Northern Virginia Real Estate Blog

The definitive blog, on Northern Virginia Real Estate.

Dec. 20, 2019

The Etiquette of Outdoor Holiday Decor

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! While almost everyone decks the halls with a Christmas tree and festive decor, you might notice that some of your neighbors have brought their merriment outdoors, with lights on the porch and roof, inflatables, and other lawn decorations. Maybe you are the neighborhood Clark Griswold and have your own, 100,000-watt neon tribute to the holidays from the ridge of your roof to the end of the driveway. But when is too much holiday spirit… too much? When it comes to outdoor decor, it’s best to keep in mind some etiquette rules that will keep your neighbors from wanting to strangle you with a garland sash before 2020. 

Don’t put them up early or take them down late.

Although there are no laws mandating the length of “Christmastime” (unless you live in an HOA neighborhood), most agree that holiday lights and decorations should come out no earlier than Black Friday - the day after Thanksgiving - and go back in the attic by mid-January at the latest. I personally take my decorations down on the closest weekend following the Epiphany (January 6th, or the 12th day of Christmas), but everyone has different feelings. If you are truly nutty about the holidays, feel free to put the Christmas tree up the second the last trick-or-treaters leave on October 31st/November 1st, but save the outdoor stuff for late November. 

Take your neighbors’ floorplan into consideration.

When stringing up lights, you should have a plan. Make sure that part of that planning includes not hanging lights right across from your neighbor’s bedroom window. You should always be considerate to the fact that your outdoor display might be a nuisance to others. The front of the house is generally fair game, but don’t be that guy who insists on decking out the backyard (unless it’s for a one-night Christmas party on the back porch). Also consider the brightness of your lights. The new LED strands are blue-white, which is especially blinding, and you don’t want your neighbor temporarily impaired when pulling out of the driveway. 

Don’t indirectly invite the whole city. 

Some neighborhoods are known for their elaborate light displays, to the point that visitors will pay by the car to drive through and sip cocoa as they appreciate the spectacle. Odds are, however, that if you are reading this, you don’t live in one of those places. In general, people like Christmas lights and driving around to look at them. It’s even a tradition in some families. And the larger and more gaudy your lights are, the more likely it is that your address will get passed around as a must-see stop on folks’ light tour. If this gets too crazy, your neighbors could be dealing with excessive traffic trying to get home after work, and that makes you the bad guy. 

Be the change you want to see in the world.

If you are on the opposite end of the holiday light debate and have a neighbor who goes nuts with wooden reindeer, multiple inflatable hula-dancing Santas, and enough lights to power Rhode Island, try to practice patience unless their display blocks visibility when you are pulling out or otherwise goes beyond a nuisance. It is in fact supposed to be a season of joy and goodwill towards your fellow man, so try not to harsh anyone else’s good time. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Posted in Home Decor
Dec. 18, 2019

How to Help Your Movers

If you can afford to hire a moving company when your family relocates, by all means, you should. Trying to move yourself, even with the help of some friends and/or family members, is ultra-stressful, incredibly time-consuming, and the biggest of logistical headaches. Money spent on movers will save you not only time and physical labor, but also on stress and hardship on your belongings. But movers aren’t magicians: you can’t just walk out the old house with no preparation and expect to saunter over to your new home in the blink of an eye. In fact, there are things you can and should do to help your movers. These tips are not just out of common courtesy, but meant to save you money. 

Make sure the path is clear.

Before the movers arrive, you should have already dealt with any impediments to a safe and clear path to your front door and garage. This includes making sure the moving truck has ample street parking space or plenty of driveway area, and clearing ice from all walkways. This is not only the considerate thing to do, but it is likely to save you money since it cuts down on the company’s time on your job. 

Measure once, measure twice. 

