Northern Virginia Real Estate Blog

The definitive blog, on Northern Virginia Real Estate.

Sept. 19, 2018

Got a Small Kitchen? Here's How to Make it Feel Bigger

The kitchen is the heart of the home, or so everyone says. Sure, we all dream of having an enormous farmhouse kitchen a la Joanna Gaines, but the fact of the matter is that sometimes we have to deal with reality, and sometimes reality means a tiny kitchen. Usually this comes along with having a small place, which almost everyone goes through at some point. 

Luckily, there are things you can do to make a small kitchen look bigger. Some of these are intuitive choices, others may surprise you. From the experts at Realtor.com, here are ways to jazz up your tiny space. 

Go Light and Bright

There is no option like the color white to make a small room look bigger. This works especially well if there is a window somewhere in the space - natural light reflecting off the high-gloss white will make your space seem much more spacious. Any solid color will work on small spaces, but white is particularly effective. If you have white cabinets, continue the theme with appliances large and small, sink, and decor items. 

Choose Floating Shelves

For making a space appear larger, floating shelves win over cabinets every time. Go with minimal bracketing to keep things from looking cluttered. And if you make this choice, for the love of everything holy, those shelves better be organized and spotless of clutter. Overdoing it or piling things on in a mishmash will only make your space look more confined. 

Draw Focus on the Ceiling

Jazzing up your ceiling will do wonders to make your space look larger. Something fancy, like pressed tin, eye-popping tile, or even wallpaper, will draw the eye upwards and therefore make the room look bigger than it actually is. If you have storage space over your cabinets, utilize it in a similar way to draw attention to the top of the room. 

Hang it on the Wall

Hanging your pots and pans is a great way to save space. But when you choose an overhead rack, the impression can be one of the ceiling coming down on you, making an already small room feel absolutely cramped. Instead, mount a wall rack to keep your cookware on display, but in a way that doesn’t add to visual clutter.

No Frou-Frou Lighting

You may have admired some elegant pendant lamps in your search for kitchen lighting, but if you have a small space, better to forego any hanging lights altogether. Recessed lighting is the choice of pros who want to make a room look more streamlined and open. Also consider the option of LED track lighting under the cabinets for a subtle glow. 

 

Sept. 11, 2018

What Locals Say About Living in Falls Church, VA

Falls Church is an exclusive, well-heeled suburb, an independent city in Northern Virginia. It is notably diverse, with great schools, and known for being a wonderful place to live.

What We Love About Falls Church

  • It's a small town—just 12,400 people live there!
  • Small town traditions are alive and well, such as a local parades throughout the year, street food fairs, and more. 
  • It's diverse—a sizable Vietnamese-American population lives in Falls Church (which means you can be sure there's good Vietnamese food in town!).
  • Transport is good into DC is good since Falls Church is in the Metro DC area and connected by more than one metro line.
  • There's work in town—several notable companies are major employers for residents, with bases located right here in town.
  • The school district is top-notch and there's even an IB program for parents of gifted children.

Why Locals Love Living in Falls Church

But don’t take our word for it! Here’s what locals have to say on sites like Niche.com and others about life in Falls Church.

“Small city with great shops and stores. Everything you ever need is within walking or short driving distance. Beautiful parks and has a bike trail too.” (Current Resident)

“I enjoy the amenities and facilities and schools.... the city streets are well-kept, as are parks and schools for the most part. Most of the libraries are very nice.” (Current Resident)

“Wonderful community, healthy, green atmosphere. Very walkable and great for those without a car. Public transportation is quite good--although that can be said for much of the DMV.” (Current Resident)

“Falls Church has a Great Vietnamese enclave. The area is called the Eden Center. The Falls Church and whole Virginia area are very green and have plenty of rain. There have been so many quiet summer afternoons since I got here and the weather is constantly fluctuating to keep from monotony. The Falls church area from its border with seven corners has at least a half dozen vegetarian restaurant option within a 5 mile proximity and many of them are well priced such as Sunflower Vegetarian restaurant, Chipotle, Loving Hut, and Thanh Van.” (Visitor)

