Millennials make up more than 50 percent of all first-time home buyers and represent a growing segment of the Washington-area population. These young professionals and activists are looking to make their mark on the world at the epicenter of American politics and culture.
Despite lingering college debt, millennials hold a significant amount of buying power and many see the value of investing in a home versus renting. As products of the information age, they are more committed than their predecessors to the search process and are eager to absorb information from peers, reference sites and, of course, local real estate professionals. Their mobile lifestyle coupled with their innate curiosity will likely result in pursuing real estate transactions more frequently than generations before them, buying and selling at an even higher rate.
To underestimate the millennial influence on the Washington real estate market is to bypass a major opportunity. Here are a few things sellers need to know about millennial buyers and what they look for in a home:
Call it the Instagram effect, but millennials are in search of the “picture perfect” home. They’ve grown up watching house tours on HGTV, scrolling through Instagram photos of perfectly staged homes and making Pinterest boards of their dream home. And while the DIY trend has its appeal, not everyone has the time or resources to take on a fixer-upper.
Busy with work, community causes and social activities, most millennials don’t have time to tear down, remodel or replace. They are looking for a home that is move-in ready — the ideal aesthetic, with little to no maintenance. While some buyers may be willing to take on deferred maintenance in exchange for a price cut, millennials are less likely to go for this. They want a home that looks and operates in ship shape so that they can focus their time on work, travel and political and social engagement.
The right home at an affordable price
Millennials came of age in the housing crash of 2007 and the subsequent recession of 2008. When they entered the workforce, they faced a post-recession job market and their salaries are just catching up. Today, low interest rates have made ownership more affordable with payments comparable to monthly rent, especially in the Washington area.
These factors and experiences continue to inform millennial purchasing habits — they are looking for great value at an affordable price. As the first generation of digital natives, they have a knack for scouring the Internet to research and find the best price on everything from clothes to groceries. The way they shop for homes is no different — they will take their time and do their due diligence until they find the perfect house for the right price.
The generational difference
Each generation of home buyers has its own unique set of values and priorities. Gen X-ers and baby boomers were more willing to overlook deferred maintenance issues in return for a better price. A broken dishwasher? Probably not a dealbreaker for a baby boomer. They would fix it, save to buy a new one, or negotiate appliance costs into the sale of the home. In contrast, a millennial might walk away from an otherwise great property to avoid the hassle of repairing or buying new.
The social and cultural value of a property is another factor to consider when looking to attract millennial buyers. While Gen X-ers and baby boomers tend to prefer the privacy of the suburbs, millennials want to be in the middle of the action, with a bevy of cultural, food and entertainment options all around.
Winning the millennial buyer
So how can sellers catch the eye of millennials? Since millennials are looking for move-in ready properties, it’s critical to stay on top of regular maintenance. Sellers should make any necessary updates, such as exchanging old kitchen appliances for stainless-steel appliances, replacing carpet with hardwood floors or adding outdoor living features — before listing on the market. If sellers are not able or willing to make updates, they should consider lowering the price of their home — according to market values — to compete for millennial buyers.
As the millennial presence in Washington continues to grow, sellers should work with their real estate agent for guidance on how to update and market their home to tap into this new audience. Though different than the generations before them, they hold significant buying power and are eager to engage in the home-buying process.
David Charron, chief strategy officer of Rockville-based multiple-listing service Bright MLS, writes an occasional column about the Washington-area real estate market.
The temperature may be frigid across much of the nation, yet home prices are sizzling and sellers are in the hot seat.
Sales prices jumped 7 percent annually in November, according to a new report from CoreLogic.
That is the third straight month at that pace, far higher than the price gains in the first half of 2017. Low supply and high demand are fueling the spurt and neither of those is expected to ease up anytime soon.
“Rising home prices are good news for home sellers, but add to the challenges that home buyers face,” said Frank Nothaft, chief economist at CoreLogic, in the report. Nothaft said the limited supply is the worst at the lower end, and will hit the growing number of first-time buyers hardest.
The largest metropolitan areas are seeing the biggest gains.
In the nation’s top 50 markets, half of the housing stock is now considered overvalued, based on market fundamentals, like income and employment. CoreLogic defines an overvalued housing market as one in which home prices are at least 10 percent higher than the long-term, sustainable level.
Las Vegas led the November report as not only being overvalued, but showing a double-digit annual price gain of 11 percent.
