2019 Arlington Real Estate Market Review: Detached/Townhouse

Question: How did the Arlington real estate market do in 2019?

Answer: Arlington’s real estate market made the national news cycle more than a few times in 2019 with some pretty extraordinary references to rapid appreciation – some accurate and some not. I’ve seen prices in some pockets of the market surge 15-20% in 2019, but for most of the market, appreciation was strong but not eye-popping.

Overall, the average and median price of a home sold in Arlington in 2019 was $705k and $610k, a 6.3% and 8.9% increase over 2018, respectively. Average days on market dropped by one week and an incredible 61.4% of buyers paid at or above the seller’s original asking price. The number of homes listed for sale in 2019 dropped about 17% compared to 2018 and demand surged, with buyers absorbing about 67% more inventory in 2019 than in 2018.

Last week I looked at how Arlington’s condo market performed in 2019 and this week we’ll dig into the performance of the detached and townhouse/duplex markets. I did separate write-ups on the 22202 (Amazon zip code) condo and detached home markets last month and decided not to include data from 22202 in most of the analysis for this week.

Arlington Detached/Townhouse Market Performance

First, we’ll take a look at some of the key measures for market performance across Arlington and within North and South Arlington. I’ve listed some highlights below, followed by a summary data table:

  • Median detached home prices increase by 6.7% from $890k in 2018 to $950k in 2019
  • Median townhouse/duplex prices increased 8.5% from $530k in 2018 to $575k in 2019
  • Average detached homes prices increased by an average of 5.1% and townhouse/duplex homes by 3.6%
  • South Arlington appreciated more than North Arlington, particularly in the less expensive townhouse/duplex market
  • On average, a detached home in North Arlington is 55.5% more expensive than a detached home in South Arlington and 76.9% more expensive for townhouse/duplex homes
  • Buyers accomplished very little trying to negotiate with sellers, averaging just 1.1% off original asking prices on detached homes and paying an average of 1% over the original asking price on townhouse/duplex homes
  • The number of new detached homes sold in 2019 was just below the trailing five-year average. Note that not all new homes make it in the MLS, so the actual count is likely a bit higher.
Performance By Zip Code

Next let’s take a look at average prices for both detached and townhouse/duplex homes by zip code:

  • Over the last five years, the top performing zip codes have been 22202 (National Landing) and 22209 (Rosslyn area), with Amazon HQ2 and Nestle leading the way in the commercial sector for those zip codes, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this trend continue over the next five years
  • Nearly all of the appreciation for 22202 came from 2019’s Amazon bump
  • If I remove new construction sales from the data, the appreciation percentages remain relatively similar for every zip code except for 22203 and 22213. Without new construction included, 22203 gained 4.5% (instead of zero change) and 22213 gained .5% (instead of dropping 2%), in 2019.
Additional Charts/Market Highlights

In each quarter last year, the market produced an average of 15% fewer detached homes in 2019 than it did during the same period in 2018. Interestingly, the market produced more townhouse/duplex homes in the 1st and 4th quarters of 2019 than the same periods in 2018.

https://cpp1.getsmartcharts.com/chart/mls/1/getreport.php?rid=2&ftid=2&fid=1001,1004&gty=4&ltid=4&lid=51013&gid=2&cc=dd0000,05c500&sid=1&mid=2&tt=2&mode=4

Within the detached home market, lower (+5%) and mid-priced (+6.4%) homes appreciated more in 2019 than the upper-end (4.3%) of the market. I think we will see an even sharper appreciation in the lower 25% of the market in 2020.

Since bedroom count is such an important factor in most homebuyer’s criteria, I thought it’d be interesting to take a look at the average cost of a home in 2019 by the number of bedrooms it had. Not much explanation needed for this one!

Looking Ahead

I will be keeping a close eye on inventory levels as this year starts off. However, I think demand is so high that it would take a significant increase in inventory to slow price appreciation in 2020.

With rates remaining low through last year and projected to do so again this year, coupled with strong employment rates and stocks, buyer confidence is high. On the flip side, markets usually stagnate heading into a Presidential election so it’ll be interesting to see if/how the election effects counter the current momentum.