“It's a booming place near 495 and Tysons Corner, so in a few years it will be very exciting to live here. It's close to almost everywhere across the DC metropolitan area, so transportation is not a problem. Overall, I would recommend living here!” (Current Resident)

“This has been an amazing place to grow up and the community aspect is FANTASTIC! If you have the opportunity to explore the Falls Church community do it. There are a lot of hidden treasures.” (Current Resident)

“This city is defined by its diversity and the cultures of the immigrants that live here. It's very safe to say that I know people from all four corners of the globe, and to be assimilated with people of many different backgrounds, it gives this city a sense of pride. It is very safe, as we have a great police force patrolling our neighborhoods every single day and night. Opportunities here are plentiful, with even those who are undocumented/illegal thriving in this city.” (Current Resident)

Whether you're relocating to Northern Virginia or moving from another of our fantastic neighborhoods, if you're interested in finding your new home in Falls Church, VA, start with a listings search here and then get in touch! 

Aug. 23, 2018

The Most Important Questions You Aren't Asking Your Agent

Making the choice as to what real estate agent you use to help buy a home is critical. Right after the choice of what house is right for you, it is the most important decision you will make in your home-buying journey. The right professional will help you navigate the murky waters of offers, contracts, and financing. They will point you towards homes that you might like, taking your needs into consideration. The best way to find the right agent is by interviewing them. The obvious questions are, well, obvious. Of course you want to know how many homes they’ve sold in the area and how long they’ve been on the job. But savvy buyers know that, to really prove an agent’s mettle, you have to throw them a few curveballs. Here are some of the questions that smart buyers ask before settling on a real estate agent.

How do you handle difficult clients?

Odds are that you are a very nice person and your agent will have no problem treating you like royalty. But, to get a sense for how your agent works under fire, ask them about their most challenging client and how they handled him or her. Not only will the answer divulge how your agent deals with stress, but their amount of tact (or lack of it) can speak volumes. If they are willing to bad-mouth one client, no matter how much of a jerk, who knows what they will say about you behind your back! From surprising closing setbacks to specifics you want in a new home, there are bound to be a few challenges and you want to know your agent can handle them well!

How can we make my offer stand out? 

In a hot sellers’ market, an attractive house can quickly garner many offers. Obviously the ones bidding the highest prices will be main contenders, but what other tools does your agent have in their belt to ensure that your offer letter pops? From Realtor.com:

“For instance, your agent should be able to ask the right questions that can give you an advantage, such as whether the sellers need a quick closing because they’re relocating, or conversely if they want to wait until the school year is over before moving their kids.”

If your agent is resourceful, you can gain the upper hand in the offer war by tailoring your bid to the seller’s needs and wants.

How will you make time for me?

A great agent is often a busy agent. Between their hustle-and-bustle schedule and your own (work, school, kids, etc), it can be tough to schedule time to look at houses, which is a critical part of the buying process. The right agent for you will help you narrow down your choices so you both only spend time on looking at the homes that best suit your criteria. Maybe your agent collects video tours to save time on footwork. If they simply direct you to the MLS listings and tell you to go at it, you can pretty much figure out that they aren’t willing to go the extra mile.

Posted in Buying a Home
Aug. 23, 2018

Is It Time to Sell Your House?

Maybe you aren’t aware of it, but it could be time to sell your house. Not because you need to because of relocation, school district, or other necessities, but because sometimes it's just time. If you have been wondering if the forces of the universe are lining up to tell you it’s time to sell, maybe you should listen. Here are some hints that it might be time to move on.

Your family has outgrown your current home

There is, as you know, such a thing as a “starter home.” It’s small and you can afford it when you are first married, maybe even when you have your first baby. But somewhere down the line you gave birth to three kids and they are all in school and have so much STUFF - sports equipment and toys and electronics and winter/summer wardrobes - and it seems like they are always on top of each other vying for room. It might be time to admit that you’ve outgrown your home and need something bigger.

