Island Support – GiveOrcas Month

Give Orcas image

It’s GiveOrcas month here on the island and everyone is feeling the love. Locals skip through the streets of Eastsound hugging, laughing, and catching up on the latest gossip. Okay, so maybe it’s not quite as cheesy as one of those quaint villages from your childhood storybooks; life is not all sunshine and rainbows after all. But while there isn’t a whole lot of skipping going on, the hugging, laughing, and gossiping are pretty on par. And this month in particular we are reminded of why we are so lucky to live here: we are a community that cares.

The GiveOrcas campaign is run by the Orcas Island Community Foundation (OICF), whose mission is “to foster philanthropy to enhance and preserve the quality of life on Orcas Island”. They are a public foundation that fosters community collaboration in order to create a strong financial base for supporting local services and organizations. OICF’s role has become increasingly important on this island which somehow supports a huge number of nonprofits – about 1 per 45 residents. This number may seem insane to some, or most of us, but it’s important to remember that Orcas has no real form of government since there is no incorporated town. As such, these nonprofits help to fill the roles that would traditionally fall under a government’s purview.

Now, what is this GiveOrcas campaign? Well, with all of these nonprofits it’s to be expected that the Community Foundation receives a high number of requests for funding, and they simply do not have the capacity to cover the full needs of every organization. So yes, it is essentially a fundraiser. However, this particular fundraiser is as much about creating awareness as creating cash. For at the public’s fingertips is placed an insight into what each organization is hoping to get funding for; whether it be a specific project, program, or for staffing needs. These needs are then arranged, by OICF, into three categories: Critical Needs, Important Needs, and Opportunities. This allows for members of the community to decide where they want their donated funds to go, based on their own individual ideals. And, given that Orcas is a community that likes to support one another, most of these needs are met during this time.

The GiveOrcas campaign runs through May 19th this year with an Awards Celebration being held on Thursday, May 25th from 3-5pm at the Orcas Center.

__________________________________________________________________________________________
Find out more about the GiveOrcas campaign and the projects looking for funding at www.giveorcas.org

To learn more about the Orcas Island Community Foundation and see of list of Orcas Island nonprofits and services, visit oicf.us

Windermere Foundation Raises $2,246,829 in 2016

 

The Windermere Foundation had another banner year in 2016, thanks to the continued support of Windermere franchise owners, agents, staff, and the community. Over $2.2 million was raised in 2016, which is an increase of seven percent over the previous year. This brings our total to over $33 million raised since the start of the Windermere Foundation in 1989.

A large amount of the money raised last year is thanks to our agents who each make a donation from every commission they earn. These funds enable our offices to support local non-profits that provide much-needed services to low-income and homeless families in their communities.

 

SUMMARY OF FUNDS, GRANTS & DONATIONS IN 2016
Organizations served: 410
Number of individual grants fulfilled: 664
Average grant amount: $2,581
Average donation to the Windermere Foundation: $122.05

 

FUNDING BREAKDOWN
Total funds provided in 2016: $1,951,878.78
Scholarships: 4.79%
Youth/Child Programs: 32.65%
Emergency Assistance: 25.67%
Shelter: 12.85%
School Assistance: 6.76%
Education/Counseling: 5.10%
Administrative Expenses: 2.74%
Fundraising Expenses: 9.44%

 

So how are funds used? Windermere offices get to decide how to distribute the funds their agents raise so that they may help organizations in their communities. Our offices have helped to fund school lunch and afterschool programs, supported non-profits that provide housing assistance to homeless families, donated to food banks, purchased school supplies, provided meals and gifts for families in need over the holidays, fulfilled wishes for children through Make-A-Wish programs, and purchased shoes, clothing, blankets and other items to help keep families warm during the winter months.

This year was also marked by a new partnership between Windermere and the Seattle Seahawks to help #tacklehomelessness. During the 2016 football season, Windermere donated $100 for every Seahawks home game tackle to YouthCare, a non-profit organization that provides essential services to homeless youth. At the end of the season, the #tacklehomelessness campaign raised $35,000, which is being used to help fund YouthCare’s transitional housing program.

Thanks to our agents, offices, and everyone who supports the Windermere Foundation, we are able to continue to make a difference in the lives of many families in our local communities. And not just during the holidays, but throughout the year. If you’d like to help support programs in your community, please click on the Donate button.

To learn more about the Windermere Foundation, visit http://www.windermere.com/foundation.

 

Posted January 24 2017, 9:15 AM PST by Christine Wood

How the Neighborhood Impacts a Home’s Value

Whether you’re buying or selling, accurately pricing a home requires professional assistance from someone who knows the neighborhood.