Before moving day, you should have measured the clearance of both your front door and that of your new home’s one to make sure all large furniture will fit. This is accomplished, of course, by also measuring large pieces. Think couches, custom bookcases, any furniture that you assembled within the home (like any IKEA furniture), dining room tables, and overstuffed mattresses. This list is by no means exhaustive. Nothing is a bummer like finding out on moving day that your 4K TV can’t get down the hallway. This is also a waste of movers’ time that should be spent moving things you know can fit. 

Plan ahead for your family.

Movers can’t do their job with little kids and pets underfoot. You should, far in advance, have a plan for the smallest members of your family so that they can not only be out of the way, but feel safe and not stressed by the chaos of moving. Ideally, a pet sitter and a visit to Grandma’s house would remove pets and kiddos from the scene entirely until they can be securely moved to their new home with all their familiar belongings there, but if this is not an option, you should close off one room for your family and not allow anyone else in there. 

Posted in Buying a Home
Dec. 17, 2019

Should You Curate Your Book Collection?

Book-lovers, let’s talk organization. How do you arrange your books? Shelves, crates, bookcase? Do you organize by author, subject/genre, or even by color? (I’m silently judging you if this is your choice... Just kidding.) Are you a fellow book hoarder, with hundreds of volumes stacked up on every flat surface in your home? Or do you prefer a pared-down arrangement that showcases your very favorite titles? Vertical or horizontal stacks? Every reader has preferences.

But what if you can’t or don’t want to manage your book collection? Do you want to make it prettier, or maybe more impressive? You might consider hiring a book curator. Yes, someone who will take your existing tomes and augment your collection to make it look fuller, more uniform, or more visually impressive. Books are, after all, decor as much as they are entertainment. 

But… why? 

Hiring a book curator is obviously not a step for people strapped for cash. But if you have some bucks to burn, one of these professionals can help you obtain a more uniform look to your collection. This may involve filling it out with new books, obtaining custom jackets to match a theme, or remodeling the space where your books are housed. If you have heaps of books and need help making sense of the chaos, you should lean towards a professional organizer.

Can’t I do this myself? 

Sure. If you have the time to kill, this is a good way to do it. Looking to round out a collection? Hit up estate sales, local library bookstores, used bookstores, and/or eBay and Amazon to find “new to you” tomes on the cheap. Book shopping can be a lot of fun! Organizing them is a matter of choice. Do you want your library to resemble that of a… library, with distinct classifications? (Fiction, nonfiction, cookbooks, bios, art books, and self-help?) Do you want to go deeper within these classifications and sort by genre: romance, sci-fi, mystery, and so on? Or maybe you want a visual display? Making pyramids of different-sized books is fun, as is trying to stick to spines of all one color - white to brighten a space, or black to look distinguished, maybe. 

Is there any point to this?

Like I said earlier, books function uniquely as both decor and entertainment. But they should, primarily, make you happy. Whether that’s a patchwork hodgepodge of colors, shapes, and sizes, or a pristine arrangement of uniform volumes, what counts is that the books please you and encourage you to read. It is true that many people have many books that they will never read, but it is also true that books are aspirational objects. Wanting to show them off is understandable. 


Dec. 15, 2019

Want a Luxury Kitchen? These Are the Fixtures You Crave

The kitchen is one area of the home that homeowners always wish was fancier, no matter how well-off they are. Well, almost. I’m sure that there are about five percent of owners who either have custom kitchens the size of my whole downstairs or are slackers who just order pizza every night, neither of whom are complaining. But if you are stuck in the rut of a galley kitchen with shelves that are too high to reach without a rickety stepladder, not enough counter space, and very little glam, then an aspirational kitchen is a common fantasy. After all, the kitchen is the heart of the home. We cook there, we eat there (maybe only certain meals), and we celebrate there. If you’re embarking on a fancy-kitchen journey, there are some fixtures and elements that will take your cooking space from “eh” to “WOW.” Read about them here.

