Northern Virginia Real Estate Blog

The definitive blog, on Northern Virginia Real Estate.

Dec. 13, 2018

A Guide to Christmas Light Safety

Given that Christmas is right around the corner, it’s likely that your home is currently sporting several strands of twinkling holiday lights. Fairy lights are popular all year ‘round, but they are EVERYWHERE at this time of year. That’s why it’s time to have a conversation about Christmas light safety. You might not think so automatically, but these little lights, which come in strands ranging from ten to hundreds, are a potential fire hazard. And that’s not even the only danger in hanging holiday lights. 

Are they safety-tested?

The first thing you should do with your Christmas lights is verify that they have been safety-tested. Most lights that you buy at Target or Wal-Mart are probably in the clear, but use caution when buying lights online at prices that seem too good to be true. Products certified by the Underwriters Laboratories, a popular independent testing facility, will have the mark "UL." When in doubt, check online reviews. 

Did you buy the right kind?

Also important: check whether your lights are labeled for indoor and/or outdoor use. Bringing indoor lights outside is not recommended, as they lack proper sealant against rain and other weather. This means that these lights could short out and fail, or even cause an electricity hazard. 

Is your ladder anchored correctly?

Once you have your lights, be cautious while decking the halls. Especially in cold weather, the rungs of your ladder could be slippery. Even under the best weather conditions, climbing up to hang lights can be fraught with danger if you don’t anchor your ladder correctly. Ladder falls can be deadly, so make sure that you always size yours up before climbing.

Are your electric circuits up to the task? 

Another rookie Christmas light mistake is overloading your outlets with too many plugs. Each outlet inside (and outside) your home is designed to only handle so many amps. If you overload the outlet with multiple plugs or extension cords, you are looking at potentially blowing out the outlet, which can cause a fire. 

Do you have a way to store them correctly?

Lastly, when you go to de-deck the halls after Christmas, be sure that you store your lights correctly. Throwing them in a box in one big bundle is a sure way to guarantee a lot of dead bulbs next winter. The process of detangling light strands is not only tedious, but the strain it puts on the light cables can cause tearing and fraying. Wrapping the light strands around your arm and putting them away neatly and carefully can save on money, but also on safety.

Dec. 10, 2018

What Locals Say About Living in Arlington, VA

Arlington, VA is a census-designated place in the eponymous county of Arlington. It is considered by many sources to be not only the best place to live in Virginia, but one of the country’s topmost residences as well. Surrounded by the prosperous Fairfax County and the lovely Falls Church, it's not an outlier in the region—it's one of several simply top choices for families and working professionals looking for proximity to the Metro DC area. 

There's a lot to love about owning a home in Arlington, here are our top five reasons you might want to call this place home. 

What We Love about Arlington

  1. Your neighbors are educated—like, really educated. According to CNN, Arlington is the most educated city in America; over one-third of the population holds a graduate degree.
  2. History is alive in every nook and cranny. The National Register of Historic Places designates this area's garden-style apartment buildings and neighborhoods as historically significant.
  3. Public transportation is spot-on. There is no where in the area that you can't easily reach when you live here. It's in the Metro DC area and just a quick jot over to most anywhere.
  4. Job opportunities and salaries are rock solid. Arlington is the wealthiest county in the nation based on median household income, and has a well-below average unemployment rate.

Why Locals Love Living in Arlington

Stacked with amazing schools, a diverse population, plenty of nightlife for those who want it, as well as close proximity to Washington D.C., it’s no wonder that the real estate market is as hot as volcanic lava in Arlington. But don’t take our word for it. Read on to find out what locals have to say about Arlington according to Niche.com.

Arlington is a mixing bowl of job opportunities, people, and fun! There is incredible cuisine from many countries, authentic and delicious! Downtown has many options such as Ballston, Clarendon, Court House, Rosslyn, and more for exquisite restaurants, shopping, and nightlife. There are lots of trees despite the urban atmosphere. The school system is top in the state. The communities are diverse and offer a short commute into Washington, D.C.!” (Current resident)

Arlington, VA is mere minutes away from the nation's capital, Washington, DC. It's a safe neighborhood that offers as many small town comforts with the liveliness and culture of the big city. Arlington, VA boasts some of the most exciting nightlife. Properties are beautiful, with the only downside being that homes can be pricey! However, it's well worth the extra expense.” (Current resident)

I love Arlington! There is a lot to do in the area, rents are comparable to other places in the DC metro area, but you can stumble upon some good deals. I live within walking distance to a Walgreens, grocery store, and CVS (as well as some tasty eateries), and that's pretty normal for northern Arlington.” (Current resident)