I think that over the next 5-10 years, detached home prices will appreciate significantly as demand rapidly increases with employment growth, yet we will not be able to introduce any meaningful supply increases due to limits on available land. Condo supply and even townhouse/duplex/triplex supply can be increased with development and changes to zoning laws, but it’s unlikely we will be able to add more supply to the detached market other than one-for-one replacements (tear-downs) and the occasional subdivision of a larger lot.

Thanks for reading along! If you have any questions or I can be of any help with your real estate needs, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

2019 Arlington Real Estate Market Review: Condos

Question: How did the Arlington real estate market do in 2019?

Answer: Arlington’s real estate market made the national news cycle more than a few times in 2019 with some pretty extraordinary references to rapid appreciation – some accurate and some not. I’ve seen prices in some pockets of the market surge 15-20% in 2019, but for most of the market, appreciation was strong but not eye-popping.

Overall, the average and median price of a home sold in Arlington in 2019 was $705k and $610k, a 6.3% and 8.9% increase over 2018, respectively. Average days on market dropped by one week and an incredible 61.4% of buyers paid at or above the seller’s original asking price. The number of homes listed for sale in 2019 dropped about 17% compared to 2018 and demand surged, with buyers absorbing about 67% more inventory in 2019 than in 2018.

This week I will dig into how Arlington’s condo market performed in 2019 and next week I’ll do the same for the detached single-family home and townhouse market. I did separate write-ups on the 22202 (Amazon zip code) condo and detached home markets last month.

Arlington Condo Market Performance

First we’ll take a look at some of the key measures for market performance across Arlington and within North and South Arlington. This data excludes age-restricted housing (The Jefferson), Cooperatives (River Place), and townhouse-style condos (Fairlington).

  • The condo market seems to have appreciated 7-8% in 2019, after experiencing barely any growth from 2013-2017 and modest growth in 2018
  • South Arlington beat out North Arlington in every key category, which makes sense because it’s an easier price point for homeowners and investors who wanted some sort of real estate position in Arlington before Amazon’s hiring picks up
  • The average condo buyer in South Arlington paid .8% over the seller’s asking price
  • Condos in North Arlington sold twice as fast as they did from 2015-2017. In South Arlington they sold more than three times faster than 2015-2016.
Performance of Different Sub-Markets

I took a look at some of the sub-markets that make up large cross-sections of Arlington’s condo market to see how they performed compared to the overall market.

For “standard” 1BR and 2BR condos in the Rosslyn-Ballston (R-B) Corridor I specifically looked at condos in buildings constructed during the 2000s condo boom with 650-800sqft (1BR) and 950-1,200sqft (2BR).

  • “Standard” R-B 1BRs appreciated 4% in 2019
  • “Standard” R-B 2BRs appreciated 5% in 2019

For “older” 1BR and 2BR condos, I looked at those constructed in the 1940s-1960s. This category of condos had been slow to appreciate and as of 2018, a lot of owners were still trying to dig out from 2005-2007 prices.

  • Older 1BRs appreciated 7.4% in 2019
  • Older 2BRs appreciated 10.5% in 2019
Performance Within Different Price Ranges

Appreciation in Arlington’s condo market was pretty evenly distributed between the upper, middle, and lower price ranges as evidenced by the change in the average price of the lower 25%, middle 50%, and upper 25% of sales from 2018 to 2019.

  • The average price of the middle 50% of Arlington is now well north of $400k
  • Over the last two years, Arlington’s least expensive housing has appreciated the fastest, with the average price of the lower 25% increasing by more than 12% since 2017. You can likely attribute this to investor activity.
  • If you’re curious about the max sold price in 2019 of $4,750,000, it was a top floor 4,400+sqft condo at Turnberry Tower (link). It was first offered for sale three years ago for $7M. If you remove this sale from the data, the upper 25% appreciated 7.4% in 2019.
Inventory Shortage

