Northern Virginia Real Estate Blog

The definitive blog, on Northern Virginia Real Estate.

Sept. 25, 2017

Your Guide to Buying a Home In Another State

Buying a home is difficult enough when you know the general area where you want to live. Even if you are local, knowing the exact lines where school districts begin and end, what is an incorporated or unincorporated part of the city, and the character of individual neighborhoods (down to a street-by-street level) is a matter of hyperlocal knowledge that you might not get from even the most knowledgeable real estate agent. Imagine buying a home in another state, maybe even one that you haven’t visited before! This situation can arise from a number of circumstances; maybe you or your spouse are in the military, or have accepted a promising job offer somewhere else in the country. How do you go about buying a home in another state? It’s important to take the right steps.

First of all, you need to have a timeline in place. When are you planning to move? How long do you need to sell your current house, and how long will you need to close on a new one? In a perfect world, these two time periods overlap, but that rarely happens. Most importantly, do you have time to schedule a trip out to look at houses and get to know your new prospective neighborhood a little bit before making an offer? It’s certainly possible to buy a home sight unseen, but it is drastically preferable to at least gain a shallow sense of where you’ll be living.

Secondly, as is the case in any home purchase, you will want to secure financing for your mortgage. It’s always a good rule of thumb to go into a home purchase pre-approved for a loan, but this is especially important when buying a home out of state. There may be different laws or steps of the approval process governing out-of-state buyers. 

Next up is a very important step: doing your research. Your best-case scenario is one where you have friends or family in the area that can run some reconnaissance for you on neighborhoods where you might want to live, but if not, you will have to turn to the internet. Websites like CityData.com will give you information on the population, demographics, crime rate, and average home price of an area where you are thinking about living. If you have narrowed down your search to a particular neighborhood or subdivision, see if they have a Facebook page or website where you can find out information about the little things that matter, such as HOA rules, nearby parks and rec centers, the quality of schools, and even what thoroughfares experience a lot of traffic.

Once you think you have narrowed down the area where you want to live, you will want to enlist the help of a savvy buyer’s agent to help you find the perfect home. Your agent will be armed with your list of criteria and will work in your interest to find the right nest for your family. They may send you listings that you can view online, so that you can work on a shortlist of homes that you want to visit if you have the luxury of making a trip over to tour prospective homes. 

In short, buying a home in another state can be a stressful process. If you are willing to work hard and do your research, however, you can still end up in exactly the right place for your family!  

Sept. 22, 2017

NoVA Joins the Race to Become Amazon's New Home

Amazon, online purveyor of just about everything under the sun, is on the hunt for a great location to house its second U.S. headquarters. The digital giant, which calls Seattle home, put out word recently that it would be taking bids from municipalities who believed that they had what Amazon was looking for. Amazon is ready to shell out $5 billion on its “HQ2” project, the end result of which is expected to end with the hiring of 50,000 well-paid workers. Chicago and Philadelphia quickly jumped into the game, followed swiftly by Boston. All these cities have publicly boasted that they have the amenities - space, airports, workforce, economy, you name it - that would benefit Amazon. But how about Northern Virginia? The area definitely hits several of the criteria that Amazon has established as needs for a new home. That’s why several counties in the metro area have submitted their own bids. 

Amazon laid out their requirements for a headquarters location, which include metropolitan areas with more than one million people, a stable and business-friendly environment, urban or suburban locations with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent, and communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options. Arlington, Fairfax, Loudon and Prince William counties are all vying as eligible candidates. Forefront among Northern Virginia’s charms, says Bobbie Kilberg, CEO of the Northern Virginia Technology Council, is the weather. It’s much nicer here than in Chicago, Philadelphia, or Boston. 

Additionally, Northern Virginia has tons of land that could be used to build expansive office spaces, the highest educated population per capita in the country, a high number of information technology workers, and great schools and research universities. Kilberg told the Boston Herald that Amazon should also be impressed by the fact that Virginia is a right-to-work state with a low state tax.

Throwing their hat into the ring at the same time as Northern Virginia was Toronto. The Canadian hotspot indicated that the country’s government had a way of fast-tracking visas for highly-skilled workers, which would make an attractive enticement. Amazon already has 2 million-plus square feet of space - a huge amount - in the Toronto area, along with almost 1,000 workers. “Like Boston, we have amazing access to talent with our universities, but one of our secret weapons is we are one of the global hubs for artificial technology with the Vector Institute and the University of Toronto,” said Mark Cohon, chairman of Toronto Global, which is leading the regional bid.

