Northern Virginia Real Estate Blog

The definitive blog, on Northern Virginia Real Estate.

Oct. 28, 2019

Is a Foreclosure Right for You?

Buying a foreclosed home can be a positive experience, but it can also turn into a total disaster. Much of the difference between these two outcomes stems from the buyers’ knowledge of how the foreclosure buying process works and understanding their own ability to maneuver around the kinks in the system within their own means. A foreclosure is not like a regular home sale, and you can’t assume the same protections that you would have buying a home off the standard housing market. It’s best to consult with an experienced agent or real estate lawyer before putting a drop of ink on foreclosure purchase paperwork, but the following are some basics that should give you a bit of foundational knowledge. 

A foreclosure is sold in “as-is” condition. 

Are you handy, or in a financial situation to hire someone who is? A foreclosure is sold without inspection, and sometimes even without a walk-through. Buyers of foreclosures have to accept that they may not know what they are getting into and that the worst possible scenarios are not uncommon. Vengeful owners, knowing that the bank is going to take the house away, have been known to strip the house of copper piping, remove cabinets, and sell anything that isn’t bolted to the floor (and even sometimes that as well). You might be getting the house for a sweetheart deal that turns sour when you walk in and assess how much damage there is and the costs it will take to make the house livable. 

Many lenders won’t finance a foreclosure sale.

A lot of foreclosure purchases are cash deals. If you don’t have six figures of liquid assets lying around, you will need to find a lender willing to finance your purchase. It’s not nearly as easy as finding a mortgage lender for a “regular” home. You’ll need good credit, just as is the case with a traditional mortgage, with a score of 620 bring the “magic” number for qualify. Obviously, the best interest rates are reserved for those with the best credit scores. Under the right circumstances, you may be able to qualify for an FHA loan on a foreclosure. 

Move-in day may be a distant goal. 

Foreclosure purchases can take a long time to sort out. Unlike normal home sales, which can close in thirty days (or less!) under the right circumstances, a foreclosure deal may take several months to wrap up. The reason for this is twofold: bank employees are swamped with paperwork, and there’s no rushing the process; and also, there can sometimes be issues like liens against the property that take a while to deal with. In other words: don’t purchase a foreclosure with the hope of moving in by next month.

Posted in Selling Your Home
Oct. 23, 2019

3 Doable Home Improvements to Impress Boomers

Having already tackled the question of home improvements that millennials love, it’s time to take a look at your second-largest prospective-homebuyer cohort: baby boomers. Baby boomers are the largest age group to ever retire… there’s an estimated 74 million of them in the United States. There’s no denying that they have changed the face of real estate with their tastes and preferences. If you live in a neighborhood that trends towards retirees instead of young families, you should know these tips for home design that will make boomers swoon. In general, retiring Americans want a life that feels luxurious and comfortable, and want their new home to be an upgrade from where they were living previously. The following are some items on their wish list.

Open up the floor plan.

Obviously you can’t just go knocking down walls all pell-mell. But, keeping in mind that boomers love an open floor plan, you can take baby steps to make your space look more expansive. This is a generation that loves to entertain friends and neighbors and have plenty of space for the grandkids to run around. Creative use of “flex space” like an extra bedroom or a formal dining room might just be your answer. If you are willing and able to open up some walled-off space, creating a “great room” that combines a kitchen and living space is ideal. 

Turn the bathroom into a haven of tranquility.

Boomers want luxury, or at least the feeling of it. This is seen keenly in their preference for bathroom fixtures - rain-pan shower heads, steam rooms, heated flooring and towel racks, toilets with built-in bidets, and other high-end bells and whistles. A big bathroom is ideal for safety reasons, which is a big concern with today’s seniors, but you can make the most of a small lavatory with some smart makeover elements. A tonier shower head, an investment faucet, and better lighting are all great choices for classing up your bathroom in the way boomers love. 

Outdoor living space is a must. 