A lot of real estate conversation in 2019 revolved around inventory shortages. The number of condos offered for sale dropped nearly 21% in 2019 and the increased demand (higher absorption rate) pushed available inventory down by more than 57%. The chart below shows the YoY quarterly decrease in new condo listings and available condo inventory in Arlington.

https://cpp1.getsmartcharts.com/chart/mls/1/getreport.php?rid=2,3&ftid=2&fid=1005&gty=4&ltid=4&lid=51013&gid=2&cc=05c500,ffc000&sid=1&mid=2&tt=2&mode=4
Looking Ahead

I will be keeping a close eye on inventory levels as this year starts off. Last year a lot of homeowners decided to withhold homes from the market in anticipation of higher Amazon-related appreciation. Now that much of the market has experienced significant appreciation, it will be interesting to see if more homeowners decide that now is the right time to sell. I expect demand will be able to keep pace with an increase in new inventory, but more inventory should keep prices a bit more level this year.

With rates remaining low through last year and projected to do so again this year, couples with a strong employment and stock market, buyer confidence is high. On the flip side, markets usually stagnate heading into an Presidential election so it’ll be interesting to see if/how the election effects counter the current momentum.

I predict that condo values will grow steadily in the 2-5% range over the next 5-10 years, but that no year in the 2020s will outpace 2019. Some possible exceptions to this are major zoning changes by Arlington to allow for more condo development (increased supply), the conversion of some large apartment buildings into condos (increased supply), or a national economic crisis (decreased demand).

Thanks for reading along! If you have any questions or I can be of any help with your real estate needs, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com. Next week we will dig into the detached single-family and townhouse markets!

If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column or to set-up an in-person meeting to discuss local Real Estate, please send an email to Eli@EliResidential.com.

2020+ Interest Rate Predictions

Question: Do you expect interest rates to remain low in 2020?

Answer: Mortgage rates increased sharply in 2018, peaking at 7+ year highs in the fall of 2018, and most experts expected that trend to continue into 2019 and for 30yr rates to clear the 5% mark for the first time since spring 2010. However, changes in economic policy and financial markets pushed rates down at the end of 2018 and throughout 2019, coming close to all-time lows in the 2nd half of 2019.

Average 30yr Fixed Mortgage Rate Since 1971
Average 30yr Fixed Mortgage Rate Since 2010
Rates in 2020+

The Mortgage Bankers Association and Freddie Mac each predict that rates will remain low, right around current levels, through 2021 with an average 30yr Fixed Rate hovering around 3.7-3.8% through that period. The Mortgage Bankers Association predicts that rates won’t start increasing until 2022, when they’re predicting the average rate to increase modestly to 4.1%.

If these projections are accurate, it should support strong price growth over the next few years in Arlington, Northern VA, and the greater DC Metro.

However, keep in mind that just over 12 months ago, most experts predicted that mortgage rates would be over 5% by 2020 and, according to Freddie Mac, the average 30yr Fixed Rate last week was 3.64%. Changes in the global or US economy, the election, and the stock market can all change the course of rates in 2020 and beyond.

Lender Advice

If you’re considering purchasing in 2020, I wrote a column a few years ago about the value of a good lender that I’d encourage you to review. If you’d like to talk to somebody, I suggest reaching out to Jake Ryon of First Home Mortgage at JRyon@firsthome.com.

If you’d like to meet to discuss buying or selling in the area, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

The Real Story About 22202 Property Values (Amazon Zip Code), Part 2

Question: I have read articles about the 22202 zip code suggesting everything from extreme appreciation to homes now selling for pre-Amazon prices. Can you shed some light on what’s actually happening in that market?

Answer: A few weeks ago, I wrote part one, focusing on the performance of the 22202 (Amazon Zip Code) condo market so this week we’ll take a look at how the detached single-family market performed in the neighborhoods bordering Amazon HQ2.

One of the issues I mention in Part 1 is how much misinformation has been published elsewhere about price appreciation in 22202 and the Arlington/Alexandria markets.

