Dear Darrell: I was looking for a condo to buy, and since I am a first-time buyer, wanted to buy something before April 30 so I could get the $8000 tax credit. Now that program has expired. Do you know if it will be reinstated any time soon? — Jay L, Foggy Bottom Dear Jay: I’m sorry you didn’t make it under the wire. I haven’t heard any specific rumblings about the $8000 tax credit being offered again. Everything I have read about it seems to indicate that it will not be offered again. However, that program did offer a great opportunity for many, many buyers, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see a strong push to bring it back. In the meantime, however, buyers in D.C. still have the opportunity to use the $5000 D.C. tax credit. This federal tax credit is available to first-time homebuyers in the District of Columbia. There are more restrictions related to this credit than to the $8000 credit, but it is still a good deal for those just getting started. Additionally, you should look into the D.C. Homestead Exemption, and the D.C. Tax Abatement Program. These are other programs specific to D.C. which can help you as you purchase your first property. I encourage you to speak with a loan officer who can explain the specifics of how these programs work. You can also go to the District Web site (www.otr.cfo.dc.gov), which has a lot of information. I find this site somewhat difficult to search, so you may want to call the phone number given on the site to get specific direction. Darrell Parsons is the managing broker of the Georgetown Long and Foster office and abides by Equal Housing Opportunity regulations. Have a real estate question? E-mail him at email@example.com. He blogs at georgetownrealestatenews.blogspot.com.
-Dear Darrell: I recently interviewed a couple of agents about selling my house. Both agents told me about the realtor listing system, the MRIS. That’s the system they use to let other agents know about the sale of property. One thing about it was confusing, though: one agent said that I should put it in the MRIS immediately to get the widest exposure. The other agent suggested marketing it privately for a period of time and then putting it in the MRIS later on if it didn’t sell right away. They explained the advantages of their different approaches. What do you think are the pros and cons? Carol E. Woodley Park Dear Carol: I definitely come down on the side of listing the property in the MRIS immediately. Here’s why: houses are subject to the same competitive market forces as any other marketable commodity. The buyers are comparing my house to other houses in myriad ways. This will happen with your home, too. Through this process, potential buyers become highly educated about the comparative value of properties. In the end, it is these potential buyers who largely define the market price of a given property. The truth is, none of us knows what a buyer will pay for a house until it is offered for sale. If a seller has underpriced her house, the buyers will bid against each other for the right to buy it. Likewise, if the house is over-priced, buyers will turn away from it in favor of a house they know will be a better value for them. The only way to get this kind of feedback is to disseminate the information about one’s house to the widest possible pool of potential buyers. And nothing comes close to the MRIS in that regard. There are isolated instances where offering a property as a “private” or “quiet” sale is necessary or desired. But the vast majority of houses benefits by being in the MRIS. One of the supposed appeals of having a private sale is that it seems that one can control who comes to see the property. The downside to this is that it automatically eliminates a wide swath of potential buyers, and regardless of the intent, could be perceived as discriminatory. I recommend opting for the MRIS route so you can get the most exposure and, consequently, the best sale price. Darrell Parsons is the managing broker of the Georgetown Long and Foster office and abides by Equal Housing Opportunity regulations. Have a real estate question? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at georgetownrealestatenews.blogspot.com.
Dear Darrell: I have been thinking about selling my house, but want to do it at the optimal time. I see one day in the news that the real estate market is getting better, and then the next day see that it isn’t. I can’t wait forever to sell my house, but on the other hand, I don’t want to sell it today and then discover that I could have sold it for a lot more six months from now. Libbie R. Georgetown Dear Libbie: That is a tough question. There are so many things which go into the decision to sell. It’s sounds like you aren’t under the gun to sell, and so you have some flexibility as to when to put your house on the market. In some ways that makes the decision all the harder, because absent an outside driving force, you are left with trying to “read” the market in order to determine the best time. In that task you are joining a large company of realtors, economists and others who are constantly trying to do that very thing. The current reality of our market is that it is sporadic. It changes direction from week to week, neighborhood to neighborhood, and price range to price range. The general overall trend, however, is in the direction of a higher number of sales. In the past few months, the number of sales has been increasing, but compared to last year at this time, the average prices are lower. This is in large part because the strongest part of the market has been lower-priced properties being purchased by buyers who were looking for the $8000 tax credit. That makes the numbers spike but lowers the average sale price. In your case, I suggest you find a realtor who will help you analyze your local market for the number and frequency of sales and the ratio of list price to sale price. If you look at that data closely, you will probably be able to reasonably conclude whether now is a good time to sell. It may come down to deciding if you can live with the price you can likely negotiate for your house at this point. Darrell Parsons is the managing broker of the Georgetown Long and Foster office and abides by Equal Housing Opportunity regulations. Have a real estate question? E-mail him at email@example.com. He blogs at georgetownrealestatenews.blogspot.com.
