Northern Virginia Real Estate Blog

The definitive blog, on Northern Virginia Real Estate.

March 15, 2018

Buying a Home in a Good Neighborhood? Here are the Financial Benefits of Neighbors.

Living in a good neighborhood is a subjective question for many, but it's not all about having the best schools, but instead about the community where you're buying a home as well. And that's because your neighbors will impact your life for years to come. Having neighbors that are awesome is more than just a convenience. Studies have shown that having good neighbors can benefit your mood to the point that they even decrease your risk of a heart attack! And yet, security company Safe Home found that a full 30 percent of Americans aren’t on a first-name basis with their next-door neighbors.

When you buy a home in a good neighborhood, a neighborhood that acts like a community, your decision comes with financial benefits, as well. For one, your neighbors all have a variety of talents and specialties. Have a doctor move in down the street? You have someone who can look at that strange rash on your arm at 7 p.m. on a Saturday. My best friend has joked that one of the biggest benefits of living on her street is the “lawnmower man” who can fix just about any problem a lawnmower can have. For a first-time homeowner, that’s huge!

If you live in a tight-knit neighborhood, it’s like having access to the biggest toolbox around. Been wanting to try out an Instant Pot, but not willing to shell out the hundred bucks? You probably have a neighbor who can loan you one. If you are doing a home improvement project and you suddenly need a certain screwdriver or drill bit, there’s generally no need to run to Home Depot!

Having neighbors is also cheaper than installing a home security system. If you have an active neighborhood watch, you can enjoy the vigilance and security of having your neighbors keeping an eye on things whether you are at home or not. Who better to know whether there has been suspicious activity in the neighborhood than people who live there? 

Close enough with your neighbors? You won’t have to worry about catching a pricey shuttle to the airport, because maybe you have a friend next door who can drive you. Depending on your level of closeness, you might even be able to take advantage of your neighbors’ hospitality when you have a lot of guests in town. Maybe they have a spare room where you could park your aunt and uncle?

Your neighbors and you, being one big family, can enjoy other financial benefits as a group. You can go in together on a Costco membership, on a Netflix membership, or get a group cost on lawn and/or pool maintenance or solar panel installation. 

In short, having great neighbors is the gift that keeps on giving. When you're buying a new home, you have to think about more than just the specifications: where in Northern Virginia you will live, the school district, and commute. You have to think about the community you will be a part of for the coming years. Whether you have just moved into your neighborhood or have been there for some time, consider bringing some cookies over to your neighbors and starting a conversation. All relationships are worth maintaining, but your closeness with your neighbors can have real tangible benefits for all of you. 

March 13, 2018

Landscaping to Sell Your Home: 4 Things to Avoid

They say that good fences make good neighbors, but everyone who’s ever owned a home knows that there’s more to it than just that. Being a good neighbor, like being a good friend, means being considerate and sociable, but it also means refraining from decisions that will be unpopular with the people you live near — or rather the people who will leave near your home buyers. Landscaping to sell your home should still follow the principles of being a good neighbor, because what's good for the neighborhood is also what usually appeals to homebuyers!

When I was a teenager, my best friend lived next door to a house that was painted neon pink, and it always drew comments from visitors. When the neighbors saw them erecting scaffolding and opening cans of new paint, they were elated… until they saw the equally-vivid purple shade that they had selected! There are seemingly low-key landscaping choices you can make that are the equivalent of painting your house bright pink, and they should be undertaken at your own peril. Making neighbors mad is usually not a desirable thing to do whether you live in a home, or if you're preparing to sell your home, so it’s important to think through your landscaping choices beforehand!

1) Replacing Grass With Rocks

Especially in areas with high levels of drought, turning your front yard into a gravelscape might seem like a good idea. No grass for your homebuyers to cut or water and, if you manage things right, no weeds to pull while your house is on the market. It’s the ultimate in low-maintenance landscaping. Unfortunately, some people HATE this look. Not only aesthetics are at stake, however. In warm climates, a rock yard amplifies heat, making your own home and neighboring houses uncomfortable. And should your neighborhood ever flood, rocks don’t absorb water like grass. When landscaping to sell your home, avoid a look that screams out such a specific aesthetic and go for something more "tried and true" and guaranteed to appeal to more home buyers.