This two-part column is one of my attempts to provide an accurate picture about what’s actually happening in our real estate market. The key takeaway is that the market performed very well (if you own, not if you’re a hopeful buyer) following the Amazon HQ2 announcement, but prices haven’t skyrocketed the way many articles would lead you to believe.

Market Make-up

The 22202 market offers a diverse supply of housing. This year, condos have sold from as little as $195,000 for a 500sqft studio to $1,250,000 for a 2,900sqft 3BR/3BA penthouse. The least expensive detached home sold for $630,000 to be torn down and the most expensive a 6BR/4.5BA for $1,600,000.

Homes in the area tend to be pretty old with most detached homes being built prior to the 1960s and only one condo building has delivered since 1990.

Of the 139 homes to sell in 2019, 78 were in condo buildings, 50 were detached homes, and 11 were townhouses.

22202 Detached Single-Family Performance

The tables below represent sales in 2018 and 2019 split between those that went under contract before and after Amazon’s HQ2 announcement on November 13 2018:

PeriodAvg Sold PriceAvg Sold to Org Ask PriceAvg Days on Market# SoldTax Assessed Value
Post-Amazon$995,739100.6%1353$829,742
Pre-Amazon$911,47097.6%4172$802,120

Like elsewhere in Arlington and the 22202 condo market, inventory levels took a big hit in 2019, dropping 33% from 75 sales in 2018 to 50 sales in 2019. Sales volume had ranged consistently between 69 and 76 sales since 2015.

The decline in sales certainly was not due to lack of demand, rather fewer properties hitting the market. This is evident from the sharp drop in average days on market (down 63%) and sharp increase in the average sold price to original asking price ratio (up 3%). In fact, the detached home market was so competitive that the average buyer paid over asking price.

Detached home prices in 22202 increased by an average of 9.2%, from $911k to $996k, and the median value increased by 8.5%, from $876k to $950k. Detached homes in the area vary so much from sale to sale that you can’t take the average or median price growth and apply that level of appreciation to all individual homes. When I dug into individual comparable sales pre and post Amazon announcement, I found that homes below ~$1M appreciated noticeably more than those above $1M, by about 12-15% and 5-8%, respectively.

Here are a couple of tables for those of you who want to get really far into the data. The first shows how the lower, middle, and upper quartiles changed between 2018 and 2019. The second shows how sales were distributed between different prices ranges.

Price RangeLow PriceHigh PriceAvg Price2018-2019 Increase
Pre-Amazon Lower 25%$485,000$746,888$669,784 
Pre-Amazon Middle 50%$753,000$1,049,000$869,592 
Pre-Amazon Upper 25%$1,049,000$1,537,250$1,226,846 
Post-Amazon Lower 25%$630,000$825,000$739,30810.4%
Post-Amazon Middle 50%$830,000$1,145,000$975,85212.2%
Post-Amazon Upper 25%$1,162,500$1,600,000$1,319,8227.6%
Price Range# Sold% of Sales
Post-Amazon53 
<$775k1018.9%
Middle2445.3%
>$1,125,0001935.8%
Pre-Amazon72 
<$775k2230.6%
Middle3650.0%
>$1,125,0001419.4%
22202 Tear-Down Sales

I also looked at how the Amazon announcement impacted the cost of homes being torn down (for new construction) and found that the average cost of buying a tear-down increased by 13.7% or 16.2%, depending on which data point you use. Note: I limited the data set to homes sitting on 5,000-10,000sqft lots and not all tear-down sales are entered into the MLS.

PeriodAvg Sold PriceAvg $/Sqft (lot size)# Sold
Post-Amazon$730,556$1159
Pre-Amazon$642,592$9914

I hope anybody living in or hoping to buy into the 22202 zip finds this data useful and the rest of you find it interesting! I’m going to start working on my 2019 Arlington housing market review and hope to have that published in the next few weeks.

If you ever want to meet/talk about the market or your plans to buy, sell, or invest in the DC Metro area, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

What A Difference A Decade Makes

Happy New Year/Decade! Who would have thought that our little town whose claim to fame 10 years ago was a rap song about how many Starbucks we have would finish the decade as the 2nd home to a little internet book company called Amazon? For those of you who have owned real estate over the last 10 years, congratulations, you deserve your champagne tonight!

