More transportation dollars for NoVA to come with higher “Grantor’s Tax” on home sales

March 26, 2013 – Under legislation Gov. Bob McDonnell is set to sign into law, the Grantor’s Tax property sellers must pay will go up July 1, 2013 from 10 cents per $100 to 35 cents per $100.

The upshot: If you’re selling your home this spring as two of my clients  are, try to close before Tuesday, June 30 in order to pay at the the existing rate of 10 cents per $100. Keep in mind there could be a rush to close on that Monday and Tuesday so best to aim for that week beforehand.

This 250% increase — ouch! — does come with the projected benefit of more state transportation revenues funding road improvement projects in Northern Virginia, including Metrorail’s Silver Line extension to Dulles airport and Loudoun County.

For the sale of a $500,00o home, the Grantor’s Tax in a settlement in June is $500. After June, it will be $1,750.

VA general assembly logoThe Northern Virginia Association of Realtors (NVAR) “applauds” the efforts of Gov. McDonnell and the General Assembly for what would be the “first meaningful infusion of transportation revenues in nearly 27 years.”

The soon-to-be-law, aka House Bill 2313, reportedly provides close to $900 million a year in statewide funding and more than $300 million annually for Northern Virginia. We certainly could use it!

“In a perfect world,” said NVAR in a statement here, “we would prefer not to tax real estate transactions at a time when the market is on the verge of recovery. However, NVAR has honored its commitment to be part of a transportation funding solution so long as other industries are also part of the solution.”

Jurisdictions in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads will have the ability to collect additional funds dedicated soley to road and transit projects. Of course, that would mean higher local taxes, albeit with the peace-of-mind that those monies would stay ‘home.’

Working closely with NVAR were Delegates Dave Albo, (R-Springfield) and Jackson Miller (R-Prince William), and Senator Janet Howell (D-Reston). This trio succeeded in reducing the initially proposed Grantor’s Tax increase of 40 cents per $100 to the 25 cents per $100 in the bill.

Among the alternatives to the Grantors’ Tax increase was a local income tax increase of 1%. In the end, the Gov. McDonnell’s highly-touted transportation funding bill raised revenue from several sources including an increase in the sales and use tax, car titling fees and hotel occupancy taxes. All of those taxes are still said to be lower than those in D.C. and Maryland.

What to do with all of today’s home security, TV — and many other — technology choices

March 25, 2013 – With the supply of existing homes at or near a 10-year low in Northern Virginia, a growing number of my clients are opting to build their next or ‘dream’ home. Just one of the many decisions they need to make is how much of a home security system they want.

If you haven’t looked into them, home security systems present a mind-boggling array of options. Hint: It’s not just about “home security” any more.

Home security control panelDip your ‘toes’ into the home security arena and you’ll soon learn the companies such as ADT, Guardian and  Vintage package their services with data, home automation, “whole house” music, video monitoring, streaming video and yes, even central vacuum systems.

The very best time to wire your home for some or all of the above options is BEFORE the drywall goes up. After that, you’ll no longer have easy and clean access behind the walls to the wiring you may need wiring.

Even if you think about this before settlement, your builder may not allow changes after the final walk-through. That’s just another reason why it pays to think about these options well ahead of time and make your choices ahead of time.

What follows is a short check list to consider beyond the logical things we think of when considering home security systems, e.g. sensors on doors and windows and password-protectyed keypads. I can help connect you with a company I’ve seen walk a recent client through all of these options. Just give me a call at 703-593-9432 or email me at andyadvantage@yahoo.com.

Which Smart Mobile Phone(s) Do You Use?

Most of these systems use technologies compatible with iPhones and Android platforms, maybe less so with Windows phones. If you want the flexibility of remote controls, be sure to know which ones work up front.

Structured Wiring (Phone, Cable, Satellite, Data)

Will there be multiple computers in the new house and if so do you want to network them?

Which will you be using for your television signal: cable, satellite, Fios or a combination of them?

Do you need DVR service now, or in the future?

Will there be flat screen LCD or LED screens in the home?

Security System

Have you considered glassbreak coverage around your sliding glass doors or French doors?

Have you considered backing up your security system with motion detection?

How about monitored smoke detectors on your security system?

Will you need flood detection in the basement or 2nd floor laundry rooms? (Believe it or not, I’ve heard some horror stories about faucets left running or washing means backing up.)

Do you need additional keypads, in master bedroom for example?

Do you wish to protect the telephone line to the alarm system?

Thought about personal protection devices such as portable panic buttons, especially if you have aging parents living with you or children coming home alone after school?

Are you considering using voice over IP?

