Question: I’ve submitted two offers on home this year and both times lost to multiple offers. Is this normal or is the market more competitive this year?

Answer: 2018 has been a good year for sellers and a frustrating one for buyers already. Generally, I don’t start seeing multiple offer deals until late February/early March, when it starts to warm up and days get longer.

However, about 80% of the listing and purchase deals I’ve been on this year have ended up with multiple offers. I even had a listing that had been on market for three months receive three offers in one weekend. My colleagues who work in new construction and generally have the best pulse on market pace have also been surprised by the amount of activity this early.

Here are some numbers in Arlington from January to back up the anecdotal evidence of a hot market:

  • Supply Down, Demand Up: Monthly of supply measures how long it would take to sell all existing inventory at the current market pace (supply and demand) is down 21% YoY and at its lowest levels (1.31 months of supply) since March 2013 (1.22 months of supply)
  • More Homes Under Contract: Over 200 homes went under contract in January (215) for the first time since 2012 (219)
  • Homes Under Contract Faster: Of the 119 homes that were listed and went under contract in January 2018, 69% went under contract within one week. Over the last five years, 49% of homes listed and under contract in January went under contract within one week.
  • Average Number Of New Listings: The amount of new homes listed on market in January 2018 (234) is about average for what we’ve seen over the last decade

Advice For Buyers

Periods of low inventory and high demand can be frustrating for buyers, so here are a few tips for buyers to create leverage for themselves without simply paying more:

  • Quality Of Lender: Have a pre-approval letter from a strong local lender who has review all relevant documents, not just somebody who checks credit score and asks for basic financial information. A strong lender letter gives the seller confidence you will close on the home on time, without complications.
  • Contingencies: Consider giving up your right to request repairs and credits after the home inspection and using a Pass/Fail contingency instead. This shows that you’re not interested in nickel and diming a seller, but just want to make sure there are no major issues. You can also offer to cover up to a certain dollar amount in the event of a low appraisal, if you are offering to pay above the asking price.
  • Close Faster: Most homeowners want to close as quickly as possible. A good lender can have you ready to close in 20 days vs the more common 30-40 day close.
  • Don’t Play Games: We all want to negotiate a great deal, but oftentimes a great deal is actually having your offer accepted not saving a few thousand dollars. When a seller has multiple similar offers, they often put more weight in who they think is most likely to close with the least complications. In that scenario it pays off to make it clear how much you love/want the home instead of acting like you could take it or leave in an attempt to negotiate a lower price.
  • Days On Market: The number of days a property has been on market should dictate how you approach an offer. You won’t have much leverage in the first few weeks or after a major price reduction.

The spring market can be a great time for buyers who are prepared for competition because you’ll see a significant increase in inventory, so that illusive 2 bedroom + den or half acre yard with a deck is more likely to materialize.

If you’re not prepared to make a strong offer, the spring can be frustrating and defeating because you may watch your dream home(s) go to other buyers who have made smarter, but not necessarily higher offers.

I hope everybody had a great Christmas holiday and is enjoying some time off with family and friends this week! Instead of answering a specific question today, I’d like to offer something of a PSA to anybody buying a home right now or planning to in the near future.

There is a lot of wire fraud going on right now brought about by scammers who request wires using email addresses that look like they come from your agent, title company or lender. They hack the email servers of one of the parties to the transaction, identify where a buyer is in the settlement process, and send a technically accurate email with wiring instructions for an Earnest Money Deposit or down payment.

Oftentimes they use a Gmail address, but mask the name so that it says the name of somebody the home buyer recognizes, but in more advanced scams, they use a domain that closely resembles a real one. For example, they may use Eli@ElliResidential.com (two “L” in Eli) instead of Eli@EliResidential.com. It seems like most of the people carrying out the scams are familiar with the real estate settlement process because they’re able to communicate with a level of expertise that doesn’t raise any red flags.

Once you wire funds, the money is gone, so if you send a wire to a fraudulent account there’s no getting it back. Your first choice should be to use physical checks for deposits and final payments, but if you have to send a wire, but sure to contact your agent to make sure that the timing of the request is correct and call the receiving party at a known number (e.g. from their website) to confirm the accuracy of the wiring instructions.

