New Construction

How New Homes Are Toppling Long-Term Values

Question: A big reason I chose to live in North Arlington and pay the premium that comes with it is because most of the neighborhoods were full of large, mature trees.

I’ve watched over the last 5-10 years as so many beautiful trees have been removed to make room for large new homes, only to be replaced by small trees that don’t survive or aren’t fit for this area. What can we do to educate homeowners about the value trees have in the community and on home values?

Answer: Thank you so much for this question, especially on the heals of a terrific study on Arlington’s tree canopy. It’s one that I don’t think gets nearly enough attention from homeowners, my colleagues in the real estate industry and local government.

The loss of our tree canopy resulting from reckless tree removal by builders who are more concerned with maximizing profit on a single lot than promoting long-term growth of our communities is a major problem for Arlington. In 2017, I wrote an article highlighting the financial benefits to developers who actively work to keep the existing mature trees on a lot so if we can show both short-term and long-term benefits to builders and developers, what do we do?

Don’t Wait On Local Government

For starters, we can’t rely on government policy, but need to work within our communities at a Civic Association level to promote education and understanding. Not every homeowner is concerned about the tree canopy, but everybody is concerned about the long-term value of their home, so we need to educate everybody that the two are not mutually exclusive.

We are never going to stop the replacement of old homes with new ones, but we can support builders who take steps towards tree preservation and discourage residents from working with builders who have no regard for our neighborhoods.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve worked with some fantastic Civic Associations (residents of Williamsburg should be proud of their community leaders!) and the Arlingtonians For A Clean Environment to brainstorm ways to protect our tree canopy and I encourage anybody who has an interest to get involved.

An Education For Homeowners and Builders

I will continue this discussion through my column on ARLnow until we see progress. I hope that readers with an interest in getting involved can share ideas and connect via the comments section.

To kick things off, I want to introduce Heath Baumann, an ISA Certified Arborist with Bartlett Tree Experts, to provide education for homeowners and builders on tree preservation, tree replacement and tree care. Take it away Heath…

Preface

One of the most overlooked assets on a property is often the trees.

Trees not only improve quality of life with shade and beauty, mature trees can affect property value. As Northern Virginia continues to infill and urbanize, trees will face greater amounts of environmental stresses. Larger homes, less permeable surface area, soil compaction and heat island effects can stress both new and mature trees in your landscape.

Your home is comprised of multiple systems such as HVAC, plumbing and electrical. It helps to think of trees in the same manner. Routine maintenance performed by a licensed professional is affordable and extends the life of your trees.

Tree Preservation During Construction

Constructions projects can severely affect the health of trees. Physical stability, water and nutrient collection are vital functions of the root system. Here are some Do’s and Don’ts to preserving trees during construction projects:

Do’s

  • Develop a Tree Preservation Plan. Contractors and Consulting Arborists can develop this during the planning phase of your project.
  • Avoid intrusion into the critical root zone. Create a physical barrier with construction fencing to reduce soil compaction and physical damage to the tree by heavy equipment.
  • Have a licensed tree care provider perform any required root pruning.
  • Develop a tree care plan for affected trees. Certified Arborists can help the tree compensate for root loss and stress from construction activities.

Don’ts

  • Do not use heavy equipment to cut roots. Heavy equipment will cause extensive damage and compact the soil.
  • Do not allow construction materials, debris or chemicals to be stored around trees. Tree preservation zones are enticing areas for temporary storage. Soil compaction, chemical runoff and physical damage are all possible.
  • Do not use construction tools to perform pruning. Arborists’ tools are designed to make proper cuts reducing the impact on trees.

Replacing or Planting New Trees After Construction

Planting a tree is a wonderful feeling. A relatively simple activity can turn into a lifetime of enjoyment and an investment for future generations. The best part about planting trees is that nearly everyone is capable of doing it. It generally only requires a few tools that are available at your local hardware store or garden center. A few basic guidelines will help improve our success when replacing removed trees or adding to your landscape.