We don’t need Amazon to tell us that Northern Virginia is a great place to work! It would definitely make a great home for the company, and the company would in turn provide a massive boost to the local economy. 

Sept. 20, 2017

Massive New Sports Complex Coming to Fairfax County

Coming to Springfield, Virginia in September 2018 is The St. James, a new sports and wellness complex that will be distinguished if, for nothing else, by its sheer size. The complex will be 450,000 square feet (no, there were no accidental zeroes there), which the Washingtonian compared, for size, to “20 H&M stores put together, or more than 100 McDonald’s.”

Construction just broke on the complex, which will have so many components to it that listing them all sounds mildly ludicrous. Again, from the Washingtonian: “There will be a FIFA regulation-sized turf field, two NHL regulation-sized ice rinks, four full-length basketball courts (which can transform into nine volleyball courts), an Olympic regulation-sized pool, six batting cages, eight international regulation-sized squash courts, seven golf simulators, 3,000 feet of climbing and bouldering walls, a gymnastics training center, a 50,000-square-foot health club gym, a spa, and a sports medicine center.”

But as if that wasn’t enough, there will also be a water park (6,000 square feet, all indoors), an “active entertainment center” featuring diversions like obstacle courses, zip lines, trampolines, virtual reality, and a gaming theater, whatever that is. A restaurant and a sports shop round out the ridiculous list of offerings.

The St. James’ founders, Kendrick Ashton and Craig Dixon in partnership with Cain International, acknowledge that while today’s trend is for gyms that are smaller and more boutique-like in their offerings, the St James’ “all in one” setup will be extremely appealing to families in the area. Ashton says that, instead of all the members of a busy family going in “85 different directions” to undertake their sports hobbies and wellness endeavors, now they can have everything they need under one roof.

?Ashton and Dixon, who are old college buddies, say that they toured several mega-sized sports complexes around the country before deciding that the Northern Virginia and D.C. metro area needed one of its own. Dixon says that the St. James is looking to offer the public a “consistent and really high-quality” experience by providing all of the health and wellness programming they’d expect from a gym, along with all sports equipment. Anyone can come and purchase a class or buy time at the St. James, but individual and family memberships will be available. Memberships are already for sale on the complex’s website. And oh, yeah - the St. James will be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. With everything you want under one roof, you’ll not only never want to leave, but you won’t actually have to, either. 

Sept. 13, 2017

Making Your Northern Virginia Roof Hurricane-Proof

Tips to hurricane-proof your roof in Northern VirginiaWith the devastation of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and, most recently, Hurricane Irma in Florida, it’s a good time to think about making sure your own home would be safe in the event of a hurricane hitting us here in Northern Virginia. While we are nowhere near as prone to devastating storms as states located on the Gulf of Mexico, that doesn’t mean that we are exempt from damaging catastrophes that could wreak havoc on your home. 

High winds and heavy rain - even if they are not from a tropical storm or hurricane - can do a lot of damage to your roof and home if you are not diligent about upkeeping both. A major storm like a hurricane can pose a severe threat to your roof. It doesn’t take an expert to know that, if your roof goes, leaks can damage the contents of your home. You could even be dealing with a roof caving in, which is a danger to you and your loved ones. A roof leak need not even be major to cause damage to your home. According to R.M. Banning Roofing of Fairfax: “Water leaks can lead to the rotting and decaying of wooden structures in your home. Based on its size, and how long it persists before you seek repair, a water leak can wreak havoc on the foundation of your house, causing major structural damage that is both invasive and costly. In addition to rotting wood, leaks can also lead to mold,- another huge problem for many homes following big storms. Mold develops in damp or moist places (i.e. from the water leaks we just mentioned)! Its spores multiply very quickly, meaning that in relatively little time, your entire house could be infected with mold. Mold also poses many health risks, including allergic reactions and even allergy attacks.”

The only way to prevent a catastrophe like this from happening is to “hurricane proof” your roof while the weather is calm and serene. This can involve either repairing and fortifying an existing roof, or replacing an old one with a roof that is new, tough, and up to current hurricane standards. A new roof is undoubtedly expensive, costing tens of thousands of dollars. Considering the damage that hurricanes and other storms can do to the interior of your home, however, you can consider this a cost that pays for itself in prevention. 