-I want to begin the process of buying a condo, but I don’t know where to begin. I know it is recommended that I find an agent to help me look, but I don’t want to get stuck in some arrangement which I might not like. How do I get started? — John H., West End Dear John: I understand your hesitance to engage the services of a real estate agent. I know it can seem like a commitment you don’t necessarily want to get into, especially at the beginning of your search. At the same time, agents are best situated to know about properties coming on the market, and are a great help in lining up financing and inspections, and helping you work your way through the contract forms, disclosures, etc. Statistics show that around 87 percent of all buyers start their search on the Web. I recommend that to you as a way to get started. As you sift through properties, you will begin to get some idea of prices and neighborhoods, and will likely run across agents who seem to be prominent in given neighborhoods or price ranges. At any point in your search you can contact one of those agents to explore a working relationship. The second thing I suggest is to go to open houses on Sundays. In that process you will meet many agents, and see many work styles. Invariably one of them will appeal to you, and then you can explore a working relationship with that person. Finally, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) recently launched www.houselogic.com. This is a free, comprehensive consumer Web site about all aspects of home ownership. It provides timely articles and news, home improvement advice and info about taxes, home finances and insurance. This site would give you a good basic introduction to the world of home ownership. Buying a home is a reasonably complex process, from learning neighborhoods to making offers to negotiating to inspecting. A professional realtor can be invaluable in every facet of that process. Darrell Parsons is the managing broker of the Georgetown Long and Foster office and abides by Equal Housing Opportunity regulations. Have a real estate question? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at georgetownrealestatenews.blogspot.com.
Stacy Berman never saw herself working the real estate industry. She studied computer science and communications in college, two industries she followed into her career in software marketing, which eventually ended as vice president of marketing at BEICOM, a computer networking company. September 11 happened and the software industry bubble burst. She was out of a job. “When I made my transition, I thought it would be temporary. But I get to bring all of my marketing and management experience to real estate,” says Berman, who first worked as a realtor with Long & Foster in 2004 and nearly four months ago took the job as manager and broker of the Long & Foster Georgetown office. “It's a lot like my marketing job. There's strategy in selling a house; my product is the house and you have one day to make a presentation. If it's not looking perfect, your first impression is blown. There is competitive analysis—how does the house compete price-wise against the competition—and all those are all marketing methodologies.” Berman moved to the Washington area in 1990 and has lived in Adams Morgan, Cleveland Park and Logan Circle. With two children both under the age of six, she hopes to move to Georgetown when they go off to college because she says she loves the community. “This is a community and a neighborhood. There aren't many long-standing enclaves of neighborhoods anymore because Washington has gotten so big and so transient,” says Berman, who currently resides in Chevy Chase with her husband. “You could take Georgetown and put it in a small town in rural Virginia. There are a core group of people that know each other and new people feel that warmth, which is rare in a large metropolitan area.” Berman fills the shoes of Darrell Parsons, who served in the Georgetown office for over 20 years, but she's excited to grow the Long & Foster/Christies International brand in Georgetown. “People are proud of their homes no matter where you live in the world, but even more so in Georgetown. I walk down the street and see the pride people take in their homes.”