Let’s take a look at how the Arlington real estate market changed over the last 10 years:

Arlington 10 Years Ago
Arlington Now

I hope you all end the decade on a celebratory note and I wish you well in the 2020s. For those of you eyeing a real estate move (buying, selling, investing, or renting) in 2020 or beyond, feel free email me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!
Home Warranty Recommendation

Question: Do you think it’s worth it to buy a home warranty and, if so, is there a provider you recommend?

Answer:

What Is A Home Warranty?

Home warranties protect many of the systems in your home including things like the HVAC (heating and cooling) and appliances. If one of those systems stops working while you’re covered, the warranty provider will repair or replace the system or cut you a check to replace it yourself. One year of protection generally ranges from a few hundred dollars to one thousand dollars, depending on the scope of coverage.

The most common time to purchase a home warranty is for/by a buyer when they’re buying a home. However, sellers can also purchase a warranty and transfer the coverage to a buyer and also benefit from coverage if something comes up on the home inspection. Home owners can also buy a warranty at any time if they want coverage. The provider usually requires a month or so between the time of purchase and coverage taking effect to prevent people from buying a warranty when something goes wrong (pre-existing condition).

Are They Worth The Cost?

I generally find home warranties to be worth the cost for at least the first year of ownership. If the home you’re buying has old systems, consider buying multi-year coverage. Think of the expense like you would home or auto insurance. If you’re somebody who prefers to pay higher premiums for more coverage/peace of mind, a home warranty probably makes sense for you.

A common scenario I see where home warranties pay-off is with HVACs when a new owner transitions from heating to air conditioning in the spring. During the winter, it’s often to cold outside to test the air conditioning during the home inspection so AC issues may present themselves after closing. With a home warranty, those issues should be covered.

Recommendation: Super Home Warranty

Warranty companies have a pretty bad reputation with complaints ranging from difficulty filing claims, low quality contractors, and lengthy delays. I actually stopped recommending warranties to clients because of these issues.

However, in the last couple of years I have had fantastic experiences with a newer home warranty provider called Super Home Warranty and I would highly recommend them. They’re responsive, have a good user platform/app, use high quality contractors for repairs, and I’ve yet to run into unfair claim denials.

They also have some really valuable inclusions that other warranty companies don’t offer. They have a contractor concierge that gives you access to their vetted contractors for any work you need like tree removal, roofing, plumbing, and remodeling. Super also offers a bunch of helpful services for $75 like re-keying locks, carpet cleaning, and HVAC cleaning.

It’s worth noting that I don’t get anything from Super for recommending them.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
The Real Story About 22202 Property Values (Amazon Zip Code), Part 1

Question: I have read articles about the 22202 zip code suggesting everything from extreme appreciation to homes now selling for pre-Amazon prices. Can you shed some light on what’s actually happening in that market?

Answer: After months of articles about extreme appreciation in 22202, the Amazon HQ2 zip code making up neighborhoods like Crystal City, Pentagon City, Aurora Highlands/Hills, and Arlington Ridge, there was an article published last week by the Washington Business Journal claiming that prices are now below pre-Amazon HQ2 announcement levels. The supporting data was that median sold price in November 2019 was 12% lower than November 2018 prices.

This is yet another example of lazy reporting on Amazon’s impact on local real estate with the sole intention of generating clicks. First of all, if you use the average sold price instead of median, there was a 2.3% increase in prices from November ’18 to November ’19, not a 12% decrease. Second, with a drop in total sales from 30 in 2018 to just 12 in 2019, with prices ranging from $255,000 to $1,145,000, there’s just not enough data to draw any sort of reliable conclusion on market performance by comparing the two months.

To generate reliable real estate trends, you either need a lot of data points (sales) or drill into smaller data sets. With that said, let’s dive into some real analysis on how Amazon HQ2 has impacted residential real estate for its new neighbors in 22202.

