Northern Virginia Real Estate Blog

The definitive blog, on Northern Virginia Real Estate.

June 17, 2018

Making Pool Maintenance Easier for Homeowners

Having a pool is great, right? Especially now, in the thick of summer, when it feels so good to dive into cool, crystal-blue waters and float on one of those ridiculous unicorn-shaped loungers with a chilly drink in your hand. Heaven! Unfortunately, for every day you spend enjoying your pool, it can feel like you spend three cursing at the chemicals, skimming crap off the surface, and vacuuming. Oh, the humanity! Luckily, pool maintenance doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Here are some basic tips to keep your pool looking great and your stress levels down. 

Reserve One Day a Week for Pool Maintenance 

First of all, you should designate one day a week as your pool maintenance day and religiously set about to making sure everything gets covered on that one day. According to Realtor.com: “Measure and adjust your pool chemicals, brush out the pool, and break out the net for any big debris. Then, empty the baskets and make sure the pool filter is clean.” This way, you get all the hassle out of the way and leave free time to enjoy the pool. Of course, you can always hire a pool-cleaning service to pick up the maintenance for you, but you’re talking about a couple of hundred dollars a month at least.

Save Monthly for Pool Expenses

Secondly, when you are making your monthly budget, make sure you set aside a modest amount of money regularly for inevitable pool breakdowns. Pools have a lot of finicky parts that, thanks to their constant contact with water, tend to malfunction easily. The pump could stop working, the plumbing could erode, or one of the baskets could break… and these are just some basic examples. Don’t get caught with your proverbial pants down. Make sure you have money set aside for repairs. 

Regularly Check Your Water Level

Lastly, keep an eye on the water level in your pool. If it gets too high, you risk the pool overflowing and potentially flooding your yard or even your home. If it gets too low, your filter motor could run dry and burn out. A good way to gage whether your water level is good is to keep an eye on your skimmer - the hole in the side of the pool where the pool pump sucks water in for filtering. Your water level should come right to about the middle of the skimmer hole. If your water level is low, get the hose out and add water. If it’s high, check your owner’s manual on how to drain your pool. 

With just some basic care, you can ensure that you have a summer full of fun in your pool! 

June 5, 2018

The Home "Upgrades" That Don't Always Pay Off

Most people labor under the disillusion that every dollar they put into “improving” their home will pay off when they go to sell it. This is especially true of people who buy a home expressly for the purpose of flipping it and selling it for a profit. For the most part, it is true that “upgrades” equal a higher selling price. Granite countertops in the kitchen, energy-efficient windows, and a great paint job are all investments that will amount to dollar signs. On the other hand, the pros have discovered that some “upgrades” don’t actually help sales, and can actually hinder them in some cases. Are you “improving” your home to your own detriment? Read on and find out. 

Swimming Pools

Let’s talk about swimming pools. Who doesn’t love to swim, right? When you look at a home’s listing and you see the dazzling blue waters of a well-maintained pool, your heart automatically skips a beat, right? Well… not all of the time. For parents of young kids, a pool can actually be a turn-off, as it’s a safety concern. Some buyers with growing families will consider a pool a deal-breaker. There is also the fact that this is a home feature that requires a lot of maintenance, some of which is expensive. In short, some people just don’t want the hassle. It’s one thing if you own a house that already has a pool attached, but think twice before you drop five digits on that in-ground, because it might not be the dynamite selling point you’re assuming. 

Flooring

Now for another hot topic: flooring. Upgrading the flooring in your home is a sure mark in your column when listing your home’s amenities, yes? If you just invested in really nice wall-to-wall carpeting, you could end up disappointed. While good carpeting was once a prized feature in a home, a lot of 2018 buyers dislike it, as even the poshest carpet is a fertile breeding ground for bacteria and it will need to be replaced sooner rather than later. Pretty much any other type of flooring is easier to keep clean and lower-maintenance. If you are going to put the money into flooring, consider tile or a nice-quality laminate that mimics the look of hardwood.