A pot-filler over your stove

You know what sucks about food prep? Lugging heavy pots of water for pasta or soup from the sink to the burner. Imagine, if you will, a fixture that eliminates the trip: a faucet on a pivoting arm that fills your pans right on the burners! This mind-blowing luxury will set you back several hundred bucks before installation, but man is it dreamy. 

A cushy warming drawer

We all know the struggle of trying to serve a multi-course meal when hosting holiday dinners - you can only do so much prep work ahead of time, because otherwise the first-done food will get cold. Enter the warming drawer. Costing about two thousand smackers, this appliance has the power to change your life. Imagine prepping dessert and having your popovers staying hot and crispy while you serve dinner! Or stashing coffee cups so that they are ready for a comfy cuppa whenever the mood strikes. You can also proof yeast and slow-cook in such a device. Astounding!

A baseboard vacuum

It’s a certifiable crisis when you drop toast on the floor… even if it’s not buttered, crumbs are going to scatter everywhere. And is there possibly any greater PITA than trying to scoop up the dregs into a dustpan? SO annoying. If you have the scrilla to spend, however, there is such a thing as a “toe-kick vacuum.” Set into the baseboard of your kitchen, maybe under the sink, all you have to do is sweep up the mess, kick a hidden button, and - voila! - sweep the detritus into a powerful vacuum slot. You empty it by emptying a bag. What will they think of next? 

A faucet that listens

Does anything stink more than having dirty hands and having nobody nearby to turn on the faucet for you? Somehow, you will end up with bread dough or raw chicken effluvia or clingy broccoli floret leavings all over the fixture, leading to a contaminated mess. How about a voice-controlled faucet that turns the water on FOR YOU, at the right temperature, when you need it? And, when you have wet hands, you can turn it off the same way. This is a smart faucet, which you can also instruct to dispense a certain amount of water, whether in ounces, cups, or gallons. The only thing it doesn’t do is load the dishwasher for you!

Posted in Home Decor
Dec. 10, 2019

Give Your Home a Hygge Hug This Holiday

It’s more than just a design buzzword: hygge (an untranslatable Danish word that is a combination concept of cozy, warm, inviting, and homey) is a way of life. As the winter winds bring their harshest chills to Northern Virginia, make like the great Danes and transform your home into an oasis of tranquility with just a few simple touches. And, in case you wondered, it’s pronounced HOO-gah or HUE-gah.

Light some candles

Warm candlelight is a cornerstone of hygge, one that might be said to be a critical component. Group candles in odd numbers and create inviting pools of light in which family and friends can bask. Nothing glows quite as cozily as flame, and any place that you can replace electric light with candles, you should. Obviously, if you have a fireplace, light a roaring fire before having company over. 

Get back to nature

In wintertime, the trees are denuded of leaves and there is nary a sight of green to be sighted. Cure your seasonal funk by cultivating indoor plants. Succulents are very popular right now, they require virtually no maintenance, and they are able to be potted in tiny, adorable vessels that accent your home. If you truly have a black thumb, some high-quality silk ferns will do the trick nicely. If you are furniture shopping, considering going with wooden items that bring a natural feeling inside. Pale birch is very trendy right now, but you also can’t do wrong with the burnished walnut of mid-century modern fixtures. 

Choose warming hues

I’ve heard tell that blue is a calming color, but cool shades have no place in a hygge home. Walls can be both neutral and comfy in off-white shades like cream or beige, and add rosy touches to your decor with some carefully-selected throw pillows and mirrors/picture frames in tones of yellow or rose gold. 

Build a nook

Cozy nooks are another mainstay of the hygge home - the 2020 equivalent of those dated 80s/90s conversation pits that caused trip-and-fall hazards in the living room. Use of curtains or room dividers, or even strategically-placed large furniture can close off small, intimate spaces where you can curl up with a good book (reading, in lieu of electronics use, is very hygge), drink a steaming mug of tea, and while away the hours in quiet and comfort. Load your nook with plush cushions and warm, tactile-pleasing throws, and you’ll never want to leave. 