Do’s

  • Purchase your trees from a respected nursery or garden center. These businesses offer warranties, have higher quality nursery stock and have knowledgeable staff that can help you make the right selection.
  • Select the right tree for the location. Height, spread, shade tolerance and growth rate are all things to consider. A full sun tree will not thrive in an already shady landscape and vice versa.
  • Have your soil tested. The soil’s pH affects the nutrient availability for a tree. The Virginia Tech extension service and certified tree care companies can perform soil tests for a nominal fee. Use this information to select the tree or to build a soil care program with your tree care company.
  • Dig the correct hole. The hole for your tree should be 3 times as wide as the root ball. If possible, rototill an area 5 times the root ball to help root production. The bottom of the hole should remain intact.
  • Have your trees structurally pruned. Some tree species have growth tendencies that can lead to structural failure or root issues. An ISA Certified Arborist can show you how a few well-place structural pruning cuts can help your tree develop its ideal form.

Don’ts

  • Do not plant trees too deep. This is the most common mistake I see on landscapes. Ideally, the transition zone between the trunk and the roots should be slightly above soil grade.
  • Do not mound mulch. Mulch mounds, along with deep planting, can cause the roots to encircle the trunk of the tree forming a tourniquet that strangles the tree.
  • Do not leave the tree in the container. If the tree is in plastic container, remove the tree and loosen the soil and roots before planting. If the tree is in a wire encased burlap bundle, cut away the wire basket and remove the burlap from the sides of the root ball after placing it in the hole.
  • Do not overwater your tree. Infrequent, slow saturations with a soaker hose will help good root development. Frequent shallow watering will develop shallow, unstable roots. Constant soil saturation will lead to root diseases. If the soil at finger depth (4 inches) is dry, it is time to water.

Tree Care Basics

The majority of my clients are established homeowners who are concerned about the health of their trees. Sometimes it is a large, prominent oak or a bright, flowering ornamental tree. Here a few simple Do’s and Don’ts that home owners can follow to help their trees:

Do’s

  • Keep a mulch ring around the tree. This aides in temperature and moisture regulation while adding organic matter to the soil.
  • When watering use a soaker hose for infrequent, heavy saturations. This will ensure adequate soil moisture and help in root development.
  • Routinely look at your trees. The earlier an issue is caught, the better the odds of helping the tree.
  • Consult a professional. Certified arborists can work with you to develop a tree care plan based on your needs and budget.

Don’ts

  • Do not allow mulch to mound up at the base of the tree. Mulch can hold moisture against the trunk that can cause decay, increase stress and invite pests.
  • Avoid heavy application of lime or other lawn products. Lime and other lawn produces can affect the soil, making it unsuitable for trees.
  • Do not park or drive your vehicle over the root zone. This can lead to soil compaction.
  • Avoid damaging the tree with mowers and string trimmers.
  • Avoid employing a non-certified person or company to perform tree care. Improper pruning can lead to tree mortality and expose you to risks.

Even in ideal conditions, pests and diseases can attack trees. Fortunately, treatments exist for many of the common maladies in our area. If you are concerned about a tree, always contact an ISA Certified Arborist for a consultation.

Heath Baumann is an ISA Certified Arborist with Bartlett Tree Experts. If you wish to schedule a consultation with a Bartlett Arborist Representative, please call (703)550-6900.

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How Much Does Land Cost In Arlington?

Question: Can you provide insight into how much a tear-down home costs in Arlington and how lot size effects sale price of a single-family home?

Answer: Breaking News… land is very hard to come by in Arlington. Only 11 homes sold in the last ten years had one or more acres, and it’s going to cost you over $1M to buy one. The average lot size of a single-family home in Arlington is about 8,400 sq. ft. or .19 acres with about 70% of homes on 6,000-10,000 sq. ft. lots.

Here’s a look at the impact of lot size on sold prices of single family homes over the last three years broken out by zip code:

Cost Of Arlington Homes By Lot Size

 

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The data above takes homes of all sizes and condition into account so it doesn’t do a great job of isolating the actual market price of the land or how much people pay for tear-down lots in Arlington.

