Condos Must Be Aware of New Fannie Mae Guidelines

Question: Can you summarize the important details of Fannie Mae’s new condo loan deferred maintenance requirements?

Answer: In response to the collapse of the condo building in Surfside, FL last year, Fannie Mae issued new “temporary” lending requirements, effective Jan 1 2022, for Condos and Co-ops to protect against future deferred maintenance issues and, hopefully, incentivize Associations to address issues faster.

I will highlight some of the key changes below, but I advise Condo and Co-op Boards/Management to review the policy changes in detail to ensure properties in your communities remain warrantable (banks will lend using traditional mortgage products), otherwise you’ll risk a significant drop in property values by limiting your buyer pool to cash buyers or those who qualify for alternative lending products (non-Fannie).

Significant Deferred Maintenance and Unsafe Conditions

This is the strictest of the new requirements, but also leaves a lot of grey area and subjective decision-making by each bank’s underwriter(s). The Fannie Mae language states:

“Loans secured by units in condo and co-op projects with significant deferred maintenance or in projects that have received a directive from a regulatory authority or inspection agency to make repairs due to unsafe conditions are not eligible for purchase. These projects will remain ineligible until the required repairs have been made and documented. Acceptable documentation may include a satisfactory engineering or inspection report, certificate of occupancy, or other substantially similar documentation that shows the repairs have been completed in a manner that resolves the building’s safety, soundness, structural integrity, or habitability concerns.

Significant deferred maintenance includes deficiencies that meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • full or partial evacuation of the building to complete repairs is required for more than seven days or an unknown period of time
  • the project has deficiencies, defects, substantial damage, or deferred maintenance that
    • is severe enough to affect the safety, soundness, structural integrity, or habitability of the improvements;
    • the improvements need substantial repairs and rehabilitation, including many major components; or
    • impedes the safe and sound functioning of one or more of the building’s major structural or mechanical elements, including but not limited to the foundation, roof, load bearing structures, electrical system, HVAC, or plumbing.

…These policies do not apply to routine maintenance or repairs that a homeowners’ association (HOA) undertakes to maintain or preserve the integrity and condition of its property. Also, if damage or deferred maintenance is isolated to one or a few units does not affect the overall safety, soundness, structural integrity, or habitability of the improvements then these project eligibility requirements do not apply. Examples of this scenario include water damage to a unit due to a leaky pipe that is isolated or damage from a small fire impacting the interior of a specific unit…”

It’s possible a Fannie Mae loan can be approved on one unit and denied on another. The grey area comes from 1) how the Association responds to the questionnaire sent by the lender and 2) how each lender’s underwriter(s) determine what qualifies as significant/substantial deficiencies. It’s possible that the interpretation of a question, and thus the way that question is answer, can change based on who from the Management company is responding. The same difference an interpretation of a response and support information can occur between underwriters at different banks.

Special Assessments

Associations should be much more careful when choosing to issue a special assessment (as opposed to borrowing or increasing condo dues) because of the extra scrutiny that now applies for loans and possibility that issuing a special assessment may cause properties in the building to be unwarrantable. The Fannie Mae language states:

“Any current or planned special assessment, even if paid in full for the subject unit, must be reviewed to determine acceptability… The lender is expected to obtain the financial documents necessary to confirm the association has the ability to fund any repairs. If the special assessment is related to safety, soundness, structural integrity, or habitability, all related repairs must be fully completed or the project is not eligible. Additionally, If the lender or appraiser is unable to determine that there is no adverse impact, the project is ineligible.”

Reserve Requirements

Associations are now at risk for loans not being approved if they are not allocating 10% or more of their annual budget towards Reserves. In my opinion, this is the most unreasonable of the new Fannie requirements because it doesn’t take other relevant details into account like whether or not the account is overfunded or the recommendations of the Reserve Study. To issue a blanket requirement for every Association to contribute 10% of their annual budget to Reserves is bad policy.

However, there is some flexibility in this requirement. Borrowers putting 10% or more down can get an exception that will allow them to proceed with the loan. Borrowers with less than a 10% down payment have to go through an expensive and time-consuming exception process.

The full guidance letter from Fannie Mae can be downloaded here.

If you’d like to discuss buying, selling, investing, or renting, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column or to discuss buying, selling, renting, or investing, please send an email to Eli@EliResidential.com. To read any of my older posts, visit the blog section of my website at EliResidential.com. Call me directly at (703) 539-2529.