Hygge makes a home extra lovable all year long, but no time more so than in the winter. With a mini makeover, your home can be the cozy getaway that you can’t wait to run to at the end of the day. 


Posted in Home Decor
Nov. 25, 2019

How to Allot More Privacy in a Studio

Life in a studio is all fine and cozy until you want to have a guest - or, heaven forbid, more than one - over. All of the sudden, the wide-open floor plan and lack of dividing walls can make things awkward, especially when it comes to obscuring your sleeping space. The following are a few tried-and-true tricks for creating division within your studio to make your sleeping space more private. 

Is it a bed if it doesn’t look like one? 

It’s usually the bed in a studio that sticks out like a sore thumb. When I lived in one, I was in college and had no problem with my friends coming over and sitting on the bed while we played video games, but that was many years ago and I’m sure I wouldn’t feel the same way now. Adults usually prefer to keep their sleeping quarters private. To that extent, consider a daybed that, with the addition of some bolster pillows and cute cushions, does double-duty as a couch. 

Try a pop of color!

An interesting idea for delineating space in your studio is to paint one wall a vibrant color. This should usually be the wall against which your headboard rests, so it gives off the impression of a separate bedroom area. Of course, non-bedroom things will also share the wall, but you can strategically place furniture (like a comfy couch angled towards the bed) to give an idea of definition. 

Make a screen play. 

Decorative screens are great for dividing off space in a studio apartment. Best of all, they are widely available at thrift and consignment stores as well as garage/yard sales. Give these decorative pieces a function by placing one at the foot of your bed or, depending on the layout, the side of it to create some privacy for your “bedroom” area. Even if there aren’t enough panels on the screen to cover the sleeping space completely, it should hide an unmade bed when you have company over. 


One excellent, albeit high-risk way to bl9ock off some sleeping space is to hang curtains around your bed. The risk is that the setup can look messy if you don’t seek out the right fabrics and hardware for the job. You don’t want it to look cheap, or to hang a sheet over a rod - that won’t do. If you lack the DIY chops yourself, hire a handyman to install the rod(s) to make sure that they won’t come tumbling down with an accidental pull. 

Nov. 20, 2019

Epic Fail Avoided: Don't Make These Thanksgiving Mistakes!

The holiday season officially kicks off next week with Thanksgiving, a holiday that’s all about togetherness and gratitude. When everything comes together, at the risk of sounding corny, you will feel the much-touted warmth of family and friends gathered together “as the fates allow.” This is a time when even home sellers and buyers take a break and celebrate the season. A great Thanksgiving has a lot of moving parts, and it’s really not a one-person job. You’ll want decorations, a tablescape worthy of the ‘Gram, and of course, delicious food. To make sure that everything goes off without a hitch, avoid these common Thanksgiving mistakes. One of these wrong moves and your holiday will be more akin to a disaster. 

“I didn’t set a timer. Oops.”

Look, nobody wants to eat a blackened bird. Undoubtedly this is not your first time roasting a turkey, making scratch gravy, or baking your famous pumpkin/apple/pecan pie. This isn’t meant to imply otherwise. However, for the love of cheese, SET A TIMER. Even the most talented cooks among us can get distracted or slip up in remembering the perfect moment to take your culinary creations out of the oven or off the burner, so go ahead and use either an egg timer or your oven’s clock. If you have multiple dishes going at once, have someone dedicate their phone to setting a series of alarms. 

Toddler “fun” gone wrong

Okay, so you think you’re ahead of the game. You’ve got little kids coming over for the big day, and you coordinated a craft for them to keep busy while the adults are schmoozing, day-drinking, and watching football - not to mention cooking! IT may seem redundant since there are so many sets of eyes around, but designate a babysitter to watch the kids at play. For example, it takes a split second for adorable turkey finger painting projects to go sideways. Next thing you know, your drapes are streaked in Crayola’s finest. Just be sure to keep diligent when there are small kids underfoot.

