire to know about something and falling in the category of unusual or interesting.

Island Curiosity #38 | You need a thing

Right after we moved into our house, I was out walking with Sally (our Wheaton Terrier) and our daughter and I met one of our neighbors, who is now one of our good friends.  In this initial conversation, my neighbor asked me:  so, what do you do?  Coming from Chicago (and really, all of the other places I’ve lived), I assumed he meant what do you do for a living?  After launching into a really long explanation of the chronology of my somewhat nontraditional career path, it became evident that he wasn’t talking about what I do to make money, but, you know, what I DO.  At one point during our tenure in Chicago, my husband and I determined that our love for and general interest in all things gastronomic would classify us as foodies, which, let’s admit, is really a nice way of saying that our hobby was eating.  In that moment with my neighbor (after he confessed to loving to fish, hunt, camp, run, bike, climb, crab, garden and fix things in his spare time), I realized that saying “I eat,” was akin to also mentioning that I regularly inhale oxygen, blink my eyes and periodically shed my epidermis.  I’m pretty sure this version of doing is a West Coast thing and not just an island thing, but it was then that I realized I need a thing.

Island Curiosity #14 | Gardening

So you’re thinking that I chose gardening as my thing, so I will spoil it for you right now to let you know that there was no choice, my friend. Gardening is mandatory on this island – it is everyone’s thing.  Now my island friends may balk at this, but I’m sticking to my guns.  I don’t think this way just because I came from a multi-unit condo building where a couple of small flower boxes and a sad attempt at an herb garden (if a 12” pot counts as a ‘garden’) was the extent of the gardening I’d done, it’s that stuff grows out here in the Pacific Northwest.  People, rolling stones even gather moss in this climate.  Couple this with the fact that we inherited this from our former owner (who claimed that she wasn’t a gardener, really):

 

And now, come Spring, I feel like Lucy and Ethel in that episode with the chocolates coming down the conveyor belt – I can’t keep up.  If ever I had a crash course in anything in my life, it has been understanding my garden:  what to weed (note:  those dandelion-looking things are poppies – do not pull – oops), what to water, what to mulch, what to prune, what to sprinkle with emu poop…  So, while your island garden might not look like mine, if you have any patch of land out here, surprise!, you are a gardener!

Finally, because I cannot write a post without mentioning the canine, I give you –

Island Curiosity #7 | Dogs off leash

Ugh.  This one has been a total bummer.  I was 99.97% sure that Sally would have a better life out here – a big yard (vs. no yard), tons of sticks (her favorite) and general outdoors-iness. Even though our hobby up until this point has been eating, we are surrounded by mountains! water!  trees!, and you can bet your sweet bippy that we’re going to take advantage of it all.  What I didn’t take into account are all of the dog roamers around these here parts.  While I completely admire the spirit of the Wild Wild West (I sing the Kool Moe Dee version in my head when I say that), I can’t rally around the idea of packs of dogs roaming freely.  It completely worked in Merle’s Door in Kelly, Wyoming, I know, and in Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’ The Hidden Life of Dogs, BUT…when your gnarling, snarling, off-leash dog comes charging at my (sometimes) frightened and subsequently reactive terrier (small but scrappy), we’ve got us a problem here, ma’am (I like talking Western out here).  Thankfully, I saw this great short video from Patricia McConnell on what to do in this situation and I now walk with a pocket full of misc. meat products (and pepper spray) handy and ready to toss.  So, alas, while my pooch can get the crazy zooms in our backyard and explore the adjacent forest, my vote shakes out to: (slight) advantage – city on this one.  Both parties on-leash until the owners decide that the dogs are down with a little off-leash romp seems to work much more smoothly (and safely).

Island Curiosity #19 | Wildlife Blasé

Growing up, the wildlife I regularly encountered fell into two categories:   birds and small rodent-like animals (chipmunks, squirrels, and…well, just chipmunks and squirrels).  Once I saw three deer in my aunt’s backyard, but she lived 30 minutes away in the “country.”  I’m sure there is more wildlife in Western Pennsylvania than my memory serves as record; but if so, I didn’t see it.  And I know there were birds in Chicago (there were definitely pigeons), but I don’t remember hearing or seeing them.  Again, I know they were there, but perhaps too many other things were catching my attention (like cute outfits in local boutique window displays).

