Northern Virginia Real Estate Blog

The definitive blog, on Northern Virginia Real Estate.

Jan. 13, 2018

Buying After Bankruptcy? It Can Be Done!

Regardless of what some people might think, the vast majority of people who file for bankruptcy are not irresponsible borrowers incapable of handling their finances. A great deal of those who end up bankrupt get there because of life circumstances outside their control: a death in the family, illness, job loss, or some other catastrophe. Although it may seem like the black mark of bankruptcy will haunt you forever, that’s not actually true either. You can buy a home after bankruptcy. There are some rules and procedures set in place that you will need to deal with, but the process is far from impossible.

First of all, you probably know that there is a waiting period after you file bankruptcy before you can buy a house. Exactly how long this “cool down” period lasts depends a lot on the particular lender and/or type of loan you go with. For example, Fannie Mae, requires a minimum two-year waiting period for would-be borrowers who have filed for bankruptcy. On the other hand, the FHA maintains only a minimum one-year ban in place after a bankruptcy.

What type of bankruptcy you filed will also have an impact on how attractive you look to a potential lender. Chapter 13 is called “reorganization” bankruptcy, and it involves you repaying some of your debts back, just consolidated into a manageable monthly payment. This type of bankruptcy is preferable to lenders over Chapter 7, which involves the total dissolution of your debts. Basically, the onus falls on you to show lenders that you are a responsible person who honors their debts.

Towards this end, be prepared to have to formally explain to your lender why you filed for bankruptcy in the first place. Official severance letters, death certificates, and/or doctor’s notes all constitute acceptable documentation of why your financial situation took a downturn. If you were simply an irresponsible or careless spender, you will be expected to prove that you have changed your habits. 

If you are in the waiting period to buy a home after bankruptcy, take the time to re-establish good credit. Open up a couple - not several! - credit cards, and use them judiciously. Pay off the balance every month. This will quickly do wonders for your hard-hit credit score and also serve as proof to lenders that you know how to handle your bills. It may take a little extra time and effort, but you shouldn’t abandon your dreams of owning a home just because of bankruptcy. 


Posted in Buying a Home
Jan. 3, 2018

The Pros to Buying a Home in Your 30s

The way some people have it figured, the good life should follow a road map. You go to college, you get your first “real” job, you get married, have a baby or two, and buy a house. Those last few steps are more or less interchangeable, but you get the point. There’s a lot of societal pressure on young adults to hit all the milestones of grown-up life before hitting the big 3-0. Accordingly, a lot of twenty-somethings run headlong into homeownership, buying what they can afford (which usually isn’t much) with an insufficient downpayment and little room for a growing family. There are actually some great cases to be made for waiting until you hit your 30s to buy a house. Here are a few.

First of all, ``as mentioned, a lot of younger buyers don’t have the full twenty percent for a down payment on a home. This need not be a dealbreaker - there are mortgage loans with down payment requirements as low as 3.5 percent - but you will need to pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI) and likely a higher interest rate to compensate for not having upfront funds. Waiting until you have some serious savings puts you in the running for the best interest rate and pay make it realistic for you to take a 15-year loan instead of a 30-year one, meaning you will pay your home off faster.

Speaking of money, having more of it (like one does in their 30s) means that you have the ability to buy a house that doesn’t need as much work on it as a younger, less stable buyer. For many youthful homeowners, a fixer upper is a near-guarantee, since that is all that they can afford. They then have to spend their money making major repairs to their home, keeping them from getting further ahead financially. If you are more financially stable, you can buy a home that is turnkey-ready, allowing you to enjoy your home as-is and spending little money on major repairs.

One final reason to wait until you are a bit older to buy a house - and it’s a big one - is that you will know exactly where you want to settle down. Young people without kids have the whole world in front of them, and they tend to want to go exploring it. It’s not unheard of for a twenty-something to move from state to state, whether for college or work, not knowing where they will end up. It’s silly to buy a home before you are sure you want to stay in a place. Also, in your 30s, you may be interested in things that didn’t particularly concern you before, like school districts (because you have kids) or crime rates (because you have a nicer car). 

Overall, the right time to buy a house is when you have the money to purchase and maintain it, and you know that you are ready to settle down. Some people in their 20s are ready to make this kind of commitment, but for many, it makes sense to wait until you are a bit older and wiser. 

Posted in Buying a Home
Dec. 26, 2017

Can You Buy a House That's Not For Sale?

