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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

Previewing homes for buyers – here’s how I do it

May 14, 2012 — I am often asked what I do when I preview homes for buyers. How do I know whether a home comes close to what they would consider buying?

I start by conducting a thorough inventory of what they want and what their needs will likely be for the next 5-10 years.

I enjoy previewing homes, especially when I find a matches that make complete sense for my clients. CREDIT: The Andy Advantage

– Where would they like to live and why?

– What can they prudently afford?

– Are there any family additions in the offing?

– Do existing children need a big back yard?

– How important is close access to the Washington, DC-area’s Metrorail system?

You get the picture.

With that information in hand, on my own I preview qualifying homes and schedule visits with my clients I think are worth showing. As we walk through each one, I watch and listen closely to what they like and what they don’t, especially if there are any show-stoppers such as only a one-car garage. After that, the responsibility falls to me to ‘home in’ on properties that meet at least 80 percent of their needs.

With that I place them on a “drip” of homes that might meet most of their criteria that they receive via email as frequently as the homes materialize in the regional Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, or MRIS

In the early going, most of the homes that pop up may miss the mark. But as I sharpen the search criteria, this is a very efficient way to get a quick bead on properties as they are put up for sale.

On a parallel path, I research and visit neighborhoods to get a first-hand sense of the location. I might get in touch with agents who are active with listings in those neighborhoods to let them know of my clients’ interests.

Whenever a good prospect materializes, I preview it and quickly relay any relevant information that my client should know. I don’t recommend taking a client to see a home unless it meets that 80% threshold.

In the type of market we’re experiencing now in Northern Virginia and Montgomery County, Maryland, timing could be integral, perhaps critical, to submitting a contract that can win the next house of your dreams.

For a taste of how I preview a home, watch these previews of homes in May 2012.

Short home preview excerpt (1:53);

Long home preview excerpt (3:46).

In the shorter version, watch for what appears to be at first an excellent match  . . . until I peak through the sliding glass doors in the kitchen.

I welcome your comments!

If you support the Dulles Metrorail line, be sure your elected officials know it!

The second phase of Washington, DC-area’s “Silver” Metrorail line from Reston Parkway to the Dulles airport and Loudoun County deserves the  support of everyone who wants it and/or can benefit from it.

While the first phase  from Falls Church through Tysons Corner to Wiehle Avenue is on schedule and on budget (can you believe it!), the state of Virginia and Loudoun County reportedly are balking at committing the needed financing. See map, below.

Fairfax County recognizes that not only is the complete line integral to the economic growth and improved commutes for Northern Virginians, it stands to elevate the entire region internationally, along with its home prices.

This editorial in the Sunday, April 22 editions of The Washington Post  — “Dulles rail could go off the tracks” — sums up who needs to do what to keep the Silver Line ON track.

Stephen S. Fuller, director of George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis, told the Post that extending the Silver Line into Loudoun would make the difference between the county continuing mainly as a bedroom community that exports workers into neighboring jurisdictions and transforming part of it into a employment magnet for highly educated and well-paid professionals.

In fact, Fuller said, if Loudoun turns its back on Metro, the county would sacrifice more than $55 billion in potential economic activity, and some 40,000 jobs, by 2040, and its rate of growth would be 10 percent slower.