Boomers really love bringing the great outdoors into their home. They go crazy for covered porches, screened patios, lanais, and landscaped courtyards. For seniors, these spaces are places to enjoy the fabulous Northern Virginian weather with friends and family, to eat outside on balmy evenings, and to enjoy the view of their gardens. Outdoor kitchens and fire pits are making a major shot up the list of wants as well. If you don’t have existing outdoor living space, start small with a paver patio and a small but pretty flower-box garden as the perimeter. Buy some comfy-looking outdoor furniture and cushions - or scout gently-used secondhand gems on Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist - and really show off your yard’s potential. 

Posted in Selling Your Home
Oct. 19, 2019

Give Buyers Thrills and Chills With a Halloween-Themed Open House

When there’s a holiday season afoot, theming your open houses to the time of year is more than welcome. It helps put prospective buyers in the spirit and shows off how your home looks at its most festive, which could potentially enchant a new owner. As Halloween nears, you should definitely let the colors and sights of the season flavor your presentation. But follow a few simple rules, since one person’s treat is another’s unwanted trick. 

Keep it cute, not scary.

Appropriate Halloween decor says “boo!,” not a blood-curdling scream from the grave. Good ideas for Halloween open house decor are pumpkins, carved or whole; harvest-scented candles; orange twinkle lights; and maybe a table runner embroidered with falling leaves. Keep it simple, keep it classy. Things to avoid: Grim Reaper busts that could horrify young kids, fake blood splatter on the windows, or decorations that move suddenly and make startling noises. You want to attract buyers, not scare them to death. Another adorable touch: adding a “not haunted” label to your open house sign. 

Keep the kids happy.

You can proverbially kill two birds with one stone by setting up little party games and treat stations for kids visiting your Halloween open house. Not only will antsy kids stay content, but parents will be touched by your consideration. Also, if the little ones are playing games or are munching on a snack, the adults are likely to linger longer in the house. Safe indoor games that have wide appeal include ring-toss, jack-o-lantern corn hole, and/or a scavenger hunt that will promote the whole family moving through the house. Treats should be healthy, because some parents don’t approve of candy. Even if they do, Halloween is so close that the kids will have plenty of it soon. 

Snacks aren’t just for kids.

Capture the spirit of the season and up your “fall fantasy” element by preparing treats for your visitors that are autumnal in nature. Create an apple cider station, carve little jack-o-lanterns out of bell peppers and stuff them with veggie bites, and bake homemade pumpkin bread and/or sugar cookies shaped like cats or witch hats. Do this last task close to the start of the open house, so that the homey smell of baking can permeate your home. And, of course, any time there are sweet snacks, a coffee station is an appreciated extra touch that shows you care. 

If you're selling your Northern Virginia home this time a year, a Halloween-themed open house is actually a great way to engage prospective buyers.

Posted in Selling Your Home
Oct. 15, 2019

Doable Home Improvements That Will Impress Millennial Buyers

Getting ready to sell your home means taking a look at what today’s buyer pool wants, overall, and trying to give it to them. Before just recently, that meant targeting Gen X and baby boomer families, and aiming for home features and fixtures that suited their taste. However, in late 2019, millennial homebuyers now represent almost half of all mortgages being approved. Whether that’s the sort of news that makes you cranky or not, there’s no denying that this generation has a voice, and they have certain preferences. A smart seller would do well to take note of these likes and dislikes, because there’s a high chance your prospective buyers will walk away from a home with which they don’t click.

Thoroughly Modern Kitchens

Here’s something millennial buyers hate: wood cabinets. This is unfortunate, because as recently as 10-15 years ago, gleaming oak cabinets were all the rage and every updated home had them installed. Today’s buyer prefers a sleeker look, with flat cabinet doors and clean lines throughout the kitchen space. If renovating your kitchen is not in the cards - and really, how many people could actually pull that off? - play to your youthful buyers’ interests by making other moderate adjustments in the kitchen. Maybe sanding and repainting the cabinets a neutral and welcoming shade like gray is a good compromise.