To summarize that data, I pulled out the cheapest 15% of sales in each zip code over the last three years. I felt that the cheapest 15% of sales in each zip code were probably good bets for homes being bought for the land/location with the intention of tear-down or major renovations. Note: 22209 didn’t have enough sales to include in this table.

Cost Of Land In Arlington

 

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If you’re thinking of buying a tear-down and building new, a good way to estimate how much your home will cost is to add the following:

  • Land acquisition (see above table for estimated land cost by zip code)
  • $75,000-$100,000 for demolition, preparing the lot for construction, and permits
  • $400,000-$800,000 on construction
  • Carrying costs of the loan and taxes during construction of the new home

Earlier this year I wrote about the variance in County tax assessments and market data. How do the market prices for land compare to the County’s tax assessments, which are broken out by land assessments and improvement assessments (assessed value of the home)? Let’s take a look at how the County has assessed land values on homes sold over the last three years and compare that to the market assessment of land values above.

The County Values Land Less Than The Market

 

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Based on this data, the County values land at about 72% of the market value for land on the open market.

Once you’ve had some time to digest the cost of land in Arlington, let me know if you’d like to meet to discuss the process of buying a tear-down lot and building your own home! Email me at Eli@EliResidential.com to schedule an appointment.

New Trafalgar Flats Condos

Question: Do you have any details on the new condo building on Columbia Pike?

Answer: The development of Columbia Pike continues westward with the introduction of a very affordable, brand new condo building by Pillars Development Group. The success of recent residential projects, Columbia Place (condos and some townhouses) and Carver Place (townhouses), along the eastern half of Columbia Pike, signal that this will be a successful project for Pillars, who has developed other local condos like The Berkley in Ballston, The Henry in Alexandria and The Paramount in Reston.

What I’m Tracking

The developers decided to make 25% of the units Jr 1BRs, with just under 500 sq. ft., which hasn’t been a very common product in newer construction so I’m looking forward to seeing how these sell. I think it will be a great secondary residence for buyers who live 90+ minutes away and work nearby, as well as the modern value-based buyer looking for affordability and less space.

Unlike most small studio spaces, they have a separate room to sleep (functional bedroom that doesn’t meet legal bedroom requirements) which makes them much more desirable than studios with one large living/sleeping space. The asking price of these units will range from $250k-$300k with monthly condo fees just under $200.

For reference, only 32 condos have sold in Arlington over the last two years for less than $300,000 and monthly fees under $250. The average construction date of those units was 1964, with none being built in the last ten years.

Affordable

Affordability and value are the selling points for Trafalgar Flats (ease of pronouncing the name is not) with 700+ sq. ft. 1BR units selling from the mid to upper $300s and 2BR/2BA units starting in the mid 400s.

The monthly condo fees are also a selling point, coming in about 10-15% lower than the average fee/sq. ft. of other Arlington condos, while still including a gym, lobby, outdoor terrace and bike storage. Above average condo fees were a problem for a lot of potential buyers of Rosslyn’s recent Key & Nash project, which is about 50% sold and about three months from completion.

For reference purposes, there have been 308 2BR/2BA condos sold in Arlington over the last two years for less than $500k and fees under $450/mo., but only three were built in the last 10 years. Bottom line… it’s rare to find value like this in Arlington.

Investment-worthy

There aren’t too many places left inside and around the beltway where you can expect above-market appreciation, but Columbia Pike is one of them, especially the western half now that the eastern section has already seen substantial growth.

At the current pricing and being in the early stages of western Pike development, savvy buyers and investors should pay attention. The property sits just two blocks from the site of the under-development Columbia Pike Village Center, anchored by a Harris Teeter (replacing Food Star), slated to open in 2019. Expect strong ROI from all three options — Jr 1BR, 1BR and 2BR.

From the builder, “We chose to build in this location due to the community’s close proximity to DC and the Pentagon.  Arlington County is committed to the revitalization of the Columbia Pike Corridor.  We are proud to be amongst the first to offer the opportunity to purchase a new luxury condo in this changing, urban environment.”