The seller’s market is too hot to resist

If you live in an area where houses are selling like hotcakes for fantastic prices, you might want to jump aboard the hype train and put a sign out front. How do you know that the market is working in your favor? According to Realtor.com; this is what to look for:

“The price per square foot in your area is increasing, the amount of time properties stay on the market is decreasing, and you’ve noticed an uptick in brokerage activity in your neighborhood. (If you're situated in an especially hot neighborhood, you might even get a letter or a knock on the door from a listing agent who wants to help you get in on the action).”

The struggle is too real

On the other hand, if you are finding yourself constantly stressed about money, it could be time to downgrade to a less-expensive home. Experts say that your monthly housing costs (mortgage + taxes and insurance) shouldn’t exceed 28 percent of your net monthly income. If you are constantly scrimping to get by from paycheck to paycheck and aren’t able to put some money away for a rainy day, maybe you should look into something more manageable. 

The above are just some of the reasons that it could be time for you to sell your house. Ultimately, of course, you are the one who has to feel good about the decision. 

Posted in Selling Your Home
Aug. 14, 2018

Surprising Reasons (Besides Pricing) That Your Offer Got Rejected

So, you found the house of your dreams, and submitted what you know is a good and fair offer. Quickly, your agent comes back with the devastating news that the sellers rejected it. You are certain that somebody didn’t come in with a higher bid, so what in the world happened? You’d be amazed by the reasons that some sellers will turn you down. 

Looking Risky on Paper

The first reason would be if you don’t look like a good buyer on paper. You might submit a great offer, but look like a poor risk for getting a quick closing. Things that can spook sellers include a high debt-to-income ratio, iffy credit, and a low down payment. Sellers want a buyer who won’t trip up the closing process with problems at the bank, so make sure your credit and finances are pristine before you step up to bat.

Offer letters can be deal-closers, but they can spectacularly backfire under the wrong circumstances. In an ideal situation, an offer letter gives a personal touch to the business transaction and lets the sellers know who you are and how much you love the home. But sometimes, spilling too much can break the deal. For instance, if you see the home as a fixer-upper and detail extensive plans for demolishing existing rooms and completely revamping, the sellers may get offended. Also, if you are enclosing an offer letter, have someone read through it first for spelling and grammar issues. It sounds picky, but some people are very sensitive to these things and might look down on you for sending a letter riddled with errors.

Bidding too High

Another newsflash of a deal-breaker could be that you offered too much for the house - and yes, this is a real thing. Sellers love a bidding war, but making an offer that’s too generous could end up with you failing to get financing from the bank because the house doesn’t appraise that highly. Again, buyers want a sure thing when it comes to an easy and straightforward closing. A sky-high offer might ring the wrong bells. 

Adding Aggravating Extras

Yet one more thing that can lead to irate sellers and rejection is if you try to pull one over on them with your offer. Maybe you made a full-price offer, but you demanded ten grand for closing costs. Or your offer was good, but it came contingent with the sellers throwing in items that you know they intended to keep, like the appliances or a high-end light fixture. Some buyers get extra-greedy and demand the furniture as well. Aggravate your seller at your own peril. 

When making an offer on a home you really like, take the time to step back and think of the picture you are presenting to the owner(s). Is it a likeable and respectful one? Or does it somehow offend or trouble? The difference between an accepted and declined offer hangs in the balance. 

Posted in Buying a Home
Aug. 9, 2018

Most Common Mistakes Home Sellers Make

I doubt that anyone goes into selling their home willfully wanting to screw up the deal. By putting that “For Sale” sign on your lawn, you are pretty much announcing to the world your wishes to sell your house, preferably quickly and painlessly. It’s possible, however, that you are sabotaging your home’s sale without even realizing it. On Realtor.com, experienced listing agents ran down the list of mistakes that sellers make over and over. 