Las Vegas and Denver are both considered overvalued, but San Francisco is not, as incomes in the tech capital far exceed the national level.
Of the nation’s 10 major markets with the biggest price gains, seven are overvalued. These include Washington, D.C., Houston and Miami. Boston and Chicago are still seeing price gains but are considered at value.
Without a significant jump in home construction, prices will remain high and likely move higher. Mortgage rates could also move slightly higher, and new tax policy limiting mortgage and property tax deductions, is hitting homeowners in some states hard.
All will combine to make housing less and less affordable in the new year.
We may have a tricky year ahead of us, so what’s the best and easiest strategy for consistent success in 2018?
Start the year with or without New Year’s Resolutions, but commit to success this year by paying attention:
#1. To how well informed you and information sources you rely on are
#2. To what’s really going on around you — real and fake, and
#3. To how you react to what’s going on around you — online and off.
Whether you are a real estate owner or a wanna-be… whether you intend to buy or sell in 2018, so much is shifting in real estate, in the economy, and everywhere else that nothing should be taken for granted or assumed in 2018. Concentrate on getting the facts not just someone else’s bias view of where advantages lie for you.
#1. A lot changed in 2017 and the full implications of those changes will continue to emerge in 2018.
Pay attention to ramifications and compromises, subtle and otherwise, attached to changes in everything from tax law and net neutrality to technology’s continued re-write and disruption of much we’ve take for granted:
#2. Whoever or whatever you blamed for distractions in 2017 will be with you in 2018 and might even be worse.
There are only so many hours in the day and only so many dollars in your pay check. Distractions that erode concentration on your needs and goals, and distractions that feed impulse spending will be expensive in many ways. Pay attention to what takes you off point, off track, and off goal to ensure you stay in control. You may blame others for distracting you, but it’s your powers of concentration that should be continually honed and improved to keep you ahead of the pack.
#3. Significant amounts of what you believed you knew in 2017 about real estate, finance, insurance, home security, mortgages, work, and the internet will be out of date in 2018.
Pay attention to which laws, regulations, services, and real estate expenses have actually changed not just been endlessly, sensationally rehashed in the media and online. Accurate information and clever strategies are gold.
Let’s meet the challenges and opportunities of 2018 head on!
The Seattle area’s increases in home prices led the nation for the 13th straight month in November, the longest-ever such streak for real estate around Puget Sound. That meteoric rise has made it ever harder for the region’s booming population to buy a home. But if we think it’s difficult in Seattle, look 140 miles north to Vancouver, British Columbia, where experts say house prices are like those of San Francisco but incomes resemble those of sleepy Halifax.
Why the disconnect between the price of a house and what residents can earn locally? Many point to real-estate speculation. The results are sad-but-true websites like Crack Shack or Mansion?, which vividly illustrate the deleterious effect of speculation as run-down houses fetch over $1 million Canadian, and prompt a grassroots campaign by young Vancouverites who angrily profess #DontHave1Million.
Housing affordability remains front and center for new Mayor Durkan. On Monday, she announced plans for spending $100 million on affordable housing projects and, in her first official act, she signed an executive order to assist rent-burdened lower income households by streamlining access to the city’s Utility Discount Program and creating a Seattle Rental Housing Assistance Program. Meanwhile, repealing the state ban on rent control is potentially on the docket in Olympia, although some experts believe that approach is counterproductive.
In Seattle, the fear is that the city could see more cases of speculators who “flip” properties, buying them just to resell a short time later, and that like Vancouver we risk becoming a “hedge city” — a place where the global rich park their money in houses and condos that they live in part-time at best but mostly purchase as a safe place to put their assets.
Both of these phenomena represent a new trend that treats housing as an investment commodity rather than a home, something the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing calls the “financialization of housing.” During an interview earlier this year in Geneva, the rapporteur warned me, “There is so much excess capital floating around and real estate is just that valuable and safe compared to other commodities.”
There are definite similarities between the two biggest metropolitan areas in the Pacific Northwest. “The market pressures are enormous in both Vancouver and Seattle,” Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson told me last year. “We have many of the same challenges.”
But there are key differences. Canadian immigration policy makes it easy for well-heeled foreigners to receive residency, and they’re the ones snapping up Vancouver’s booming luxury condo market to the detriment of renters. By contrast, our cranes are mostly building apartments — a Washington law discourages condo development — and locals in the tech industry are making the kinds of salaries that can afford now-expensive Craftsmans, though believers in speculative influence suggest that even tech money can’t explain Seattle’s current price boom.