2) Getting Rid of Trees

Look, we get that trees can be a pain. They drop leaves all over the yard that then need to be raked and bagged, and they produce pollen in the spring, which can be a real bummer if you have allergies. But if you have a big, mature tree in your yard and decide to cut it down, you may just loose a huge appeal for many home buyers — plus, your neighbors might revolt. Mature trees contribute to the shadiness and look of a street, and they increase property values. People grow attached to them, even if they aren’t in their own yards. The loss of a tree can feel like a personal insult to your neighbors, and if other homes on your street have big, beautiful shady tress, then your home will stand out as the anomaly (and not in a good way!). When selling a home, landscaping should be inviting and homey for your future home buyers, and there's just something about those big trees that invite a home buyer to hang a tire swing or imagine summer picnics in the shade. Keep the tree and simply handle the maintenance — it's worth it!

3) Neglecting Your Yard

While some people love meticulously organizing and tending their gardens, other homeowners can’t be bothered. If you decide to take a laissez-faire approach and let your yard run wild, expect your neighbors to complain and the curb appeal of your home to shoot down into the gutter. It's not a secret that home buyers want a move-in ready home, and home sellers would be good to take to heart the idea that first impressions matter, and your landscaping is the first thing a buyers see when they arrive at your home!

A neglected, messy yard with long grass and unkempt shrubbery not only looks terrible, but can attract snakes, rats, and other vermin. If someone is looking to buy in the neighborhood, one sloppy-looking yard can bring down property values. So be a good neighbor and do the bare minimum to keep your yard looking good.

4.) Planting Toxic Shrubs

If your neighbors have plants, you should be careful about the shrubbery you plant in your yard. Oleander is an example of a plant that looks pretty, but can poison dogs and cats if they ingest even a few leaves. It’s important to keep in mind that, while you may be king of your castle, the things you do in your yard can have an impact on your neighbors. Remember the Golden Rule, and try to make neighborly decisions that you wouldn’t mind having done next to you. A home buyer with small children may even pass over your home if they see oleander in the yard since they know they will automatically need to remove this landscaping choice before even moving into the home. 

When landscaping to sell your Northern Virginia home, you have to think about more than your personal preferences and instead consider what is good for the neighborhood, and what will work for a multitude of types of home buyers. You don't know yet who will buy your house — it could be a family with young kids, an elderly couple not keen to maintain an extensive garden, or a busy couple with high-powered jobs. Choose landscaping choices that match the widest range of tried-and-true aesthetic choices and let your future home-owner decide on any of the wackier choices they might want.

Posted in Selling Your Home
Feb. 26, 2018

Creative, Lovable Housewarming Gifts

So, you know someone who just moved? How exciting! It’s like all the excitement of getting a new place, with none of the expenses and hassle of packing and moving - you can experience the thrill vicariously. When someone new moves into the area or if your friend has a new home, stopping by to say hello with a small housewarming gift is the nice thing to do. The thing is, everyone brings flowers or candles or wine as housewarming gifts, but none of these are particularly useful. (You can give me the wine, however!) Here are some ideas for housewarming gifts that are sure to be welcomed and practical. 

1. An Address Stamp

How about a new address stamp for the individuals or family that just moved? A self-inking rubber stamp is a wonderful way to help the homeowner tell people that they have a new place to send their mail. And they make these things really cool nowadays with all sorts of options for font, layout, and ink color. This is a gift that a homeowner can actually use. 