How did you get your start in the real estate business? Marc Fleisher: In 1976 I acquired my real estate license at the suggestion of a friend and commercial developer. I chose at the time to handle the distribution and sales of roller skates and, upon meeting my wife-to-be, was convinced by her that if I were to spend so much time and energy as a sales person, I should consider activating my real estate license and perusing real estate as a career. What was the most memorable home you've closed yet? MF: Since I have had the good fortune to settle many unique and exciting properties, it is difficult to reduce the answer to one home. However, one of the most unique properties I ever handled was a contemporary home on 5-acres designed as a space ship that contained 8,000 square feet of granite walls and floors and two kitchens designed with a patrician to allow for either the chefs to view the dining guests or the guests to view with kitchen preparations. What is your favorite thing about being a real estate agent? MF: A number of things appeal to me about being a real estate agent: the opportunity to meet and work with many different people of many different backgrounds, the ability to pick and choose the time that I wish to allocate to the business. But foremost is the satisfaction of seeing people truly get excited about the purchases and sale of their home as a result of my efforts. Where do you live now and why did you pick that area? MF: I currently live in downtown Bethesda. After having raised my family and commuted to work, as well as carpooling the children to various activities, I wanted to downsize my housing and take advantage of being able to walk to the heart of Bethesda. When you're not closing deals, what can you usually be found doing? MF: I have found over the years that the best way to succeed and enjoy life is to create a balance between work and other activities. I enjoy golf, tennis and particularly travel both within and outside of the United States. What is the hottest neighborhood in DC right now? MF: Over the past 10 years it has become apparent that Washington DC itself has become an attraction for many homebuyers. I cannot define one area over another as being the hottest neighborhood, since buyers choose different neighborhoods for various reasons. Whether it is the palisades community, Wesley Heights, Spring Valley, or Kalorama and Dupont Circle, there is demand for every one of these neighborhoods. For more information visit MarcFleisher.com
-Dear Darrell: I picked up a copy of The Georgetowner last weekend, and once again began to think about moving to the city from our home in the suburbs. I love the energy of the city and think I would love living in D.C., but we have a one-year-old and another child on the way. I worry that living here will be difficult for the children, and that the cost of owning real estate in D.C. is way more than where we now live. This isn’t exactly a “real estate” question, but I would appreciate your thoughts. — Melissa H, Gaithersburg, MD Dear Melissa: Great question, and a very difficult one, because the choice of where to live is based on so many case-by-case variables. In principle, I believe very strongly that children can thrive in the city environment, and in some ways the city model is more like small-town living than suburban life is. In Georgetown, for instance, there is a town center, and one can walk to the post office, the library, parks, schools, tennis courts, restaurants, and the town “stream” (i.e. the Potomac). Kids still play on various sports teams and belong to youth clubs — two which come to mind immediately are the Jelleff Boys & Girls Club and the Guy Mason Park rec center complex. Imagine living on R Street, rolling out of bed, and taking the kids across the street to Rose Park to run in the fields, play on the playground, hit a tennis ball or hike down to Rock Creek Park to throw rocks in the stream. The about-to-open renovated Georgetown library is two blocks away. There are French, Turkish, Korean, and Egyptian restaurants — not to mention Ledo’s Pizza — a stone’s throw away, and countless other restaurants within a few blocks. It’s an easy stroll to a showplace Safeway, and there is the easy access to the museums, monuments, galleries and music venues of downtown D.C. Then there are the properties themselves: one-level, two-level, three-level row houses, condos and co-ops, many with decks, patios or back yards. With a little work, I believe you can find a property which would suit your family. In general, the prices are likely to be higher than suburban property, but the tradeoff is the community, more time off the roads, less money on commuting costs, less stress, and easy access to the incredible variety of life in the city. I’ve described Georgetown above, but same applies to numerous other communities all over D.C. Obviously I can’t tell you that your children would be content in the District, but my guess is that if you are content here, they will be also. Children learn from their environment, and they will certainly learn things peculiar to city life, things which I believe will enrich their lives in a very special way. And, of course, yours too! Darrell Parsons is the managing broker of the Georgetown Long and Foster office and abides by Equal Housing Opportunity regulations. Have a real estate question? E-mail him at email@example.com. He blogs at georgetownrealestatenews.blogspot.com.