Video summaries of some articles can be found on YouTube on the Ask Eli, Live With Jean playlist.
Eli Tucker is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland with RLAH Real Estate | @properties, 4040 N Fairfax Dr #10C Arlington VA 22203. (703) 390-9460.

2021 Real Estate Market Review: Single-Family

Question: How did Arlington’s single-family home market perform in 2021?

Answer: Last week we reviewed the performance of the condo market so this week we will take a look at the market that has been a topic of conversation across the country for well over a year – the single-family (detached) housing market.

Appreciation Was Strong, Not Exceptional

The 2021 Arlington single-family market was fiercely competitive and experienced its highest appreciation in years. However, the shift in market conditions (demand and price appreciation) was not nearly as dramatic as other regional or national markets that have made headline news over the last 12+ months.

Why? Because thanks to strong market fundamentals and Amazon’s 2018 HQ2 announcement, the Arlington market was already exceptionally competitive and expensive, relative to most other regional and national markets, prior to the COVID-driven housing market mayhem.

Here are some highlights from the chart and table below (22206 and 22209 are not included due to lack of single-family homes sold):

  • The average and median price of a single-family home in Arlington increased in 2021 by 6.2% and 7.2%, respectively. Excellent appreciation for any homeowner, but not the double-digit appreciation other regional and national markets experienced last year.
  • Nearly 50% of homes sold for more than the asking price and didn’t last more than one week on market
  • More single-family homes were listed and sold in 2021 than any of the last five years. Had supply been closer to the ~1,000 homes sold in the previous three years, I suspect average and median prices may have climbed closer to double-digit year-over-year increases.
  • The median price of a house in Arlington exceeded $1M for the first time in 2021. The average price climbed above $1.2M in 2021 and has been above $1M since 2018.
  • The average buyer paid 1.1% over the asking price, which equates to about $13,000 over ask.
  • Of the homes that went under contract in one week or less (just under half), the average buyer paid 3.7% over the asking price
  • In 2017, the majority of homes (39%) sold for less than $800k, in 2021 just 15% of homes sold for less than $800k (this includes teardowns) and 19% sold for at least $1.6M.
  • In each of the last three years, over 40% of homes have sold for $800k-$1.2M

Shake-up at the Top of the Zip Code Rankings

We have a new club house leader in highest average sold price by zip code! With a 15% year-over-year increase in average price, 22213 (western Arlington) finished 2021 with the highest median and average sold price.

But wait, it gets even more interesting! Despite boasting the highest median and average price, the 22213 zip code actually has the lowest average $/SqFt, 4th lowest cost per bedroom, highest average year built by 10+ years, and tied for largest average lot size. So depending on how you look at it, 22213 is the most expensive or best value!

It’s also worth noting that 22213 has the fewest sales of the zip codes I included, with barely enough total sales for me to be comfortable using it here.

The 22201 zip code, which surrounds the Rosslyn (well, Courthouse)-Ballston Corridor, commands the most money for the least house and yard with by far the highest $/SqFt, $/Acre, and $/Bedroom.

Something I would like to highlight with the data below is that change in average price is not necessarily reflective of actual appreciation of individual homes. For example, while 22201 and 22202 show 1% and 3% year-over-year price change, homeowners in those neighborhoods can rest assured that their home almost certainly appreciated more than that in 2021. The uncomfortably low change in average price can likely be attributed to the property mix that was sold in 2021 rather than actual appreciation. Real estate data can be difficult and full of caveats when you’re dealing with relatively small sample sizes.

New Construction, Expensive Homes Lead the Market

The average price of a new home increased 13.1% in 2021and exceeded $2M for the first time ever. New homes are bigger than ever, with the average total finished square footage coming in at just under 5,300 SqFt and averaged 5.5 bedrooms with 5.1 full bathrooms (nearly one full bathroom for each bedroom).

In the last table, I broke the market in each year down by price range (lower 25%, middle 50%, and upper 25%) to see how each cross-section of the market performed year-over-year. The 8.1% jump in average price of the lower 25% in 2020 was likely due to the wave of people leaving shared living (apartments/condos) and the 8.4% increase of the upper 25% in 2021 is likely due to the increased demand of larger, new homes that offer more work-from-home and at-home schooling space for families and low interest rates allowing buyers to increase their budgets.