The “estimated” home prices you see posted online can be off by tens of thousands of dollars—not because they are dishonest, but because the computer programs generating these guesstimates don’t take into account the current condition of a house, the amenities that are included, the qualities of the surrounding neighborhood, and so much more.

A real estate agent’s appraisal will not only consider the selling prices of surrounding properties, as the online services do, but also take into consideration a host of other criteria. For instance, when it comes to assessing the surrounding neighborhood, the following factors can often significantly affect the market price of a home:

School quality

The quality of neighborhood schools has a dramatic impact on home price, whether buyers have school-age children or not. In the most recent study on the subject, researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that above-average public schools (those with math scores 4.6 percent better than the average) increased the value of nearby homes by 11 percent (or an average of $16,000) in the St. Louis area.

A park within walking distance

Parks are so important to families today that simply having one within a quarter mile can increase the value of a house by 10 percent, according to a new study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

Stores nearby

The impact that retail areas have on home values depends on the type of community. According to a study recently released by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, homes in urban areas sell for six percent to eight percent more than average if they’re within a quarter mile of a retail cluster (shops and restaurants). However, in suburban communities, it’s the homes that are a mile from any retail centers that sell for the most (homes located closer than that actually sell for eight percent less than average).

Freeway access

Because we’re a car-oriented society, most people are willing to pay more to live within a couple miles of an on-ramp to a major highway or freeway, which saves gas and speeds commute times. However, if the home is located too close (within a half mile of the freeway), the associated noise and air pollution can push the price in the opposite direction.

Vacant lots in the vicinity

Being surrounded by vacant land can be a good thing in rural areas, but it’s usually a negative for urban homeowners. A recent Wharton School study found that higher concentrations of unmanaged vacant lots in an urban neighborhood drag down the values for surrounding homes by an average of 18 percent.

Proximity to nuisances and environmental hazards

Two recent studies (one from an Arizona assessor’s office, the other by the University of California Berkeley) show that homes located near a landfill or power plant usually sell for four to 10 percent less than more distant homes. The same can usually be said for homes located too close to manufacturing facilities—especially those that make lots of noise or produces noxious odors.

Neighborhood foreclosures

According to a recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the value of a home decreases by one percent for every foreclosed home within 250 feet of it. Why? The lower sales prices of foreclosed homes can quickly drag down the neighborhood’s comparable prices. Plus, the owners of these properties usually don’t have the money or interest in maintaining them after they go into foreclosure, which can create an eyesore for all the other homes in the vicinity.

Percentage of homeowners

Are there more owners than renters living in the neighborhood? If so, property values are usually better than average. Homeowners tend to take better care of their property than renters or landlords, which improves the curb-appeal for the whole community.

Public services

Some communities have a wealth of quality public services available to them—including regular street cleanings, scheduled street repair, graffiti removal services, landscape maintenance, neighborhood beautification efforts, and more. Needless to say, homes lucky enough to be located in those areas typically command higher property valuations.

Home sellers can use these factors to justify a higher asking price. Buyers can use them to try and negotiate something lower. However, when it comes to attaching specific dollar amounts, that is something best left to your real estate agent, an objective professional with a deep understanding of the local market.

Posted July 8 2016, 11:00 AM PDT by Tara Sharp. Read the original here.

Investing in Rental Property: The Risks, Rewards, and Benefits of Owning Rental Property

 

One area of the real estate market that is thriving right now is rental property.

All indications suggest that the rental market will continue to improve because of low vacancy rates and rising rents. In fact, the demand for rentals is predicted to far exceed supply through 2016, with 4.5 million new renters expected to enter the market in the next five years.

What to consider before buying a rental

Being a landlord has its challenges. The recession took a toll on rental prices for a few years and any future economic downturns could do the same. Once the job market returns to normal, there’s a strong possibility that more people will choose to move from rentals into homes of their own. And the demand for rental properties could become oversaturated at some point, resulting in an investment bubble of its own.

What’s more, while the income from a rental property can be significant, it can take at least five years before you’re making much more than what you need just to cover the mortgage and expenses. In other words, the return on your investment doesn’t happen overnight.

However, in the long run, if you select the right property, it could turn out to be one of your best investment decisions ever—especially since rental real estate provides more tax benefits than almost any other investment.

Tax deductions for the taking

One of the greatest things about owning rental properties is the fact that you’re able to deduct so many of the associated expenses, including a sizeable portion of your monthly mortgage payment.

The commissions and fees paid to obtain your mortgage are not deductable, but the mortgage interest you pay each month is, including any money you pay into an escrow account to cover taxes and insurance. Whatever your mortgage company reports as interest on your 1098 form at the end of each year can likely be deducted.

