Real Estate, Tips and Tricks

Moving Tips

movingMost people have moved at least once in their lives, but for some, it has been quite a long time OR the thought of moving is so overwhelming (either because of a bad experience or because moving all of your life’s treasures is just difficult by nature) that they just don’t even know where to start.  Here are a few tips for a successful and less stressful move:

*A quick note: Some Moving expenses are tax-deductible, so save receipts and check with a tax professional for details

1) This probably goes without saying, but plan ahead.  Do not make the physical move and packing the last item on your list.  You will need time to get on a mover’s schedule and determine your timeline for packers, etc.

2) Considerations for Moving within the state vs. out-of-state.  Moving out-of-state is a little more complex and requires more coordination.  Moving charges will be calculated differently depending on whether or not you are staying within the stave or leaving the state.  Within the state, charges are usually based on an hourly rate plus any additional services.  Between states, will often be calculated by weight and other factors, so it is helpful to get a specialized moving consultant/coordinator to lay out your options and help you determine what the best course of action is.  Many interstate moving companies include this service as part of their initial quote.

3) Make sure the company you are interviewing sends someone to the house to give a quote and do not accept a quote over the phone.  The last thing you want is to expect one price and get another on the day of the move.  Some companies will guarantee their price quote…this gives you assurance that you will actually pay what you have been quoted, regardless of unexpected factors such as whether the move took longer than expected because of traffic or bad weather.

4) Make sure that the company insures the goods for damage or loss and find out how much coverage you receive per item.  In many cases, you pay an additional fee for full coverage but basic coverage is only a percentage on the dollar or weight.

5) Get the kiddos on board: we all know that moves are difficult, but kids (who love routine, can get especially upset by a move if care isn’t taken to prepare them).  Help them feel more comfortable by keeping open dialogue about the move, introducing them to the neighborhood and maintaining as much of a normal routine as you can.   Try to get them involved in the packing by allowing them to pack their toys and favorite belongings in their own special box.

6) Make a plan for the pets…either to stay with a friend or family member during the move to reduce anxiety and/or keep them out-of-the-way.  If flying or driving a long distance, make a plan for how you will keep them comfortable.  If flying, it is a good idea to take them to the vet first to get copies of vaccinations and other health records, and determine if some sort of sedation is needed to get them through the trip.   Also check with your airline for their guidelines on moving animals.  For long car rides, get them accustomed to riding in the car ahead of time if they are not already.

7) Finally, the moving consultant you meet with can give you all sorts of options and tips on how to make the move successful, such as how to properly pack certain fragile or special items and what to expect from the moving team, so listen to their recommendations.  If they have none, you may want to consider interviewing someone else :).

*And a little reminder…don’t forget to coordinate utilities in the new house and the home you are leaving ahead of time.  It is important to transfer utilities out of your name as of the closing date or to be safe, the day after and have the utilities put into your name as of the closing date in your new home.  This can sometimes take coordination between buyer and seller so that there is a seamless transition and there is no interruption in service or undue paying of reconnection fees.

Happy moving all!

Homes for Sale, Investing, Real Estate, The Market

Internet Home Valuations…fact or fiction?

Margin of error-visual
Image via Wikipedia

I can’t tell you how often I hear people talk about what they want to offer on a home or what they want to sell their home for based on a website like’s home value tool.  Unfortunately, these sites are notorious for giving inaccurate information regarding home values and have actually been reprimanded over it. They now have to disclose their margin of error on their site.  There is of course no “exact science” to pricing and appraising a home; however those sites are not able to take into account market trends, differences in homes such as upgrades, the difference between foreclosures/short sales vs. regular sales (and if they constitute the “norm” in a particular area), specific locality factors, etc that only a human would be able to do.  It can’t pick and choose the correct comps like a human would be able to do, it just pulls everything in a specific mile radius that has the same bedrooms and bathrooms which is wildly inaccurate especially in areas like ours (Northern VA and DC) where home values often vary between neighborhoods and even between streets within a very small vicinity.  Only a person who is familiar with an area can actually evaluate the comps on a more granular level and help you determine a range for an appropriate offering or listing price.  People are not perfect either but are at least able to analyze the data with a more keen understanding of the local market area and the variables that affect a particular home’s value.

