Federal Way loosens sign code for real estate agents

Federal Way real estate agents and landlords may now place signs announcing vacancies and for-sale properties along sidewalks.

Federal Way real estate agents and landlords may now place signs announcing vacancies and for-sale properties along sidewalks.

The Federal Way City Council approved a change to city zoning code at its meeting April 5 to allow portable real estate-related signs to be placed more conspicuously along sidewalks in residential neighborhoods.

Specifically, the zoning change now allows signs to be placed in planter strips, the grassy area along sidewalks, in residential-zoned neighborhoods. The signs must be portable, cannot be affixed to the ground, trees or utility poles, and can only be out between 9 a.m. and sunset.

The signs must not obstruct sidewalks, nor can they be placed in medians — grassy strips that run down the middle of certain roads — and they cannot obstruct sight lines near intersections.

The collapsible, sandwich-board type signs will direct shoppers to open houses, for-sale homes and vacant apartments.

“Real estate agents use these signs to help direct business to these locations,” said Federal Way senior planner Deb Barker. “When people are in a subdivision, they want to know how to get to the house.”

This zoning change is in a trial period. Barker said the change would expire in January 2014, after which it could be renewed.

Before the April 5 vote, the city had a ban on allowing such signs in planter strips. Sam Pace, who works on real estate issues for the Seattle-King County Association of Realtors, said that he was notified of the ban by some local real estate agents. He approached Federal Way officials and worked out a deal to create a trial period for this zoning change.

“Realtors had discovered, by virtue of their signs being picked up, that there were areas of the city where there’s no legal place to be able to put out a sign to help buyers find houses open for sale,” Pace said. “It was having an impact on the sellers whose homes were held open. It was having an impact on the realtors who were trying to assist those folks.”

Pace said that other cities around Federal Way were less restrictive in controlling sign placement. Barker said that a ban on signs in planter strips went into effect in 2008, but she did not know the reasoning behind the rule.

“What we have always tried to do is work cooperatively with the city if we discover a problem like when we discovered this one,” he said. “This ended up being a little technical fix.”

Any help getting potential customers into for-sale homes and vacant apartments helps, Pace said, especially in a such a beleaguered housing market.

“We think this benefits the community at large, and benefits the city with the revenues produced by those home sales,” he said.

The city benefits from the sale of more homes, too. Pace said that, for a median-priced home — around $200,000, according to real estate tracking website Zillow.com — a city usually reaps around $4,000 in total taxes on each transaction, which includes real estate excise taxes and sales tax on things such as title insurance, escrow services and inspections.