Doors, Jams

You’ve probably figured out by now that today’s buyers love open floor plans. It’s such a well-known fact that it’s virtually a meme by now. However, if you live in an older house with narrow hallways and plenty of walls, what are you supposed to do? You can’t go knocking walls down all willy-nilly. Just like the kitchen cabinets, there is only so far that you can realistically go in terms of prepping your house for sale. So, instead, make small changes that capitalize on the space you have. Create the illusion of space, for instance, by removing doors from unnecessary rooms (i.e.: not the bedrooms or bathrooms) and turning the space into an arched walkthrough. Clear any clutter - a basic staging rule of thumb - and focus on making your space look as airy and open as possible. 

Regarding Specialty Rooms

When we (I speak as a millennial myself) were kids, our moms all longed for formal dining rooms, and having one in the house was a huge selling point. But here’s the thing: a lot of today’s buyers see a dedicated dining room as a waste of space that could be spent on living. The key to overcoming this obstacle is in staging. You may have what is technically a dining room, but staging it to look, for example, like an entertainment room or office space can show the versatility of your square footage.

Posted in Selling Your Home
Oct. 12, 2019

Color Theory: How to Use Different Hues to Sell Your Home

Choose to use pops of colors in pillows and candles versus painting entire walls a bold shade.I have no doubt that, somewhere out there, some wiley real estate agent has written a textbook as thick as the old-fashioned phone book that delves into the psychology of home staging and why certain actions produce certain results when it comes to prepping your home for sale. Of course, there are generational preferences to consider and this will change up every 15-20 years, but some rules remain eternal: a clean, clutter-free home that doesn’t willfully remind prospective buyers that somebody is still living there will always be a good bet. One aspect of home decor for staging that often gets overlooked is color theory - certain colors impact the emotions of buyers in predictable ways, and you should capitalize on that. 

Beware of Halloween Tones

Orange, black, and violet shades can all be overwhelming to buyers in large doses. For example, very few people want to sleep in a bedroom painted the color of a tangerine! This doesn’t mean that you need to banish these colors from your decor altogether, however. Sleek black cabinets; a pop of orange in the form of candles, throw pillows, or bath towels; and some fresh sprigs of purple delphinium in a mason jar on the kitchen table are all welcome spots of brightness that add visual interest to your home without getting in-your-face garish with buyers. 

Painter’s Remorse is a Thing

Homeowners and buyers alike often share a type of FOMO about the paint in their home (or the one they are thinking of buying). They worry equally that they’ll grow to hate the shade that they chose, or that the finished walls won’t look like the sample. This is why it’s best to limit the amount of saturated colors you choose for the interior of your home. If you must paint the walls red, do it in the kitchen, living room, or bathroom. Bedrooms should unfailingly be oases of neutrality and calm. 

Outside Rules are Different

Don’t take this the wrong way, but neon colors are not appropriate for any part of your house. Take it from someone who frequently told pizza delivery drivers and new friends to look for “the house next to the hot pink one.” A badly-chosen exterior paint color is actually worse than one on the interior, because it’s harder and more expensive to change and there’s a chance that prospective buyers may not even make it past the curb before they go running. But that doesn’t mean that bright paint doesn’t have a place on your exterior. Painting your front door and/or shutters a friendly, bold “pop” color (red, blue, yellow, etc.) will make your home appear welcoming and give it some personality.


Posted in Selling Your Home
Sept. 27, 2019

Could You Afford to Buy Right Now? You May Be Surprised!

Homeownership is a shared dream of many young couples and families, but too often it feels like a mirage in the desert… a shining fantasy that you’ll never actually reach. The fact is that, while buying a house is a big step and requires quite a bit of stability, you may be better-prepared to take the leap than you thought! Read on to find out if you could, in fact, buy a house right now.