There is so much to do here. The night life is exciting, there are many food options and the people are friendly. This is the city for young professionals. It is very close to D.C. and the housing is cheaper than living in the district.” (Current resident)

Great community, public and social work is exceptional with a lot of programs to help citizens. Police dept is friendly and keeps county safe. New apartments and houses being built in the past 10 years. Parks and pools are clean. Nightlife scene is fun, lots of people come to Arlington for bar scene. Diverse population. 4 minutes to DC.” (Current resident)

Arlington is a great place to live: the public schools are fantastic, it has incredible historical significance, there are many resources for minority groups and those in need, and it is just a few miles away from the nation's capital. There is also a pretty good public transportation system (ART Buses, Metro, etc). Arlington also has a couple of great public libraries and recreation centers.” (Current resident)

Arlington, VA has so much to offer. There's Clarendon, where you can take a stroll and find great restaurants or there's Columbia Pike and Crystal City which are home to several restaurants and festivals. The neighborhoods are great and usually the community has a lot of involvement. Last, but not least, It's in very close proximity to Washington D.C.” (Current resident)

Dec. 7, 2018

Moving During the Holidays: 4 Ways to Avoid a Ho-Hum Christmas

Not many people voluntarily buy or sell a house during the holidays. The real estate market always slows down over the time period between November and January, no matter where you are in the country.

But sometimes a holiday move is beyond your control - maybe your house has been on the market for a little while and the magic offer just took its time coming, or maybe the shoe is on the other foot and you are eager to capitalize on a time of year when the kids are out of school.

You might think that moving over the holidays is a guaranteed way to torpedo your good cheer, but fear not. There are ways to make holiday moves less painful. 

1) Use Your Christmas Cards Wisely

First of all, kill two birds with one (gaily decorated) stone, and include your change of address information in your annual Christmas cards. You were going to send the cards out anyway, including a festive picture of your kids so that distant relatives can coo over how big they’re getting, so you may as well shoehorn your new mailing address in there as well. Multitasking!

2) Donate Any Excess to Make Holidays Brighter for Others 

Another tip is, if you are packing up and space is tight, consider donating your copious overflow of holiday decorations to people who can’t otherwise afford them. Make this Christmas a cheerful one for a needy family. Alternately, if you are whittling down your cold-weather gear (because you are relocating to warmer climes) or you are thinning out the kids’ mountain of toys, think about sharing some of your excess with the homeless or indigent. Toys in good condition will make excellent gifts, and there are always toy drives at supermarkets, WalMart, and other such places during December. 

3) Repurpose All of Your Moving Materials!

Inundated by boxes and bubble wrap following a move? You’ve just solved two problems: you can use all that cardboard and insulating material to wrap Christmas presents, especially if you are the devious type who doesn’t like making gifts seem obvious. And it goes in the other direction: if you receive gift boxes and tissue paper, you can use these materials to pack your delicate items. Ask friends and family members for their castoffs as well! 

4) Pack Holiday Decorations Last

Lastly, when you are packing up your home for a pre-Christmas move, go ahead and pack your holiday decorations last, so that they are the first thing off the truck when you arrive at your new digs. This way, even if it takes you some time to get through putting away all your other household contents, you can be sure that your new home will be properly bedecked with cheer!

Dec. 4, 2018

These 3 Listing Mistakes are Tanking Your Home Sale

There’s a lot that goes into writing up and crafting a great real estate listing. For many buyers, the MLS listing is the initial, make-or-break interaction they have with your home. If they don’t like something right off the bat, you are probably done for. Although it may seem this way, the secrets to a great listing aren’t a matter of black magic. There is a reliable, trustworthy formula for success when listing a home, but let’s not concern ourselves with that right now. Let’s talk about the listing mistakes that are turning off your potential buyers, thus keeping them from even requesting a drive-by. Some of these may shock and surprise you.

Mistake #1: Your description doesn’t cut the mustard.

A lifeless, bland description of your home (or, worst of all, none whatsoever) is a huge landmine in a home listing. The listing description is your opportunity to really showcase what makes your home special. Do you have a large, lush lawn that your kids love to play on? Include that in the listing. On the other hand, if you live close to an urban center, spotlight how little of a walk there is between your abode and local hotspots. Work with your agent to identify what makes your property shine. 

Mistake #2: Your photos aren't up to snuff.

You might think that your iPhone X takes some sick shots, but doesn’t get confused - phone snaps are no substitute for actual professional photos. You have undoubtedly seen a few tragic listings where you catch the agent’s reflection in a mirror. That’s just a rookie move. Spend a few bucks and let someone who specializes in interiors show your home off in its best light. If your agent doesn’t go this route by themselves, make sure you insist on it. 