Market Make-up

The 22202 market offers a diverse supply of housing. This year, condos have sold from as little as $195,000 for a 500sqft studio to $1,250,000 for a 2,900sqft 3BR/3BA penthouse. The least expensive detached home sold for $630,000 to be torn down and the most expensive a 6BR/4.5BA for $1,600,000.

Homes in the area tend to be pretty old with most detached homes being built prior to the 1960s and only one condo building has delivered since 1990.

Of the 135 homes to sell so far in 2019, 76 were in condo buildings, 47 were detached homes, and 11 were townhouses.

Condo Market

Inventory levels in the 22202 condo market took a huge hit, dropping 40% from 130 sales in 2018 to just 76 in 2019 (with two more scheduled to close in 2019). The decline is attributed to owners choosing not to sell (holding out for more appreciation), certainly not lack of demand.

As a whole, the average sold price in the 22202 condo market increase 22.8% ($402k to $492k) and median price increased 18.6% ($379k to $450k) for properties that went under contract after Amazon’s November 13 HQ2 announcement.

However, don’t think individual property values appreciated ~20%. The entire market is skewed higher because of a big drop-off in less expensive studios (60% decline) and 1BRs (33% decline).

Let’s take a deeper look at how property values actually changed by looking at similar sales within comparable buildings. I’ve grouped all buildings along Arlington Ridge and Army Navy Drive, along Crystal Drive, and both Eclipse buildings so that we have larger sample sizes to compare pricing activity from within comparable buildings. I limited this data set to one- and two-bedroom units.

The percentages for each building group represent the change from properties sold in 2018 and 2019 that went under contract pre-Amazon announcement vs post-Amazon announcement (Nov 13 2018).

Building GroupAvg $/SqftAvg Sold PriceAvg Days on MarketAvg SqftAvg Condo Fee# Sold
Arlington Ridge – Army Navy+7.9%3.8%-36.4%-3.1%1.3%-9.5%
Post Amazon$359$385,450331,064$70938
Pre Amazon$333$371,198521,098$70142
Bella Vista+4.4%37.7%-65.4%28.8%31.8%-58.3%
Post Amazon$462$579,800101,235$7345
Pre Amazon$443$421,02529959$55712
Crystal Drive+23.5%12.3%-79.9%-10.2%8.7%54.5%
Post Amazon$506$558,618291,112$91017
Pre Amazon$410$497,5321451,238$83711
Eclipse+8.1%26.5%-65.5%16.4%14.4%-50.0%
Post Amazon$526$525,184161,000$47519
Pre Amazon$487$415,20146860$41538

There’s a ton of interesting information packed into this table, here are some of my key takeaways:

  • The two groups with enough sales to offer reliable data, AR-AN and Eclipse, suggest actual appreciation of around 8% based on $/sqft. I think $/sqft is a better measuring stick than sold price in this case.
  • Across all condo buildings, the average price of 1BR condos increased 9.8% and 2BR condos increased 12.1%
  • Not shown in this table, but calculated elsewhere, is that the standard deviation of the average sold price increased by 49% and 72% in one-and-two-bedroom condos, respectively. This highlights the variability of pricing in the area and why it’s important to drill down into the data instead of just looking at overall average and median price trends.
  • In my personal market assessment, by comparing individual sales of similar units, I believe actual property value appreciation in the 22202 condo market is 8-12% depending on factors like property condition, condo fees, bedroom count, and age of building.
  • Sales activity increased significantly along Crystal Drive and decreased only slightly along AR-AN, as long-time owners saw an opportunity to sell condos that were previously difficult to unload due to building age and high condo fees. The 80% drop in days on market along Crystal Drive is incredible.
  • I’ve said for years that I thought the Eclipse buildings (3600 and 3650 S Glebe) offer some of the best long-term value in Arlington/Alexandria, and I still believe that to be true even after Amazon price increases. It would be great if I listened to my own advice and bought an investment property there…

I’ll provide a similar analysis of the detached single-family home market in Part 2, but the next two Tuesdays are Christmas Eve and New Years Eve, so I may wait until January to publish it. If you have any questions about my analysis or you’re considering selling a condo in 22202 and would like some more specific analysis done of your property, feel free to email me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

Tips To Start Your Home Search

Question: We are looking forward to buying our first home in 2020. Do you have any recommendations on how we should start the home buying process?