Other Details

The building will have 78 total units with 25% Jr 1BR (under 500 sq. ft.), 25% 2BR/2BA (~1,000 sq. ft.), and 50% 1BR/1BA (over 700 sq. ft.) with prices ranging from mid $200s to mid $500s. Monthly fees will start at $192 for the smallest units and top out at $421 for the largest 2BRs. One of the best parts of buying pre-construction is being able to choose your finishes including cabinets, counters, flooring and tiling. All units come with one underground assigned garage parking space.

If you’d like to discuss Trafalgar Flats as a primary residence, secondary residence or investment please reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com or at (703) 539-2529.

New Rosslyn Condo Project Unveiled (Jan 31 2017)

Question: What’s being built across the street from Turnberry Tower in Rosslyn?

Answer: We don’t see many new condo projects these days in Arlington, developers are going with apartments due to low interest rates and surging rents, so the new Key & Nash condo and townhome project in Rosslyn is a welcome addition to the neighborhood. Over the last five years, we’ve had an underwhelming number of condo deliveries.

Along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, the only new condo sales have been Arc 3409 in Virginia Square (converted from a hotel in 2014) and Gaslight Square in Rosslyn (luxury condos).

On Thursday evening, the Key & Nash team hosted an unveiling party on the 23rd floor of 1812 N. Moore (the Monday Properties/Goldman Sachs building that has sat empty the last few years) to release details of the project and start sales for a late-2017 delivery. Leading up to the project, I expected that NVHomes’ new Urban Division would look to successful nearby luxury projects like Gaslight Square, The Wooster, Rosslyn Key, and Rhodes Hill Square for their design and pricing with an emphasis on Gaslight Square considering its most recent success with Phase 3 (final build-out).

Instead of delivering a fully custom luxury product, NVHomes is sticking with their bread and butter formula of delivering a more moderate project that fits surprisingly well between Rosslyn’s mid-market options like The Atrium, The Belvedere, 1800 Wilson and its luxury options like Turnberry Tower, Waterview, and those mentioned above. It makes sense for NVHomes, avoids over-saturating the Rosslyn luxury market, and satisfies demand.

With just over sixty units including 1BR + den, 2BR, 2BR + den, and 3BR flats ranging from about 850sqft to just over 1,500 sq ft, plus five 3BR townhomes at nearly 2,000 sq ft there are a surprising number of options for buyers.  Starting in the low $600s and clearing the $1M mark for some of the larger flats and townhomes, it’s an attractive $/sq ft for a new building just a block from the metro and likely to benefit from the massive redevelopment of downtown Rosslyn. For market-average condo fees, residents will get a high-end gym, 7-day/week concierge, roof deck, large common terrace w/ grills, and underground parking.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the larger 2BR + den/3BR flats do compared to the townhomes. I think the challenge for the townhomes will be the fact that the master bedroom is the entire top floor, with the 2nd and 3rd bedrooms on the 2nd floor (main level is kitchen and living space), making it a difficult layout for buyers with a young child (prefer to sleep on the same level) and a lot of steps for regular trips between living space and master bedroom. However, with only five townhomes being delivered, they’ll probably be the first to sell-out.

Personally, I think the best value purchases are the 1BR + den and smaller 2BR/2BA because they’ll make great rental properties with the dens/2nd bedrooms being on opposite sides of the apartment from the master bedroom (ideal for roommates). If you’re planning to live there for a while and can afford the premium, there are two 2BRs with 500 sq ft private terraces and a handful of 1BR + den and 2BRs in the back with larger Limited Common Element terraces (only accessible to your unit, but technically common space) that offer hard-to-find “useable” outdoor space.

While there wasn’t anybody camping out for the sales office to open, the line to sign-up for a sales meeting on Thursday night reached 50+ people at some points and there were probably a few hundred people at the event. The R-B corridor and Arlington market is hungry for new condos and this delivers at a price range that meets a lot of budgets and designed to accommodate a range of buyer types, so I expect sales to move fairly quickly, even though people won’t get to step foot into a unit until the end of the year.