Whole House Audio and Home Theater

Do you want to distribute quality music throughout the house?

In which rooms would you like to enjoy music ?

Want access to free music services such as Pandora?

Want access to streaming movie services such as Crackle and subscription services such as Netflix?

Do you want the flexibility to listen to different music in different music at the same time?

Will you have a home theater / media room in the house?

Want to listen to local radio stations . . . in different rooms?

Think you would ever want to draw music off of a friend’s iPhone using the songs on their iTunes account? Yep, they do that.

Another Consideration

Have you considered having a central vacuum system installed?  Believe it or not, these systems can be configured along with all these other options.

With inventory low and demand rising, how much is your home worth?

February 26, 2013 – “How much could we get for our home on today’s market?”

You probably ask yourself that question from time to time, even if you’re not seriously thinking about making a move.

What's my home worth CREDIT ActiveRain DOT com

Credit: activerain.com

Why not find out? The Spring market is rapidly approaching, demand is strong and the inventory of homes for sale is very low.

I’d be happy to give you a rough idea of the current market value of your home, based on what similar properties in your area have sold for recently and demand for you type of home in your part of the Washington DC metropolitan area.

It’s good information to know!  For many of you, it might provide some peace of mind.

Of course, there’s no cost or obligation of any kind for this service. It’s just one of the many ways I help my friends and past clients — whether during a move, or in the months and years in between.

You can fill out the “Free Market Report” widget on the front of my web site . Or just call me and I’ll get you your number.

Be careful which paints you use when redecorating; Benjamin Moore’s ‘Aura’ brand not worth the price

February 19, 2013 – Whether you’re preparing your home for the market or you’ve just moved in, it’s refreshing what a fresh coat of paint can do for a few, or all, of your rooms.

image002

CREDIT: Behr.com

I’ve purchased a variety of paints for my own homes and recommended to clients and / or their handymen certain paint brands and types in my 20+ years as a Realtor®. Permit me to pass along this latest lesson learned:

If you’re considering Benjamin Moore’s “Aura” paint , don’t believe their claim that no more than two coats will cover the existing paint on your walls. Granted, in my case I was using a creamy flat yellow paint to cover pale green walls. I actually wanted to believe the retail store that sold me the Aura paint that ONE coat would do the job . . .  NOT!

Not only did two coats not cover the existing color, it took a third coat — by professionals to boot — to complete the job.

Since then, I’ve switched back to either Behr’s or Glidden’s brand of paints which are less expensive and easier to find at Home Depot.

If you have a paint lesson you can share, please do so by replying below or giving me a ring at 703-593-9432.

Washington Post’s updated property search app is helpful . . . with this caveat

January 31, 2013 – More data is becoming available to the public and folks savvy enough to use Internet apps to capture information on home sales have an updated local tool to use.

Here comes the The Washington Post with an updated version of its home search app for use on desktop computers and certain mobile devices.

As Real Estate Writer Kathy Orton described it earlier this week,  The Post used to rely only on data supplied by the counties. Now, through the MRIS service, it receives home-sale data within days, instead of months.

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This is how the home search tool appeared on January 31, 2013. CREDIT: The Washington Post

A quick caveat: the home sale price logged with the county does not take into accout what the Net Sale Price was. The Net Sale Price includes any adjustments at closing, including “givebacks” by the sellter to help consumate the deal. More often than not, the Net Sale Price is lower than the stated sale price.

The Post intends for you to be able to easily search by city, neighborhood or map point. “You can search single-family homes, condos or townhouses. You can search by the selling agent’s name. You won’t be able to find out the names of the buyers or sellers on the most recently sold properties,” Orton wrrote. MRIS doesn’t provide The Post with that data. You still have to wait for the county to give them that information or find it on your own on a county web site.

The Post says this tool can tell buyers “exactly what price a home sold for, which is much more relevant than what it was listed for.” As a reader of my blog you know now that’s only part of the picture, per my caveat outlined above.

The Post also says a buyer can search for the sales price of all the one-bedroom, one-bath condos on a particular street in order to know whether the condo they are thinking about buying is over- or under-priced.  But after a few searches using my laptop I found townhomes coming up after I specified only single family homes. I could not find the search function via my iPhone. (If you do, please let me know.)

Every new app is bound to have a few glitches. Let’s hope The Post fixes them quickly, especially as the Spring sales season approaches.

Bottom line: take all this with a rock of salt. More information is good, provided you know exactly what it means, and leaves out.

I do think it’s helpful for homeowners thinking about selling to be able to see what homes in their neighborhood sold for recently. They can use it to help validate their listing price provided you know any differences between the two properties, e.g. is one far more up-to-date than the other.