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s research arm defines speculation as buying and reselling a property within two years and economists have described “astronaut families” who live part-time in Vancouver as a characteristic of a hedge city. But Vancouver has struggled to measure the actual amount of speculative activity taking place.
While Vancouverites can feel the impact anecdotally, urban planner Andy Yan, who coined the term “hedge city,” says the data to make strong empirical claims is lacking. Yan, the director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University, gave the city a grade of “not very well” when it comes to tracking who is buying real estate, where the money is coming from, whether anyone is living in the home, and how soon the property is sold. He chalked up the deficiency to Canadian cities’ weak role in the country’s confederation system, which is not the case in the U.S.
“[King County], you have a tremendous power,” Yan said. “You are able to respond in a much more agile way than metro Vancouver.” This issue became a political football in the Seattle mayor’s race here when City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, taking advantage of the strong collection of housing records here, requested data from King County Assessor John Wilson. The resulting discussion led to Wilson expressing concern about creating a data set based on national origin and, after a series of questions from reporters, Durkan accusing Moon of anti-Asian racism for her interest in information related to possible housing speculation. Yan, a third-generation Chinese Canadian, disputes that collecting speculation data is racist.
But all that may be beside the point when it comes to policymaking. Simon Fraser University economist Joshua Gordon cautioned against an overreliance on data. “Often what you find in this realm is that the call for data and better data is used to forestall policy,” he said. “We don’t need to know exactly how much cancer is being caused by smoking to know we want to tax smoking.”
Empty Homes Tax
At the municipal level, Vancouver City Hall’s most visible response has been a 1 percent tax on empty homes — ones that sit unoccupied more than 180 days per year. It went into effect this year, but leaves Gordon nonplussed. “If the ambition was to free up rental and discourage speculation, they should have done it more boldly,” he said. At 1 percent, the tax is comparable to what King County homeowners already pay in property taxes and so not likely a big deterrent here, where the empty-homes phenomenon is less acute than in Vancouver.
Ultimately, Gordon sees it as a political move. “The empty homes tax was introduced partly in the context of a provincial government not willing to do much, so it was an effort to be seen to be doing something,” he said.
University of British Columbia business professor Tom Davidoff has read anecdotal reports that the number of rental listings bumped up once the tax went into effect, but rents overall have not ceased to rise in the Vancouver market. Still, he sees no problem with a jacked-up tax rate if a rich owner wants to leave a house unoccupied.
“The city would say the goal is not empty houses. I say: It’s OK there are empty homes,” he explained. “If you charge a high enough tax rate, it’s fine either way. Other taxes can be lower and you can spend the money on affordable housing.” But in the larger scheme of Vancouver’s speculation problem, Gordon doesn’t see this issue as the prime culprit. “The empty house phenomenon is very potent in the public mind, but it still doesn’t capture the entirety of the problem.”
Under Washington’s political system, the city would presumably have to receive state authorization to enact such a tax.
Foreign Buyers Tax
In 2016, the provincial government passed a 15 percent tax on foreign buyers, who are widely viewed as the driving force behind Vancouver’s overheated speculative housing market. There was an immediate drop in house prices and the Seattle Times reported that the Emerald City vaulted to the No. 1 most searched market on the Chinese equivalent of Zillow. But more than a year later, entry-level Vancouver housing continues to rise at such a rate that it would take years for incomes to catch up.
“The foreign buyers tax was not a panacea by any means for affordability,” UBC’s Davidoff said. “In fact, affordability has now significantly deteriorated from where it was before — the tax is not necessarily the cause, but it didn’t make [Vancouver] more affordable.” While Gordon agrees it wasn’t “a cure-all,” he says the goal was not to achieve affordability on the strength of that policy alone. Indeed, all three experts agreed that only a suite of policies addressing both the supply and demand sides of housing would be successful in reining in speculation and making housing more affordable for people who live and work in metro Vancouver.
That said, in Gordon’s view, the tax was important. “It raises revenues, discourages speculation, and sends a signal to the market that the government isn’t going to allow housing prices to gallop toward the sky,” he said.