Answer: Google “home buyer tips” or “what to know before buying a home” and you’ll find plenty of advice on the topic, so I’ll include some suggestions I don’t see on most of those lists and also put my own spin on others that you have heard before.

Weighted Criteria

It’s easy to come up with 3-5 things that are most important to you, but challenge yourself early to come up with 12-15 things that are important to you. Then give yourself 100 points and allocate points to each based on how important they are to you and you’ll end up with a weighted criteria list to help you focus your search and objectively compare properties.

If you want to take it to the next level, bring your weighted criteria list with you on showings and score each house out of the total points allocated to it.

Length of Ownership

This is one of the most important conversations to have with yourself/your partner. You should focus on the following:

  1. Likely length of ownership
  2. Difference in criteria for a 3-5 year house vs a 10-12+ year house
  3. Difference in budget requirements for a 3-5 year house vs a 10-12+ year house

Appreciation is not guaranteed and difficult to predict, but the value of longer ownership periods is undisputed. One way longer ownership adds value is the potential for eliminating one or more real estate transactions, and the associated costs (fees, taxes, moving expenses, new furniture, etc) and stress that comes with moving, over the course of your lifetime.

If you have an opportunity to significantly increase your length of ownership by stretching your budget, it’s often justifiable. On the other hand, if your budget or future plans restrict you to housing that’s likely to be suitable for just 3-4 years (and buying now still makes sense), it’s generally better to stay under budget.

Influencers (not the Instagram ones)

Family, friends, colleagues…they’re all happy to offer opinions and contribute to your home buying process, but the input can be overwhelming and unproductive if you don’t set boundaries. Try to determine up-front who you want involved in the process and how you’d like them to be involved.

Think about how you’ve made other major decisions in life – what college to attend, what kind of car to buy, where to get married, whether to change jobs – and if you’re the type of person who likes input from your friends and family, you’ll likely do the same when buying a house. Plan ahead with those influencers so their input is productive.

Does Your House Exist?

Before jumping too far into the search process, spend a little bit of time searching For Sale and Sold homes on your favorite real estate search website/app to see if the homes selling in the area you want and within 10% of your upper budget are at least close to what you’re looking for. If not, spend some time adjusting price, location, and non-critical criteria to figure out what high-level compromises you’ll need to make and then compare those compromises to your current living situation and/or continuing to rent.

Know Your Market

We’re in a strong seller’s market right now with low supply, high demand, and increasing prices. Each sub-market behaves a bit differently and comes with its own unique set of challenges and opportunities, so take time early on to understand the sub-market(s) you’ll be involved in and what you’re likely to experience. This is something your agent should be able to assist with.

Pre-Approval & Budget

There is a lot of value in working with a lender early on in the search process. For starters, you’ll have somebody who can provide real rates and advice based on your specific financial situation/needs. A lender can only do this if they’ve reviewed your financial documents and credit. The more you put in, the more you get out.

You’ll need to have a lender pre-approval to submit an offer (seller has to know you qualify for the purchase you’re offering to make) so if you have to do it anyway, why not doing it early on so you get the most value out of your lender? It also means that you’ll be prepared to make an offer if you find the right home before you expect to be ready.

Given how competitive the Arlington/Northern VA/DMV real estate market is, the quality of your pre-approval can make a big difference when you make an offer. You should strongly consider partnering with a local lender with a great reputation to give yourself an advantage (or not put you at a disadvantage) when making an offer. Pre-approval letters from big banks and online lenders don’t go over as well in our market. If you’re looking for a recommendation, consider Jake Ryon of First Home Mortgage (JRyon@firsthome.com).

Find an Agent

The least surprising suggestion on this list! Agents come in many different forms and finding somebody who suits your personality and goals is important. Ask friends, colleagues, and family for referrals and meet with multiple people until you find the right fit.