Invisible Upgrades

Lastly - and this is a tricky one - think twice about upgrading features of the house that aren’t readily visible. Just put in a top-of-the-line air conditioning unit, replaced the roof, or installed a new garage door? That’s great for you, but it won’t necessarily convince a buyer that your home is worth extra money because of it. Let’s be real here: buyers expect the roof to not be leaking and the air to blow cold when they buy a house, and they don’t especially care what money you had to put into making sure that those things happen. If your HVAC is on its last legs and you absolutely have to replace it, you definitely should. Same goes for a roof that is about to become a liability. Just don’t assume that these costs are an “investment,” because your buyers may not see it that way. 

In short, buying a home is a process full of psychological tricks, and as a seller it is impossible to win all of them. Of course you want to put your best foot forward when you are about to sell your house, but don’t make the mistake of making “improvements” that don’t do you any favors in the end, when it counts… and I’m talking about dollars and cents, on the bottom line. Do your research before delving into any pre-listing home improvement projects, and consider consulting with a real estate agent who knows your neighborhood well and can tell you which home upgrades are actually valued where you live. 

May 31, 2018

Appliance Fires: What You Need to Know

There are few things scarier to a homeowner’s imagination than the thought of a fire. Appliances, which we buy to make our lives easier, can actually endanger our lives in the absence of proper care, since they can cause fires. Any electric appliance can ignite if damaged, but you’d be surprised by how many of them are in your kitchen. An exhaustive list, courtesy of Realtor.com:

  • Refrigerator
  • Oven
  • Stove
  • Dishwasher
  • Garbage disposal
  • Microwave oven
  • Exhaust hood
  • Coffee pot/coffee maker
  • Toaster and toaster oven
  • Hot plate
  • Steamer
  • Slow cooker
  • Pressure cooker
  • Waffle iron
  • Blender
  • Can opener
  • Clothes washer
  • Clothes dryer
  • Iron
  • Air conditioner
  • Space heater
  • Dehumidifier
  • Box fan/oscillating fan
  • Ceiling fan

Not surprisingly, stove fires account for the most home damage in the United States. These are also one of the most preventable kinds of fires. About forty percent of all home fires originate from a cooking surface, says the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and one-third of these are caused by unattended cooking. Fire stations around the United States tend to just under five hundred cooking fires a day. Scary, right?

Some of the things that cause fires:

Product defects:

  • No safety precautions in place
  • Poor manufacturing quality
  • Bad wiring causing overheating
  • Insufficient home insulation
  • Lousy components

User error:

  • Not heeding the manufacturer’s instructions 
  • Using a damaged or worn product long after it has outlived its safe lifespan
  • Failure to keep flammable materials, clutter, and debris away from heat sources
  • Not cleaning and maintaining appliances
  • Buying products that don’t meet U.S. safety standards because they were made in a foreign country and are poorly-made, cheap, and dangerous
  • Extension cords overheating because they are under rugs, or are either too long or too short

With care, you can prevent most appliance fires. Don’t become a victim! Practice due diligence.

What you can do to prevent appliance fires:

  • Replace worn power cords.Switches can also become damaged over time. If appliances become used-up, replace them promptly.
  • Read the owner’s manuals. Yes, all of them. Use products only as intended. 
  • Don’t ever operate appliances unattended. That is inclusive of the obvious ones like ranges or ovens, but also includes dishwashers, clothes washers, dryers, slow cookers, dehumidifiers, and space heaters. It may be convenient to wash your clothes or keep dinner cooking while you are at work, but it’s just not safe. 
  • Keep flammable objects clear of hot surfaces. That means curtains, napkins, cookbooks, and anything else made of paper. 
  • Keep appliances clean. You need not be Martha Stewart, but you should make sure that grease and other debris are cleared off your stovetop. Every so often, vacuum under and behind refrigerators and ovens, as well as under and behind clothes washers and dryers. 
  • Unplug small appliances when not in use.
  • Make sure that a working smoke alarm is installed on each level of your home and in every bedroom. Test them regularly. 

 

May 28, 2018

Can Off-the-Wall Freebies Help You Sell?

Who doesn’t love a gift with purchase? These types of deals are the reason people turn out by the droves on Black Friday, even if the free item is something puny like touchscreen mittens (been there, done that, Radio Shack). There’s nothing in sales like making a buyer believe that they are getting a good deal, and including one or more freebies with purchase goes a long way towards registering positive things in the minds of buyers. Recently Realtor.com explored the idea that BOGO (buy one, get one) can work with houses as well. 

