The Fall Market: Q&A With Brokers

November 6, 2019

For this edition of The Georgetowner’s Fall Real Estate Special, we asked real estate brokers a few quick questions to assess the current situation.

2013: Good Year for Mortgages

November 19, 2014

The loan limits for single-family home mortgages were announced on Nov. 29. For the Washington metropolitan
area, loan limits for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac backed mortgage loans remain unchanged.

In most of the country, the loan limit will be $417,000 for one-unit properties. The loan limits are established under the terms of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA), and are calculated each year. The limits for most
selected high-cost areas remains at $625,500.

The Washington, DC, metropolitan area is designated as one of the high-cost areas in the contiguous United States where mortgage loan limits are $625,500 for one-unit properties.

The areas in our region that qualify for the high-cost loan limits include Washington, D.C., Arlington, Va., Alexandria, Va. (metro- politan area) along with counties in Maryland — Calvert, Charles, Frederick, Montgomery, Prince George’s — and in Virginia — Arlington, Clarke, Fairfax, Fauquier, Loudoun, Prince William, Spotsylvania, Stafford and Warren. In Virginia, the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Fredericksburg, Manassas and
Manassas Park also qualify.

In these areas, the limits are: 1-unit; $625,500; 2-unit, $800,775; 3-unit, $967,950; 4-unit, $1,202,925.

For FHA loans, the loan limits for 2013 will be the same as those for conventional loans. The new limit will be $625,500 reduced from $729,750, the 2012 limit. FHA loans enable a homebuyer to buy a property with as little as a 3.5-percent down payment and unlimited gift money from family members. There are no income limits for those desiring FHA loans.

Housing in the Washington, D.C., metro- politan area appears to be stabilizing. Mortgage interest rates as of the end of November were near historic lows. According to the Freddie Mac survey of purchase money mortgage rates, the rate for 30-year fixed rate money was 3.32 percent and for 15-year fixed rate money was 2.64 percent — both with just under one point in discount fees.

The economy is moving forward at a steady, slow pace. The prospects of the fiscal cliff still looms, House Speaker John Boehner still says he “doesn’t want to go over the cliff” but will do “whatever it takes to deal with the debt prob- lem.” If no deal is done, rates may go lower. If severe austerity programs are invoked, the economy is likely to slow which means rates would not rise. There are no catalysts on the horizon for higher mortgage rates. 2013 should be a good year for mortgages

Bill Starrels lives in Georgetown and is a mortgage loan officer. He can be reached at 703- 625-7355 or bill.starrels@gmail.com.

I’m getting inconsistent appraisals!

May 3, 2012

Dear Darrell: I live in Georgetown. In the process of thinking about selling my house over the past few years, I have twice asked a realtor to tell me how much I could get for it at that time. Both times the price she came back with was very different than the assessed value. Once it was higher and once lower. How is this possible? -Joan S., Georgetown

Dear Joan: I am guessing that the two realtor price opinions were in two different markets. Once when prices were on the rise, and once when they were declining. It’s common for the realtor’s opinion and the assessed value to be different. The higher/lower result is a function of the strength of the real estate market, and the fact that property assessments always lag behind what is happening in the day-to-day real estate transactions. Pricing is a subjective art in any case. The property owner and realtor are “reading” the market in a sort of snapshot. The price at the moment of that snapshot takes into consideration the recent sales of comparable properties. The tax assessors use the same process to set the assessed value, but it is six months to a year (or longer), after a given property has sold. By then the real estate market has changed — strengthened or weakened — and the assessors “snapshot” is somewhat outdated. If the gap between the assessor’s value and your opinion is quite large, it is worth challenging the assessment.

Darrell Parsons is the managing broker of the Georgetown Long & Foster office. Have a real estate question? E-mail him at darrell@lnf.com. He blogs at georgetownrealestatenews.blogspot.com.

Home Improvement

November 3, 2011

 

-Dear Darrell: I am going to be putting my house up for sale pretty soon, and I know it could use some sprucing up. What improvements will bring me the best payback on the cost of the work? (I’m planning on doing most of the work myself.) -Norma T., Tenleytown

Dear Norma: I know you didn’t ask, but I’ll give you an answer anyway: if there is any way you can swing it, don’t do the work yourself, unless you are particularly skilled at what you will be doing. Nothing turns off a buyer faster than going through a house and seeing that repair and touch up work has been done by an amateur. Not only does the work not look as appealing, it also raises questions in the buyer’s mind (and that of the buyer agent) as to what unseen things might be problematic in the house. Even if the buyer can’t quite put his or her finger on the uncertainty about the property, a succession of even small issues accumulates into major doubt about buying the property.