Dear Darrell, Is there any advantage in my trying to buy a property before the end of the year, rather than waiting for early Spring of next year? Bill E Dear Bill, From a tax standpoint, there might very well be an advantage for you to buy and close before the end of the year. But each person’s financial situation is unique to that person and is something you should discuss with your accountant or financial advisor. From a real estate standpoint, there are a couple of useful things to keep in mind: - If you look at a newly built property, it’s very possible that the builder will be offering end of the year incentives. - Certain owners may be facing tax consequences of one kind or another, which would be ameliorated by selling before the end of the year. These sellers might be more flexible than usual. - Prices and interest rates are low—interest rates, historically low. No one knows how these two will change between now and spring of 2011. Many economists predict that we will see a slow, steady improvement in the economy over the next year or two. If this does happen, it is likely that prices and interest rates will rise. So, the question is: do you want to bet that the economy will be better or worse come spring? Prices already seem to have stabilized in DC. We’ve been fortunate in that regard. Whatever your decision, I encourage you to be in touch with a local Realtor who has a view into our local market. Most of what one hears in the news is based on the national market. To make informed decisions, you need to know what is happening locally. Darrell Parsons is the Managing Broker of the Georgetown Long & Foster Office. Darrell@LNF.com or 202.944.8400. He blogs at: www.GeorgetownRealEstateNews.blogspot.com
Dear Darrell: I hear the city shuts down in August and there is no point in trying to sell my house then. I don’t want to miss a possible buyer, but I also don’t want the hassle of open houses, etc. if no one is going to be looking. What’s the best time of year to sell? — Lloyd L., Woodley Park Dear Lloyd: As with most things, it depends. It is questions like yours that make me long for a different personality, one which was certain of everything. So I could just say, “Don’t put your house on the market in August. The city is dead then.” But being who I am, I don’t see this as an either/or question. Yes, the market is traditionally slower in August, and people are traditionally away on vacation, and it is traditionally hot and humid. However, when is the last time anyone found the current world traditional or predictable? It isn’t! And neither is the real estate market. There are plenty of potential buyers who don’t go away in August, maybe because they are saving their money, or are gearing up for the fall, or any one of a myriad of reasons. The old real estate adage, “it only takes one buyer,” is never better applied than in this situation. No one knows when that one buyer will come along. There is one thing for certain, however: if your house is not for sale in August, no one will make an offer on it in August. What it boils down to is how you feel about the process of having your house on the market. If it really stresses you out, and you aren’t in any rush, then you can afford to wait. But if you really want to sell, I encourage you to meet with your realtor and come up with a plan which will allow you to have your house on the market without stress. For instance, you don’t have to have open houses. If your house is being marketed through the usual channels, your realtor will get to the potential buyers. And when a buyer wants to see your house, all you have to do is get things straightened up. My advice is to put it on the market now and begin looking for your buyer! Darrell Parsons is the managing broker of the Georgetown Long and Foster office and abides by Equal Housing Opportunity regulations. Have a real estate question? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at georgetownrealestatenews.blogspot.com.
Dear Darrell, I am working with a Realtor to buy a house. He keeps asking me for more and more of my financial information. I like working with him and think he is a good agent, but am a little put off by having to give my financial particulars. I also don’t want to be rude by telling him this is private and that I don’t want to share it. Is it common for agents to request this sort of thing? Amanda R. Dear Amanda, Without knowing exactly what the Realtor is asking you for, it’s a bit hard to answer your question. But assuming the Realtor is asking questions related to the resources you have available for purchasing a property, these are legitimate questions. Part of the work of a good Realtor is to educate his client. There are a couple of ways to go about this when discussing financial information. One is for the agent to ask the questions (as is happening in this case). Another is for the agent to encourage you to talk with a mortgage broker who can tell you about a wide variety of loan programs which might be suitable for you. Either way, it is important for you to understand the costs of buying a home—the immediate costs and the long term costs. As evidenced by the huge number of people who have gotten into trouble because they were overextended financially, it is critical that you be certain that you have both the cash (down payment and closing costs, etc.), and the income to support the monthly mortgage cost. If you are uncomfortable giving this information to your agent, you can certainly give it directly to a mortgage broker, and that person can counsel you on financial matters. If you don’t know a mortgage broker I suggest you talk with friends or ask your agent for a recommendation or two. One other very important aspect of this process is that in light of the recent systemic financial problems, lenders are being far more cautious. This makes the process longer, and requires a fair amount more documentation and review. Your agent no doubt knows this and is probably trying to help you get your ducks in a row early on, so that when you find the property you want, you will be prepared to make an offer and move forward.
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