2. A Prepared Dinner

If we’re talking truly useful, a gift of one or more prepared, warm-up-ready dinners can be a lifesaver to a new homeowner. Look, when you’ve been unpacking boxes and possibly containing unruly children and/or pets all day, the last thing you want to do is forage through your unfamiliar kitchen to cook something for dinner. Takeout is great, but that gets expensive. That’s where you, gift-giver, come in. Whip up a family-sized dish of lasagna, or something else that everyone loves (find out if there are any vegetarians or people with special diets in the house), add some bagged salad and a frozen dessert, and you are automatically the greatest person ever. 

3. Home Fire Extinguisher

In terms of practical gifts that the recipient may not have already, consider a home-sized fire extinguisher. The National Fire Protection Association predicts that most people will face five home fires in their life (ask me about the time my best friend’s twins set the kitchen trash can on fire making toast), so this is a gift that could literally save lives. Of course the hope is that they will never have to use the present, but it’s still a great choice. 

These are just a handful of ideas for great housewarming gifts for the new homeowner in your life. It’s important to think outside the box when it comes to this sort of housewarming present, because usually everyone has the same idea, and you can’t do much with six bouquets or potted zinneas and twelve Yankee Candles. 

Feb. 19, 2018

Ick Alert! 5 of the Filthiest Things In Your Home

If you are like most homeowners, you take pride in the appearance and cleanliness of your house and make something of an effort to keep it looking nice. Perhaps you are the type that is particularly germ-conscious, especially at this time of year with the flu running rampant around the country. If you regularly clean up your kitchen and bathroom with Lysol and vacuum/dust, you may think that you are keeping all the ick out of your home. But did you know that there are things in your house that are actually grosser than your toilet? You wouldn’t drink out of the toilet bowl, but the odds are that you have close contact with several of these things on a daily basis. Bring out the bleach, guys. We’re going in.

First up is your carpet. Not surprisingly, the soft plushiness of your carpet is REALLY good at picking up dirt, grime, and bacteria. It traps dust, odors, and all the allergens you could ever imagine. A dirty carpet can actually contain 200,000 bacteria per square INCH. Can you say “gross?” The solution is to vacuum regularly - at least three times a week - with a HEPA-filter machine, and to get your rugs professionally cleaned twice a year. And make sure family members and guests remove their shoes.

Next up on the Yuck List are the door knobs and light switches in your home. Michigan State University did a study and found out that a dismal 5 percent of people do a thorough enough job washing their hands after they use the bathroom to actually kill germs. Now, think of how many times a day you touch the door handles and light switches in your room, as well as the other people in your home. EWW, right? Use antibacterial wipes to frequently wipe down knobs, handles, and switches.

Let’s move on to the bathroom. There’s major germs in there, but they aren’t where you think. Fecal bacteria is released in an invisible plume when you flush the toilet, and guess where it lands? On your shower curtain and towels. Do you notice “soap scum” or black mold on your shower stall or liners? These are thriving colonies of disgusting microorganisms. Use a bleach concentrate spray to kill germs on bathtub and shower surfaces, and keep the shower curtain closed when you aren’t using the unit. As for towels, they should be changed out and washed in hot water every two days to kill off the coliform bacteria.

I know that you are probably ready to go on a cleaning binge, and I can’t blame you! It’s hard enough keeping your family healthy without worrying about hidden germ ghettos in your home. They say cleanliness is next to godliness, and it certainly comes in handy during this time of year. 


Feb. 11, 2018

Northern Virginia Seedlings for Sale

Northern Virginia homeowners who want to do their part to help repopulate native trees and shrubs are able to buy seedlings from the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District. This sale of seedlings, which takes place every year, helps Northern Virginia residents get involved in the environmental benefits of planting trees and greenery, while giving them a choice as to the type of plants they’d like to have in their yards. 

The seedlings and young plants are able to be sold at a drastic discount by the District because they buy the plants wholesale and pass the savings along to homeowners. According to Reston Now, “two seedling packages are being offered for sale. The shrub and small tree package is on sale for $16.95 with 10 seeds, and the tree package features six seedlings for $11.95.”