You make enough money for a mortgage.

If only rich people could afford houses, there wouldn’t be whole towns full of normal, non-1% homeowners getting by just fine. The income threshold to obtaining a mortgage may be lower than you think. Financial planners use this tip: multiply your annual income (combined if you are married or sharing a house) by 2.5, and then add your down payment on top of that figure - that’s the price of the home you can afford. To wit, if you make $60,000 a year, you can afford a $150,000 mortgage… and that’s without adding on whatever down payment you can muster. Of course, you have to have some left over for home maintenance and repairs, taxes, insurance, and, if applicable, HOA fees. So take that into consideration as well. 

You can handle the down payment. 

The down payment is, in the eyes of many renters, the biggest obstacle to obtaining a mortgage. They think of the old rule that you have to put 20 percent down, and say, “there’s no way I could ever come up with that!” The fact is that there are different kinds of loans out there today, more than there were in the past. Through an FHA loan, you may qualify to put down as little as three percent of the purchase price, which makes things much more attainable for the average prospective buyer. 

Your credit score doesn’t suck. 

Despite what many people think, you don’t need perfect credit to buy a house. You don’t even need great credit. If your FICO score is over 580, you can probably qualify for a mortgage. Conventional lenders generally require a score of at least 700 to prove your creditworthiness, but certain FHA loans can make it work with subprime credit, assuming you’re willing to pay PMI. Experts would say that it’s worth paying a little extra to get into a home and start building equity. 

As you can see, many of the challenges to homeownership that you fear are not as daunting as you think. Homeownership may be within your reach already, you just need to make the leap

Posted in Buying a Home
Sept. 26, 2019

Your Guide to Moving With Pets

If you are a fur-mommy or -daddy, your pet is more than just a companion. They are part of the family. When you are moving to a new place, especially one far away, it can be traumatic to all members of your tribe, but especially for your kitty or pup. Pets thrive on familiarity for comfort and a feeling of security, and moving can feel like all that good stuff is being ripped away. Anxiety and stress can manifest in ways like growling, barking (or crying, for cats), unusual potty regression, inability to calm down and sleep, and other negative behaviors. Luckily, there are ways to make a move easier on your furry friends. 

Get them away on moving day.

Moving day is stressful for everyone. For your pets, the constant opening and closing of doors, the banging of furniture being moved, the noise, and the general chaos can wreak havoc on their emotional wellbeing. Cats are usually okay with just being confined to one room while everything goes on (make sure to put a sign on the door to keep people from entering), provided it’s fairly quiet, but dogs should be kenneled or boarded elsewhere for a day or two. This will give you time to set up their things and make home feel familiar for them before they arrive at the new place. 

Resist the urge to wash their stuff.

It can be very tempting to want to start afresh in a new house with everything clean and new, but do not replace or even wash your pet’s “stuff.” Their bed(s), blankie, toys, food and water bowls, and other accessories are marked with their scent, and they associate these things with “home.” It is scary enough to face a new house, but taking away the familiarity of their everyday playthings and snugglies is just too much. In fact, these things should all be in a place similar to where they were at the old house and set out just like the pet remembers to give them a sense of comfort and belonging in their new home. 

Keep a closer eye than usual. 

Be wary of turning pets loose in new surroundings until they (and you) know their limits. A new fence, for example, may look tall enough that your dog can’t jump out, but too often new homeowners are unpleasantly surprised. Likewise, if you have an outdoor cat (which is irresponsible pet parenting, by the way), perhaps accompany them into the yard and as they stroll around the neighborhood to make sure that they know their way home. Dogs should be walked, step by step, around their new walking path so that they can get familiar with their surroundings. Never let a newly-relocated dog off its leash (or ever, really… see my note on responsible pet ownership). Another dog, a child, or a passing car could be enough to spook an already-discomfited pooch and make them run, attack, or growl. A pet with owners that take time to reassure them and cast an eye towards their comfort is a happy pet. 