If a hurricane, tropical storm, or severe storm has already compromised your roof, it is critical that you contact a licensed roofing professional as soon as possible to assess the damage and make necessary repairs to ensure that you will be better prepared for the next bout of inclement weather that comes around. 

Aug. 30, 2017

Foreclosures and Short Sales: What You Need to Know

Are you considering purchasing a home that’s in foreclosure, or as a short sale? If so, you really need to make sure that you understand the meaning of these terms and what the home’s status means to the buying process, because it’s actually a big deal. A good basic rule to consider when looking at a foreclosed, pre-foreclosed, or short sale home is to move forward with caution, if at all. If you are a first-time buyer looking to move into a home and live there right away, this type of sale is probably not right for you. Even under different circumstances, it might not be right for you. There are numerous pitfalls associated with buying a distressed home, and understanding them is important.

A short sale happens when a seller owes more on the home than the house is worth (or the price it can realistically sell for) and is asking the bank to pay off the house at a smaller amount. A short sale home may be in some state of the foreclosure process, usually because the seller is behind on mortgage payments. A short sale is bad for your credit, so most people won’t make that choice unless it’s a last resort. You can buy a short sale house through a regular Realtor, but the buying process won’t be the same as with a normal home. First of all, the process is arduous and drawn-out. A short sale purchase typically takes six months to a year. If you need a place to live ASAP, this will be a problem. Also, while many people might think that a short sale equals a great bargain, the truth is that the bank will be trying to get back as much of the money they lent as possible, so they will likely torpedo lowball offers. Just because a seller agrees to a short sale price, it doesn’t mean that the lender will as well. In some cases, it can be a better deal for the bank to simply let the house foreclose, because there are fewer costs involved.

A foreclosed home, on the other hand, is one where the lender has already repossessed the home from the owners due to a lack of payment. Foreclosure is a process that begins 90 days after the owners’ last mortgage payment. Most buyers of foreclosed properties do so at auction, sight unseen. Experienced investors buy up foreclosures with a lot of cash and a formula that helps determine whether flipping the house will turn a profit. Buying a foreclosure is not an endeavor for the inexperienced buyer. Many factors can make a foreclosure a risky investment. For one thing, the former owners may still reside in the house, and you would then have to go through the legal process of evicting them. Not only does this cost you time, but it is common for angry and frustrated foreclosed owners to trash their soon-to-be-former home before they leave. Also, quotes Realtor.com, “"if you buy, you assume all liens, IRS liens, and other mortgages possibly tied to the property," says Kevin Sucher, a real estate agent in Portland, OR.” Plus, offering the most money for a foreclosed property won’t necessarily win you the purchase. Unlike normal sales, the bank is, with foreclosures, most likely to go with the deal that will close most quickly and without hurdles.

If you are considering buying a foreclosed home or a short sale, the information here is only a primer. You owe it to yourself to thoroughly research the processes that go into distressed home sales and to learn what you need to know about going through with such a sale.

Posted in Selling Your Home
Aug. 28, 2017

Where Have All the Low-Priced Homes Gone?

According to CNBC, there are no more low-priced homes to be found in the United States right now. The National Association of Realtors states that this past July saw the median American home selling for $258,300, which marked the highest July figure on record. Home prices are higher right now at every price point, but those high prices are being felt the most deeply at the low-priced end of the spectrum, the starter homes and small, inexpensive domiciles. Prices are up, and inventory is low. 

There is some speculation that the housing market may finally have hit a wall. Prices have climbed so steadily and aggressively that there is no longer any room to go up. Experts say that there is tentative proof of that in the fact that sales fell slightly in July.

In examining sales data, the National Association of Realtors divides home into six “buckets” by price. CNBC shares that “sales in the range of $100,000 or below were down 14 percent compared with a year ago, while sales of million-dollar and higher homes jumped nearly 20 percent.”

?Another indicator? There’s the fact that, in 2013, when home prices were just starting to recover from the crash of the Great Recession, the share of homes sold above $500,000 was just 9 percent of all sales. Today, that particular “bucket” accounts for 14 percent of sales. The share of the lowest-priced houses, on the other hand, is half of what it was four years ago.