Not only do native plants help keep the soil and air clean, says watershed specialist Lily Whitesell, but they also prevent the damage caused by dirt erosion. Trees are constantly needing to be replaced in the Northern Virginia area, says Whitesell, largely due to damage caused by deer. The trees and shrubs included in this year’s batches of seedlings are deer-friendly, but certain species are less desirable to the critters than others. Because they are also fast-growing, the hope is that the new plantings can speedily replace growth that has been damaged by deer.

Some of the species included in this year’s seedlings include Eastern redbud, pawpaw, shortleaf pine, silky dogwood and witch-hazel. The witch-hazel is particularly desirable right now because it has a beautiful winter bloom, says Whitesell. For the same reason, redbud is prized for its gorgeous springtime flowers.

Northern Virginia homeowners can start ordering seedlings now until April 11 from the Conservation District’s online store and can pick up their purchases at the Packard Center in Annandale on April 20 from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. or on April 21 from 9 a.m. to noon. For an additional $5, customers can order a copy of Plant NOVA Natives Guide: Naturally Beautiful, a useful companion to your new plants which shows what your trees and shrubs will look like when they are mature, has lovely pictures of their blossoms, and suggests what flowering plants would make the best accompaniment to the native seedlings. Once you pick up your plants, you just do a llittle digging and planting and, voila! You’ll have made a difference not only in the beauty of your lawn, but in the wellbeing of the earth and air surrounding you and your neighbors. It’s an investment in your future. 

Feb. 8, 2018

3 Hot Design Trends That Will Make Your Kitchen "Pop"

The kitchen is the heart of any home. It is also, unsurprisingly, one of the biggest features that home buyers in Northern Virginia scope out when they are shopping for homes. Whether you are thinking of putting your home on the market or you are simply updating your home, the following are some design trends that are sure to modernize your kitchen and make it the envy of all the neighbors. 

Bold Pops of Color

The first trend might surprise you, since neutrals are supposed to reign when it comes to home desirability, but bold pops of color are definitely in right now. Blue in particular is very popular at the moment, from attention-seeking turquoise to dreamy cerulean. Some places where you can integrate color into your kitchen are the cabinets - maybe one shade lower and one shade higher. Or pick a statement hue for your island. The most important thing is to integrate the color(s) you choose into the palette of the rest of your house. 

Statement Appliances

After years of dominating the kitchen-decor scene, stainless steel appliances are falling in popularity right now. Statement appliances are big selling points in a 2018 kitchen, whether you embrace colored ranges and fridges, or appliances made of unconventional materials like cast iron with unique designs. The vintage European look is very trendy at the moment. It’s doubtful if stainless will ever go completely out of style, but the homeowner looking to be in vogue need not automatically turn in that direction as has been the case in years past. 

Geometric Tiles

While subway tiles have been the backsplash material of choice for most of the last decade, it’s time to say howdy to geometric tiles that make a unique statement on the walls of your kitchen - are you noticing a trend here? "We're seeing a shift toward simplistic, yet bold patterns that stand the test of time," designer Stacy Garcia told "These patterns help improve the perception of kitchen spaces—they create a layer of contemporary sophistication."

Overall, the kitchen design trends that you should be eyeballing are ones that command attention. No longer is a sea of white and neutral tones a can’t-miss selling feature. You - and anyone else who might be living in your home in the foreseeable future - will be spending a lot of time in your kitchen, so it makes sense to go with something interesting to look at while you are waiting for your coffee to brew! Today’s buyers aren’t afraid of a look that tells a story, so don’t shy away from offbeat choices when redoing the kitchen.  

Feb. 6, 2018

Charging Your Mortgage Payment: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Can you use a credit card to make your mortgage payment? The short answer is “yes… kind of.” The reasons you might feel like it’s a good idea to pay your monthly mortgage can vary: maybe you are short on funds, or you think the rewards will be worth it. If you are thinking of going this route, you should open your eyes as to the facts about putting your payment on credit.