Still, in Seattle’s case, the concern is not exclusively money coming in from overseas like it has been in Vancouver, where purchasers from mainland China far outnumber, say, wealthy Torontonians. In our case, however, the outside influence could also be shell LLCs registered in tax-haven Delaware or hedge funds from Wall Street. A foreign buyer’s tax wouldn’t capture their investments in our market.
BC Housing Affordability Fund
The Foreign Buyers Tax wasn’t good enough to save the fortunes of the BC Liberals, who passed it reluctantly in hopes of holding power but lost this year in provincial elections to the NDP. There is now a popular consensus in British Columbia that home prices have to come down; Gordon thinks prices will have to appreciate another 20 to 30 percent in the Puget Sound before that becomes the consensus here.
While the new provincial administration remains tight-lipped about its housing plans — spokespeople for the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Housing and Municipal Affairs declined to comment — a group of economists, including both Gordon and Davidoff, is pushing the NDP to adopt a plan they call the BC Housing Affordability Fund. The proposed policy would set high property taxes that would be rebated for property owners paying income tax at that address or landlords with long-term tenants — both scenarios in which the property in question is being used for housing. Those just hedging their money with an empty house or renting out on Airbnb would not get the rebate.
The plan works well in the Vancouver context because Canada has high income taxes that pay for a generous social safety net, but low property taxes. As a result, Gordon said, “The world’s wealthy are always going to want to buy real estate and not necessarily pay their fair share, so if you’re going to drive up house prices, at the very least pay your fair share and make life easier for the people you priced out.” With the income-tax provision, the proposal would reconnect the housing market to the labor market in what Gordon called “a tailored balance between pushing prices down and getting revenue.”
Davidoff believes this idea could be adapted as a Seattle-specific measure to scare off speculators. While the federal mortgage interest income tax deduction has a similar effect, entry-level buyers and lower-income owners who take the standard deduction on their tax returns don’t benefit like they could with something similar to the BC proposal.
At its heart, the fund makes a sharp distinction on who is a legitimate player in the housing market. “If you’re not paying income tax at that address and you’re not a landlord, then what are you?” Davidoff asks. “You must have brought the money in from elsewhere.”
Paying off debt in the new year is a common resolution. But resolving to do something and actually doing it are two different things.
Taking a smart approach to building good habits, however, can help you master your debt in the coming year.
Jon Bailey, professor emeritus in the psychology department at Florida State University, suggests applying some principles of behavioral psychology to help you create sustainable habits.
“Our general approach is really from the angle of self-management,” Bailey says. “You have to know yourself and your environment so you can put some things in place … (to) make the behavior, in this case paying off debt, more likely to occur.”
With this in mind, here are tactics to help you follow through on your debt resolution:
Create an inventory of your debts, including their totals and interest rates. Add them up to see exactly how much you have to pay down.
Defining your goal can help you focus your payoff journey and see what being debt-free would look like, says Weslia Echols, an accredited financial counselor in Michigan. “Seeing that picture clearly and knowing the value of not having that debt can motivate you to stay the course.”
Focus on the day-to-day steps needed to achieve your goal.
►Figure out how much you can put toward your debt each month.
►Choose how you’ll approach paying off debt. Consider using the debt snowball method, in which you pay off smaller debts first to secure early victories that will keep you motivated.
►Trim expenses to find more money for debt paydown.
When making budget cuts, Bailey sees moderation as key to success. “If you go out to eat four nights a week, see what you’d save by only going out three nights a week. The extreme — cutting out going out entirely — isn’t going to last.”
Track your progress and create a backstop to help you stay focused, such as updating a friend about your progress each month. Think about using an app to help you cement your new habits.
Consider imposing a penalty if you don’t stay on track. For example, make a deal with your accountability partner that if you skip a payment, you’ll have to clean their apartment.
Build in rewards as you make progress. Each $100 you pay off, for example, give yourself some small treat to celebrate. This can keep you encouraged and on track toward paying off your debt in the new year.
Sean Pyles is a personal finance writer at NerdWallet. Email: email@example.com
This artist rendering shows the Microsoft planned redevelopment, including the removal of 12 buildings and the construction of 18 new ones, along with open spaces and sports fields. Courtesy of Microsoft
Microsoft announced Nov. 30 that it will begin construction on a massive overhaul and expansion of its facilities in Redmond.
Microsoft, which settled in the city in 1986, will be replacing portions of its campus and creating 18 new buildings.