Mistake #3: Your listing price is too high.

This comes up on every single “don’t do this when selling your home” listicle, and sellers insist on doing it anyway. Your home is only worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it, which seldom equates with sentimental value. If you price your home too high, it will undoubtedly languish on the market, losing its “newly listed!” varnish and leading prospective buyers to think you are desperate. Price cuts over time do nothing but put buyers in the mindset that your house is undesirable. Price it right the first time. If you are in a desirable neighborhood, this one step alone will likely lead to a sale within thirty days.

Posted in Selling Your Home
Nov. 27, 2018

How to Sell Your Home When Someone Died in It

You’d be surprised how many people are repelled by the thought of living in a home where somebody has died, be it peacefully or by violent means. I can’t imagine that all these people believe in ghosts, or that bad karma is hanging around… but isn’t that what burning sage is for? (Unless your house is the “Murder House” from American Horror Story, in which case, you are probably reading this from the afterlife.)

If you live in a house where someone died, you may have questions about how much, if anything, you have to disclose to potential buyers. This is common in cases where grandparents or elderly parents pass away under in a home and leave the house to younger relatives. In worse cases, where there has been a murder or other violent death (like suicide) in the home, the house may be viewed as damaged goods, because it is perceived as notorious or riddled with the aforementioned bad juju. What to do?

In Virginia, unlike in other states, sellers have minimal obligations to report a house’s gruesome past to a prospective buyer. In this state, agents only have an obligation to tell buyers information about defects that the sellers have disclosed, which may be minimal to nothing. Of course, the agent may find things out from their own reconnaissance. But the fact of the matter is that Virginian home buyers have the burden of doing their due diligence in investigating the background of a home they are considering buying. 

Here’s the big one, however: if prospective buyers ask an agent specific questions about a property (such as: “Hey, has anyone kicked the bucket here?”), the agent is required to answer truthfully, even knowing that it may sink the sale. Therefore, my advice is to be frank with buyers about any ghosts - real or imagined - that you have hiding in the attic. They may turn tale and run, but at least you won’t be bothered by guilt - or by seriously irritated new homeowners a few years down the line. 

For concerned buyers, it is recommended that you do your research before buying a house. Google the address, for a first thing. After that, consider getting in touch with your local police agency to inquire about the history of your potential new house, along with the surrounding neighborhood. As a final resort, there are websites like diedinhouse.com, which maintain death records for properties all over the United States. You’ll shell out a few bucks for a report, but you will have done your due diligence. 

Nov. 27, 2018

Don't Let the "Christmas Curse" Keep You From Listing Your Home This Winter

Winter is and always has been a historically slow time for real estate. It’s cold outside, and people generally don’t like trooping through the snow and ice to check out houses. Sellers are less likely to list, and buyers less likely to buy, because who wants to deal with closing during one of the busiest times of the year? Nevermind the thought of moving during the holidays. It’s little wonder that sales slow to a crawl through November and December. 

That, however, is an outdated mode of thinking. It turns out that the holidays can actually be a great time to sell your home. The so-called “Christmas curse” is not a thing. The following are some splendid reasons why you should go for it and list your Northern Virginia home over the holidays. 

1. Fewer Competing Listings  

First of all, with dramatically-less other homes for sale, your listing will automatically stand out. The field of competition is slimmer. Your neighbors, who may be unwilling to maintain a house in showing condition during the holidays, won’t be putting their homes for sale. And this means that interested buyers will be much more likely to see YOUR listing! 

2. Homes Show Well Over Christmas

There’s also the fact that, at this time of year, your house is probably cozy and warm with festive holiday decorations. This can tap into buyers’ nostalgia, and help them imagine their own holiday traditions taking place under that roof. Make sure that the decor falls under the “merry” banner and not “overkill,” however!

3. Kids are Home So Families Can Shop

Although it is the holiday season, it is also a time when children are out of school, and it is a known fact that buyers tend to shop for homes when their kids are on break. Less chance of missing school and no pickup scheduled into the daily plan means that buyers have more time to shop around. This is only a win for you. 

4. Motivated Buyers Close Faster

Lastly, an attractive element of selling a home over the holidays is that sales tend to close faster, which benefits both buyers and sellers. Why is this? Once again, there are fewer home sales going through, meaning that title companies and banks are less swamped with multiple sales to sift through. Being one of the few buyers to take advantage of the holiday can, again, be a good thing. 