It’s happened to most of us: we drive by a house that makes our eyes light up and our breath catch in our chests. A flutter of a heartbeat, a sigh of longing: you’ve encountered your dream house. It looks gorgeous, it’s in the perfect neighborhood or on a street that you’ve always admired from afar. It’s not too big, not too small, and you can totally imagine your family living happily in it for years. There’s just one small problem - the house isn’t on the market.

Can you buy a house that isn’t technically for sale? The answer to that question is a “maybe.” There is nothing stopping anyone, at any time, from approaching the owner(s) of a desirable home and inquiring as to whether they’d be willing to sell, and for what price. Of course, there is a high possibility that the owners are happy where they are - it’s an awesome house, after all - and a.) have no desire to sell, or b.) want a price so high that it is unreasonable for you to buy it.

Let’s say that you are ballsy enough to want to submit an offer on a house that isn’t currently for sale. Maybe it was on the market previously and the owners pulled it from the MLS due to a lack of suitable offers, or maybe it hasn’t even been up for sale. Your first step is to connect with a qualified real estate agent who can do some legwork for you. First of all, you need to ascertain whether the home can even be sold. It could be in a state of foreclosure or awaiting litigation, which would kibosh the probability of a sale right then and there. 

Once you have tracked down the homeowner(s), your real estate agent can approach them with a bonafide offer and a letter explaining why you want to purchase the house. Naturally, you will want to include an appraisal contingency in the offer, since, if you have only gazed at the home from the street, you have no idea whether it contains major issues that would affect your offer or willingness to buy, like a mold problem, a crumbling roof, or other major damage.

Once you have done all that, you should brace yourself for the likelihood of rejection. If someone is comfortable in their house, the possibility of selling and going through the hassle of selling and moving may seem preposterous. It’s definitely a leap of faith type of situation. Also, knowing that you are keen to own something that is not technically for sale, the owner(s) may not be willing to sell unless they can get a ridiculously high price to tempt them to move. There’s a big chance that things will not work out. As is the case with all things in life, however, it doesn’t hurt to try. 

Posted in Buying a Home
Dec. 21, 2017

What You Need to Know About VA Loans

If you are currently serving in the United States military or are a veteran, first of all thank you for your service. If you are thinking about buying a home, did you know that your military status opens up some doors for you with regard to getting a new place to live. VA loans are a special kind of mortgage available only to current and former members of the armed services, and they have a lot of great benefits.

The most spoken-about benefit of a VA loan is that there’s no down payment required on the home you plan to buy. After all, putting away money for a downpayment on a house is usually the biggest hurdle that people encounter on their quest to become homeowners. Military families often rely on the income of just one spouse, due to constant moving around, so not tying up resources on a down payment is a real benefit. That’s not to say that buying under a VA loan is without cash out of pocket: this type of loan still requires closing costs and the earnest money deposit, which is an amount of money negotiated by buyer and seller that the buyer puts in escrow to essentially "hold" the house and confirm their intention to buy. Most of this money comes back to the buyer at closing, however. 

The credit score requirement for a VA loan is a lot less strenuous than the ones required for traditional mortgages as well. While a FICO score of 650-700 is usually required by banks to get approved for a home loan, the VA can usually approve a buyer with a score of just 620. Moreover, the debt-to-income ratio is more forgiving with a VA loan, meaning that a buyer with less-than-perfect credit and some debt to their name can still obtain a loan.

VA loans also do not require a buyer to pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI) if they have made less than a 20 percent downpayment. While this can be a cause of significant savings (PMI runs about $200 per month on average), VA buyers still have to cover the cost of a "funding fee,” which is an upfront cost applied to every purchase loan or refinance. Funding fees help the VA cover losses on the few loans that go into default. It’s more flexible than PMI, however: those buying a house can choose to roll it into their monthly payment, or pay it all at once. Additionally, it's tax-deductible. If you happen to be a veteran with a service-connected disability, you don’t have to pay the funding fee at all.

As you can see, there are multiple benefits to obtaining a VA loan when purchasing your new home. Those in the armed forces serve our country proudly, and it’s great that there is a benefit to help them have a home to come back to.

Posted in Buying a Home
Dec. 19, 2017

5 Tough Truths Every Home Seller Faces

Make no mistake: selling your home is a lot of work. Usually it’s more work than people anticipate it will be, as a matter of fact. And even if you are the most prepared person in the world, there are some hard realizations you will face as you go through the home sale process. Here are five.