The worst thing you can do is choose your agent based on whoever responds to an online showing request faster. A good agent can provide a ton of value being involved in your buying process 3-6+ months before you’re ready to buy. Be wary of anybody who wants you to “wait until you’re ready” before working with you.

If you’re considering buying (or selling) in the DMV in 2020 and would like to meet, feel free to email me at Eli@EliResidential.com!

How To Choose A Title Company

Question: Do you have any guidance on choosing which Title Company to work with when buying or selling real estate?

Answer: Title companies handle the legal side of the transaction such as ensuring the buyer has clear ownership, reviewing and recording the deed, issuing title insurance, and preparing paperwork for the buyer and seller to sign at closing. They operate in the background of transactions and usually the less you hear from them, the better. They are not legal representatives of either party and objectively support the buyer and seller.

In Virginia (and DC/MD), buyers select the title company. In some cases, a seller may want to use their own firm/attorney and will request a “split settlement” but that is less common and should be done for a good reason.

Most people don’t know a title attorney or get a referral from a friend, so how do you go about choosing your title company?

Your Real Estate Agent

You shouldn’t be hiring a real estate agent because they’re the first person to raise their hand to meet you at a property you found online. Among the reasons you hire an agent should be because you trust their advice and want access to their network of professionals who are relevant to a real estate transaction.

Your agent should be the first person you turn to for a recommendation on the title company. He/she has likely worked with dozens or hundreds of title companies before and hopefully has one or two to recommend.

It’s perfectly fair to ask your agent why they’re recommending a specific title company.

Fees

The highest fee associated with a title company is title insurance and those prices are set by the insurance company, not the title company. Different title companies work with different title insurance companies, but rates are similar (or identical) amongst them. If you see big differences in title insurance between two title companies, one may be quoting a basic vs enhanced coverage (buyer’s choice).

I rarely see discretionary fees charged by the title company vary by more than a few hundred dollars. You can always find a cheaper option for title services, but the legal support on a real estate transaction worth hundreds of thousands or millions may not be a smart place to save a few hundred dollars and risk quality of service.

Location

It’s important to use a local title company who is familiar with local real estate and tax practices, not just licensed to practice here. I use one title company (Universal Title) for Northern VA transactions and one title company for Washington DC and Maryland transactions (District Title).

Attorney Experience

Most sales follow a pretty standard, predictable process that inexperienced title companies/attorneys can handle but occasionally something unexpected comes up that requires experience/expertise to identify and resolve an issue. If problems do surface, having access to an experienced local title attorney can be the difference in whether or not the problem is even identified, whether a sale closes, and/or how much time and stress it takes to resolve the issue.

Back-Office Support

The quality and experience of the support staff is equally as important as the attorney. Look for a title company who has experienced processors who have been with the company for a while. Title companies who can afford to cut fees below their competition likely do so by not having a full supporting cast or not paying to hold onto experienced processors.

Insurance Provider

One of the key roles of a title company is that they issue title insurance, which protects your ownership interests in the property from any future claims. Most title companies have one insurance company they issue policies for such as First American, Old Republic, and Chicago Title.

Most buyers are indifferent about their title insurance provider, but you may want to confirm who the title company uses to do some background on them such as size (market share) and how long they’ve been in business. I generally prefer larger insurers who have been in business for a long time.

If you’d like a recommendation on a title company in the DMV, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

Thankful For You, ARLnow Community

I published my first Ask Eli column on November 10 2015, just over four years ago. 200+ columns later, I’m incredibly thankful for the ARLnow community for the opportunity to share my perspective on local real estate and explore interesting market trends with you each week. Your feedback over the years, both privately and in public comments (yes, I appreciate every one of them) challenges and motivates me because I know my neighbors are actually reading.

I also want to thank Scott and his amazing team at ARLnow for building this platform and providing Arlington residents, workers, and businesses with highly valuable, hyper local news. The operation they run far outsizes the people operating it, which speaks to their hard work and talents. If you want to express your gratitude for their dedication to free local news, their email address is arlingtonnews@gmail.com.

From my family to yours, have a great Thanksgiving!