For example, you may be eligible to deduct credit card interest for goods and services used in a rental activity, repairs made to the building, travel related to your rental (local or long distance), expenses related to home office or workshop devoted to your rental, the wages of anyone you hire to work on the building, damages to your rental property, associated insurance premiums, and fees you pay for legal and professional services. However, as is the case with any transaction of this type, be sure to consult your attorney or accountant for detailed tax information.

What to look for

As with any real estate investment, the location of the property and its overall condition are both key. But with rental properties, there are some other, unique factors you’ll also want to consider.

Utilities

Look for a building with separate utilities (water, electric, and gas, etc.) for each rental unit. This will make it far easier to legally charge for the fair use of what can be a very costly monthly expense.

Competition

If your property is one of the few rentals in the neighborhood, there will be less competition for interested renters.

Transportation

Rentals that are near popular public transportation options and/or major freeways (without being so close that noise is an issue) are usually easier to rent—and demand more money.

Landscaping

Properties with small yards and fewer plantings are far easier and less expensive to manage.

Off-street parking

Not only is off-street parking a desirable feature (people with nice cars usually don’t like to park on the street), it’s also a requirement for rental properties in some communities.

How to start your search

Unlike homes, rental properties do not typically have a visible ‘for-sale’ sign standing out front (as landlords don’t want to irritate, bring attention to their current renters, or turn off any prospective renters). Therefore, if you are interested in a rental property, your best option is to schedule an appointment with your real estate agent/broker to discuss your investment goals and identify what opportunities currently exist in the market place.

Posted September 7 2016, 11:00 AM PDT by Tara Sharp

http://www.windermere.com/blogs/windermere/categories/buying/posts/investing-in-rental-property-the-risks-rewards-and-benefits-of-owning-rental-property

Planning for the Future: Housing Options to Consider

It should come as no surprise that 75% of the senior citizens polled in the latest AARP Preferences survey strongly agreed with the statement, “What I’d like to do is stay in my current residence as long as possible.” After all, home is where the heart is; and the longer you live in a place, the stronger your attachment to it becomes.

But it’s important for those over 50 to assess potential lifestyle modifications that may be necessary down the road well in advance, because many will require significant research and preparation.

Whether you are planning for your own future or that of a loved one, analyzing new housing options before a change becomes necessary will help ensure you have the greatest number of options with the least amount of stress. Here are some considerations to help guide you or your loved one through the process.

Location and size

In planning for the future, communication with all involved parties is key to understanding where you or the senior in your life wants to be. Many seniors want to be close to family and friends.  Proximity or access to basic needs is also a critical consideration, especially for those who no longer drive.

Once an area is chosen, think about how much space is needed. Most seniors choose to downsize to a smaller home, and here are many advantages to this. A smaller home generally means less maintenance, lower mortgage or rental costs, and lower taxes. Less space can also be easier to manage. Single-level homes are a good option for those with decreased mobility and can help reduce the likelihood of falls and injuries. You’ll also want to consider whether a yard is needed, and whether you’d need someone else to maintain it.

Multi-family home

Multi-family homes, such as condominiums, cooperatives and townhomes, are well-suited for senior living, offering many options for budgets, maintenance and amenities. But most people don’t fully understand the differences between them.

Condominiums and cooperatives offer benefits of homeownership, but allow for certain expenses to be shared by all owners. Other benefits include security, shared building insurance and possible onsite amenities. Monthly fees are collected in both condominiums and cooperatives to maintain the property and any amenities, and both have elected boards of representatives who meet regularly to review operating expenses and building issues. Condominium ownership is based only on the unit, with taxes paid by the owner. In cooperatives, owners are shareholders, giving them sole rights and equity of their unit, but property taxes are shared by the building and included in your monthly fees.

Townhomes, on the other hand, allow for ownership of the structure and the land it sits on (front and back yards). Most are designed as row-houses, with one or two common walls. For those who prefer the legal rights of single-family ownership and do not want to pay monthly dues and do not want to pay monthly dues, a townhome may be the best option.

Drawbacks of multi-family homes can include noise from shared walls or floors, homeowner’s associations, monthly fees and CC&Rs (covenants, conditions and restrictions).

Renting

Renting can be a good way to avoid homeownership costs and maintenance. It may also be a more affordable way to live in a desirable area. Cons of renting can include noise through shared walls, the potential for your rent to increase over time, difficult or unreliable landlords, inattention to maintenance issues, and the possibility that you may need to move if the property is sold. It’s a good idea to talk to one or more current tenants of the rental to find out what their experience has been with the property and the landlord.

Alternative senior living options: independent and assisted

Another solution to consider for yourself or your family member is independent living communities (also called senior apartments, retirement communities, retirement communities, retirement homes and senior housing). Independent living communities provide privacy, independence, and the opportunity to connect with others without the demands of homeownership. They are usually full-service, offering meals, housekeeping, transportation and social activities.

