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.

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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.

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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.

Selling and buying ‘short sales’ might become easier starting in November

August 22, 2012 — Under new guidelines from federal housing regulator and mortgage finance agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Federal Houston Finance Agency has announced steps to make “short sales” of “underwater” homes easier to sell, and thus easier to buy.

The steps include extending help to people who have financial difficulties but haven’t missed mortgage payments.

I’m writing about this here because rarely does a month go by that a client or friend asks me to share any ‘good deals’ through short sales.

The holdup with most short sales currently is that the holders of both the main mortgage and secondary liens, e.g. home equity lines of credit, must sign off on the deal because they are accepting less than the outstanding balances.

CREDIT: The Wall Street Journal

Virtually everyone, including yours truly, agree this process is overly complex. I’d like to think there is a better way to deal with these while netting benefits to the economy, the housing market and lender balance sheets.

According to reports in The Wall Street Journal and other media outlets, one part of the plan is for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to place a $6,000 cap on the amount of money mortgage holders can receive when the sale is completed.

Because second-lien holders still would be able to reject the sales if they see fit, it’s unclear how this and other provisions of the new plan will work, if at all. They are set to go into effect November 1, 2012.

At least one publisher in the mortgage industry, Guy Cecala of Inside Mortgage Finance, opined that $6,000 “isn’t a lot to offer.” No kidding.

So, don’t get your hopes up too far.

According to the Journal, about 80% of homeowners that are underwater with loans backed by Fannie or Freddie are not missing their mortgage payments.

The biggest holders of second liens in the U.S. reportedly are Bank of America, Wells Fargo, J.P. Morgan Chase and Citigroup.

Need a Handyman? Give Rodney Hampton a Call

August 1, 2012 — For my homes and those of my clients, Rodney Hampton is a handyman extraordinaire.

Rodney (pictured) and his team of painters, installers and all-around fixer-uppers have helped me stage homes for sale to maximize their appeal. And he’s helped clients just moving into homes to reduce their stress and get back to a normal lifestyle.

YOU can have the Andy Advantage by hiring my Handyman, Rodney Hampton; pictured here after finishing one of my many recent projects. CREDIT: The Andy Advantage

I cannot count on two hands anymore the projects he’s tackled for me and my husband over the past 15+ years. Like some folks, we procrastinate replacing or fixing things. They never seem to get done. Rodney can get it done–  fast.

  • Thought about sprucing up the laundry area with drywall, shelves and the outlets needed for the washer and dryer?
  • Need to replace the floor planks on your back deck?
  • How about getting that toilet installed that’s been giving you problems?
  • Ready to install new wood flooring?

The Answer: Call Rodney at 571-437-4113. Or email him at YourHandyMan01@yahoo.com.

Rodney is most accessible throughout Northern Virginia but can be in Montgomery County with some advance notice very easily.

Tell him Andy sent ya and you’re sure to get his 5-star treatment.

You can find him on Angie’s List (membership required for consumers). He’s been on Andy’s List (that’s mine :)) even longer!

Help ensure home appraisers in Northern Virginia and Montgomery County, MD have ALL the data they need

June 26, 2012 — I often get questions about appraisers not fully appreciating the rising value of  homes for sale in parts of Northern Virginia and Montgomery County, Maryland. It’s no wonder because more mortgage loan officers and RE/MAX colleagues are sharing experiences of appraiser reluctance to report local appreciation.

A home sale contract does not have to be jeopardized because the appraiser does not have — or does not collect — all the relevant facts. CREDIT: TotalMortgage.com

The impact on buyers and sellers can be significant and maybe even kill a deal. When an appraisal comes in much lower than the mutually agreed-upon contract price, the buyers typically need to revise their loan request. That could mean having to renegotiate the contract price with an unhappy seller. What’s worse, this may not even be possible.

Sometimes the appraiser will do his or her job but experience push-back from the appraisal management company that hired him to “revisit” an upward adjustment, e.g. get rid of it.

A recent poll of members of the National Association of Realtors fthroughout the U.S. found 33 percent reported appraisal problems. This is the single most important valuation obstacle to seeing a sustained recovery in regions such as the Greater Washington, DC area where we have multiple economic indicators that justify rising home prices.

The bottom line: make sure agents on both sides of the transaction have accurate data on “comparable” sales or pending sales. This can demonstrate how a market is improving, especially over the past three months. Make sure the appraiser sees that data. I do this EVERY time for my clients.