Sept. 10, 2019

Fix These Small Home "Quirks" Before You Sell (Part 2)

We've already covered the first four priorities of what you need to fix before listing your Northern Virginia home for sale, but there are four more key things you need to address—and they're no less important for coming second!

5. A front door that sticks

This is a common problem, especially in places with high humidity… like Northern Virginia in the summer. It can become an all-seasons issue, too. You may be used to shoulder-checking the door to get it open, since it sticks, but if a prospective buyer is greeted by a front door that won’t open to them, then that’s quite literally an unwelcoming sign. The front door - and all other doors too, really - should open and close smoothly, without much effort. If this isn’t the case in your home, call up that same carpenter who fixed your bathroom window and get them to do something about the door. It may require a new frame if there is warping in the wood, or it could be a matter of “shaving” the door a few millimeters to fit better. 

6. Ugly closets

Buyers, especially the ladies, love the look of a spacious closet. Ideally, they should be able to look at yours and envision all their dresses, shoes (and even more shoes), and handbag collection in the space. The first sign that something is off is a door that’s off the track or hinges, or otherwise does not hang right. Even if the doors, sliding, folding, or otherwise are in great shape, your buyers will have second thoughts if your closet is absolutely packed to the gills. Ideally, all the house’s storage space - closets and cabinets - should be at least twenty percent empty when buyers come courting. This gives the impression of ample space, as opposed to clutter that screams “THERE’S NOT ENOUGH ROOM HERE!”

7. A garden gate that’s a drag

When buyers are done looking over the inside of your house with a fine-toothed comb, they’ll want to peer around the outside of the property, imagining room for a small-patch veggie garden or the future location of some prize-winning roses. Or maybe you’ve done the work already, and you have a pristine backyard ready to show off! Here’s the reality: if your gate drags and screeches against the ground when you go to open it, it will distract everybody from anything else good going on. Over time, gates need trimming and adjustment so that they swing smoothly. An ideal distance is two inches off the ground. 

8. A faucet that lies to you

Have you become used to the faucet in your kitchen or shower running hot on the cold tap and cold on the hot tap? This is another super-common quirk in a lot of homes, but the fact is that it’s inconvenient and a nuisance. Whether it’s your pipes or faucets that are set incorrectly, fix it yourself or hire a plumber to get the job done. 

9 Wobbly railings or bannisters

Do your staircase railings rattle in their mounts when you run up or down the stairs? Is your bannister so wobbly that you can’t lean on it? This goes beyond simply an unsightly “quirk;” it’s downright (like you falling right down the stairs) dangerous. Imagine visitors coming for an open house and taking a tumble on your watch… it’s a horrible thought. Promptly hire a carpenter (you should have one on retainer by now) to adjust, tighten, and possibly replace hardware as necessary to make sure that all railings are tight and safe. 


Posted in Selling Your Home
Sept. 9, 2019

Fix These Small Home "Quirks" Before You Sell (Part 1)

Every house has odd things that make it unique. Maybe there’s a ceiling fan in the downstairs living room with lights that flicker when you plug something into the nearby outlet. Maybe you have to tell visitors to jiggle the toilet handle just a bit for it to flush. Perhaps your dryer is a tad temperamental, and you need to flip the breaker ever so often to get it cycling. Homeowners get used to these little irregularities, but they can become major stumbling blocks if and when you go to sell your home. Buyers want a house in great condition, and the “quirks” that you don’t think much about can actually be viewed in a very negative light. The following are some “minor” home improvement tasks that you definitely want to undertake before selling. 

1. Sketchy patches and fixes

You may think that you’ve put a bandaid over problems in your home that are “just cosmetic,” but the reality is that you’ve done a sloppy job and buyers ain’t going to have it. A hole in the wall that was stuffed with putty and then painted over? Water-stained spots on the ceiling that were covered with paint, rather than having the problem addressed? Not cool. If anything in your house has been patched over or jimmy-rigged to work, you need to get it done right before you sell. 