A client of mine actually recently sent me a this article and (believe it or not) it supports my point :).  I found it pretty interesting…view it HERE

Happy house hunting or selling!

area info, home for rent, Investing, Real Estate, The Market

Repealed Landlord Law! Yea NAR!

Congress passed legislation last week that repeals a provision in the small business legislation enacted last year that requires landlords to report any work done on investment properties totaling $600 or more, and to provide 1099 forms to vendors that provided the services.

Realtors® fought against this provision, arguing that the amount of paperwork generated would be onerous to landlords and any real estate practitioners employed by landlords. Lawmakers finally agreed that the provision was an example of overreach by Congress that was not intended to burden small property owners and managers.

Even President Obama agreed back in November of 2010, “It just involves too much paperwork, too much filing.”

area info, open houses, Real Estate, Things to Do

Open House-Alexandria, VA-Sunday, April 10, 2011, 1pm-4pm

1100 Quaker Hill Drive, #1, Alexandria VA 22314

Beautiful Condo in quiet community with an open floor plan that makes the large rooms seem even more spacious. Two entrances on two levels. Great kitchen that has friendly pass-through to dining room. Master BR w/walk in closet. Welcoming patio entrance just steps from parking. Luxury bath w/sep shower and jacuzzi tub. Tons of storage space. Enjoy Pool and Pond.  Just min. to King Street metro, old Town and I-495.


Financing-home loans, Real Estate, The Market

First-Time Homebuyers

A bedroom in an AIMCO apartment home
Image via Wikipedia

Quoted from:

Focus on First Time Homebuyers by Tim McLaughlin

There has been a dramatic shift occurring in the housing sector. According to Realty Times, of the 8.4 million people who have purchased a home in the last two years, 41 percent of them have been first time buyers. This number is up from 35 percent in 2007, and experts believe this growing demographic will influence the home-style landscape in the years to come for first time purchasers.

Today’s first time homebuyers have as much desire to establish household independence as their parents did, but the economic environment has impacted their preferences to some degree. This demographic is much more aware of both how much home they need and what they can afford. But they also have specific preferences in layout, efficiency and neighborhood type according to recent statistics.

On average, over the past few years, first time buyers are buying smaller, lower priced houses than trade up buyers are, the majority buying homes with avg. square feet under 2,500. This buying preference is partially affected by the economy and by maintenance costs, according to Realty Times.

In addition, first time homebuyers seem to have a different mindset regarding a home purchase. They look at the transaction as securing a place to live in first and foremost. While they have less to spend, they want the space they can afford put to the most effective use. This means that the practical spaces they will use every day, like kitchens, laundry rooms and the master bedroom, are their key focus. They appreciate open spaces that can be defined by furniture rather than walls and hallways. Additionally, home location appears to be important to these buyers, who have a keen interest in transit oriented communities. This makes urban areas highly appealing, as well as suburban areas with walk able town centers.

Of biggest concern to this subset appears to be financing questions: qualifications, the right loan structure with the least amount of money down, and understanding an approval process that is much more cumbersome than what their parents had to deal with.

This market is a tough one to navigate…we have very low inventory because of sellers still waiting for appreciation before they will list, but plenty of buyers out looking to take advantage of the great interest rates and loan programs to get into their first home or move up into their “forever home”.  In this environment, it is so important to have a Realtor you trust to help you navigate the offer process as well as all of the steps between the contract signing and settlement.  Between the appraisal, the home inspection, rent-backs and more…it is important to choose someone you like and trust and who keeps current on laws, best practices and the market pulse to guide you through the process (regardless of how many times you have bought and/or sold a home).

Real Estate, The Market

Should you ask a Realtor to reduce their commission?

Well, I think you know what I am going to say…NO!  What else were you expecting from a Realtor? 🙂

Here is the reason for my emphatic “no” though and why you should think twice before asking for a reduced commission.

1) If the agent is worth their “salt”, they will prove to you why they deserve their full brokerage fee (which by the way is decided by each broker).  If they don’t prove it to you, interview someone else.  Don’t ask the person who didn’t wow you if they will take 5% instead of 6% if they are asking for 6%…if they don’t make you believe they can do it, you probably aren’t going to be happy with them after they have had your house on the market for 100 days regardless of the fact that you are paying a reduced rate.