This will include a total of 6.7 million square feet of renovated workspace — of which 2.5 million will be new — $150 million in transportation infrastructure improvements, new sports fields, public spaces and green space.
Once it is finished, the Redmond campus will have 131 buildings that will house 47,000 employees and room to expand and accommodate 8,000 more.
“It’s an investment that’s good for our employees, good for the Puget Sound community, and makes good sense for our shareholders,” Microsoft President Brad Smith said on the company blog with the headline, “Investing to grow right here at home.”
Smith added, “We are not only creating a world-class work environment to help retain and attract the best and brightest global talent, but also building a campus that our neighbors can enjoy, and that we can build in a fiscally smart way with low environmental impact.”
The project will break ground in the fall of 2018 and take between five and seven years. It is slated to come online around the time Redmond receives its Light Link rail stations in 2023 and 2024.
A pedestrian bridge will link the campus to the light rail stations.
Redmond Mayor John Marchione praised the expansion and the company’s decision to continue expanding in the city.
“The reimagining of the Microsoft campus highlights their global leadership in technology and strengthens both Redmond’s and the regions reputation as a hub for ingenuity,” he said.
“We prize our relationship with the city of Redmond and will work closely with officials on the approval for campus and building architectural designs, engineering, building permit review and land use code compliance. As a Zero Waste Certified campus we will continue to focus further on waste-reduction initiatives,” Smith said.
The announcement has also received praise from county officials.
King County Executive Dow Constantine released a statement on Microsoft’s decision, as well.
“Microsoft’s bold investment in 2.5 million square feet of new office space demonstrates the company’s clear understanding that this is the best place in the nation to grow,” he said in the statement. “For more than 30 years, Microsoft has fueled a regional economy built on knowledge, innovation, and creativity. With this major new investment in its Redmond campus, Microsoft strengthens its partnership with King County, it’s commitment to Central Puget Sound, and our future as a leading global technology center.”
The renovations include modernizing office spaces.
When it was built, identical offices and natural light were incorporated into the design but the buildings also have low ceilings and many hallways, a press release from Microsoft said.
The rebuilt campus will focus on a more communal space for employees.
It will feature a two-acre plaza with space for up to 12,000 people to gather and various sports fields, including a cricket pitch.
“As Microsoft continues to create the tools and services that are shaping the future of work, we can’t think of a better time to modernize our campus into a model of ingenuity and innovation,” Smith added.
OneRedmond CEO Bart Phillips offered some insight into Microsoft’s expansion.
“Microsoft’s decision to reinvent its campus for its future growth reconfirms Redmond’s and the region’s attractiveness and support for innovation and talent. This is a huge boost for Redmond and the Seattle region,” he said. OneRedmond, a public-private partnership, serves to promote development in the city.
The land which the campus is located on was originally one of Puget Sound’s largest chicken farms and a ranch owned by Italian immigrants, according to the Redmond Historical Society.
(Transform your health with 365 days of slimming secrets, wellness tips, and motivation—get your 2018 Prevention calendar and health planner today!)
There’s magical “soap” that banishes strong, lingering scents and mixing bowls that stay put even when the whisking gets tough; a sleek little planter that brings the pleasures of gardening indoors and a delightful, plate-warming device that elevates dinner gatherings to five-star heights. Like we said, the kind of stuff the favorite cook on your list wouldn’t either think to get, or wouldn’t buy on their own, but that is crazy-useful to have.
This list of useful kitchen gadgets and tools are great for gifting, and will be appreciated for years to come. And, at a variety of price-points, in a range of sizes, and selected with the goal of fulfilling real needs, you might just fall in love with something yourself, too.
Made from durable stainless steel, dishwasher- and freezer-safe, and designed to nest with space-saving ease, this set of three mixing bowls with lids is a baker’s dream. (So are these 25 perfect gifts for bakers!) Our favorite features? Volume measurements within the bowls eliminate the need for measuring cups—especially useful when there’s limited countertop space—and the anti-slip silicone bottoms make for reliable grip and no-slide mixing. Nearly 650 Amazon reviewers who sing its praises agree with us.
Buy it: $35.99, amazon.com
The perfect egg is a culinary masterpiece that even the best chefs can take years to master. Luckily, the Dash Rapid Egg Cooker eliminates the need for years, instead needing only minutes for yolk perfection every time. Soft- or hard-boiled, poached or deviled, scrambled or omelet, the top-selling egg cooker on Amazon does it all. Cook up to six eggs at a time with just a push of a button. And it’s cute to boot.