The Post says this app is to be made “Facebook friendly.” Orton writes it will update and expand this feature based on reader feedback. I’ve posted my feedback at the end of the article, you should too.

You deserve a market information provided by an experienced professional. Call me at 703-593-9432 or start with the MLS search function and / or Free Market Report service on my home page.

Shifting school boundaries in Loudoun, Fairfax counties can make buying your next home a challenge

January 27, 2013 – If you’re even remotely interested in what the ever-expanding population in Northern Virginia is doing to school boundaries there, be sure to read this piece in the January 27 edition of The Washington Post. The upshot: From the dozens of clients I’m serving I’m learning you can’t count on your children attending the same elementary school during all of their elementary school years, especially in Loudoun County. The same may go for middle schools and even some high schools.

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Here are the planned boundaries for Ashburn Elementary School in Loudoun County, VA starting in the Fall of 2013. CREDIT: Loudoun County Public Schools

The challenge for school officials striving to maintain the quality of education is to balance enrollments amid spurts in growth as new communities develop in places such as Ashburn, where I’m finding several clients the next homes.In Loudoun County, the population shot up 84 percent from 2000 to 2010 according to the U.S. Census. The Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia estimates Loudoun’s population has risen another 7 percent in the past two years, according to data released January 25 here.

“People buy homes thinking they will be attending that particular school through the life span of that household,” Ajay Rawat, coordinator of facilities planning services in Fairfax County Public Schools, told the Post. In many parts of the region, that’s no longer a safe bet; parents can’t count on moving into the neighborhood near the school with the particular attention to autistic students or the Spanish immersion track or the technology magnet program.

This also could affect the attractiveness of a home from a would-be buyer’s perspective and thus its market value.

Just about every redistricting plan sparks some type of a a battle. People scrutinize the lines and talk to neighbors. They send e-mails — 100 to 200 every day, one Loudoun board member said. They question engineering studies and linear regression models of population growth. They wear school colors and crowd into public hearings — more than 2,000 at a single meeting in Fairfax several years ago.

You can check the existing and the planned Fall 2013 shifts in elementary school boundaries for Loudoun County here.

The Post’s article helps explain how complicated in can be to project changes in school populations. School officials analyze birth rates, housing starts, current enrollment and a host of other factors. In Fairfax, administrators didn’t anticipate a recent large influx of immigrants with larger families or a bump in enrollment after the economic crash that they think came from parents no longer able to afford private-school tuition. In Loudoun, when building stopped after the crash, they were amazed that they were still seeing, get this, more than 2,000 new students a year.

Want to see how difficult it can be to reset school boundaries? Try this tool offered by Arlington County.

Bidding wars are heating up, often with escalator clauses, for sought-after listings in Northern Virginia

January 20, 2013 – I’m seeing them more frequently with each passing month. Not only are more attractive and accurately-priced listings for single family homes, townhomes and condominiums drawing several offers, we’re finding more buyers willing to include escalator clauses.

Multiple offers - images

Multiple offers on the sale of your home may bring a few unanticipated challenges. CREDIT: Activerain

Escalator clauses were a common feature of bidding contests in from 2003 through 2006 throughout the Metro Washington, DC area. With notable exceptions, one had to include them in their submissions on top of matching the asking price.We may not be quite there yet throughout the entire DC region. But we may be there soon with homes for sale that have good locations, have been kept relatively up-to-date and are priced realistically to begin with.These factors in the Northern Virginia, DC and close-in Maryland suburbs figure to play even stronger roles in 2013 and beyond:1) pent up demand

2) low interest rates

3) a steadily improving economy, and

4) the stable federal and contracting workforces.

Average home prices in Northern Virgina home rose 13% year-over-year in 2012, that’s the most drastic increase in more than six years.

If you find yourself competing with other others, first understand how escalator clauses work. Don’t go it alone. Working with a Realtor  you trust can keep you from overpaying or making some other mistake you’re bound to soon regret.

It is quite possible that deploying an escalator clause might needlessly inflate the selling price. That’s great if you’re the seller, not so if you’re the buyer.

A contract might say something as simple this:

“In the event of multiple contract presentations for the property located at 12 Main Street, I hereby increase my purchase offer by $5,000 above any alternative offer, providing that my maximum purchase price shall not exceed $650,000.”

If an owner receives several full-price offers, the details of their escalator clauses (e.g. any maximum offering price) should push one on top of the others. Before you choose any such option, however, it helps for sellers to look at which offer represents the best chance to close, especially if the owner is in a hurry to sell.

At one extreme, the best offer might be an offer with no contingencies, such as need for mortgage financing, the sale of an existing home, and an inspection of the property for sale. (Remember, home inspections still make sense so you at least know what your getting yourself into.)