"On the lower end, there is virtually no property at a very low price level anymore," said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors. "The same property has been moved up to a different price bucket just because the prices have been rising strongly, over 40 percent price appreciation in the past five years. We are not getting the transactions on the lower end because there is virtually no inventory on the lower end."

After the housing crisis, there was a trend of investors buying up low-end properties at bargain-basement prices, removing inventory from the market and putting it back at higher price points. Homebuilders are putting new homes in the market at a breakneck pace, but they are not selling low-cost homes. The combination has been detrimental for buyers looking for low-priced homes, such as first-time home buyers. If housing prices stop increasing, however, there is hope that the trend could reverse itself.

Posted in Buying a Home
Aug. 25, 2017

What, Besides Price, You Can Negotiate When Buying a Home

If you are buying a home for the first time, it’s easy to lose track of the power you have over negotiations. Of course, you know that you can bargain on the price of the house. But buyers have the ability to negotiate several other aspects of the buying process. Of course, you have to have amenable sellers, but it’s good to know that you can ask for certain things as part of the contract when buying your new home. Here are a fours areas of negotiation that buyers routinely overlook:

1. How long required to close.

First of all, there’s the timeframe you’ll require to close. For most sellers, a quick closing is preferable. Oftentimes they have been through a lot getting the house ready to sell, and the lure of a quick closing can be the incentive that pushes your offer ahead of others on the table. Of course, you have to make sure that you factor in enough time to get your inspections and paperwork done. Your financing must also be worked out in time, so make sure your bank is on board.

2. If appliances are included in the price.

A point of misunderstanding for many new buyers is what appliances are included in the home purchase. In most areas it is common for the kitchen appliances to carry over with the house, but not the washer or dryer. Find out what is customary in your area, and if you have a specific request, you can make it to the seller. It goes both ways. If you don’t want certain appliances for whatever reason - they are outdated or unattractive - you can also negotiate to have them removed before closing.

3. Which repairs are needed before close.

?Repairs are another area where buyers have ample room to negotiate. This is true both before you make an offer and after the inspections have been performed. If there are known issues with the house, you can make it part of the contract that they must be addressed before closing. In the case of major repairs like roofing, foundation, or HVAC issues, you can save yourself thousands of dollars this way.

4. Who will cover the closing costs.

And then there are closing costs. Closing costs are one of those things that can smack an inexperienced buyer in the face, because they just came up with the down payment and were likely not anticipating an additional outlay of cash. It is not abnormal for sellers to cover part of the buyers’ closing costs. This is something else that can be negotiated in your contract.

Posted in Buying a Home
Aug. 23, 2017

Young Adults: Skip the Weddings and Buy a House

If you are in your mid-twenties to early thirties, you have undoubtedly noticed the epidemic of people you know getting married. It seems like everyone, all at the same time, decides that the joys of connubial bliss are for them. Every other Facebook post is a picture of a shining engagement ring or an album of professional wedding photographs. If you know a lot of people taking the plunge and tying the knot, it can mean a lot of money spent for you. And if you are close enough to the bride or groom that you end up in the wedding party, it can mean even more. 

This is especially true given the fact that bachelor or bachelorette parties are becoming bigger and more extravagant than ever before, costing the participants more money. Zillow calls this phenomenon a post The Hangover occurrence, but no matter what the cause, the end result is the same: young people are spending large chunks of money on weddings that they could be putting away for the down payment on a house.

“Destination bachelor and bachelorette parties are becoming the new norm for many millennials who prize experience and grew up with The Hangover's depiction of pre-wedding adventure," Zillow reports. "However, those who attend just nine of these trips in a lifetime will have spent up to $13,788, or 34% of a down payment on the median U.S. home, according to a new Zillow report."

To calculate these figures, Zillow calculated how much cash is needed for a 20% down payment on a home, and how much of it may be going toward lavish wedding-related parties instead. It does depend on the metro area’s housing market and the average cost of a bachelor or bachelorette shindig in these areas. Cleveland and Pittsburgh can see young people spending a full half of their down payment on wedding parties. In hotter real estate markets like San Francisco, the percentage of money taken away from the down payment on a median-priced home may be just in the single digits.