2) If the agent shows what they will do to sell your home and proves their worth, why would you even ask?  Do you ask your doctor to reduce their fee?  If you did, they would say find another doctor…but wait, if you have already seen the doctor, you have to pay either way or you get invoices and then nasty grams from their office.  What other profession does all the work, pays out-of-pocket to market a product and if it doesn’t sell, doesn’t get paid a dime?

3) Here is where the commission goes… let’s use the example of a brokers fee being 6%.  That 6% gets split between the listing brokerage and the selling brokerage (buyer’s brokerage) 50/50 (usually) that is 3% for each side (even though the listing agent and brokerage pay for all of the marketing).  Then, each brokerage takes a portion of that fee (sometimes as much as 50%) and gives the remainder to the agent.  At the end of the day, the agent has made a fraction of the full fee and has done all of the work.

4) If you get the agent to take a reduced fee (let’s say 5% instead of 6%) that agent either has to take 2% for their brokerage and offer 3% to a buyer’s broker or split the discount 50/50 (2.5% each).  Let me tell you a little secret…a lot of agents will avoid showing homes where the seller is offering less than what they are used to seeing or what they feel should be offered.  In this case 3% vs. 2.5%.  I am not one of those agents because I am ethical, but not everyone is the same as me.  This is potentially giving your home less showings.  If your agent is kind enough to still offer out 3% and only take 2% for themselves, they are spending all of the money and making a much smaller share…is that really fair to ask of the person whom you have trusted to sell your home?

5) Many brokerages will not allow a reduced fee.  In other words, if a brokerage has decided that their brokerage fee for a listing is 6%, then they will not allow their agents to accept less than that without approval.  If an agent decides to reduce the fee, a lot of brokerages will make the agent carry the full discount and therefore reducing that agent’s split to cover the loss.  Now the agent has made even less money.

6)  Yes, the more homes you sell, the less you can charge (so if you are interviewing a “top” agent who takes a low fee, it is only reasonable that they sell a lot of homes, so they must do a good job); however, what happens in business when volume becomes more important?  That is right, quality often suffers.  The agent, in an effort to move their inventory fast enough to make up for their low commission can tend to allow for getting less for your home just to get it sold.  Think of the Wal-Mart model vs. the Nordstrom model of business….low price vs. good service…

7) Paying someone a flat fee to put your home on the MLS and doing all of the negotiating yourself.  Well, it will get some showings and will probably sell eventually, but you are not getting representation.  You should probably still hire an attorney (which will cost more money) and it will likely take longer to sell the house because nothing else is being done to market it AND because you have probably priced the home too high as well because you have gotten no advice from a professional educating you on what the market will bear.  This will actually have the opposite effect of money savings because it will force you to make payments on the home for longer than necessary until it sells all while you are potentially missing out on homes you would like to purchase because your home hasn’t sold.   Also, by the time the home does sell, you will probably end up selling if for less than an agent would have because you have had it on the market for so long that you are ready to be rid of it.  Had you paid a real full service agent, you may have sold it sooner for a higher price and paid less in the long run because you are not carrying those payments for an extra number of months.

I understand that it is a lot of money coming out of your pocket, but when you are hiring someone to do a job, any job, you want them to do the best they can, and that has value.  If selling your home is of value to you, why would you be unwilling to pay someone their full fee for their efforts?

Financing-home loans, Real Estate

Real Estate and the Economy…

Real Estate = Big Money
Image by thinkpanama via Flickr

Did you know that for every home that is sold $60,000 is pumped into the economy… and, that the real estate industry represents 20 percent of the national economy — and has for the past 50 years?

Real Estate is not only a good investment for long-term wealth, but buying and selling homes affects our economy as a whole for the better.  Not only is money changed hands during the settlement process, but most people when they buy a home, do things like: go to home depot and buy paint, new appliances, general necessities…they go to furniture stores and purchase new furniture …they potentially do some renovation and hire contractors and purchase building materials.  This is all good for local businesses and the economy as a whole.

At the same time owning a home, while also providing a significant tax deduction, allows people to feel a sense of pride of ownership.  They can make changes to their home and personalize it.  They can plant roots in neighborhood and are more compelled to get involved in their local community.  Home ownership has many other non-financial implications that positively affect society.