First of all, not every lender will offer plastic as a payment option. Every bank has different guidelines, and some outright disallow using a credit card as a method of payment. There is, simply put, no reason for your lender to do so. "Most merchants have an incentive to accept credit cards—even with the transaction fee—because they know you're likely to spend more than you would if you paid in cash," says says Adam Jusko, founder and CEO of, an online personal finance portal. "They figure they'll make up the fee in extra sales and profit. Your mortgage company doesn’t have this incentive. You aren’t going to buy 'more mortgage.'"

If your bank doesn’t allow direct payment with a credit card and you are determined to do it anyway, you will have to turn to a third-party service. This can mean paying a “convenience fee” of around two percent of your mortgage payment. Then there’s the interest you will be paying on your credit card, assuming you aren’t able to pay it off the same month you make the payment, which is likely. All things considered, you are likely to pay an extra 25 percent if you pay your mortgage with a credit card. 

And no, the rewards aren’t worth it. Whether you get points or credits or even cash back, the math just doesn’t work out unless you can put the payment on the card and then immediately turn around and pay off the bill. "You’ll almost never find a credit card that has rewards worth more than the transaction fee," Jusko notes. "The best credit cards will give you a 2% rebate on your purchases, so you won’t likely come out ahead."

In short, the only reason to pay a credit card bill with plastic is if you are in deep trouble and can’t pay it any other way. And if this is the case, you should take a long, hard look at your financial situation, because you are likely in trouble. 

Jan. 30, 2018

4 Smart Corners to Cut in Home Construction

When it comes to building or expanding your home, you almost always get what you pay for. Cutting corners usually leads to poor workmanship, which will inevitably come to bite you in the rear in the long run. But there are ways that you can save a few dollars on home construction without hurting your cause. 

Build Up, Not Out

First of all, if you are building an addition to your home, consider building up as opposed to out. The most expensive part of construction is the foundation, and the smaller the footprint of your addition, the cheaper your project will be. Since excavation and foundation work cost so much, it makes a lot more sense to add a second story than to make your blueprints a sprawling plan. 

Go for Experience Not Just Price

Secondly, you should choose the home builder who comes to you with the most experience. He won’t be the cheapest, which at prima facie seems counterintuitive. But think about the fact that using a less-experienced (or, heavens forbid) an unlicensed builder can eventually cost you untold thousands if your project goes over budget or if they make sloppy mistakes. A builder who is a true professional will know what pitfalls to anticipate and will give you the most realistic idea of what you will be spending. And you’ll have peace of mind knowing that your build is safe and sound. 

DIY Whatever You Can

Another way to cut back on the bucks you spend is to act as your own contractor. This alone can save you about 20 percent of the cost of building or renovating your home. And it’s not as crazy a thought as you might initially imagine. recommends The Owner-Builder Book, by Mark and Elaine Smith, which comes packed with several DIY forms to make the building process run smoothly. Of course you will subcontract the work you can’t do yourself, like the plumbing and electrical. 

Price Out Your Materials First

A final tip? Before you start building, price out everything… every last nail, piece of wire, and drawer handle. What grade materials you use - builder or custom grade, for instance - will greatly impact your bottom line, so make these decisions before you strike the first hammer. When you make that decision, it’s always best to opt for the grade that offers long-term warranties. 

In short, you can save money on home construction, but you have to be smart about it. Only cut corners that make sense, because in the long run, unwise shortcuts can come back to haunt you. 

Posted in Buying a Home
Jan. 29, 2018

Three Home Maintenance Tasks You're Probably Overlooking

Being a homeowner comes with lots of responsibilities. If you’ve rented previously, you had the peace of mind knowing that, if something broke down or went wrong, the landlord would have to fix it. Maybe you weren’t responsible for lawn care before, and/or you had someone that shoveled the parking lot or driveway when it snowed. Guess what, homeowner? It’s all on you now. NO one hands you a “Handy Guide to Home Maintenance” at closing, so it can be tough to keep up with everything you need to stay on top of. Cleaning gutters, changing air filters, trimming tree limbs… the list goes on and on. There are some home maintenance tasks, however, that are not intuitive and which may be overlooked by even the most diligent homeowner. Are you guilty of forgetting these tasks?