What sorts of freebies entice buyers to notice a house? Conventional thinking posits that you should go with something home-related, like a home warranty, a Home Depot gift card, or paying closing costs. Buyers love not paying closing costs, right? But maybe it’s time to think less conventionally. You know what buyers (and people, in general) really love?

TACOS. Real estate agent Nicole Lopez of Cypress, Texas came up with the idea of marketing a $170,000 three bedroom/two bathroom home with a sign on the listing that said “$250 in free tacos with home purchase.” The listing went viral, and Lopez found herself inundated with phone calls about the house. It sold quickly, and the new owners celebrated their housewarming with a Mexican fiesta!

Sound crazy? Some owners of jumbo-sized listings have gone even bigger… offering a free car with the purchase of their home. As per Realtor.com: “In 2014, a Boca Raton, FL, seller asking for $3.5 million for a six-bedroom home (pictured above) was willing to throw in a car worth about $100,000! According to the Sun Sentinel, he even offered a choice: a Ferrari 360 Spider convertible or an open-top Hummer H1. (The Hummer, by the way, was worth a bit more than the Ferrari.) Decisions, decisions!”

The owner of a tiny one-bedroom bungalow in Los Angeles, clearly knowing his target demographic of young singletons, offered to chip in the beer and cups for beer pong to the buyer of his house. The house sold for well above the list price, so the former owner was definitely partying at the same time as the new ones!

Other ideas include a year’s gym membership, a free Jet Ski, a few months’ utility bills, a year’s worth of pizza (I myself would take the tacos, but you do you), or a paid vacation voucher. 

What crazy, inventive freebies could you think of to help you sell your home? 

Posted in Selling Your Home
May 22, 2018

The Pros and Cons of Crowdfunding Your Down Payment

It’s been established that, for millennial would-be homeowners, the biggest hurdle to owning their own homes is a lack of down payment. Plenty of young buyers could afford a monthly mortgage payment, but can’t manage to save the large chunk of change needed to secure a house purchase.

In this age of social media, it’s said that ones’ online presence is a form of net worth. That’s the thought process that has some (mostly young) buyers using crowdfunding to try and raise that magical 20% (or lower, depending on what loan type they utilize). 

Crowdfunding Home Downpayment Trends

What is crowdfunding? Well, you’ve undoubtedly heard of Kickstarter, GoFundMe or similar websites for young entrepreneurs, people with emergency bills, or any other need requiring a major transfusion of cash. Through the use of social media, the crowdfunding individual spreads the word, and friends (and friends of friends) can chip in whatever amount they want to towards the goal, which normally has a time limit. In the best-case scenario, the campaign goes viral and the project, family, or business gets piles more money than they asked for. In the worst case scenario, hardly anybody contributes and the campaign is viewed negatively as begging for undeserved money. 

Best Options for Funding Your Home Downpayment

People trying to crowdfund a down payment have a few options. Here’s how one company works, from Realtor.com: “Using HomeFundMe, anyone can give up to $7,500 to a campaign without documentation. HomeFundMe also doesn't charge fees to use the platform, or take a cut of what's raised. The company will even give buyers $2 for every $1 they raise, up to $1,000, or up to 1% of the purchase price if they undergo home buyer counseling beforehand. Buyers who earn less than their area's median income can earn up to $2,500, or 1% of the home price.

So what's the catch? Crowdfunders must get their mortgage through HomeFundMe's parent company, CMG Financial. They have to close on a home within a year of accepting their first gift. And if they don't use the money to buy a home, funds marked "conditional on the recipient purchasing a home" are returned to the donor. The crowdfunder can keep the rest.”

There are various legal hurdles to crowdfunding a down payment, but the pros say that the biggest risk with this type of venture is that buyers who can’t save for a down payment are future homeowners who don’t know how to save, period. These owners are at the greatest risk for foreclosure or crippling credit card debt in the future if they cannot change their habits. 

Posted in Buying a Home
May 17, 2018

What Locals Say About Living in Chantilly, Virginia

Tiny Chantilly, Virginia is the perfect small town in Northern Virginia. A CDP, it boasts a population of only 23,000 and is only 25 miles west of Washington, D.C. It’s a great place to live and a lot of new Virginia residents consider moving to Chantilly because of the spacious homes, great schools, and wonderful community vibe. But don’t let us be the ones to tell you; hear it from the locals themselves, who have a lot to say about the high quality of life in this area, and what it's like to live in Chantilly.