So to your actual question: there is no hard and fast rule about what things bring the best return when fixing up a property, but these are the most likely areas: kitchens, bathrooms, decks (or the like), paint, landscaping. You might say to yourself, “I can paint! I’ll go to the store, get some paint and brushes and have a painting party.” Hopefully you would respond with, “Didn’t you read Darrell’s advice above?” (Of course, if you find yourself talking to yourself, you may be under a lot of stress, and this may not be the best time in your life to sell a property!) In any case, yes you could have a painting party, and the walls would get covered in paint, but the finer points of a paint job would be missing. And most prospective buyers would notice. This is not to mention someone stepping in the paint tray and tracking paint on your hardwood floors, the drips on your toe molding, the purchasing and cleanup time, and so on. If you are going to do it yourself, it’s important to select a neutral but appealing color (not all white, or all tan), and apply it very carefully, giving attention to the details. Only you will know if you have the patience for that.

If you can hang in there for another week, I’ll write more about the other fix-ups I mentioned above. Good luck!

Dear Darrell: My house in Northwest has been on the market for a long time — three months — and no one has even made an offer. It’s in a great location and it’s in great condition. The problem is that it is an unusual design. I keep thinking there is something I should be doing to it to make someone like it. -Maureen S., Cleveland Park

Dear Maureen: First of all, three months is not so unusual these days, depending on the price of your property. I’m assuming yours is towards the upper end of the price range in D.C. Secondly, once you have dealt with location and condition, the only other thing to do (besides renovating) is to take a hard look at the price. Third, one of the things which makes our area so appealing is the variety of choices the buyers have. Think of a piece of music. It’s made up of many different notes, e.g. eighth, quarter, half, whole. If a symphony had only whole notes or only quarter notes it would be pretty boring. As one of the notes in the symphony known as D.C., your property may be one that jazzes us up a bit. That may not appeal to the majority of buyers, but there will be a buyer who will resonate with your “note.” Of course, if all else fails, reduce the price!

Dear Darrell: I’m thinking of putting my house on the market. I’ve talked to a number of friends about it, and have gotten a variety of responses about how their process was, and about agents they know of. How do I know if an agent is going to be the “right” one for my house? -Michael C., Glover Park

Dear Michael: I think you are on the right track by talking with friends who have had recent experience with this. It’s a great place to start. If you haven’t already done so, I suggest you visit several different Sunday open houses so you can get a feel for the style of the particular agent at the open house. For instance, is the agent quiet, dramatic, intense, laid-back, funny, seemingly uninterested, etc.? I suggest this approach because you and your chosen agent will be spending a lot of time together. Style is a very important part of the success of that relationship. The experience of friends is good information, because it puts potential listing agents in a known context. But it’s also important for you to experience the agent for yourself. As I mentioned, open houses is a good way to do that.

Next, I would focus on “substance.” Is the agent knowledgeable, responsive, skillful, creative, thoughtful, energetic, confident, smart, communicative?

Finally, I would talk with them about their track record. I don’t put this first on the list, because I don’t think it is the most important aspect of the process. Insofar as agents can point to success in the past, it is a measure of their skill. But you are presumably interviewing several skilled agents, each of which is likely to have a different style. The better your communication with your listing agent, the easier it will be for you to trust one another, be open with one another, and make the sale of your property a team effort.

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 darrell@lnf.com. He blogs at georgetownrealestatenews.blogspot.com.

What About My Artifacts?


 

-Dear Darrell: I will be selling my house soon. I’ve lived here for a long time and have collected artifacts from my extensive travels over these many years. I think these things enhance the beauty of my house, but I’ve heard stories about real estate people coming in and telling owners to get rid of everything. Do I need to worry about that?

– Craig B., Logan Circle

Dear Craig: I don’t think you need to worry about it, but it is an important thing to think about. Nearly everyone, having lived in a house long enough, has collected “stuff.” Sometimes the collections are fine art, some are frogs from around the world, and one that I saw recently was a house with stuffed animal heads on the walls. Those three very different collections are precious to the people who live in those houses. However, it’s not difficult to imagine that what one person finds precious, another person doesn’t. Even extraordinary art work can affect the way any given potential buyer might respond emotionally to a property. In general, it is best to pare things down. I encourage you to find a real estate agent whom you like, and to ask that person to give you specific feedback about this issue. The feedback in some instances is hard to hear, but what the agent tells you is meant well, and is meant to help you sell your house in a reasonable time at a good price. I read an article recently in the New York Times by Dominique Browning, titled “What I Lost When I Lost My Job.” In it she beautifully and touchingly describes the process she went through in selling her own house. She talks a little bit about your question, so that might be helpful, but her other comments about moving from a long-time residence are also meaningful.

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 darrell@lnf.com. He blogs at georgetownrealestatenews.blogspot.com.

Tax Credit for First-Time Homebuyers


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 darrell@lnf.com. He blogs at georgetownrealestatenews.blogspot.com.

Is MRIS Worth It?


 

-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 darrell@lnf.com. He blogs at georgetownrealestatenews.blogspot.com.

Ask the Realtor


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 darrell@lnf.com. He blogs at georgetownrealestatenews.blogspot.com.

Ask the Realtor


 

-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 darrell@lnf.com. He blogs at georgetownrealestatenews.blogspot.com.

Stacy Berman: The New Face of Georgetown Long & Foster

July 26, 2011

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.”