Pinterest fails strike at the dessert table!

Fanciful food ideas that you find online (it’s not only Pinterest, but that app is the main offender) are often traps waiting to ensnare you in frustration and failure as you simply cannot recreate the whimsy and beauty of the picture you’re studying. There’s a reason that “Pinterest fail” blogs exist and thrive. For example, your pie is already great with a plain crust, or even a lattice if you are feeling fancy. Those individual fall leaves made of crust look darling, but they take FOREVER - time that you need to work on other elements of dinner prep. And just say “no” to turkey cake pops. They look deceptively easy, but the fact is that tempering the chocolate just right and getting the quirky accessories to stick is a real pain. Here’s a tip: buy a couple of those cult-favorite pumpkin pies at Walmart, or stick to something reliable, like a tower of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. Don’t make more, frustrating work for yourself.

Nov. 18, 2019

What the Pros Know: Tips to Make Your Listing Photos Shine (Part Two)

Previously, I wrote the first part of a two-part series on how to take better listing photos for your home. With the extreme importance of that first thumbnail on your listing, you can’t afford to gamble your home sale on pictures that show your property in an unfavorable light. You’ve already learned about the “right” time of day to take pictures and how to lose “the lived-in look” that could cause potential buyers to look unfavorably on your home. Here are the rest of the tips for great listing photos. 

Access a good camera - not your iPhone. 

Yes, it’s true that today’s camera phones (especially the three-camera model of the new iPhone 11) can take gorgeous pictures, but you really should either invest in a good digital camera or get in the good graces of someone who has one. A real camera will produce a more crisp picture with better color grading so that rooms photographed look as close to life as possible. After all, you don’t want anybody saying the dreaded words: “it looked better online.”

Don’t let your staging work against you.

It’s a great idea to stage your home for listing photos! I’ve covered the ins and outs of staging elsewhere on this blog, so I won’t delve into it here, but something to note is that you shouldn’t let over-elaborate decor get in the way of showing off what the buyers really want to see: the shape and size of the room(s) and the fixtures. For example, a showy bouquet of wildflowers on the table will look great at the open house, but it’s going to draw focus in a photograph, and not in the way that you want. 

Think curb appeal, to the 10th power.

A front-facing picture of the exterior of your home is likely to be the critical first thumbnail that buyers see when browsing home listings. That means that your exterior photo is the money shot, and you want it to do the trick. To this end, the house should be immaculately clean and welcoming from the street. Pressure-wash the house if necessary, put a new coat of paint on the porch, pour some fluffy new mulch on flower beds, and get rid of all those random pots laying around your yard. Trim all the trees, pull weeds, and make sure the lawn is freshly mowed. This seems like a lot of work for one picture, but it’s equalled by the power that one picture has to sell your home. 

Use the right angles.

You know how you have perfected the exact tilt of your head for the most excellent selfie? You’ll want to find your home’s “angles” as well. You want the house to look roomy, airy, and as large as possible. To that end, don’t take shots that are obstructed by furniture or corners, and shoot from eye level - not higher or lower. Don’t do anything crazy like a fish-eye lens or wide-angle shots. You want an accurate picture of your home, albeit one of it at its very best. 

Posted in Selling Your Home
Nov. 15, 2019

What the Pros Know: Tips to Make Your Listing Photos Shine (Part One)

People are visually stimulated. Never is this the case more than when shopping for a home. It’s estimated that 90 percent of people start their home search online, checking for listings that they think are attractive before going to an agent. And also, in a similar majority of cases, prospective buyers can tell by the first thumbnail (not even a click!) if they are interested in the house or not.

You can see, then, why it’s so very important that your listing photos do the heavy work for you. Sure, you can knock people dead when they come to an open house and see the full package that your house has to offer, but you first need to get them in the door. Here are some tips for striking photos that will lure buyers in like candy. 