"Buying a home is one of the most expensive purchases someone will ever make, and for most first-time buyers that means years of saving money to afford a down payment," says Jeremy Wacksman, Zillow chief marketing officer in a quote from Builder Online. "Attending your friends' bachelor or bachelorette parties can be a trip of a lifetime. While everyone's budget and priorities are different, big ticket expenses like vacations can add up surprisingly quickly – a lot faster than a $19 avocado toast."

In other words, make sure your own goals are being met before you shell out big bucks on that bachelor or bachelorette party. A home is more important than a big party, and will last you a lot longer. 

Posted in Buying a Home
Aug. 16, 2017

Building Home Equity the Quick Way

Building equity in your house.As a potential or current homeowner, you undoubtedly are interested in building equity in your home. Your home equity is the value of your home above what it is currently mortgaged at, and it gives you peace of mind and security that your investment in your home was solid and that you have that value to tap if need be. Everyone wants more home equity, but many are unsure how to go about growing it. It turns out that there are several ways to build your home equity quickly. These steps, taken before you even purchase your home, will ensure that you maximize your home’s equity potential!

1. Opt for a 15-Year Mortgage.

First of all, you can opt for a 15-year mortgage instead of a 30-year loan. You might be thinking that this is impossible because the monthly payment for a shorter-term, mortgage would be double the amount, but this is not true. According to the Go Homeside blog: “if you purchase a $200,000 home at 3.8% interest for 30 years, the monthly payment (excluding taxes, insurance and PMI) will be around $932. Calculate the same mortgage amount and interest rate with a 15-year term and the payment increases to $1,459. This is a difference of $532.” Maybe an extra $500 a month simply is not in your budget. But, if you can, a shorter mortgage term will help you eliminate debt faster and build equity in your home. 

2. Put Down a Larger Downpayment.

Also on the topic of home-buying, know that you can build equity faster with a larger down payment. While it’s true that some FHA loans have down payment requirements as low as 3.5% and it can be tempting to keep your cash in your pocket, you will build equity fastest with a larger down payment… think the traditional twenty percent. This will make the amount that you are financing lower, and will make your equity higher from the get-go.

3. Pay Extra on Your Principal.

Once you have purchased your home, consider paying extra on your principal. Experts have proven that making one extra principal payment a year can knock seven or eight years off the life of your loan. Scraping together an extra payment can seem staggering, but not if you spread it out over the twelve months of the year. If your mortgage payment is $1,200, you can divide that by 12 and pay just an extra $100… not so bad, right? This will help pay down your loan faster and help build equity in your home!

Posted in Selling Your Home
July 31, 2017

Almost Half of All U.S. Homeowners Have Buyer's Remorse

Buyer’s remorse is an awful thing, especially when it comes to something on which you’ve spent a lot of money. Perhaps the worst form of buyer’s remorse takes place when a homeowner regrets their choice of a house… and yet, it’s a very real phenomenon, and common enough that nearly half of all American buyers feel it, says CNBC.

A study done by real estate aggregator Trulia says that 44 percent of homeowners have some regrets about the house that they bought. Not buying a bigger home accounted for most of the dissatisfaction, said the study, which was conducted on 2,000 adults in late June. Homebuyer’s remorse is an expensive problem, given that the median U.S. home price was $252,800 in May. As per the National Association of Realtors, that’s up 5.8 percent from last year. 

Home size accounted for a full third of the complaints homeowners had, a phenomenon that experts say is to be expected when home prices are soaring and consumers have to perhaps settle for a smaller house than they would like. David Weidner, managing editor for Trulia's housing economics research team, says that this is a regret that settles in quickly, perhaps even before the house sale closes. Even 16 percent of buyers making $100,000 or more per year wish that they could go for a larger home. 

A fifth of the respondents to the Trulia survey told experts that housing mistakes they made in the past were keeping them from moving forward and changing their housing situation. Renters, for example, might have to move to a smaller residence or take on roommates to be able to save for the down payment on a house if homeownership is their real dream. If you recently bought your home and are unhappy, you should still live there for a few years before taking the plunge and entering the market again, says Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for personal finance website Bankrate.com.

"If you haven't been there for a long period of time, the transaction costs can more than eat up the equity you may have accumulated or the modest down payment you put down," he said.

Experts say that the keys to avoiding buyer’s remorse on your home are to do your research and save up  enough before going into a purchase. Figure out how much you can afford and set yourself boundaries, making sure to save up enough not just for closing costs, but for the purchases that inevitably come afterwards as well. 

Posted in Buying a Home