Buy it: $24.35, amazon.com
We’ve all been there: cooking on multiple burners, with timers abuzz, pots dangerously close to boiling over, pans sizzling, and utensils nearly spinning through the air. It’s supposed to be a feast, but it turns into a production. A must-have for any chef who enjoys orchestrating culinary productions but isn’t a pro juggler, this inexpensive stainless-steel, dishwasher-safe stand tidily holds everything—lids, spoons, splatter screens, you name it. That way, that your hands are free to conduct kitchen magic.
Buy it: $8.99, amazon.com
Sleek, soilless, and stress-free, this is indoor gardening at its best. This indoor gardening kit is the ideal gift for organic plant lovers, healthy eaters who want to control what they consume, and even the nature-curious kid. iRSE’s hydroponics technology and two LED modes that mimic the sun’s light make it simple to grow your favorite greens inside year-round. One impressed Amazon reviewer raves that “the veggies and herbs tasted amazing.” Another found it to be the perfect conversation starter at the office: “The seeds sprouted in just two days, and the plants are growing nicely. The best part about the garden, is that it’s drawn people to my cubicle. To me, it isn’t just a gadget for growing plants, it’s also helped me to grow some relationships, too!”
Buy it: $79.97, amazon.com
For the cook with a clean aesthetic and taste for organized, practical style, this is the spice rack that will complete their kitchen vision. The transparent acrylic shelves blend well with any décor and allow sorting: by color, name, frequency of use, or whatever system makes sense to your recipient. That the three shelves are designed to be individually wall-mounted encourages personalization—hang them side by side, stack them in tiers, or get creative and integrate them into a space in new and unexpected ways. (These 5 spices will make everything you cook more flavorful.)
Buy it: $27.99 for three shelves, amazon.com
Some of the best kitchen hacks and food tricks are passed down reliably through the ages (mix apple cider vinegar and soap to repel fruit flies; use baking soda to absorb fridge stench; and place avocados next to ripe bananas to speed-soften them). Another less popular but just as useful? Steel soap! It’s a must-have for any kitchen. Under cold running water, rub the “soap” between your hands; within seconds, your skin will be odorless. It even erases the lingering smells of fish and garlic. Many variations on the market resemble bars of soap. We like the playful, food-inspired shape of Alessi’s “Savon du Chef” best, and every cook on your list will, too.
Buy it: $24.94, amazon.com
OXO’s conceived a classic in this space-saving utensil holder, equipped with a removable drip tray and stocked with 14 of the most essential kitchen gadgets. The handy set includes a spoon and a slotted spoon, grater, square turner and flexible turner, 12-inch tongs, pizza wheel, can opener, balloon whisk, spatula, ice cream scoop, swivel peeler, meat tenderizer, and potato masher. Phew! This purchase is a bit on the pricier side, but it can last through a lifetime of meals and memories. It’ll serve as great gift for the young adult who’s beginning to fill their first home with essentials, and for a family member who deserves a kitchen upgrade but will never splurge for themselves.
Buy it: $99.95, amazon.com
We love gadgets that improve our lives on several levels without complicating or cluttering them. This set of three streamlined canisters ensures dry ingredients, like granola, grains, cereal, and beans, stay fresh for up to 45 days, while also deploying them cleverly. Contents are dispensed in neat, 1-ounce portions with the turn of a knob. The small portions promote conscious, healthy eating, and the clear canisters make it a breeze to keep track of what you’re running low on before you run out. A smart gift for any organization freak or turbo-busy mom. (Psst! We found the 5 best meal-prep food containers for weight loss.)
Buy it: $35.15 for triple canister, amazon.com
Slicing herbs has never been smoother than with this smart, gourmet gift. Designed for versatility and comfort, this herb tool features a soft-touch ergonomic handle that feels good in the hand, stainless-steel cutting blades that rotate to allow for palm or grip use, and a top that pops off for easy cleaning. One satisfied Amazon customer loves how it “zips through leafy stuff like basil, parsley and cilantro with ease,” and another offers this pro-tip: “The drier the herb, the better this thing works with it.”