Your home is not clean and neutral.

First of all, never underestimate the appeal of a clean and neutrally-decorated home. It doesn’t sound like much, but the alternatives can send prospective buyers screaming for the hills. Let’s just make this much plain: if your home smells bad, buyers may not make it further than the front door. It can be hard to discern this if you live in the house everyday, so ask your agent for their honest opinion. Is your kitchen covered in caked-on cooking grease? Forgot to take out the kitchen trash or wash the floor in the bathroom? Are pet odors present? Any of these will deter buyers, who prefer cleanliness and no odors. Also, if you have “loud” paint colors or decor, buyers will have a harder time imagining themselves in the house. Before you list, invest in some muted, neutral paint and do the walls. 

It's not easy to schedule a viewing.

You are also making a mistake if you make it hard for buyers to view your home. Yes, it sucks being on-call pretty much all the time when your house is for sale, and it’s not fun to leave on a moment’s notice if your baby is napping, you’ve just put dinner on, or you are relaxing after a long day at work. Refusing showings or canceling scheduled ones is a big mistake because, unless they are VERY attached to your specific house, a lot of buyers will simply scratch off your address and move on to the next prospect. You have to work around their schedule, not your own.

You won't let your real estate agent handle the sale.

Another major blunder that I can’t even believe actually happens is sellers posing as buyers during open houses. They might do this so they can spy on potential buyers, or so that they can wander around loudly extolling the home’s charms in the hopes of sparking some interest. This will not end well, and you should not attempt it. End of story. 

If you really want to sell your home, you owe it to yourself, as well as the real estate agent who is taking their time to help you, to try your best at making the deal work. You may have to jump through a few hoops, but squashing these seller mistakes can help- make sure that buyers leave with the best impression possible. 

Posted in Selling Your Home
Aug. 6, 2018

What Locals Say About Living in Brambleton, Virginia

Brambleton is a highly-desirable suburb in Northern Virginia, near Ashburn. Its beautiful scenery, great schools, and high quality of life make this one of Loudoun County’s top neighborhoods.

Reasons to Move to Alexandria, VA

  1. It has proximity to the metro DC area (quick 30 miles northwest of Washington, D.C), which can't be overstated for most families.
  2. It has a high quality of life for residents fortunate enough to call this place home—parks and pools, golf courses, classes at the Community Center, and more.
  3. The schools are flat out great. Loudon County Schools in general are among the best in the state, and Brambleton in particular has a choice selection for families. 

We've covered in depth what it's like to live in Brambleton - the amenities and lifestyle within this master-planned community. 

Why Locals Love Living in Alexandria

But what do folks love so much about living in Brambleton? Let them tell you in their own words, according to reviews on Niche.com, and other sources. 

I have lived in Brambleton with my family for the past four years. It has wonderful, diverse neighborhoods, and a very kid-friendly environment! I live near many of my friends and have very nice neighbors. My favorite memory was going to see the Brambleton 4th of July fireworks show with my friends. Living here has been a very pleasant experience.” (Current Resident)

There is a lot of new construction and businesses opening up and along with them there are a lot of job opportunities opening up.” (Niche.com user)

Very safe area for families, police force is attentive and there is a low crime rate due to extensive precautions taken for the safety of others within schools, shops, on the road, and other public places.” (Niche.com user)

What’s the best place to live in Virginia? That depends on who you ask, but according to a new set of rankings released by Niche.com, the D.C. suburb of Arlington is the best place to live in Virginia.  Not surprisingly, Northern Virginia dominated the list, and particularly Loudoun County, which owned most of the top 10.  Brambleton came in at #3, earning an overall A+ on the report card with high marks for great schools, housing, jobs, outdoor activities, health & fitness, and diversity.” (Ashburn Patch)

The future of this area is bright. I am a college student living in my parents' home here in VA, and I plan to purchase my own home in the area after grad school. I love this area.” (Current Resident)

