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.

image002

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.

image002

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.