1. My Taste =/= Everyone Else’s.

Most likely you have invested a significant amount of time in making your home look beautiful. Your choice of paint, flooring, and decor may be what makes your home yours, but when it’s time to sell a house, it’s also time to remove “you” (the seller) from the equation. If you have favored bold colors and dramatic decorating choices over the years, prepare for your realtor to tell you it needs to be toned down. Neutral decor is the standard for a house on the market, since it appeals to the widest range of buyers and allows them to picture themselves in your house. It can be a rough truth to embrace, but sometimes your style needs to go.

2. Time to Step Out. Yes, Again.

Having a house on the market is a trying time for the owner. You have to constantly keep the home clean and tidy for showings at any time of day, which, if you have children, is a task nigh on impossible. And then there’s the fact that you have to be prepared to step out of your house at any time for last-minute showings. Just comes home from work? Relaxing after cutting the grass and doing chores on Sunday? Doesn’t matter. If you are serious about selling your home, you need to cooperate with your real estate agent and those representing potential buyers.

3. My House Doesn’t Feel Like Home.

This is a point that follows the previous “truth.” You may have thought that your house was going to be your home right up until the moment at closing that you handed over the keys, but the truth is that the separation process starts long before that. It begins with systematically removing all personal traces of you from your home as you “stage” it for sale, and continues as you submit to buyer after buyer traipsing through your home to inspect every aspect of it. It’s likely that you will feel displaced and uncomfortable by this process. If you have kept everything in good shape and offered a fair asking price, however, hopefully the home will sell quickly and the process will be over soon. 

4. You Call THAT an Offer?!

As long as there have been sale transactions between humans, there have been buyers insulting sellers with lowball offers. Tempted as you may be to counter with the full asking price and refuse to budge, keep in mind that this is the nature of the game. Don’t take very low offers personally. Choose either to counter or to decline, but don’t harbor negative feelings towards a potential buyer or their agent. It’s just business. 

5. This Is Never Going to End.

It’s a red-hot seller’s market in many areas of the country right now, but that doesn’t guarantee that every house is going to be under contract within three days in every neighborhood. If the selling process is taking longer than you expected, don’t lose faith. Let your agent be your guide and help you determine if you should maybe lower the price or even take the house off the market for a while and try again when conditions are more favorable.

Posted in Selling Your Home
Dec. 13, 2017

How to Say Farewell to Your Home

Selling your home is more than just a business transaction. In between the hecticness of doing repairs in preparation for listing, finding an agent, running in and out for open houses and showings, and all the activity that comes from being under contract, you can lose sight of the fact that you are giving up the place where you planted your roots. Your home is filled with memories that you have built up over the years, and the loss of that comfort can hit you like a ton of bricks at some point in the selling process. If you are a sentimental person, it can be a very difficult transition. How do you say goodbye to a home you have loved? Here are some suggestions. 

One idea is to have a painting or drawing made of your home by a professional artist. Artists on Etsy and similar websites take commissions for projects like these. For a moderate investment, you will have a keepsake of the place you called home that you can hang up in your new residence. With a look, you will always be reminded of your old home. 

If you have a green thumb, taking seeds or cuttings from beloved plants and trees on your property can be one way of bringing part of your old home into your new one. If you have a garden that you have lovingly tended over the years, or simply a plant or tree that you think of fondly, you can take a bit of it and replant it. Even if you have to move several times - if, say, you are a military family - this can be a continual way of preserving part of what makes home, home. 

This one’s a simple tip that a lot of homeowners forget to do: take pictures and video of your home. Before you start packing, go from room to room and take shots of your home as you have known it, from every angle. Sit in your favorite chair and capture a shot of your living room wall as you see it every evening. Capture your kids’ rooms to freeze this stage of their lives as they are, even if there is a mess. Then break out the video camera and shoot yourself taking a tour of your home. A visual aid is so much better than memories, which can fade over time. Twenty years down the road, you will be grateful for these remembrances of your home. 

How did you say goodbye to your home? How would you do so if you were moving tomorrow? It’s a good question to ask before you close and hand over the keys.