For those who struggle with day-to-day living responsibilities, it may be time to consider assisted living arrangements. Some options include Adult Day Care, Elder Cottage Housing Opportunities (ECHO), Group Home, Special Care Unit (SCU) or Nursing Homes. Your state human resources department can usually provide more information about these options in your community and offer help with referrals, or you can opt for private referral services.

Financial factors

The costs for alternative housing can add up quickly—especially as the need for assistance increases. Medicare, unfortunately, does not pay for housing; but under strict financial restrictions, Medicaid may. To get a better feel for just how much these living arrangements can cost, visit GenWorth.com and search the cost of long term care where you live.

If the choice is made not to move, you could consider a reverse mortgage. This allows homeowners over the age of 65 to tap into their home equity in lieu of a monthly payment, with no repayment necessary as long as the property is their principal residence and they meet all the terms of the agreement. Keep in mind, however, that if the owner sells the home, dies, or does not meet the terms of the agreement, they or their family will be required to pay the remaining balance of the loan.

Some states offer assistance with property tax, or special assessments for seniors based on age, disability and household income. Check with your State Department of Revenue to see what options exist in your state and whether you qualify. Long-term care insurance is another option. An LTC policy will help pay for the costs not covered by traditional health insurance or Medicare (which can include assistance with daily-living activities, as well as the care provided in a variety of living/care facilities).

 

For more help and information

Your Windermere Real Estate agent can help you make the transition when the time is right by assessing the local property market, helping you properly price homes for sale, and finding a new home that best meets the unique needs of you or your loved ones.

Posted July 20 2016, 11:00 AM PDT by Tara Sharp. See the original article here.

 

Ten Ideas for New Thanksgiving Traditions

 

Most of us already have our “ways” of doing Thanksgiving – ways our mother did it, ways our extended family did it, ways our neighborhood did it. Thanksgiving doesn’t lend itself well to trying out new traditions, but sometimes the situation calls for it – you can’t make it home for Thanksgiving, for example, or you have a family now and want to start traditions of your own. So what can you do to heighten, deepen, and extend Thanksgiving to its most memorable end?

 

  1. Start the day with an indulgent, relaxing breakfast.

While some people are firmly in the “no breakfast” camp to save room for the big meal later, we love the idea of starting the day in such a festive, delicious way! Pancakes, waffles, eggs, even pie – it’s all good.

  1. Take time for yourself before time with family.

As wonderful as Thanksgiving can be, we all know it can be exhausting and overwhelming. That’s why it’s such a good idea to deliberately take a little time for yourself during the day to make sure you enjoy the holiday on your terms.

  1. Remember loved ones who have passed.

Holidays can be bittersweet when beloved family members or friends are missing from the gathering. Look through old photo albums and recall funny, tender or important achievements of those who are gone but not forgotten.

  1. Write your thanks on a butcher paper tablecloth.

Cover the table with butcher paper. During the meal, distribute pens and ask each family member to write down a few things they’re thankful for on the paper and then take turns reading them out loud. We love the practice during the Thanksgiving meal of naming things you’re thankful for, and this is a unique way to do it – especially since you can tear off and save particularly meaningful memories.

  1. Let everyone toast!

Another way to make gratitude gushing even more festive is to let everyone make a toast. Raise your glass to the year, to your family, to your friends!

  1. Have the kids serve dessert.

Let the bigger kids get in on the action of serving to their family.  Put them in charge of delivering dessert and coffee after the meal. The oldest can plate and pour while the younger kids can take orders and serve. It keeps them busy after the meal while the adults talk and gives them a broader sense of appreciation for the holiday.

  1. Have Thanksgiving dinner early.

Planning for a 3 p.m. dinner shifts the momentum of the day. An earlier meal creates a more relaxed celebration, plus there’s plenty of time to digest before going to bed.  An earlier dinner also accommodates traveling guests and lets them return home at a reasonable hour.

  1. Take a long walk together after dinner.

No one is ready for dessert right after dinner anyway, so why not take that time to go on a long walk with your loved ones? Enjoy the cool, crispy (and hopefully dry) autumn weather and get the blood flowing again after all that rich food.

  1. If it’s just two of you, really treat yourself.

It can be hard to justify making a huge Thanksgiving meal when it’s just two of you, but that doesn’t mean it has to be any less special, or even any less of a treat. In fact, it should be more so. Make it special by treating yourselves to nicer ingredients and better wine than you would normally use if you were cooking for a large group.

  1. Stay connected with family members far away.

If you can’t be with your loved ones on Thanksgiving, thankfully you can still be together – just virtually! Do a video call or Google Hangout before dinner, or Facetime family members in for the giving-thanks portion of the evening.