“One of my favorite things about Chantilly is the numerous restaurants and businesses it has. There is always somewhere new to eat or shop around every corner! I'm also in love with the regional library! It always has a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere to it.” (Former Resident)

“Where's the best place to live in Virginia? That depends on who you ask and according to a new set of rankings released by Niche.com, Chantilly, a suburb of the nation's capital, is the 51st-best place to live in the Commonwealth.” (Patch.com)

“If you enjoy all four seasons, then Chantilly, VA is a great place to live!” (Jennifer G.)

“Living in Chantilly, Virginia is absolutely great for me. I have a government job in D.C., so I only have to commute an hour, which may seem a bit much, but living here is affordable so the commute is worth it. The major highways are easy to manage to get to as well, for your daily commute. In addition to being a decent commute to Washington, D.C., you will be surprised to find other amenities close by. There is multiple easy access to gyms, shopping, dining, and outdoor activities. If you love to read, then you will be pleasantly surprised to find out that there are multiple public libraries in Chantilly and the surrounding county of Loudoun. The best areas in Chantilly, Virginia might be the multiple stores and restaurants here, as well as the amazing parks and recreation opportunities, you will always have something to do on your days off. There are multiple community events that occur throughout the year here in the community. In Chantilly, there is something for everyone.” (AreaVibes Contributor)

“What about cost of living in Chantilly , VA? The median income in Chantilly , VA is $117,394 and the median home value is $456,000, which should give you a pretty good idea of its affordability. Chantilly , VA is also the perfect place to break in your new shoes, due to its WalkScore ® of 25.1022.” (Livability.com)

“Chantilly came in strong with a high school graduation rate 22 percent higher than the state’s average, and a crime rate 58 percent below. It’s a bit of a drive from any five-star ranked hiking trails, but with a median household income 99 percent higher than the state average, folks in Chantilly can probably afford the gas money—or a gym membership.” (Movoto.com)

“Chantilly is a suburb of D.C. The community has developed over the past few years and will continue to grow. The community is typically safe with many options for places to go that are within a reasonable distance. The school in the Chantilly area are, for the most part, well managed. The area makes for an interesting place for people of all ages.” (Niche User)

“I love how Chantilly is very suburban while still holding on to a family environment. I also enjoy how many new small businesses are opening up around the area and that the public school around here whether it to be in the elementary, middle, or high school levels are all outstanding schools.” (Current Resident)

If you're thinking of moving here, check out the current Chantilly real estate listings to discover if moving to this tiny pocket of Northern Virginia is right for you. 

May 10, 2018

New Reasons Why You Should Move to Fairfax County

A section of Route 1 in Northern Virginia's Fairfax County has been approved for redevelopment, a change that county officials think could potentially quadruple the area’s population and bring even more exciting developments. The stretch of the Richmond Highway, located in the southern part of Fairfax, is known for run-down hotels and commercial developments that are starting to look the worse for wear due to advanced age, so redevelopments mean moving or relocating to Fairfax County is becoming a better idea by the day!

According to the Washington Business Journal, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved its “Embark Richmond Highway” plan late last month. The plan has multiple components to it.

  • Route 1 will be widened to accommodate the extra traffic that is expected as a result of all the new construction and bus rapid transit will be able to run mostly in the middle of the roadway between the Huntington Metro station and Fort Belvoir.
  • There will be new bike lanes and sidewalks to accommodate pedestrians and two-wheeled commuters.
  • New residential development has been okayed, all to be located within half a mile of nine BRT stations. As per plans, there could be as many as 18,000 housing units. 
  • There is also an approved 8.5 million square feet of nonresidential development along the corridor, which includes hotels and commercial development that will make the county an even better place to live.

And that’s just the beginning! From the Fairfax County website: 

“New, interconnected park spaces are also planned along the corridor. The parks will be strategically located at each of the BRT stations and distributed throughout the station areas, providing places for people to enjoy the outdoors and learn more about the area’s history. The plan also features two new, innovative concepts for open space called livability and ecological spines. These spines are continuous park spaces that are integrated with streets and buildings. Livability spines act as alternative main streets to Richmond Highway, creating destinations for shopping, recreation and gathering outdoors. These spines integrate local streets with pedestrian and bike paths, linear parks, plazas, retail and restaurants.”