At the other extreme, the escalator clause might come with a a few strings attached, attached, e.g. a faster than normal closing to register children for the next school year.

Here are a few examples of what can happen with escalation clauses from the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors, of which I’m a member.

Please call me at 703-593-9432 if you have any questions. And be sure to mention you read this on my blog.

Loudoun residents: keep an eye on location for proposed Hounds baseball stadium

December 5, 2012 – Are you as surprised as I about plans by developers to re-locate a planned minor league baseball stadium to the southwest corner of Leesburg Pike and the Loudoun County Parkway?

It would be a defining feature of the “One Loudoun” town center development that once envisioned something similar to the Reston Town Center. To some some of my clients, it just about destroys the very concept of a town center. Others say ‘bring it on!’

What do you think?

This is where One Loudoun developers want to locate a minor league baseball park at the southwest corner of Leesburg Pike and the Loudoun CountyParkway. CREDIT: One Loudoun

This is where One Loudoun developers want to locate a minor league baseball park at the southwest corner of Leesburg Pike and the Loudoun County Parkway. CREDIT: One Loudoun

Residents of the nearby Potomac Green neighborhood have organized “No Stadium on 7″  to take on the project which may include a soccer stadium. At the same time, several area residents are looking forward to that location hosting a minor league team, the Hounds.

According to this report Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012 in The Washington Post the stadium would replace an office building and move from its originally-planned location as the centerpiece of the Kincora Village Center on Route 28. that is where the Loudoun Board of Supervisors first approved the stadium in 2009.

The would-be owner and operator of the stadium, VIP Sports and Entertainment, says its committed to being a good community neighbor. We’ll see.

At the center of the emerging debate is Supervisor Shawn Williams, R-Broad Run. Based on the report in the Post, Williams seems poised to support it. If all questions about noise, traffic and lighting can’t be worked out, he said he’ll withdraw that support.

Look for traffic and environmental studies by Friday, Dec. 14. If officials approve, construction could begin very quickly.

Here’s a sample of how each side sees the problem, or the opportunity:

One commenter about the Post’s story, ‘Mammaof4,’ said this:

Won’t the stadium raise property values? Isnt’ the intersection already busy? It’s not like this is going in the middle of a quiet little neighborhood or a thriving forest. I don’t get the opposition. Celebrate it – Loudoun the land of single family house upon single family house is getting some real mixed-use to go with its metro. This is awesome for the community. Time to rally around this and be thankful. If you want quiet, you move out to western LoCo away from mass transit and major roads.

And then there was the opposite point-of-view from ‘Revo1′:

A stadium is a terrible idea. Where are all these people going to park? Oh, that’s right. In the places where people going to the Alamo Draft House and other more welcome businesses in One Loudoun would be expecting to park. The last thing Loudoun needs is professional sports. It is a joke of the worst sort to say with a straight face that a stadium that can hold 10,000 people (or even 5,500 seated) will cause less traffice than a 4-story office building.  STOP THE STADIUM NOW!!!

How to stage a home for sale — your 10-point checklist

September 19, 2012 – Almost daily I’m asked by clients, friends and/or neighbors about staging a home for sale. First, remember how we live in our homes is very different than living in a home staged to appeal to a wide range of buyers. So many times I see a home that sellers consider ready for the market. They watched HGTV and decided to fix up their home. I’ve seen some interesting attempts. Ha!

According to data from StagedHomes.com, staged houses sell for 7% more and in one-half the time. That is $56,000 more on an $800,000 home.

Below I share my lessons-learned from staging homes during 25+ years as a Realtor

The 10 most important things you should know about staging a home

1. Create inviting curb appeal. Walk outside your home and think: would I guy this home? Hmmmm. How’s the curb appeal? Are my yard and bushes and/or trees trimmed? Is the trim around the windows and doors fresh-looking? Now walk up to the front door / entryway; does it ‘say’ come inside? Does it have enough light during Fall and Winter early evenings?

2. Get rid of any clutter. It’s time toss what you don’t need or at least pack it away while you’re home is on the market. This might include some furnishings. Why? Because a more open home feels like a bigger home. You might consider renting a storage bay if you absolutely must keep items that may complicate the marketing of your home.

3. There’s $$$ in a fresh — neutral — coat of paint. Painting a living room a fresh neutral color helps tone down any dated finishes in the space.  These days, the definition of neutral extends way beyond beige, from warm tans and honeys to buttery yellows. As for bold wall colors, they have a way of reducing offers, so go with neutrals in large spaces. Giving adjacent rooms the same neutral color makes them appear like one big space. That said, don’t be afraid to use dark paint in a powder room, dining room or bedroom. A deep tone on the walls can make the space more intimate, dramatic and cozy.

