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Couple take flip approach to home sale

FRIDAY, AUG. 29, 2008

Owners, stuck with two houses, drop the price daily on sign

It was supposed to be their dream home.

Chuck and Barb Rathbun bought the blue, three-bedroom, modern rancher on Five Mile Prairie last year with plans to downsize and retire there. But with the slump in the real estate market, they could not sell their first home: a 4,400-square-foot house with acreage on the Little Spokane River.

Now anxious to sell both houses, the Rathbuns are trying to hook a buyer for the File Mile home. Every day, 65-year-old Chuck Rathbun drives several miles to the new house and knocks $1,000 off the price, displayed on a homemade sign in the front yard.

“We’re going to go until we sell,” he said.

When he started, the sign read $360,000. On Thursday, Rathbun revealed $349,000 – the point at which the couple starts losing money, said Realtor Jolene Barrington.

More homeowners may need to get as creative. Home sales from January through July were down 29 percent from the same period in 2007. And things may get worse as would-be buyers struggle to find credit while homes languish on the market.

The Five Mile Prairie home, at 9204 N. Dusk Court, faces competition from nearly 40 similar homes, Barrington said. Houses sold in that area spend an average of 76 days on the market, she said.

The Rathbuns’ other home, in Colbert on Little Spokane River Drive, is priced at $699,000 and has been on the market 18 months.

“We’re going to sell both, I think,” Chuck Rathbun said. “Then we’ll find another place. We didn’t really want to move twice.”

Chuck Rathbun retired from the Washington state Employment Security Department a couple of years ago, and Barb Rathbun owns the downtown book and gift store Namaska.

They bought the new 1,736-square-foot house with unfinished basement on Five Mile in October for $329,950, according to Spokane County records. The couple spent more than $10,000 on appliances, custom window treatments and other upgrades, Barrington said.

The idea for the changing sign stemmed from a family brainstorming session with some of the Rathbuns’ five children. Chuck Rathbun bought numbered cards, like those used to score a school basketball game, and other materials at a home-supply store and built the contraption.

Too much of the couple’s equity is in the Little Spokane River house, said daughter Audrey Overstreet, 42, of Palo Alto, Calif.

“They can’t drop the price on that,” she said. “They’re just trying to rid themselves of this burden. It’s really a nightmare. It’s the exact opposite of what they were hoping to accomplish.”

It is hard to say which Rathbun house would be easier to sell in today’s market, said Sue Miller, a Realtor who represented the home’s builder, and who still has a lot for sale next door.

“We’ve watched people do what they did very easily for years here, and then they got caught when the market was starting to change,” Miller said. “That’s very unfortunate for them. … They haven’t done anything wrong, other than their timing was off.”

Northtown Square gains six tenants

Six recently announced tenants for the Northtown Square shopping center on Division Street include Desert Sun Tanning Salons and HoneyBaked Ham.

The 70,000-square-foot shopping center also will house DSW Shoes, Ulta Beauty, Dress Barn and Bajio Mexican Grill, according to a news release from developer Northtown Square LLC. Those tenants will bring the project, slated to open in July 2009, to 75 percent occupancy.

Previously announced tenants include the Spokane Teachers Credit Union, Starbucks and Red Lobster.

Flooring shop opens

The owners of a recently opened Floor Coverings International studio in north Spokane hope to benefit as homeowners turn to remodeling instead of selling because of the depressed real estate market.

The shop, at 904 E. Wellesley Ave., offers more than 3,000 flooring options, including carpet, hardwood, laminate and area rugs, according to a news release. Owned by Tom and Christi Swearingen, it provides in-home consultations and free estimates.

Smyrna, Ga.-based Floor Coverings International has about 80 franchises in 30 states.

Reach Parker Howell at (509) 459-5491 or at

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