In short, reconsider waiting until after Christmas to list your home for sale. While it’s true that fewer people are selling homes in December, this can ultimately be a positive thing for your family and your own home sale!

Posted in Selling Your Home
Nov. 21, 2018

Real Estate Booming for Amazon HQ in Crystal City

With Amazon having decided the final locations for their second US headquarters, a project called HQ2, the DC Metro area has buzzed with excitement over landing the vaunted contract in conjunction with Long Island. With Amazon deciding to split HQ2, Crystal City in Northern Virginia and DC Metro was a long-lasting contender and eventual winner. 

Bids for HQ2 had preoccupied almost every major metro area in the United States (240 communities countrywide) for 14 months. Cities winning the bid expected many perks, including hundreds of well-paying tech jobs, and the commerce that the headquarters brings along with them. Amazon eventually chose to split the new HQ2 between Long Island City and Crystal City, splitting the 50,000 jobs, the development work and investment, as well as the burden to local transport infrastructure—something that surely played a role in the decision to choose two areas with well-established existing metro systems.

With the promise of Amazon now comes a flood of people wanting to move to Arlington County in Northern Virginia. The decision makes sense on many fronts. Located across the Potomac River from Washington, the area has plenty of other things going for it, including excellent quality of life, fantastic schools, temperate weather, and proximity to most of the big cities on the Eastern seaboard. Buyers are flooding the market, eager to buy a home in Northern Virginia. 

The only problem? There aren’t enough houses for sale to accommodate everyone who wants to move to the area and be part of the excitement. This same issue may play out in Long Island City, as well. In fact, NoVA homes-for-sale inventory is down by eight percent over this same time period last year. Even as we head into the holidays, a time of year that is historically uneventful in real estate, the market is blazing hot.

Agents are cautioning clients to keep a cool head. From Realtor.com:

“Geva Lester of Keller Williams Realty said her office is advising clients to act normally — with the caveat to be cautious that an HQ2 announcement could affect the market. How the market will be affected, however, is still unclear and will depend on when and at what pace Amazon executes its move.”

Realtors are reporting that prospective buyers at area open houses constantly have Amazon on their lips now that Crystal City got the bid. 

Even by splitting its headquarters between two different cities, Northern Virginia real estate will continually prove to be a hot commodity—not great for existing residents thinking of buying a home. As cities like New York and Virginia promised vast tax breaks and incentives, as well as help with infrastructure upgrades and job-training programs, the NY Times anticipated there could be some fall out: 

“Some economists and policymakers warned against using public money to help one of the most valuable companies in the world, and of the potential for escalating housing costs and traffic.

Despite the fact that home prices will likely soar, and both rentals and sales will be in short supply until builders can catch up, both states feel like the transformational opportunity for diverse jobs was too great to pass up for the state, and its economy.

Nov. 9, 2018

Home Equity Loan vs. HELOC — What You Need to Know

If you own a home and have equity in it, you can borrow money against that equity for big expenses like renovations, to buy a car, or college tuitions. There are two ways to tap your home equity: a home equity loan, and a home equity line of credit (HELOC). There are subtle but important differences between the two products, and you should know the particulars before making an expensive decision.

A home equity loan is favored by many homeowners due to its lower interest rates compared with other products. This kind of loan allows you to tap into a percentage of the equity in your home (usually 80 - 90 percent) as a lump sum and then repay it, like a regular loan. The amount you will get depends on the equity in your home - the surplus difference between what your home is worth and and you have left to pay on your mortgage.

A home equity line of credit (HELOC) on the other hand, works more like a credit card where you can repeatedly borrow against your equity and pay it back, creating a rotating balance. The term of this kind of loan ranges from five to twenty years. Unlike a home equity loan, which has a fixed rate of interest, a HELOC’s interest is variable, depending on the market. This means that your payment can go up or down.

Whichever product you choose, you’re going to need strong credit to qualify for any advance on your home equity. Your score will need to be at least in the high 600s to even get a chance, and you won’t get the best rates unless your score is in the 700s. Then there’s your debt-to-income ratio, which is the sum of your monthly payments divided by your income. DTI ratio cannot exceed 43% of your gross monthly income for most lenders.

As to whether you should take out a home equity loan, that depends on your situation. These loans are great for when you know exactly how much you need and want to lock in a good rate, especially now when rates are rising. If you are planning on using the money to do work on your primary or secondary residence, you can get a tax break on the interest! All of these are good things. The most important consideration, however, is that you do not squander your home equity on frivolous purposes. That there is a terrible idea.