Please share this notice with anybody you know in the home buying process. I’ve heard stories of too many people losing large amounts of money this year from these scams and hope this post helps avoid further loss. Until next year friends!

Question: I just finished the home inspection for a single-family home I’m purchasing in South Arlington and there are about 40 items on it. Should I be nervous and consider walking away from the deal? What’s reasonable to expect from the seller?

Answer: Before you freak out about the list of issues the inspector found, I will say that for an older single family home, the number of items the inspector listed in the report is within the normal range of what I see. Unless you’re buying a new home, you should expect the inspection to turn up at least a handful of items that you or the seller should address.

What Is A Home Inspection?

Shortly after ratifying (signed by both parties) a contract to purchase a home, most buyers will (read: should) hire a third party inspector to inspect the entire home and produce a report of any issues, from foundation cracks to missing door stops.

In most cases, the contract to purchase is contingent on the home inspection, meaning the buyer has the right to ask the seller to fix or replace anything and/or provide a cash credit to the buyer at closing. If the buyer and seller are unable to come to an agreement on these requests, the buyer has the right to void the deal.

What Should You Look For?

The goal of an inspection is to ensure that the seller is delivering the property in the condition both sides expected while negotiating the sale price. Generally, you can divide findings into big-ticket items that impact the value of the home and must be addressed and smaller punch-list items that shouldn’t cause much friction. The big-ticket items I look for during an inspection are:

  • Structural flaws
  • Water penetration
  • Safety hazards
  • Inoperability (e.g. air conditioning not working)

System Life Expectancy

You should also determine the age of major systems like the roof, windows, HVAC and water heater prior to making your offer, and verify these are accurate during the inspection. Make sure you’re clear on the expected life expectancy of these systems while you’re negotiating the sales price and factor this information into your offer.

You’ll have a tough time convincing most sellers they’re on the hook for crediting you the cost of a 17-year-old water heater if that information was made available prior to your offer, assuming the system is working.

What Should You Ask For?

As I mentioned earlier, you’ll generally be deciding between asking the seller to handle the fix or replacement of something or asking for them to provide a credit at closing. Often times an inspection agreement includes both – a credit for some items and a request to fix/replace others. Sellers must use licensed contractors and provide works receipts for any work they do.

In general, if something you’re asking for involves personal preference or you want to have control over the quality of the result, it’s best to ask for a credit and handle it yourself. For example, if the deck is falling apart and needs to be replaced, you don’t want the seller managing the design and construction of a new deck so ask for a credit for the replacement cost and make sure you’re getting the deck you want.

Additionally, if the A/C system needs to be replaced and the seller has a mid-grade system, but you’d like to install a top-of-the-line A/C system, it’s best to request a credit equal to the replacement cost for a comparable mid-grade system and invest in the extra cost of a nicer system yourself.

Inspections Don’t Need To Be Contentious

Inspections are one of the most common points of contention between buyers and sellers, but with the right preparation and expectations going in, it can be a smooth process that both sides are happy with.

Like the negotiations you had on the sale contract, the inspection period is also a negotiation. Buyers should expect sellers to address big-ticket items and smaller items that are not classified as improvements/updates.

Question: I really like the architectural style of older homes and feel like I can get a better deal by focusing on homes built more than 30 years ago. Can you provide me some data showing the number of homes old by age and any suggestions you have for a buyer shopping for an older home?