Look at your home like a buyer will. 

Before you even bust out your camera, try to take an objective look at your home. Room by room, go through and ask yourself some objective questions. What is the focal point of this room? What makes it stand out - in either the right way, or the wrong way? What could be a turn-off? 

“When” is the big question. 

Knowing the correct time of day to shoot your house can be a little tricky. Some people prefer full daylight, when the vibrancy of the yard and every exquisite detail are in high relief. Others love the “golden hour” (which is actually about 20 minutes) of dusk, when the shadows make everything look super-hygge. There are those who say that a partly-cloudy day eliminates shadows. All these theories are valid, so do your research. 

Loose that “lived-in” look. 

Assess all the things that make your house “home.” The kids’ school pictures on the wall, their art stuck to the fridge with pizza magnets… and then take them down. As I have said here over and over, you want your prospective buyers to visualize themselves in your home. At least until you take the listing photos, hide the tchotchkes, trophies, toothbrushes, and so on. 

Flood the place with light.

Even in broad daylight, you should turn all lamps and overhead lights on for photos - but turn off ceiling fans! (They will look blurry and weird.) Make sure that every bulb is accounted for and working. A dead bulb will stand out like a sore thumb in pictures, so test them all in every fixture before picture day. 

Posted in Selling Your Home
Nov. 13, 2019

Fierce Five: These Staging Essentials Are Cheap and Easy

Staging your home for an open house can be a very daunting concept. Should you paint? Should you hire a company to replace all your furniture until you move out? SHOULD YOU KNOCK DOWN A WALL? Take a deep breath, home seller. While all the previously listed staging tips are great ideas - especially painting neutral walls - the fact is that you can quickly and easily give your home a “pop” of freshness with just a quick trip to Target or Walmart. These five staging essentials will appeal to any buyer, will quickly and effectively jazz up your space, and win hearts during that all-important open house. Read on to make up your shopping list. 

Round Accent Mirrors

Round accent mirrors can be found at any big-box stores, they go with any decorating scheme, and they are just trendy enough to make your living space look attractive without a total makeover. Mirrors in general make your space look bigger, and they don’t require much innate design sense to throw up on the wall and quickly add pizzazz to an otherwise dull room. These stylish accents will give your living room, dining room, den, etc. a speedy makeover. 

LED Candles

Especially at this time of year, flameless candles are cheap and easy to find. For obvious reasons, it is not the best idea to leave burning candles going during a showing - one clumsy kid or misplaced elbow later, and you have a homeowners’ insurance claim. Scatter glowy, welcoming LED candle in groups of three (varying heights) in your kitchen, your bathroom, your living areas… these look great anywhere in the house and add instant ambience. 

Nice, White Hand Towels

Fluffy, brand-new white hand towels are the quickest, least-expensive way to add freshness to your bathroom, which is becoming an increasingly important selling point for buyers. Stack ‘em in a basket, drape them over your towel rod, and lay a few by the sink. Assuming your bathroom is spotlessly clean - which it should be before any showing - these towels will make your bathroom look bright and inviting. 

Accent Pillows

You’ve always heard about the benefits of a pop of color - well, here is your opportunity to make it happen in your own home. Colorful, patterned, cool-looking pillows will not only breathe vibrance into a lifeless couch, but they will add cheeriness and visual interest to the whole room. If you are afraid to step too far “out there” on bright decor, pillows and cushions are a low-commitment way to add spice to your life. 

Artificial Greenery

Fake plants are your friend. Effortlessly chic, you can toss them in a cute pot and instantly give your space the equivalent of a Photoshop makeover. Add as few or as many as you feel comfortable with, mixing bigger plants like ferns with smaller specimens like those adorable succulents in quirky vases. Unlike the real thing, they won’t die and need no maintenance except periodic dusting. Yet artificial plants pack a big punch in the way of decor.

Posted in Selling Your Home