Buy it: $16.24, amazon.com
Shred and slice everything sans mess—chocolate, cheese, and veggies—with this stainless-steel grater set. Outfitted with five interchangeable grating blades (for thick shredding to feathery shaving, plus slicing, grating, and zesting), the multipurpose set comes color-coded and stacked inside a handy, lidded storage container. Consider this an essential gadget gift for any kitchen. (Add a spiralizer to your kitchen collection with one of these top picks from Amazon reviewers.)
Buy it: $8.99, amazon.com
Serious chefs know that hot food must be served on a hot plate; otherwise, it risks becoming less appealing to the eye and palate. For the at-home cook who doesn’t have the at-restaurant luxury of extra ovens for stashing plates, the Waterbridge Plate Warmer is the perfect solution. Thermostatically controlled and safe to set atop any surface, the insulated electric plate warmer can heat up to 15 large plates at once in a series of stacked folds. It’s even safe to use on fine bone china. This is such a cool thing for anyone who likes to entertain, and would make a great gift to express your appreciation for all the memorable meals and gatherings your recipient has hosted.
Buy it: $74.99, amazon.com
As elegant as it is functional, and as much kitchen gadget as it is art object. Part of the Object Bijou collection by Alessi, the stainless-steel Voile, with its variable-sized rings, makes it a cinch to perfectly portion out spaghetti in serving increments of one, two, or five. This is one of those timeless chef accessories that seems much too beautiful to justify purchasing for oneself, but that anyone would be delighted to receive as a gift. This will please both the design and carb lovers in your life. (Here’s your guide to finding the healthiest pasta.)
Buy it: $26.56, amazon.com
Ditch that old metal splatter screen and file this under genius innovations we can’t believe someone didn’t come up with sooner. The Gowanus Kitchen Lab Frywall is the first guard to offer consistent protection and access to the cooking surface. Amazon customers love it. “[It’s] great to be able to access the food without having to remove anything,” one writes. No more oil leaping from the pan to the stovetop or, worse, onto your clothing or skin. Frywall’s design allows steam to escape, which means sauces reduce faster, veggies sauté without becoming soggy, and meats sear perfectly. It’s also dishwasher-safe, and rolls nicely into a sleeve for easy storage.
Buy it: $21.95, amazon.com
Savvy and sleek, this battery-free, touch-free soap dispenser helps to cut down on the transfer of bacteria and mess when you’re washing up between tasks. Place your hand close to the valve for a dash of foam or lower beneath it for more; it’s as easy as that. The pump comes with a lavender soap cartridge, but click-in cartridge refills are available from a variety of partnered brands in a range of scents, all delightfully aromatic. It’s available in brushed or polished stainless steel, or rose gold steel, so pick the best one to match your recipient’s décor.
Buy it: $49.99, amazon.com
Schools from 34 King County cities and unincorporated areas are reducing waste, increasing recycling, conserving resources, and cutting costs with help from the King County Green Schools Program, including four from the Snoqualmie Valley. North Bend Elementary and Snoqualmie Elementary in the Snoqualmie Valley School District, and Carnation Elementary and Eagle Rock Multi-Age in the Riverview School District, were among the schools to be honored by the program.
The Green Schools Program provides hands-on help and the tools that schools need, such as recycling containers and signs, to make improvements. It has served a growing number of schools each year – from 70 schools in 2008 to 251 schools this year, which is half of all K-12 schools in King County outside the City of Seattle.
Of the 251 schools participating in the program, as of June 232 schools have been recognized as Level One King County Green Schools for their waste reduction and recycling efforts. Of those, 132 were recognized as Level Two, for education and actions focused on energy conservation, including Eagle Rock Multi-Age School. One hundred from Level Two were also recognized as Level Three schools for efforts related to water conservation; and 77 of those, including North Bend, Snoqualmie and Carnation Elementary Schools, were recognized as Sustaining Green Schools for maintaining their Level One through Three practices and adding new conservation strategies and education.
“These 77 schools and two school districts initiated or improved sustainable practices, encouraging students and employees to reduce paper use, reduce food waste, recycle, or conserve energy and water, all of which reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change,” said Dale Alekel, Green Schools Program manager.
In addition to Green Schools Program assistance and recognition, King County offers support for student green teams, an elementary school assembly program, and classroom workshops for grades 1–12 that teach students about conservation.Learn more by contacting Alekel at (206) 477-5267 or firstname.lastname@example.org.