The Yellow Line will also be expanded under the plan, heading southward with brand new stations at the Beacon-Groveton area and in Hybla Valley.

How much will all this cost? According to the Board of Supervisors, “Embark Richmond Highway” will carry a price tag of $750 million. In addition, the plan calls for “substantial” federal and state funding for the transportation-related upgrades. 

Regardless of the cost, however, this is definitely something that is moving forward. “This is an enormously big financial lift for our community,” Supervisor Jeff McKay, D-Lee District was quoted as saying in the report. “I’m not interested in having a plan sit on the shelf and collect dust.” 

With the new improvements, Northern Virginia will become an even better and more desirable place to live and these are just a few of the reasons to move to Fairfax County.

April 27, 2018

Closing Roadblocks: What You Should Know

Once you’ve decided on the home you want to buy, you generally want to close on it and OWN it as soon as possible. Home buying is strenuous, time-consuming, and stressful. Who wants to drag the process out for longer than absolutely necessary? Not you, I’m willing to bet. And yet, there are a number of issues that can come up and delay a closing for days, weeks, or even months! Some of these are avoidable with the help of seasoned professionals, and some are due to circumstances nobody can control. Here are some roadblocks to watch for on the road to closing. 

Avoid Big Credit Card Purchases

First, let’s talk about things that you can avoid doing to slow down your closing. You shouldn’t under any circumstances make big purchases on your credit card(s) during the closing process. It can be tempting to splash out on new furniture, a snazzy TV, or lots of home improvement materials in anticipation of moving in, but save all that for after the papers are signed. Why? Big purchases can ding your credit score. It’s checked when you first qualify for your mortgage, and again at closing. If your score has dropped, it can mean delays.

Set Aside Extra Cash for Unexpected Extra Closing Costs

Problems on your end can also involve paperwork issues or down payment problems. Fees and closing costs have a way of multiplying like bunnies in the weeks before you close, meaning that your cash to close figure may go higher than you were prepared for. This can slow down closing if you have to scramble for the money. If you happen to be self-employed, documenting your annual income can create more paperwork than a “regular” job and make things crawl too.

Pray it Doesn't Enter Probate

Then there are issues on the seller’s end. A big one, which obviously can’t be avoided, is the death of the original seller. This could be the case if you are purchasing a home from the family of someone that lives in a nursing home, for example. If the estate becomes tied up in probate, you can kiss your dreams of a fast closing goodbye. If the owner has outstanding liens or HOA fees at the time that the bank goes through the paperwork, you can also deal with lots of lag time while all that is sorted out.

Be Clear on the Contract Terms

Other closing roadblocks: issues with the contract, like the buyer and seller disagreeing on what items are going to be left with the house; scheduling issues (one party, be it the closing agent, attorney, title company representative, lender, buyer, or seller, can’t make the closing time), title issues, or property damage. To keep up your end of a fast closing, make sure that you complete any and all paperwork in a timely manner when it is requested of you and be sure that your funding and credit are in good shape before you head into underwriting. 

Posted in Buying a Home
April 24, 2018

Home Renovation Demo Day: TV Versus Reality

If you are undertaking major home improvements, you have likely watched - and been inspired by - those HGTV shows about fixing up houses. There are too many of them to name, but they have a lot of things in common. First of all, they all fit neatly into 30- or 60 minute time slots, making the actually exhausting and drawn-out process of remodeling seem like a piece of cake. Secondly, they make “demo day” - the “day” when you take down all the old crap and prep the part of the house you are expanding, redoing, or building on - look like a fun and easy walk in the park. Who, after all, doesn’t love taking a sledgehammer and smashing things like the Hulk? 

The truth is, however, that demo day is a lot harder and more grueling than you see on TV, and it isn’t a task for the weak or wimpy. Demo “day” is much more likely to be demo “week,” since you are unlikely to have a full construction crew like the lucky homeowners on your flat screen. And there’s probably going to be very limited situations where you can just swing around wildly. Here are some other hard facts about home demolition during a home remodeling project. 

What to Know on Demo Day: The Mess!