Posted in Buying a Home
Nov. 7, 2018

What Locals Say About Living Fairfax, VA

Fairfax, Virginia is an independent city and enclave in Fairfax County. The city is only seventeen miles from the nation’s capital, and it is widely acknowledged as one of the best places to live not only in Virginia, but in the United States as well.

Both the county and the city offer residents a high quality of life. Here are a few things we love about it: 

  • You find many of Virginia's best parks in Fairfax County—these are parks that offer all sorts of fantastic play spaces, amenities, and well-kept grounds. 
  • Located just sixteen miles southwest of Washington, D.C., it's dead-simple to commute to anywhere in the Metro DC area, but it's far enough away that residents enjoy space, quiet, and slower pace of life than the city. 
  • The Fairfax school system regularly ranks among the best in the country.  

Fairfax is a great place to live, and there seem to be an ending stream of reasons to move to Fairfax, but don’t take it from us - let the current residents of the city tell you why, in their own words. Here's what residents have to say about living here, pulled from Niche.com and other websites!

“Fairfax, Virginia is a suburban city with a diverse and safe living. The public and private schools from K-12 all the way up to colleges and universities are high quality with educated students. I grew up in Fairfax, Virginia with positive experiences in school, with making friends, learning and growing in positive work environments, and overall, felt safe and respected. I highly recommended Fairfax, Virginia.” (Nearby Resident)

“You will never hear anyone say that they can't find something to do here. There's a healthy variety of cultures, city life and outdoor recreation, and employment opportunities. . . . The quality of life simply can't be beat. It's conveniently close to DC and has a metro running through the heart of the city, so commuters don't have to worry about working far from home. The public schools are recognized for their superb educational quality and George Mason University has a great reputation.” (Current Resident)

“The roads here are BEAUTIFUL! The community is very diverse, and everyone is incredibly thoughtful and kind.” (Current Resident)

“Fairfax is a clean city with lots of family options. There are so many places and local communities. I live near Monument Drive and often visit Fairfax Corner which has a plethora of amenities for both families or parents looking for a date night. The central water fountain will entertain your children for hours while you and your significant other catch up on some much needed personal time. There is also a movie theater and [ice] cream shop. Love this town.” (Current Resident)

“I love how friendly and accessible the community is. There so many programs and different events openly accessible to all, particularly in the City of Fairfax. With parades, football games, Rock the Block and many different camps, there is always something going on for anyone of any age.” (Current Resident)

“I have enjoyed growing up and living in Fairfax. It is very diverse, there are many opportunities to grow and succeed. Schools are good, and while it is pricey to live here, there are great places to visit, learn, have fun and grow.” (Current Resident)

Think Fairfax could be the perfect place for you and your family? Contact our real estate team today to find your dream home today!

Oct. 30, 2018

In-Law Suites: The Asset You Didn't Know You Wanted

It’s a curious wildcard when you are buying a home: a house with an in-law suite, or mother-in-law apartment, or casita, or ohana house. No matter the name, these dwellings, which may or may not be attached to your main house, and which are intended for an older relative to have some privacy and space to themselves, are a big-ticket item when selling a house. Not many homes have them, so when yours does, it’s a major selling point. 

What Qualifies as a Mother-in-Law Suite?

Generally, to qualify as an in-law suite, the space must have a full bathroom and bedroom, preferably with at least a separate kitchenette. Some ground-floor bedroom suites in multi-story houses can actually fit the bill, although more often the term “in-law suite” means a detached cottage or apartment over a garage. Some are attached to the home, but have a clear demarcation of territory.

Why In-Law Apartments Are an Asset. 

What makes an in-law suite so sellable is that it needn’t just be used as the name intends. As more and more people work from home instead of commuting, an in-law suite can make a fine office. If you like to entertain, it’s the perfect space to house guests while giving them some peace and quiet (and you as well!). If you have an adult child who is struggling to get on their feet financially but wants their own space, this suite can fit the bill perfectly - especially if he or she pays a bit of rent each month.

Talking about earning money, an in-law suite can be rented out either short-term or long-term to make some passive income to add to your budget each month. You can lease it out by the week on Airbnb, for example, or else find a bonafide tenant to take on a lease. 

If you are thinking that you might like to add an in-law suite, expect it to be an expensive project if you are adding a detached property. You will have to check first with your municipality to make sure that such a beast is permitted. Some cities won’t allow a second kitchen, for instance, due to the increased chance of fires. Adding onto the house is seriously cheaper, possibly by half. 

If you are shopping for houses and find one with an in-law suite, give it some careful consideration. It will likely hold its value and may even be a serious benefit to your home in the form of income or extra space.