 

This article originally appeared on WindermereSeattle.com 

Posted November 15 2016, 1:00 PM PST by Pattie O’Loughlin

Childproofing: Protect Your Family and Your Home from Potential Hazards

Posted October 10 2016, 3:30 PM PDT in Living by Shelley Rossi

When you think of your home, it likely conjures up feelings of safety, shelter, and comfort. However, accidental injuries in the home are one of the leading causes of harm to children 14 and younger. By taking certain precautions, many of these accidents can be prevented.

While supervision is the best way to keep your children safe at home, you can’t watch them every second. Childproofing, to whatever degree you are comfortable, will go a long way toward keeping your littlest loved ones safe and healthy at home.

Here are some tips to get you started.

Many accidents happen with or around water.

If you have children at home, it’s advisable to adjust your water heater to no higher than 120 degrees to prevent scalding. Furthermore, you should never leave a small child unattended in a bath tub, even for a few seconds. And be sure to safely secure doors that lead to swimming pools and hot tubs, including pet doors. When cooking or boiling water, turn pot handles in, or better yet use the back burners, to prevent little hands from pulling them off the stove.

Household chemicals can be very harmful to children.

It’s important not to keep poisonous materials under the sink, even if you have a cabinet guard in place. Keep dangerous chemicals up high and in a room that isn’t accessible to your little ones. Seemingly innocuous medicines can also be dangerous. Make sure your medicine cabinet is out of sight, mind, and reach.

Use safety latches and gates.

It’s advisable that you use safety latches on drawers, cabinets, toilets, and windows, as well as place covers on all electrical outlets. Gate off stairways and entrances to rooms, such as garages, that contain dangerous or fragile objects.

Secure furniture and other objects.

Heavy furniture, electronics, and lamps must be secured to prevent a child from pulling them over. Bookshelves and entertainment centers often come with devices that attach them to walls so that a climbing child won’t topple the furniture. The end-caps on door stoppers can be a choking hazard, so it’s advisable to remove them. Place plastic bumpers on sharp corners or edges of coffee tables, entertainment centers, and other furniture to prevent cuts and bruises.

Install a carbon monoxide detector.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends that consumers purchase and install carbon monoxide detectors in addition to smoke alarms. Be sure to test both devices regularly and replace batteries as needed. The American Red Cross advises families to learn first aid and CPR, and to devise an emergency evacuation plan for fires and earthquakes.

Emergency contact info.

Last, but not least, in case an emergency does happen, always keep numbers for your child’s doctor, your work and cell, and other emergency contact info in an easily found place, preferably near the phone.

Accidents can and will happen, but by following a few small steps you can have peace of mind knowing that you’ve done everything you can to protect your family from harm in your home.

How to Finance a Vacation Home That’s Also a Short-Term Rental

This was posted in the Wall Street Journal:

 

Renting out a second home is one way to pay off the mortgage while leaving time for family fun

By
Anya Martin

The rise of short-stay rental sites like Airbnb and HomeAway is tempting homeowners to purchase vacation homes that will also generate income.

For some, renting is a way to recoup some costs of a second home purchased primarily for family fun. Others do the math and find it makes sense to rent full time or close to full time.

Rental income can also defray the cost of improvements if the second home is a fixer upper, says Brian Sharples, CEO of HomeAway, which has more than 1.2 million paid listings in 190 countries. Vacation homeowners make an average of $28,000 a year in rental income, according to results of a quarterly survey released in March of 1,253 owners who list on HomeAway.com, VRBO.com and VacationRentals.com.

.
In a separate annual HomeAway survey released in June, 70% of 663 respondents said rental income covered more than half of their mortgage payments. Fifty-four percent said rental income covered 75% or more of their mortgage payments. Owners also used the income to fund their everyday living expenses (23%), upgrade and renovate the property (23%), pay for a child’s education (21%) and save for retirement (11%).

Last year, the average purchase price for a vacation home in the U.S. was $192,000, according to the National Association of Realtors. Of the 920,000 vacation homes sold, 61% were financed with a mortgage. ( News Corp, which owns The Wall Street Journal, also owns Realtor.com, the listing website of the National Association of Realtors.)
Overall, home prices have been rising over the past few years in most vacation hot spots. But buyers also should consider that interest rates are low, says Don Ganguly, CEO of HomeUnion, a California-based residential investment and management firm. “It could be the perfect window to blow cheap money into an area that is doing well and rents are going up,” he adds.

Buying a property solely for rental income has its risks. And how the property is used affects the borrower’s mortgage options. Both conforming and jumbo mortgage rates for a second home usually are equal to or within a quarter of a percentage point of current market rates for a primary residence mortgage, says Norman T. Koenigsberg, president and CEO of East Brunswick, N.J.-based First Choice Loan Services. Lenders typically require a minimum down payment of 10% for conforming loans and 20% for jumbos on second home mortgages, he adds.