Let’s start with the fact that it’s MESSY. You’ll notice on TV that you see all sorts of rubble coming down - chunks of drywall, old shower tiles, and buckets upon buckets of plaster dust. All that crap has to leave your house somehow, and guess who gets to carry it? Unless you have allotted a good chunk of extra money for hired help, that answer is “you.” You’ll need to rent a dumpster to load all the debris into, and it’s going to leave a godawful trail of microscopic dust on literally every surface in your house, unless you take care to put tarp down everywhere. Doing a bathroom renovation could leave you with dust in the nooks and crannies of your home for months. 

When Renovating Your Home, Factor in Extra Time!

Then there’s the fact that you only have limited hours of the day to work. Chip and Joanna Gaines may start bright and early in the morning and work late into the night, but the reality is that you have neighbors, and demolition is noisy. Your neighborhood, HOA, and/or city likely have noise ordinances dictating when you can make a racket. Even working within legal limits might make you some enemies if you aren’t careful. Your neighbor who works nights, for instance, will likely NOT appreciate a jackhammer outside his window for three hours in the morning. Giving your neighbors a heads-up (and maybe gifting them with some earplugs) before the first hammer smash is the right thing to do.

Anticipate Your Remodel Will Throw You Some Curveballs.

Lastly, there’s the fact that, on TV, they do show the fact that demolition often uncovers unforeseen problems. Hidden leaks, faulty support structures, and poorly-placed load-bearing walls are all problems you’ve seen on TV, and they happen in real life as well. Unlike on TV, however, some of these problems don’t have an easy situation… or even any solution at all. There are fundamental problems that could absolutely blow your budget, or even halt your project altogether. And you won’t know until you demo. It stinks, but that’s the reality of “demo day.”

Posted in Home Decor
April 18, 2018

Should You Buy a Multi-Story Home?

What’s better: a single story house, or one with two (or even more) floors? If you are a buyer actively looking for your family’s next home, it’s possible that you already have a preference. Maybe you grew up in a two-story home and can’t imagine anything else. Maybe you come from an area (I’m thinking about my family’s home on the West Coast of Florida) where there are only one-story houses to be found. If you are on the fence about whether you want two floors or one, however, you should know that there are pros and cons either way. 

Pros of Living in a One-Story Home

Living in a one-story home, like a classic ranch or bungalow, is simpler in a lot of ways. With everything on one level, maintenance is much easier. There’s no need to drag laundry up or down flights of steps or to struggle with the decision as to whether you need an upstairs AND a downstairs vacuum. Exterior maintenance like painting and window washing is also a piece of cake, and no scaffolding is needed. Since one-story homes are easier to design, they also tend to be cheaper. And if you have small children, you won’t have to worry about them stumbling down the stairs. 

Cons of Living in a One-Story Home

On the down side, one story homes can be considered to lack privacy considered with their taller counterparts. All bedrooms are at the ground level, meaning that one accidental window left open can give the mailman an eyeful. It will also require more land to build a one-story house, since the footprint is bigger. And, from Realtor.com: “A one-story house also requires more materials such as for the foundation, roofing, and windows. And since plumbing and HVAC runs will need to be longer, thus requiring more power, you'll need bigger, pricier systems.”

Pros of Living in Multi-Story Home

Two-story homes have their advantages as well. That privacy that you were concerned about with a single story home? Not an issue here. Plus, you have flexibility of space. If you have grown-up friends over, you can always send the kids upstairs to entertain themselves. If you are a design buff, you know that you have more layout options with a two-story home, leaving you with more freedom to explore scope and space. Two-story homes also have a lower risk of burglary than their one-story counterparts.

Cons of Living in a Multi-Story Home

Then there are the cons. A two-story home is more expensive to heat and cool, owning to the fact that heat rises. Your upstairs is always going to run warm and your downstairs cool unless you have a really great HVAC unit, which of course costs money. And then there are those stairs you’ll have to navigate, as mentioned, which are especially scary if you have small children in the house. And then there’s the noise issue, which can be a problem in poorly-designed two-story houses where you hear a lot of clattering from people walking around upstairs.

One story or two story… it’s your choice. When buying a home, it’s best to keep an open mind, since there is so much more to picking the perfect house than counting floors. 

Posted in Buying a Home