Answer: I also have a personal preference for older homes and love working with clients who have a taste for unique architectural styles! With a bit of vision and a good checklist of things to watch out for, buying an older home can offer real value. To avoid having your dream home turn into a money pit or safety hazard, here are some things you can do prior to purchasing your home to protect yourself:

  • Double up your inspection: You should always have your home inspected by a reputable inspector, but nobody is perfect, so it’s a good investment to have two sets of professional eyes on the home to ensure maximum coverage.
  • Don’t forget your chimney: A general inspection doesn’t include a full chimney inspection and chimneys tend to be one of the least maintained parts of a home, especially if the previous owner didn’t use the fireplace. A damaged chimney can be unsafe and expensive to fix.
  • Check the structural integrity: Old homes have weathered many storms (literally) and the chances they’ve experienced water penetration at some point is high, especially if it sits in a low-lying area where the ground is likely to hold more water. Talk to your inspector about whether or not it makes sense to have a structural engineer do an in-depth study of the foundation and other structural elements of the home.
  • Electrical testing: There’s a good chance an older home has gone through multiple rounds of electrical updates through a few different owners. You never know if a previous owner was a self-proclaimed jack-of-all-trades who fancied themselves a public servant by day and electrician by night. For the sake of your family, make sure a professional gets behind the walls to make sure everything looks good (wiring is safe, home is properly grounded, etc).
  • Insulation: One of the biggest downsides to older homes is poor insulation, especially if they still have older windows and roofing. Check the home for cold/hot spots, proper insulation installation, and seals around doors and windows.
  • Termites or other wood-destroying insects: Termite/wood-destroying insect inspections are very cheap and worth every penny. In Northern Virginia, sellers are responsible for repairing any termite damage.
  • Lead testing: In addition to testing for lead paint, you may consider testing your water for elevated levels of lead due to leaching from lead pipes or lead soldering, which wasn’t banned in the US until 1986.

Let’s take a quick look at the age of single-family homes sold in Arlington, by decade, from 2012-2016:

Question: The best time for me to purchase a home is over the next few months, but I’ve heard from friends that the spring is highly competitive. Do you have any tips for being more competitive in the spring market without overpaying?

Answer: In a couple of weeks I’ll publish a summary of real estate data for the first quarter of 2017 in Arlington, but I can tell you that this year is off to an explosive start and the “spring market” started early. Warmer weather brings more buyers to the market and more competition over our limited housing inventory. Here are some tips on how you can improve your chances submitting a winning offer without exposing yourself to unnecessary risk or overpaying:

Take Your Time, Do Your Homework

I always tell clients that a home has two values — market value and personal value. Personal value will drive how you structure your offer and what you’re willing to pay relative to market value. Hopefully you’ve spent time over the last couple of months sharpening your criteria and understanding how it fits within your budget. If you’ve put in the right prep work upfront, you’ll be able to recognize personal value quickly and make strong offers with confidence.

Settle Faster

One way to make your offer stand out is by settling in three weeks instead of the more common 30-40 days. The settlement period is the time between the contract being signed (ratification) and the home purchase. It’s dictated by the time your lender needs to prepare your loan, so talk to your lender early on about ways to reduce your settlement period. Most sellers want to close on a property as soon as possible.

Contingencies

Most offers in Arlington include contingencies (protective terms for a buyer) for financing, appraisal and a home inspection. The shorter you can make each contingency, the more attractive your offer will look to a seller. Talk to your lender about how long they need for the financing and appraisal contingencies and don’t add unnecessary time to them.  Home inspections are valuable steps in the buying process, but also carry significant risk to the seller.

There are a number of ways to improve the “normal” 7-10 home inspection contingency to make your offer more attractive such as reducing the length of the contingency to five days with a short negotiation period, using a Pass/Fail contingency by removing the right to negotiate, making the inspection for informational purposes by removing the contingency all together (do not make this decision without considerable discussion), or getting approval from the seller to conduct a pre-inspection before making your offer.

Seller Preferences

Before making your offer, find out if the seller has any preferred terms such as a post-settlement occupancy (aka rent-back), home purchase contingency, or timing of settlement (Virginia loans should close end of month).

Watch Days on Market

The number of days a property has been on the market will help you decide how to structure your offer. You should be prepared to make your strongest offer within the first week of a listing and adjust your terms with each week a property sits.

The spring market can be a great time for buyers who are prepared for the additional competition because you’ll see a significant increase in inventory, so that illusive two bedroom + den or half-acre yard with a deck is more likely to appear. If you’re not prepared to make a strong offer, the spring can be frustrating and defeating because you may watch your dream home(s) go to other buyers who have made smarter, but not necessarily higher, offers.