Also, the lender will factor in the borrower’s existing home payments as well as the new mortgage payments when calculating the debt-to-income ratio, which reflects the borrower’s monthly debt payments as a percentage of gross monthly income. Lenders prefer a ratio that is 43% or lower, but some will go up to 45% for an otherwise strong applicant, Mr. Koenigsberg says.
However, if an owner plans to rent the home most of the time, a lender will categorize the property as “investment,” making it ineligible for a second-home mortgage, says Dave Gorman, Bank of America sales executive for the Northwest region. Qualification guidelines are tighter for investment-home mortgages, including a higher minimum credit score, higher down payment (25%), and a lower DTI, he says.

On the plus side, projected rental proceeds may be included in income calculations for an investment-home loan, Mr. Gorman says. If a home hasn’t been previously rented or is a new property, the lender will consider comparable rental income for the area, he adds.

Here are a few more considerations:

• Local regulations. Some counties and municipalities consider vacation-home rentals the same as hotel stays and require owners to collect occupancy or lodging taxes from guests. Communities also sometimes limit the number of homes that can be rented on a temporary basis, so vacation-home buyers who intend to rent should check for any local restrictions before purchasing, Mr. Gorman says.

• Budget fully. While borrowers may be able to afford another mortgage payment, they should be comfortable paying for the property taxes, insurance and upkeep of any property they own and finance, Mr. Gorman says. Remember these expenses remain even if there are no renters, he adds.

• Repair and write off. If the vacation home is rented, expenses related to repairs, maintenance, cleaning and utilities may be tax deductible, either fully or prorated based on the time it’s rented. However, costs for improvements must be capitalized and then depreciated. Check with a tax expert for specific rules and restrictions.

Corrections & Amplifications:
Investment-home mortgages may require a higher down payment of 25%. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the down payment could be 75%. (Aug. 3, 2016)

Top 30 island escapes

dreamtown-orcas-l

Orcas Island, WA

The long summer weekend was invented in Washington’s San Juan Islands,
or should have been. Summer stretches languorously here, with 16 hours of daylight—
enough time to savor orcas and eagles, kayaking and hiking, and a wonderful food scene.
Orcas is the island of superlatives. It’s the biggest of all the San Juans’ 750 islands,
with the highest mountain, the deepest fjords, and the most jaw-dropping views.
All this inspiration draws a notably creative crowd, and many artists call Orcas home for
at least part of the year.
By Thomas J. Story
Published in Sunset Magazine

Why Washington’s Orcas Island Should Be Your Next Family Getaway

This was just posted to the Conde Nast Traveler website
Written by Rebecca Misner August 02, 2016

On remote Orcas, off the coast of Washington State, the summer is short, the days are long, and the empty beaches, gin-blue lakes, and dense forest trails add up to the castaway vacation you’ve been dying to take.
Although I’m from the Pacific Northwest, I hadn’t heard of the San Juan Islands until my mid-twenties, when I was living in New York and dating my now husband, Alex, who grew up on Orcas. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I feigned knowledge of his seemingly exotic origins—pre-Google, it took me weeks to figure out that the San Juans were not some Caribbean island-nation but an archipelago of about 175 forested and rocky islets scattered along the Salish Sea, which separates Washington State from Vancouver Island, British Columbia. (Orcas is the largest of the four reachable by passenger ferry.) I’d listened to Alex’s stories about having just 35 people in his graduating class, taking a ferry to play a rival basketball team, not to mention sailing, hiking, and fishing after school—there being no malls or 7-Elevens to slack in. But it wasn’t until I visited a few years later that I finally grasped how tiny and off the grid the island really is—you can drive the 20 miles from Deer Harbor, on the western edge of the M-shaped island, to Doe Bay, on the far eastern side, in about 35 minutes—or how Mowgli-esque his childhood had been.

Alex’s family’s home is on the eastern lobe, where we spend most of our time. It’s a mountainous, lush area, heavily forested with Douglas firs and enormous cedars. The best hiking and all of the clear freshwater lakes are here too, which means it’s where swimming and cliff-jumping take place. (The latter is an Orcas teen rite. of passage that Alex introduced our New York friends to when they decamped to the island for our wedding—the groom and officiant took the plunge about an hour before the ceremony.) The center of the island is mainly rolling farmland with grazing sheep and horses, while the western side is dry and rocky and the vegetation a little scrubbier, giving it a vaguely Mediterranean feel. It’s also, in my opinion, the most beautiful part of this place, and where you’ll find the stunning Four Winds Westward Ho—a throwback of a sailing camp that’s been around since the 1920s. Anyone can enroll their kids, as we do, though to my daughter’s dismay the girls still wear bloomers and middies. Aside from a few more places to eat, and the introduction of stand-up paddleboarding to the island’s water sports repertoire, Orcas looks remarkably as it did when I first arrived 20 years ago. And with no stoplights, big-box chain stores, or tall buildings, it has seemingly changed little in more than a century.