Feel free to reach out to me at Eli@RealtyDCMetro.com if you have any specific questions about the floor plans, pricing, location, sales process, etc or if you’re considering a purchase in the building. I’d be happy to discuss details and my thoughts on the investment potential of purchasing in Rosslyn.

New Construction vs. Resale Price Comparison

Question: We are ready to move into a house we’ll raise our family in and are set on Arlington. We want a newer home, but are not sure if it’s better to buy new construction or resale; our decision will ultimately be a financial one.

Can you put together numbers that show how the sale prices of new construction compare to resale?

Answer: Of course I can! When weighing the financial decision of new construction vs. resale, you’ll also want to consider the replacement cost of major systems like HVAC, windows, roof, water heater, appliances, etc. that carry life cycles of 10-30 years (appliances being on the early side, roof/windows coming later) as well as higher efficiency factors of new homes that significantly reduce utility costs. Many new homes also come with extended “bumper-to-bumper” warranties that you won’t get in resale.

As expected, there’s a clear premium to be paid for new construction and buyers tend to negotiate a deeper discount from the original asking price on homes being resold. The dataset is based on sales since January 1, 2014 for detached homes built since 2000 with 4-6 bedrooms, 3-5 bathrooms, and 3-4 levels.

 

Are these numbers in-line with what you expect to see on the difference in sold price between new construction and resale? Are the prices about what you assumed for new/newish homes by zip code?

Resale Value of New Construction

Question: I’m considering purchasing a new construction home in Arlington or a nearby neighborhood and have been meeting with a number of local builders to research my options. I’ve heard from quite a few that purchasing a new home often results in instant equity because they often get appraised for at least $100,000 more than the purchase price. Do you think that the higher appraisal value is an accurate reflection on the resale value of these homes?

Answer: Over the past decade, variations of large Craftsman and Arts & Crafts style homes have been replacing older homes across Arlington and Northern Virginia. Local builders have figured out a standard exterior aesthetic and interior design that buyers are willing to pay a premium for, so most new homes over the last ten years have a similar look and layout. Savvy buyers have started to question how these homes will do when they come back onto the market for resale.

Due to the fact that most buyers of $1M+ new homes plan to raise families in them for a long time, we won’t see a lot of these homes resold for a while. My guess is that we’re about 5-10 years away from really being able to answer this question, but by opening up the dataset to Arlington, McLean and Vienna, I was able to come up with enough data points to begin looking at the resale value of new homes in Northern Virginia.

The 106 data points I pulled together are for new homes built from 2007 on and resold once after the original purchase in Arlington, McLean and Vienna. I removed any foreclosures or short sales. For purposes of this analysis, I think it’s better to look at resale in all three markets combined rather than split them up and draw assumptions from minimal data.

  • On average, new homes resold for $45,585 more than what they were purchased for with an original average purchase price of $1.46M (~3 percent gain)
  • Of the 106 total data points 42 were sold within 3 years, 50 sold within 4-6 years, and 14 sold within 7-9 years
  • Homes that sold within 7-9 years of original purchase fared the worse with 57 percent (8 of 14) selling at a loss
  • Homes sold within 4-6 years have done the best, with 80 percent (40 of 50) selling for more than the purchase price
  • Two thirds of homes sold within 1-3 years sold for a gain
  • Of the 30 homes sold for a loss, the average loss was nearly $120,000
  • Of the 74 homes that sold for a gain, the average gain was nearly $114,000
  • Two homes resold for the same price they were purchased
  • 21 homes sold after three years of ownership and 18 sold after five years of ownership, these were the two most common times between sales
  • The biggest loss was nearly $665,000 and the biggest gain was nearly $400,000

It’s tough to draw any specific conclusions from this data because we’re still so early in the resale cycle for this type of new homes, but I thought it’d be fun to take a peak behind the current a bit early because it’s such a common question.

The important takeaway is that a good investment in a new home in Northern Virginia is more about making the right decision for you and your family than it is obsessing over the numbers. If you take your time, learn the market and understand the difference between builders you will put yourself in a much better position to end up on the “gains” side of the data when it’s time to resell.