Resealing Your Grout

The grout in your bathroom or tile floor needs to be resealed every year to protect it from wear and tear, but almost nobody does this. Sealing your grout keeps it waterproof, which keeps it intact and strong. Epoxy grout, used with glass tile, is the only grout exempt from this rule. Getting the job done is easy enough: you just apply grout sealant, use a rag to remove any excess that gets on tiles, let it sit for 15 minutes, apply a second coat, then clean the tiles again. After doing this, you need to give the grout 24 to 48 hours to “cure.” Then test it: properly sealed and cured grout should have water bead on it instead of absorbing the moisture. 

Checking for Water Leaks

Checking for small water leaks is about more than just keeping your utility bill down - it’s about keeping your home structurally sound and secure. Even small amounts of water behind the walls or in other hard-to-see places can cause major damage. It’s easy to check for leaks. Just take a water meter reading and then don’t use your water for two hours. At the end of that time period, if your meter reading has changed, you have a leak. A fix could be visible and easy to fix yourself (check the lines of all water-using appliances) or could require the skill of a plumber. 

Clean Your Lint Screen

The lint screen of your dryer is one of the hardest-working items in your home. Load after load, it catches the lint, balled up bits of paper, stray quarters, and other detritus from your clothes. But ridding it of crap every time you empty the dryer isn’t enough to keep your appliance healthy. According to “The residue from dryer sheets and fabric softener can start to build up on the screen, blocking the airflow. That can lead to less efficient drying and even fires.” So take that thing out and give it a good scrubbing, let it dry, and vacuum out the slot where it goes in. It’s a simple task, but it can extend the life of your dryer. 

Jan. 23, 2018

FSBO: What it Means For a Buyer

You’re bound to run into at least one in your search for your next home: the house that is “for sale by owner” or FSBO (say: FIZZ-bow). Oftentimes sellers who go this route are trying to save money by not hiring a listing agent to help them sell their home. There’s a whole slew of reasons why that’s not a good idea, but that’s a topic for another day. What does buying a home FSBO mean for you, the buyer, and how is the transaction different than one handled by an agent? 

First of all, even finding a house that is FSBO can be tough unless you drive by it or someone you know sees the sign out front and passes the news along. Unlike traditional homes for sale, FSBO houses can’t be listed on the MLS, or Multiple Listing Service. This is because only a licensed real estate agent can upload a listing to the MLS. This means less visibility for a house for sale. If you are seeking this kind of ;listing, in hopes of overturning a hidden gem, you’ll have to look harder. Your local classified ads, bulletin boards of community centers, and fliers are all low-tech ways that people use to advertise their home for sale by owner. There are some websites for these types of listings, but they don’t draw the same traffic that the MLS does. 

Just because the owner of a FSBO home in which you are interested doesn’t want to deal with an agent doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t as well… quite the opposite. Homes FSBO may be overpriced (due to sellers’ inexperience with getting accurate comps to establish a fair selling price) and are more likely to have shortcomings or pitfalls that a listing agent would help to ferret out before the house went on the market. It’s very important to enlist the help of a knowledgeable agent when considering a FSBO house, and to have a good inspector. 

As for paying your agent, which the seller typically does, know that there are a few ways to deal with the situation if there isn’t a listing agent in the picture. You can simply ask the buyer to pay all or half (or some other portion) of your agent’s commission, since all parties will be helped by the agent’s experience and handling of complicated paperwork, etc. Or, if they refuse, you can work with your agent to incorporate their portion into your offer figure, so that you aren’t paying more than you want. 

In short, you shouldn’t be daunted by interest in a FSBO home. As long as you have good help and experience on your side, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy the benefits of finding an undiscovered treasure!


Posted in Buying a Home