The San Juans’ first recorded inhabitants, the coastal Salish tribes, considered Orcas to be a sacred place. There’s a part of the island, Madrona Point—a wild, rocky outcropping thick with twisted, ­ruddy-barked madrona trees that grow right down to the water—that only Lummi nation tribal members are allowed to access. Orcas’s first white settlers were Hudson Bay men sent in the mid-1850s to hunt black-tailed deer—and who, knowing a good thing when they saw it, decided to stay on, marry local Lummi women, and become homesteaders rather than return to Vancouver Island.

The 1960s and ’70s somewhat predictably brought artists, organic farmers, and other idealists looking for utopian simplicity, while the 1980s, when my in-laws moved to Orcas from Oregon to take over the local newspaper, saw a bizarrely diverse set of transplants. They included followers of the spiritual sect Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment (leader JZ Knight, who claimed to channel a 35,000-year-old sage named Ramtha, moved her publishing operations to the island—Ramtha’s sword is supposedly buried somewhere on Mount Constitution); Hollywood types like producer Richard Donner (of Goonies and Lethal Weapon fame); and outdoor-brand moguls such as surfboard and sailboat designer Hobie Alter and Oakley eyewear founder Jim Jannard. In the 1990s, Microsoft money quietly flowed into the San Juans (Bill Gates owns property on nearby Shaw, Paul ­Allen on Lopez) in the form of subtly expensive, beautifully constructed post-and-beam summer homes. Recently, in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, a wavelet of young entrepreneurs, artists, and farmers relocated to Orcas to pursue their passions without the high risk, rent, and competition of big cities.

But regardless of when locals arrived, they all cite similar reasons for staying: the island’s pulse-charging natural beauty (there’s even a cringeworthy term for the landscape’s dizzying effect—Orcasm) and its ­almost primordially human pace. Days are planned around the weather and tides and remain free of mainland intrusion, since cell phones only work in the town of Eastsound (and only sometimes). But also, without fail, they’ll pause, shrug, and resort to words like calling, magical, and spiritual.

Clearly there is magic at play. But for me, it’s not the type that comes from Ramtha’s buried sword. Rather, it’s from returning again and again to an island that so gracefully captures all that is glorious about summer.

LIVE LIKE A LOCAL

Planning a trip to Orcas isn’t plug-and-play, but it’s not daunting (and totally worth it) if you have the right intel.

Finding Your Way There
Orcas is not easy to get to, which is why, even over a holiday weekend in summer, you’ll see only one or two other hikers on the trails and will have the rope swing at Mountain Lake to yourself. You can get to the island by boat or plane.

If you’ve got half a day, going by Washington State Ferry is a nice intro to the region’s geography. Fly into Seattle-Tacoma International, rent a car (you’ll need one on Orcas), and drive 100 miles north to Anacortes to catch the car ferry to the San Juans. (In summer, make a reservation at least two weeks in advance.) During the hour-long trip, you’ll cruise by tiny Blakely, Cypress, and Decatur islands, and maybe see pods of orca whales, or a weekend regatta, before stopping at Lopez and Shaw. The time-pressed should consider flying by seaplane: Kenmore Air will pick you up at Sea-Tac and take you to Lake Union in downtown Seattle. From there the six-passenger crafts fly breathtakingly low—the Space Needle is at eye level as you leave—and when you veer west (try to sit on the left side of the plane), you’ll see all the way up the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Canada. Alternatively, Kenmore can shuttle you to nearby Boeing Field, where you can take a small Cessna plane to Orcas’s airport in Eastsound. Once there, you can rent a car.

Playing House
You’re not going to Orcas for its hotels, most of which are fine, if fusty and dated. The better move is to rent a house. Vacation Doorways has a strong portfolio of rentals—many of them Pacific Northwest modern style, meaning lots of glass and wood with an expansive great room, large wraparound deck, and beach access. If you don’t mind going simple, reserve a waterfront cabin. My favorites are Cabins-on-the-Point on Massacre Bay, on the island’s western side (the two-bedroom house and cluster of early-twentieth-century cabins are ideal for groups), or the log cabins at Beach Haven Resort, on the northwest shore, where the sunsets are spectacular (these book up quickly with regulars, though).