So imagine growing up like this and spending the better part of my life with wildlife deficit and then moving to a place like my new island home and seeing the following with regularity:  deer, raccoons, opossum, great blue heron, seals (seals!), bald eagles, hawks, cormorants, rabbits, coyotes, sea stars (formerly known to me as starfish), crabs, owls, something called a geoduck and more species of birds than you can shake a stick at.  I find this delightful.  I am that crazy giddy lady, index finger held up to her lips, ear cocked forward in an attempt to hear their calls (or at least look like I’m listening for a call).  Many of my island cohabitants, however, do not seem to find this as special as I.  This is often evident when I call out:  Bald eagle!  in a public place, and I get a look that communicates I have pointed out something obvious, like a Taco Bell at a strip mall, or a Kardashian on the cover of Us Weekly. Now not everyone is as jaded as I’m making them sound, it’s just that seeing wildlife is so regular to them, like pointing out street signs, or school buses or coffee shops.

My husband visited Bali the year before we met.  He took a guided tour with a local who at one point during the tour got very quiet, hunched down and tiptoed, as if he were tracking something. My husband got very excited, thinking he was going to see something amazing, something exotic, something photo-worthy.  He stealthily followed behind until the guide suddenly stood erect and pointed with excitement, shouting Squirrel!  Squirrel!  I guess it’s all about what you’re used to. Yes, I may sound foolish to locals whose wildlife ennui rivals my four-year old’s sighs and eye-rolling at whatever I get excited about, but like Mary Oliver, when it’s over, I want to say:  all my life I was a bride married to amazement.  May seeing a bald eagle never become regular to me.

Island Curiosity #42 | Moss

A strange thing to love, I know, but hear me out.  Much like my attraction to John Malkovich, this one needs explaining.  Before we moved here, I was a little bit concerned about the reports of grey dismal winters.  I’ve never been diagnosed with SAD, but I am definitely affected by the weather.  After our first Winter here (this is our second), I concluded that I was actually less bummed out in a Pacific Northwest Winter than I was back East.  How could this be?  One word:  moss.  It turns out that to me, a snow-covered landscape seems bleak and devoid of life.  Something in the ancient reptilian part of my brain screams:  Food shortage!  Frozen limbs!  Digging the car out of four feet of powder! (Well, maybe not that ancient).  But here, things are green all winter long.  Yes, it is misty most of the time and rainy a lot of the time, but it’s lush and alive.  And in the way that I feel about John Malkovich or others feel about those Mexican hairless dogs, moss is oddly appealing to me.  Ensconced in the green fuzz, the trees appear cartoonish, like a scene dreamed up by Dr. Seuss or Tim Burton.   And should you be interested in moss fun-facts, apparently, it cannot survive in a polluted environment and sometimes reindeer eat it to warm up their blood.   This is all comforting to me, in light of the fact that my neighbor’s gardener once told me our yard has “pervasive moss.”  He said it in a disdainful way, but in these times when we are bombarded by images and accounts of how life is being destroyed all over our planet, I’m reassured by moss’ voracity, by its unflagging persistance in just existing.  Yes, I’m sure once its pervasiveness takes over my roof like it has my neighbor’s (and countless others I see), I, too, might see it as the Pacific Northwest whack-a-mole, rearing its head here and there, just when I think I have it under control.  But for now, it is a tangible reminder of how the life force in all things wants to express and propagate itself.  Just remind me of this when I resume weeding this Spring.

Read more of Amy’s Writing at Little Blue Journal.

On March 3, 2012, in Community, Moving, Personal, by

Yesterday, Helpline House collected food for Project Wishbone. Project Wishbone is a Helpline House project that matches the generosity of the Bainbridge Island Community with those in need. Helpline House becomes a store full of Thanksgiving provisions, where local families in need can receive all the ingredients needed for a great Thanksgiving dinner.

This month, some of our amazing neighbors, Meagan and Brad Stockman organized a neighborhood effort called Commodore Cares. Last Saturday the kids handed out flyers in the neighborhood requesting donations for Project Wishbone and yesterday the kids went back around again with wagons and picked up the Thanksgiving food. Overall, the neighborhood collected over 1,300 pounds of food. The best part was, we were not alone, when we dropped off the food, Helpline House was a flurry of activity with numerous island residents unloading cars filled with donations. If you still want to help, Helpline House will soon be gearing up for Project Happy Holidays, where you can donate gifts until December 11th for their Holiday Store.

Commodore Neighborhood Kids at Helpline House on Bainbridge IslandCommodore Neighborhood Kids at Helpline House on Bainbridge Island


On November 22, 2009, in Community, by

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