What I continue to appreciate most about Brambleton is the very thing that captured my attention the first time I visited here over 10 years ago: its serene landscape that not only attracts wildlife in the appropriate places, but places boundaries from the hustle and bustle of vehicular traffic.” (Pamela Keegan, resident)

We have the best neighbors ever. Our kids are friends, we’re friends, we vacation together, it’s great. We love the people who make this community so special.” (Donna, resident)

Brambleton families are part of Loudoun County Public Schools, one of the nation’s top districts for public education. We’ve got a number of first-rate elementary, middle and high schools, and are currently working on developing two new schools over the next few years.” (Brambleton.com blog)

Interested in Brambleton homes? Take a look at what is on the market right now and get in touch with your Realtor today! 

July 30, 2018

Fix It or Forget It? Should You Buy a Fixer Upper?

If you're moving to Northern Virginia and you've noticed that housing prices are currently high in your dream areas, and you want to buy a house, chances are that you've considered taking on a fixer-upper. Popularized by TV shows on HGTV, houses in bad need of TLC can be a good deal, but only if you know what to look for before you buy. There are homes that can be rehabbed with a bit of time and money, and others that are just money pits that will suck you in and under. What should you look for in a potential fixer-upper?

Does it have good bones?

First of all, does the house have “good bones?” You’ve probably heard this phrase before, but what does it mean? “Good bones” means that a house is structurally sound, and you will not have to do significant repairs to the foundation, plumbing, electrical, or roof. Some people also include the HVAC system into their determination since replacing it can be very costly. Finding out if a house is solid requires a lot of poking around in the basement and attic, preferably with the help of an experienced home inspector. Don’t get distracted by surface things that can be changed easily, like the counters, cabinets, paint color, or flooring. All of these things you can tackle, but a sagging roof or bad electrical throughout the house will take you much deeper than you probably anticipated.

Is the layout basically what you want?

Another important thing to consider when checking out a fixer-upper is the layout. It’s important that the basic layout works for what you want in a house. On TV, tearing down walls and opening spaces up to create a favorable floor plan may seem like no big deal, but the reality is that it is an expensive and messy undertaking. Are the bathrooms located where you would like them to be? Is the floorplan open enough for you? Take all this into consideration, because, unless you have a generous fix-up budget and don’t mind the inconvenience and dust, changing it around is not likely to be a winning proposition. 

Has anyone lived there recently?

Finally, you should find out whether your potential fixer-upper has been occupied recently. There are risks in buying a home that has sat unoccupied for a while. In the cold Northern Virginia winter, if the water was not shut off properly, the pipes could have frozen and burst. An unlived-in home is also highly susceptible to infestation, be it by rats, squirrels, bats, bugs, or possums. You will want to determine if this is the case before you buy the house, because hiring pest control and fixing the access points for vermin can be expensive and time-consuming. 

In short, a fixer-upper can be a good deal for you and your family, but you need to do your due diligence beforehand to make sure that it is able to be fixed with a minimum of time and money. Cosmetic defects are okay, structural ones are not. Check the house carefully, and you could have a potential great home on your hands.

Posted in Buying a Home
July 27, 2018

Is Your Kitchen Causing Buyers to Reject Your Home?

The kitchen is the heart of the home, and at no time is this fact more noticeable than when you’re trying to sell your home. Buyers will usually make a beeline for the kitchen when they first enter a prospective new home, say experts, and they will be able to tell within five seconds (yes, just five) whether they can picture themselves living there or not. To do the mental math, this means that a quick look at your kitchen can be the make-or-break moment for your would-be buyers. Is your kitchen one that welcomes and attracts buyers, or is it a room that will make folks run for the hills? Here’s a few things that will send buyers screaming in the other direction when it comes to the kitchen.