Alex and I have made some of our best summer meals on Orcas. You can find any staples at Island Market in Eastsound. For fresh produce, hit the Saturday-morning farmers’ market in town. It’s a place to hang out as much as to shop—there’s often a local bluegrass band playing, and the prepared food is fantastic (get a round of fried oysters and papusas topped with crema and hot sauce). The best vendor for heirloom tomatoes, baby lettuces, new potatoes, and berries is Maple Rock Farm. Other market highlights: wildflowers from island growers and local fruit preserves from Girl Meets Dirt (the peach-chamomile jam is heaven on toast). We go to Buck Bay Shellfish Farm in Olga at least once a day. Toni Knudson, who runs the farm with her husband, Mark Sawyer (Mark’s family has been farming oysters and clams here since the early 1930s), will shuck a few Pacific oysters for you to eat while you decide what looks good for dinner. There’s usually local salmon (king, silver, or sockeye), Manila clams (small and tender and great in pasta con vongole) or the meatier littlenecks (excellent grilled with a little butter and fresh herbs), and Dungeness crab. For wine, ­­­fresh-baked bread, meats, and cheeses, Roses Bakery Cafe in town is the place.

Getting Out of the Kitchen
As lovely as it is to have your own setup, there are excellent places to eat out—most take full advantage of the access to amazing seafood, island-raised beef and pork, and produce. Stop by Brown Bear Baking on Main Street for a pre-hike coffee and a pastry—any order should include the flaky, buttery kouign-amann and at least one of the huge, gooey sticky buns. The best lunch spot on the island is The Kitchen: It’s little more than a few picnic tables beneath a large corkscrew willow tree, but its take on healthy, fast Asian food has earned it a die-hard following—get the chicken or vegetarian pot stickers with zesty plum sauce and the fried tofu and sesame rice cakes with crispy kale, prawns, and ginger-wasabi-soy sauce. You’ll want to go to Hogstone’s Wood Oven for dinner twice: once to sit outside and drink beer and eat chef/owner Jay Blackinton’s divinely thin wood-charred pizza (the smoked tomato and goat cheese, and Mangalista pork with peppers, are particularly good pies), and a second time to eat in the cozy dining room, with its ambitious locally sourced and foraged tasting menu and well-curated wine list. For a cocktail and classic Northwest farm-to-table cuisine in a (slightly) more formal environment, the restaurant at the Inn at Ship Bay is always solid.

It’s All About the Water
Because of the island’s M shape, there’s a lot of protected shoreline to explore, and sea kayaking is the best way to do so: It’s not uncommon to paddle past orca whales, Dall’s porpoises, and harbor seals while bald eagles and peregrine falcons circle overhead. Shearwater Kayak Tours in Eastsound offers three-hour and full-day trips. Our favorite is the afternoon trip from Doe Bay Resort & Retreat, on the remote eastern tip. It’s so peaceful—it seems like there are fewer private and commercial boats on this side—and we always see a ton of marine life. Bonus: When you return, you can pay a drop-in fee and use the resort’s sauna and hot outdoor mineral pools (they’re clothing optional, which is no big deal unless you run into someone your husband went to high school with). Afterward, head down a fern-lined path to the sound and plunge into the ocean; you may even see some bioluminescence—and during the ten seconds you brave the icy water, you’ll glow.

The Hiking’s About the Water Too
There are dozens of different hikes on Orcas, from casual rambles to serious climbs. The three-mile loop around Cascade Lake in Moran State Park is one of the easier, family-friendly hikes. You’ll have multiple opportunities to swim along the way—from a tame swim park (there’s a lifeguard on duty as well as paddleboards for hire), to a more thrilling jump off a 20-foot-high bridge that separates the lake from the lagoon, to a staggered group of cliffs that only the brave (the lowest cliff is a 25-foot jump) and the stupid (the highest feels close to 60 feet) should attempt. Other gentle hikes include the loop around Mountain Lake (there’s a rope swing near the start if you’re going clockwise) and the half-mile hike to Obstruction Pass, which ends at the best tide pools on the island. My favorite hike, and one of the more difficult, starts at the summit of Mount Constitution and, on a series of thigh-killing switchbacks through old-growth forests, takes you down to Twin Lakes, accessible only by trail.

Worth Their Weight
Despite the 25-pounds-per-person luggage limit on seaplanes, I always bring something back. There are a number of well-respected artists on the island, but my two favorites are master potter Jerry Weatherman, who sells out of his studio, Olga Pottery, and wood shaper Rob Thornber, whose work can be found at the Orcas Island Artworks. Both reference the island beautifully: The glazes Jerry uses on his ceramics—deep indigos, cold grays, black-greens—capture the Orcas palette, while Rob somehow manages to lathe-turn solid pieces of local madrona wood into whisper-thin, organically shaped bowls. Back at home, I drink my morning coffee from one of Jerry’s mugs and use my enormous madrona bowl for salad nightly. It seems fitting that these summer keepsakes have worked their way into my everyday life.

http://www.cntraveler.com/stories/2016-08-02/why-washingtons-orcas-island-should-be-your-next-family-getaway