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.

Question: We’re a family of four, with two school age children, and considering having my parents move in with us soon. What sort of multigenerational options do you see in Arlington and how frequently do they come on the market?

Answer: The demand for multi-generational living has increased substantially nationwide over the last few years and most experts and builders expect that trend to continue. Multi-gen living is generally defined as parents living with their adult children, and their children (grandchildren). The most common multigenerational housing requests I get are for families seeking a full bedroom and bathroom on the main level and occasionally for a full second master bedroom with private bath, on any level.

Main-Level Bedrooms/Suites

Main-level bedrooms and/or master suites are increasing in popularity with homeowners and local builders because the rooms can be used for permanent multi-gen living or guests with physical limitations, but also convert easily to offices, playrooms, and libraries. The data below is current as of Friday, March 10, 2017 in Arlington, Virginia for detached homes sold with a full main-level bedroom and bathroom, not including one-level homes (e.g. ramblers and ranchers) or foreclosures/short-sales.

 

  • The average days on market is consistent with what you see for all detached homes in Arlington, but averaging about 1 percent more of a discount from the original asking price, suggesting sellers are either overvaluing a main-level BR/BA or there isn’t enough buyer demand
  • The average sale price reflects pricing in the most expensive Arlington zip codes for detached homes because about half of the 1,235 sold are from 22207 and 22205
  • In 2016, homes with a main-level full BR/BA made up nearly 14 percent of all detached home sales and 11.5 percent of new construction sales.

Second Master Suite

Here’s a look at the much less popular, much harder to find, second master suite in detached Arlington homes. Data is current as of Monday, March 13, 2017 and does not include foreclosures or short sales.

 

  • The demand for a second master bedroom is clearly low with average days on market and the percent discount from asking price well above the market average for detached home
  • Homes with a second master suite are much larger than homes with main level BR/BA, averaging about 1 more full bedroom and bathroom
  • Over half of the homes sold with a second master suite were in 22207 or 22205

Aging In Place Follow-up

In January I wrote about aging in place in Arlington and got some great responses from readers about the concept of Universal Design guidelines for updating/building a home to accommodate aging in place and programs like the Arlington Neighborhood Village. Thank you to the readers who provided that feedback!

Question: We are buying and selling a home simultaneously and our lender has provided us with a few options to qualify for the purchase without making our offer contingent on the sale of our current home. Do you have any tips for choosing which mortgage product is best for us?

Answer: Buying and selling a home at the same time can be a complex transaction logistically and financially. I explored the seller side of home sale contingencies in October, but here I’ll share advice I give buyers who face difficult financing decisions. Tip of the day: it’s not just about getting the lowest interest rate.

Weigh Your Options

Selling your home before making a purchase may afford you the best loan options, but it doesn’t always make sense for buyers:

  • It weakens your negotiation position on pricing (you’ll pay more) and your ability to compete for new listings
  • You weaken your position on the sale side, with more pressure accept an offer quickly
  • For many families with children and/or pets, selling your home while living there is a logistical nightmare

Mortgage Solutions

Certain lenders have a wide range of loan products to help buyers with limited cash reserves for a down payment, but substantial equity in their homes, qualify for a home purchase without a home sale contingency. The options include a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC), a second trust loan in which a large portion of your down payment comes from a second interest-only loan, and bridge loans (less common). Each of these options come with different short and long-term costs, so it can be difficult to decide what is best for you and your family.

Get A Professional Opinion

Most real estate transactions involve three professionals – your agent, your lender, and your title company, but when you’re faced with complex financial decisions, I highly recommend using a Financial Consultant to help you determine which financing option suits you. Your lender can explain the cost, pros/cons, and time constraints of each loan option and your agent can explain how different types of loans and contingencies will impact your transaction, but a good Financial Consultant will be able to help you determine the best way to leverage cash, debt, and tax write-offs to maximize your financial position.

