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.

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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.

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.

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.

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!

Surtax starting in 2013 on property sales – get the facts first, starting with these

July 16, 2012 — Any you thought “Obamacare” was only about health care.

As political Washington loves to do, buried in the health care law that has been upheld by the Supreme Court, there is a provision that singles making more than $200,000 annually and couples making more than $250,000 annually face a new surtax of 3.8% on the certain types of investment income, including net rental income.

There’s a 3.8% surtax on income from rental property sales for some high-income taxpayers. CREDIT: blog.GoHoming.com

According to several reports my husband and I have read, if your income is solely “earned” from salary and other compensation from active participation in a business, you have nothing to lose from this new tax. Even if you have income above those thresholds, you might not be hit with the 3.8 percent tax, according to Kenneth R. Harney, who writes a weekly column about real estate matters for The Washington Post.

Individual circumstances can, of course, complicate matters. The surtax does not interfere with the current tax-free exclusion on the first $500,000 (for joint filers) or $250,000 (for single filers) or gain you make on the sale of your principal home. Those exclusions did not change. Any profits above those limits remain subject to federal capital gains taxation and, possibly, to the new surtax.

Read more from what is one of the quickest and (we believe) accurate assessments by Harney in this past Sunday’s editions of The Washington Post here.

As always, check with an accountant if you have any questions.

If you need a referral on a good accountant — as many of my clients have over the years — let me know. I’m glad to connect you with someone I trust.

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.