Posted in Selling Your Home
Dec. 10, 2017

Two Mortgages on Your Home? Here's What to Know Before You Sell

There’s plenty to consider before placing your home for sale, but these concerns may be multiplied if you have two mortgages on your home. You might be wondering if you can sell your home at all, and, if so, what special steps you will need to take to make the sale successful. Rest assured that there are ways to sell a home with two mortgages. Here’s what you need to know. 

There are all kinds of reasons why a homeowner may have two mortgages on their home. One common one is because the owner, when they bought the house, couldn’t afford the full 20 percent down payment but didn’t want to have to pay PMI (private mortgage insurance) on the property. Ergo, they got what is called an 80-10-10 loan, where the buyer provides a 10 percent down payment, gets a main mortgage for 80 percent of the home’s selling price, and gets a second mortgage for the remaining 10 percent of the down payment. There’s nothing wrong with this type of arrangement, as long as you can make comfortable payments on both loans each month.

Selling a home with two mortgages is exactly like selling a home with one, as long as the value of the house is higher than the sum of the two mortgages’ outstanding balances. In this case, the home sale will pay off both mortgages, and hopefully you even have a bit of equity and get cut a check by the title company for the remainder of the proceeds. 

If, however, the home’s value or selling price comes in below the sum of the mortgages, you will have to make some hard decisions. You will have to either come up with the missing funds out of pocket to cover the full balance of the loans, or - and this is the more common outcome - you will have to get the second mortgage lender to agree to a short sale on their portion of the sale. This is not a decision to be taken lightly, as it will affect your credit. You also will usually have to provide proof of some kind of hardship to get a short sale approved, such as a job loss or medical bills. If neither is an option, you might have to reconsider putting your home up for sale. Housing markets fluctuate, and there is always the possibility that your home will be worth more in a few years if you can sit it out and, in the meantime, make improvements on your home. 

Having two mortgages on your home need not be a big deal when it comes to selling your home, as you can see, but it depends on a lot of variable factors. A qualified real estate agent can work with you to explore your options and help make the best decision for your situation.

Posted in Selling Your Home
Nov. 28, 2017

New Fertility Clinic Opens in Fairfax

For individuals and couples struggling to conceive in Northern Virginia, there is a beacon of hope. Shady Grove Fertility, the largest fertility clinic in the Greater Washington D.C. area, announced recently that they were moving their Annandale, VA location to a significantly bigger, full-service facility in Fairfax. Patients in the new facility will be seen by doctors David Saffan, M.D., Eric Levens, M.D., and Rachana Garde, M.D. 

Shady Grove has been serving infertile patients in Virginia for twenty-five years, with locations in Arlington, Fair Oaks, Leesburg, Woodbridge, Haymarket, Dulles-Aldie, and now Fairfax. Overall, the practice employs nine reproductive endocrinologists and one reproductive urologist in the Northern Virginia area, many of whom were recently named a Washingtonian Top Doctor in Infertility. The practice is much bigger, with locations in Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania. Overall there are 41 doctors spread between 28 locations. 

The fertility center helps individuals and couples who meet the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s standards for having trouble conceiving. That means no success with unprotected intercourse when the female partner is under 35 years old, 6 months if aged between 35 and 40, and 3 months if the woman is older than 40. There are also several health and/or genetic conditions that make it a good idea for a woman to seek help before conceiving. 

According to a press release, the new center is state-of-the-art: “Virginia patients will also soon benefit from the opening of Shady Grove Fertility’s newest IVF laboratory and procedure center in April 2018, located in the new Fairfax, VA office. The new space is over 6,500 square feet and is home to physician offices for patient consultations as well as dedicated andrology laboratories for procedures such as intrauterine insemination (IUI), sperm preparation, and patient monitoring. The state-of-the-art embryology laboratory is located next to a spacious ambulatory surgery center with 5 recovery bays, 3 embryo transfer rooms, and 2 operating rooms.”

This year, the practice achieved a milestone of 50,000 babies born as a result of their work since opening in 1991. Shady Grove prides itself on staying up to date on the newest research and technology in the field of reproductive medicine, as well as its excellent patient care and word of mouth. In fact, 96 percent of Shady Grove’s patients say that they would recommend the practice to a friend or loved one. 

“Continuous research, innovation, and a commitment to stay at the cutting edge of reproductive science, all hallmarks of our practice, improves outcomes for patients and helps more couples conceive,” Dr. Levens stated, neatly summing up Shady Grove’s appeal. 