2. Shaky ceiling fans

An improperly-anchored ceiling fan will shake and wobble, making people wonder if it’s going to fly off the ceiling and down onto their heads. Sometimes the situation can be fixed by tightening the hardware fixing the fan to the ceiling, otherwise it’s time to suck it up and buy a new one. Building-grade models aren’t that expensive, and they’ll look (and sound) a lot better than a fan that appears to be a death trap waiting to happen.

3. Windows that have lost their oomph

Have that ubiquitous piece of cardboard shimmied into the corner to prop your window open on nice days, since otherwise it won’t stay open? You're not alone. Homeowners from coast to coast have grown accustomed to using everything from bricks to shampoo bottles to hoist open windows that have lost their spring, but this simply isn’t an okay situation if you’re selling. Hire a carpenter to see if the windows can be fixed, or, barring that, replace them. It’s a costly fix, but one that you are going to have to face eventually. 

4. Tattling floorboards

If your floors squeak when someone walks over them - basically giving away your location to everyone else in the house - you may consider it just a quirk of the home. Houses, and especially old ones, squeak. Right? While you aren’t exactly wrong, this is something that you can fix in a relatively easy way. Ideally you should get down to your subfloor to tighten the squeaky screws, but sprinkling some talcum (or baby powder) around the telltale floorboards and then sweeping to make sure the powder gets into all the crevices will often do the trick.

Wondering about the other five repairs? Stick around for part two of what you need to fix before listing your home for sale!


Posted in Selling Your Home
Sept. 5, 2019

What You Need to Know About Enclosed Pools

Autumn is coming, my friends. The wind is cooling down, the first leaves are changing, and there’s that indescribable hint of “fall” in the air. For those of you Northern Virginians with swimming pools, this can be a frustrating part of the year. Your beloved swimming pool, which you can only enjoy for a few fleeting months, needs to be covered for the winter. It’s a time-consuming and annoying process, and something that every pool owner dreads. There are a few alternatives to covering your pool, but they are all cost-intensive. The following are your options. 

Make it an indoor pool

Year-round swimming in temperate water, no cleaning of bugs, dirt, or leaves out of the pool… sign me up! Creating an indoor pool is, however, the most expensive option for enclosing your pool, and you have to have the room for it. The total cost for creating the pool and the building around it can run as high as $200k, and the ROI is not fabulous… such an amenity will only add between five to ten percent to the sale price of your home. Why is it so expensive? Indoor pools may need less maintenance, but they create the problem of extreme humidity in an enclosed space, which can destroy the building if special equipment isn’t built into the structure. 

Build a birdcage

Screening in your pool with what is curiously called a “birdcage” can be a cost-effective means of protecting your pool from animals, falling leaves, and other annoyances. This will also keep the bugs away during swimming season. If your pool has a heater, this may even be a viable solution for using your pool earlier in the spring and later into the fall. It’s not without its expense, however: building a screened enclosure around an existing pool starts around eight thousand dollars. This would definitely be an enticement to future buyers, however. 

Blow it up (sort of)

A new innovation in the swimming pool and spa industry is the temporary pool enclosure, which is inflatable and looks like a bounce house structure built around your pool. The structure is held up by a powerful air blower to keep the enclosure inflated. This solution, also called a bubble or dome, will set you back a few thousand dollars. I wouldn’t trust it to hold up to strong weather, however. 

Make it retractable

Another expensive, but effective option is building a retractable enclosure around your pool. This is costly - the average runs about $150k - but still cheaper than building an indoor pool. Also, you have the option of exposing the pool to the sunshine when the weather is fair. In the winter, the retractable enclosure covers the pool completely, giving you an indoor pool experience. These enclosures can be built with rises of various heights, depending on what you want it to look like. 

So what's the best option for enclosing your pool for winter in Northern Virginia? It's going to come down to budget and preference.