Take a close look at this typical living room makeover (CREDIT: HGTV’s “The Stagers”) and compare it to . . . .

. . . how this same living room looked AFTER staging. (CREDIT: HGTV’s “The Stagers”)

4. Position furniture for eye-pleasing traffic flow, especially in big rooms. Reposition sofas and chairs into cozy conversational groups, and place pieces so that the traffic flow in a room is obvious. Not only will this make the space more user-friendly, but it will open up the room and make it seem larger

5. Transform dormant space into something useful. Think about re-purposing a room, or even one area of  large space (e.g. in the basement) into something that will add to the value of your home. Adding a comfortable armchair, a small table and/or a lamp in a stairwell nook could transform it into a cozy reading spot. How about a yoga studio somewhere?

6. More — and useful — lighting is more inviting. This is especially true from October through March when sunlight is at a premium. Some homes I’ve visited as a buyer’s agent lack enough lighting. Aim for 100 watts for each 50 square feet.  Don’t depend on just one or two fixtures per room, either. Make sure you have three types of lighting: ambient (general or overhead), task (pendant, under-cabinet or reading) and accent (table and wall).

7. New ‘faces’ in the kitchen.  If you can’t afford new cabinets, consider new doors and drawer fronts. Then paint everything to match. It will help if your appliances match. Instead of replacing the entire dishwasher, you may be able to get a new front panel. Check with the manufacturer to see if replacements are available for your model. (See my previous blog post in this category on “New trends in kitchen appliances.”)

8. Finish those UNfinished repairs! Not only will something wrong or that’s not working in your home scare off potential buyers, it most certainly will cost you to make a deal work, either after a home inspection and/or at the settlement table.

9. Is it time to update your master bathroom?  Just how old is that vanity? If practical, envision a pedastal sink because it shows off square footage in small bathrooms beautifully. Plus, buyers will see how much floor space your bathroom has.

You can provide a feeling of spa along with water- cost-saving items such as modern toilets which use markedly less water than even a few years ago. (Get this: they don’t ever get ‘plugged’ either!) Consider painting you tile to help it look brand new. Doesn’t hurt to accessorize with rolled-up towels, decorative baskets and candles.

10. Show your walls’ dexterity by varying wall hangings. Placing your pictures, paintings and prints in such stereotypical spots can render them almost invisible. Art displayed creatively makes it stand out and shows off your space. So break up that line and vary the patterning and grouping.

BONUS! 11.Create serene bedrooms. Using soft colors luxurious-looking linens can make a potential homebuyer want to sit back and relax. Tip: If you don’t have the money to buy a new bed, just get the frame then buy an inexpensive air mattress and dress it up with neutral-patterned bedding.

Next trend in kitchen appliances after stainless steel? How about ice, glass or slate?

September 5, 2012 – “Stainless fatigue” is what The Wall Street Journal this week called what may be a new design phase for kitchen appliances.

If you’re planning on a kitchen makeover, which ad the privilege of working on for some of my clients moving into their next homes, you may want to heed the proclaimed end of stainless steel’s 25-year reign. That said, there does not appear to be clear successor in place.

Here is how The Wall Street Journal sums up the looming challenge to stainless steel.

How does ice, slate or glass strike you?

What began when Viking Range Corp. launched its iconic stainless-steel open-burner range in 1987, now is motivating GE Appliances, Wolf Appliance and Whirlpool to manufacture and market the next ‘big thing’ for the maturing foodie culture in the U.S.

Whirlpool, from a recent press release, wants shoppers to believe that “white is the new stainless.”

Huh?

Wolf disagrees: “Black is the new stainless steel.”

Haven’t we ‘been there and done that’?

GE is playing its cards close to the vest. While “slate” is the new moniker for its appliances, a spokesperson would only tell the Journal its refrigerators, ovens and dishwashers would have muted gray design and a “metallic matte” finish.

A common strategy may be to make appliances blend in in a tasteful way rather than stand out as trophies. Also, for more people, entertaining begins in the kitchen and increasingly never leaves it.

Victoria Matranga, an industrial design historian quoted by the Journal, asserted “there’s a movement to get people together again, in the kitchen.”

In my home, the focus of entertainment rarely leaves the kitchen except on family holiday gatherings and Super Bowl parties.

Maybe our beloved magnets will stick to the front of these new appliances, not just the single side that typically faces the counter. Early on that was communications-central in my kitchen.

FYI: LG, for one, is sticking with stainless steel.

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