Kitchen Mistake #1: Cleanliness

First of all: cleanliness. Even if the rest of your home is pristine, a kitchen that is anything less than spotless will repel buyers. Do you often fry things in oil? Better make sure that there’s no greasy coating on the range, backsplash, or nearby items. Make sure that the sink is shining and that all the breakfast dishes are washed and put safely away. You will want to clean right down to nitty-gritty details like behind your fridge and inside your oven. Yes, nosy buyers WILL look. Before your house goes on the market, be sure to give your kitchen a deep, deep cleaning. Put fresh lining paper in the cabinets and scrub the baseboards behind the appliances, so buyers have nothing at which to flinch. 

Kitchen Mistake #2: Pets

Have any feline friends? Best to banish all traces of them before your realtor schedules a showing. Unless your prospective buyers are “cat people” (and even then, some may have lofty standards), they will NOT appreciate signs that your pet has traipsed through the kitchen. Many people leave the kitty litter in the kitchen - this is an absolute “no.” Same goes for food and water dishes, to say nothing of Fluffy herself. If buyers happen to see a cat lounging on the countertop, they could be grossed out and wonder about the sanitation levels of your home. Stick your kitty in the cat carrier and vacate the house with him or her when you have a showing. 

Kitchen Mistake #3: Clutter

Another thing that will repel buyers is clutter. What accounts for clutter in the kitchen? You know what I’m talking about: “junk drawer(s)” overflowing with miscellaneous stuff, a pile of backlogged mail overflowing on the counter, assortments of crocheted appliance cozies scattered about, or a hodgepodge of magnets on the refrigerator. These little things might feel homey to you, but they will prevent buyers from seeing your kitchen in its best light. Pick up! 

These are just a few basics you can tackle to make sure that your kitchen doesn’t spell doom for your home sale. Buyers are almost universally picky about kitchens, so give this area of the house special attention when you are readying for showings. A few hours of cleaning and preparation can make the difference between a fruitless, hasty walkthrough and a serendipitous showing that nets an offer. 

Posted in Selling Your Home
July 25, 2018

Is a Northern Virginia Tiny House Right for You?

If you’ve watched HGTV recently or flipped through the pages of a contemporary home design magazine, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the tiny house movement. Designed to be more sustainable, portable, and affordable than traditional homes, tiny homes are, as it says on the label, very small abodes than generally clock in at less than four hundred square feet. Utilizing custom design for maximum use of space, these dwellings are nothing like campers, although they are equally moveable. Equal to “normal” single-dwelling homes in aesthetics and function, tiny homes appeal to a huge range of people. Singles, retirees, adventurous families with kids have all embraced this minimalist way of living. And it’s happening right here in Northern Virginia.

Locally, Kristopher Angstadt of Fredericksburg’s Tiny House Building Company is just one resource for those looking to minimize and start a tiny home life in the area. From Northern Virginia Magazine: “Angstadt’s tiny houses have reached an outstanding level of popularity in the mere three years since the company was officially established, having made noteworthy appearances on FYI’s Tiny House Nation as well as Harry, Harry Connick Jr.’s talk show. Angstadt says they are on track to produce more than 150 homes this year alone. The company’s stellar reputation and successful online presence could largely be attributed to how seriously Angstadt and his team appear to take the tiny-house market in general.”

Just how tiny can your tiny house get? The popular TV show has featured homes with a footprint as tiny as 80 square feet. Usually the house runs on ultra-green utilities, with a composting toilet and greywater collection that can be used to water a garden. If you have a normal-sized plot of land, all that extra space could easily be turned into a self-sufficient household garden, or an ultra-luxe pool and spa. With so many designs out there, there really are no limits on what you can accomplish with the blank template of a tiny home. 

Wondering if your future tiny house can be turned into a home? You’ll need to check with your local municipality or a real estate agent to see what the rules are for putting a residence up. From the Washington Post:“Fairfax and Loudoun counties require a property’s primary home to have 120 square feet of living area, with 70 square feet for a one-person bedroom, and must meet other provisions, such as height, of the Virginia Uniform State Building Code. Properties within homeowners’ associations may be subject to additional restrictions or requirements.”