Posted in Fairfax County
Nov. 20, 2017

The Ups and Downs of Pools

Who doesn’t love a swimming pool? For families, this is an item that pops up often on their “dream home” wishlist. Kids (and a lot of adults) have images of blissful summer afternoons floating in clear, blue water with a drink in hand, just watching the world go by. Nobody’s denying that pools are awesome. But that awesomeness comes with a price tag, as well as a lot of hard work and concerns about safety. What are the pros and cons to buying a home with a pool, or adding on to your existing home? Read all about it here.

The biggest pro in favor of owning a pool is its recreational value. Regardless of geographical location, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be able to use it at least a quarter of the year, and that number shoots up if your pool has a heater. And yes, kids love pools. There’s no question, if you have a growing family, that the pool will be enjoyed. But kids loving pools can also be a downside if your children don’t know how to swim - then they become a danger. If you own a pool you will need to safeguard not only your own little ones, but those around the neighborhood as well. You’ll need sturdy fencing and gates to keep nosy kids from sneaking in, as a pool is considered an “attractive nuisance.”

Then there’s the cost issue. Swimming pools cost major money. It is definitely cheaper to buy a house that already has a pool than it is to put one in yourself. We’re talking tens of thousands of dollars here. On the other hand, a home that has a well-maintained pool will sell for more than a home without one. If you install a pool you should - assuming no dips in the local market - recoup at least some of the cost of putting it in. 

That brings us around to the business of maintaining a swimming pool, which is no mean feat. If you don’t upkeep your pool accurately and regularly, health and safety issues can plague you. You need to keep track of the chemicals in the pool to keep water PH levels accurate. Messing up in this area can lead to swimmers getting ill, or algae and other bacteria forming in the pool. Ever seen a neglected, swamp-green pool? That’s what can happen if you don’t know what you are doing. Luckily, you can research these things easily on the internet, or talk to the professionals at pool supply stores. And, if all else fails, you can hire a service to clean and maintain the pool for you.

In conclusion, a pool can be a great addition to a home. It’s important to weigh the good and bad aspects of pool ownership closely, however. 

Posted in Buying a Home
Nov. 14, 2017

Historic Neighborhood in NoVA: Old Town Alexandria

Northern Virginia, being rich in history, is filled with quaint and beautiful historic towns. These small hamlets represent not just remnants of critical moments in our nation’s history, but the encapsulation of “small town America” that people love. One Northern Virginia neighborhood with historical flair and prettiness in abundance is Old(e) Town, Alexandria.

Old Town is minutes away from the nation’s Capital, situated on the opposite bank of the Potomac from Washington, D.C. It dates back to 1749, before the Revolutionary War even took place. One notable resident of this part of Alexandria was none other than George Washington, who built Mount Vernon nine miles away.

Today, Old Town is a vibrant community with over 200 boutiques and restaurants, as well as a slew of historical museums and attractions. Visitors can buy a Key To the City pass, which gives them access to eight of the neighborhood’s fascinating museums. The hub of Old Town life is the bustling waterfront, where citywide events tend to take place. Lined with picture-perfect cobblestone streets and red brick sidewalks, Old Town attract pet walkers, parents with strollers, and casual walkers drinking in the sights. At the heart of Old Town is its main thoroughfare, King Street, which is recognized as one of America’s great Main Streets. To explore its length, visitors can hop aboard the free King Street Trolley.

Some of Old Town’s historic buildings include Carlyle House, a tremendously lovely merchant’s house dating back to 1753. It features an immaculate city garden and gorgeous interior carvings, and the Athenaeum - recognizable for its pink color and neoclassical-style. Built in 1851, the building once held a bank but now holds an arts center. 

Old Town is home to the oldest farmer’s market in the country! On Saturday mornings you can join the crowds that gather there to buy fresh produce, flowers, and handmade goodies. Enjoy breakfast or lunch like the locals do! If you want a sense for how old the market is, just imagine the fact that George Washington sold crops from his farm there. 

Beer lovers can’t visit without downing a pint of Port City Beer, made fresh locally at Old Town’s award-winning brewery. Named the Best Small Brewery in the U.S. in 2015, Port City is the oldest craft brewery in the D.C. region. 

Like previously said, Northern Virginia is full of history. One place to start exploring it is Old Town Alexandria, which is as scenic as it is relevant to our country’s past.

(CC photo by AgnosticPreachersKid)

Posted in Fairfax County