Financial Consultants should do more than help you pick mutual funds for your retirement accounts and act as an expert sounding board when you’re facing major life decisions, like how to finance your home purchase. They can build models and run scenarios within the context of your personal savings/investment plan to help you make your decision. Although an experienced advisor can provide great advice with limited knowledge of your personal finances, you’ll get the most from somebody who has a complete picture of your finances and goals, so engage a professional early, if you haven’t already.

If you’re looking for a recommendation, Carl Grund (CFP, CPWA, AIF) with Signature Financial Parners has helped multiple clients of mine with difficult real estate decisions and is a local Arlingtonian. Feel free to contact him at cgrund@sfpfinancial.com or 703-287-7128 for immediate or future advice.

Question: Is there anything the community can do to protect our trees from being removed by developers creating room for large new homes?

Answer: I’d like to dedicate more columns to this topic because it’s one of the most common questions I hear when talking to non-condo/townhome dwelling Arlingtonians and something I think needs more attention from the real estate community. I feel strongly that maintaining existing trees not only contributes to the long-term value of the neighborhood, but can actually maximize developer profits as well. To highlight how it can be financially beneficial to developers’ bottom line, I decided to use one of my favorite properties of 2016, 512 N. Littleton Street of Boulevard Manor, in my first video post.

As of the filming of the video, the property was under contract, but has since sold so I now have the benefit of knowing the final sold price. The developer, Ahmad Khreshi of Home Perfection Consulting, made an effort to keep as many trees as possible and the result was an incredibly profitable investment.

Here’s a summary of how well he did, with the biggest differentiating factors between his home and similar new construction being the maintenance of mature trees on the property and infusion of neighborhood character into the design.

  • 512 Littleton was listed for $1.55M and sold for $1.5M in just 55 days
  • 512 Littleton had the highest asking price of any of the 435 single family homes sold west of Glebe between Route 66 and Route 50, since 2014
  • Within that market, the average sale price of a similar new home was $1.255M, meaning 512 Littleton sold for $245,000 more than comparable homes
  • It took an average of 107 days for new homes to sell in 2016, meaning 512 Littleton sold twice as fast as its competition

 

With so many new homes on lots devoid of trees, there is clearly a demand for a lot with the natural privacy and shade provided by mature trees, even if it means knocking a few hundred square feet from the finished product. Ahmad didn’t set out to build the biggest house he could, rather design a home around the existing footprint and trees, which allowed it to blend more naturally with the neighborhood. In doing so, he delivered what may be the most profitable investment in Arlington in 2016.

I look forward to continuing to explore the relationship of real estate development and the environment more often to encourage responsible development in Arlington. I’d also like to incorporate more video into my columns, although, I don’t think I’ll be leaving real estate for a job in front of the camera any time soon!

Question: I have severe allergies to dogs and cats to the point that I can’t even live next to somebody who has a pet. I’d love to buy a condo, but everything in Arlington seems pet-friendly. Are there any pet-free condos in Arlington?

Answer: It seems that every Arlington resident owns a dog and/or cat and that every condo or apartment building proudly markets its pet-friendliness to attract residents. However, there are a surprising number of condo buildings around the county that offer a safe-haven for those suffering from severe pet allergies. The following is a list of condominiums and cooperatives (co-op) in Arlington that restrict the ownership of dogs and cats:

Condominiums and coops in Arlington that restrict the ownership of dogs and cats

River Place is one of the only co-ops in Arlington and Arlington’s largest housing community. Make sure you understand the differences between living in a condo and co-op before considering a purchase in River Place. You also need to know that River Place is on a 100-year land lease that is set to expire in 2052 and very unlikely to be renewed, so the value of most of these units decreases each year in line with the Net Present Value of the rental income for each unit.

Perched above the Iwo Jima memorial, many of the condos in Prospect House offer the best unobstructed (and well-protected) views into DC. With large balconies and spacious floor plans, you’ll make a lot of friends hosting parties for the Fourth of July fireworks.

While owning a single family home or townhouse in Arlington can be cost-prohibitive, there are a number of affordable, convenient condo/co-op options that offer those suffering from severe pet allergies an opportunity to own in Arlington. I’d be happy to discuss these options in more detail with anybody who’s interested, just give me a call at (703) 539-2529 or shoot me an email!