The national media tries to paint the doom and gloom picture of the housing market and tries to scare people from buying and selling.  The fact of the matter is that even in areas where the inventory is high and there are a still a lot of foreclosures, investing in a home is still a good bet.

During the housing boom between 2004-2006/early 2007, people began to look at homes as a way to make a quick buck and now people expect to make $100,000 or more after owning their home for just a few years.  That was the problem and one of the reasons that the market had to adjust.  Owning a home is a long-term investment that gives you benefits along the way.  It shouldn’t be about “how much can I make on this home”, but how much you can enjoy living there and also take advantage of the tax benefits and the fact that you have a stable monthly payment (unlike renting where you can potentially see a 3% increase every year).  The goal is also that if you stay in the home long enough, you should also walk away with more than you put into it.  What other investment allows you to enjoy it while the money is invested and still get a return?  Don’t be fooled, when you rent, you are paying for someone else to have the advantage of selling for a profit some day…you have paid their mortgage and when you leave, you get nothing.

That being said, borrowing money isn’t going to get any easier.  Lending institutions want to make up for the past few years which means higher interest rates and more difficult qualifying criteria.  I never want to “scare” people into buying a home, but if you are on the fence, now is the time…there is a cost to waiting and for some that cost may be that they have to continue renting or that they can purchase much less house than before because their buying power has been significantly reduced.

Financing-home loans, Real Estate

Housing: Once Again a Good Investment?

Cover of "Smart Money"
Cover of Smart Money

Thought I would share…

Written by: Tim McLaughlin

There was a web based discussion a couple of weeks back; the talking points which were shared with me by trading partners on the street, which was entitled “Is Real Estate Finally a Good Investment”? Essentially, the moderators of the discussion pointed to three underlying reasons why Real Estate Investment, in certain scenarios, makes feasible sense right now (taking a traders mindset into account):

Hatred of the “Asset”: Hatred of an asset is often the precursor to contrarian interest, and being contrarian is at the heart of many investment strategies. To paraphrase Warren Buffett, “be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful”. Mr. Buffett backed that idea when he invested in the stock market in the teeth of the financial crisis in late 2008 and early 2009. Remember, Gold was hated for years (termed as “dead money”) before it recently became an attractive asset class once again and skyrocketed in value.

Smart Money is Buying: John Paulson, the hedge fund manager who made $20 billion betting against the housing bubble in 2007-2010, stated in a speech late last year: “If you don’t own a home buy one. If you own one home, buy another one, and if you own two homes buy a third and lend your relatives the money to buy a home.” Why is Mr. Paulson so adamant? Because he believes long term interest rates are not going to get much lower. They have, in fact, risen since he gave that speech, but they remain remarkably low by historic standards. Low rates and the expectation that home prices will rise is his basis of this sound argument

Demand is Coming Back: Supply isn’t as out of whack as it was at the height of the crisis. At the end of Nov, home builders reported 197K new homes on the market, the lowest level since 1968, according to Yardeni Research. The National Association of Realtors reports that the inventory of existing homes for sale fell 4% to 3.71M homes, which represents a 9.5 month supply at the current sales pace, down from a 10.5 month supply in October. And that timeline appears to be falling.

Albeit, no one will really know when the “best” point in time is/was to buy or invest until it has already come and gone. But with “value” inventory and low interest rates, more and more observers think the time is now.

area info, Real Estate

Northern VA…Cold Weather, HOT Real Estate Market!

Burrrr…it is finally cold out…but that doesn’t seem to be affecting the RE mkt in NoVA…it is still HOT! While we are moving at a slower pace than 2009 (primarily because of the exp. of the tax credit), with rates still low, buyers are still out looking and writing contracts. The market is showing signs of health and we are experiencing @ an 11% YoY increase in the avg sales price and we are up 0.9% MoM.  Does this news surprise you?  Well it shouldn’t…with the governement in our backyard, jobs are plentiful and while the economy here was affected (like everywhere), it wasn’t nearly as affected as the majority of the country.  The average home owner in this area sells every 4-5 years….homes are always for sale, and because the area is so transient, people are always looking to buy.