If you’d like to discuss buying, selling, investing, or renting, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column or to discuss buying, selling, renting, or investing, please send an email to Eli@EliResidential.com. To read any of my older posts, visit the blog section of my website at EliResidential.com. Call me directly at (703) 539-2529.

Video summaries of some articles can be found on YouTube on the Ask Eli, Live With Jean playlist.

Cost of New Construction Homes in Northern VA

Question: How has the cost of new construction single-family homes changed over the last few years?

Answer: First, thank you to everybody who voted in last week’s poll to decide how we would donate to locate charities. Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) received almost 2/3 of the vote and thus a donation of nearly $1,000 to help feed our neighbors in need. Now on to this week’s real estate topic…

The cost of a single-family home has skyrocketed locally and nationwide, with the average cost of a single-family home in Northern VA increasing 31.6% from October 2019 to October 2021. This data includes resales of existing homes and new construction, with the majority of the sales being resales. Let’s take a specific look at how the cost of a new single-family home in Northern VA has changed over the last three years (hint: they also got much more expensive!).

A few quick notes about the data:
  • The data is limited to what has been entered into the MLS (Realtor database of record) and not all new construction makes it into the MLS, but the majority does and thus gives us an accurate reading of the market
  • Northern VA aggregate totals includes Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William Counties plus the Alexandria, Falls Church, Fairfax, and Manassas Cities
  • In the table below Alexandria, Falls Church, Fairfax, and Manassas refer to the County, not City, portions
Here are some highlights from the data I reviewed:
  • The average cost of a new single-family home in Northern VA increased a staggering 25.9% to an average sold price over $1.6M from 2019 to 2021
  • The biggest increase from the localities I reviewed was in Aldie, which increased 37.5% to an average cost over $1.25M from 2019 to 2021
  • The most expensive County for a new single-family home is Arlington, coming in at an average sold price just over $2M in 2021, trailed only slightly by Fairfax County, with an average sold price about $100,000 less than Arlington
  • The best value, on a price per square foot basis, for new construction in 2021 is in Manassas ($173/SqFt) and Dumfries ($183/SqFt) and the least value, on price per square foot, is Mclean ($380/SqFt) and Arlington ($379/SqFt)

If you are interested in learning more about new construction options in Northern VA or the DC Metro, feel free to email me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column or to discuss buying, selling, renting, or investing, please send an email to Eli@EliResidential.com. To read any of my older posts, visit the blog section of my website at EliResidential.com. Call me directly at (703) 539-2529.

Video summaries of some articles can be found on YouTube on the Ask Eli, Live With Jean playlist.

Financing a Major Remodel or New Construction

Question: We are deciding between buying a lot to build a new house on or expanding and remodeling our current home. Do you have a recommendation for a lender who can finance these projects?

Answer: Over the years, I’ve found that one of the best banks for construction or major remodeling loans, and a favorite amongst local builders, is Sandy Spring Bank. They are large enough to offer some excellent, customized products with great rates and local enough that relationships with builders and homeowners matter to the success of their business. That’s usually a good combination for a business, especially lenders.

I have worked with Skip Clasper (sclasper@sandyspringbank.com), a loan officer at Sandy Spring Bank, for years so I reached out to him to gather up some details on their popular construction and remodel loan products.

Remodel Loans

Sandy Spring Bank will give you a loan to finance the cost of your remodeling project based on the expected post-construction value of your home. Given how high market values are now, that means you can get a significant amount of financing to expand and remodel your home.

There are a few things that stand-out about the way Sandy Spring Bank handles these loans:

  • They offer 90% loan-to-value (LTV), meaning you can get financing for 90% of the future value of your completed home. Most banks limit their loans to an 80% LTV.
  • They accommodate a flexible draw schedule. Banks give borrowers/builders draws to pay for construction incrementally as the project progresses. Many banks offer their draws on a fixed schedule, but given the unexpected twists and turns construction can take, a flexible draw schedule makes for a better process for everybody.
  • You only pay interest on the money you have drawn from the loan so you only pay interest on the money you’ve used, not the money you will use
  • Interest rates are competitive with rates you will find on standard, non-construction loans. This is noteworthy because oftentimes specialized loan products require paying higher interest rates.

Construction Loans

A construction loan allows buyers more control over building a new home because it allows you to finance the purchase of the lot and construction yourself. That means you can purchase the lot you want (easier said than done) and choose the builder you work with, as opposed to hoping that the builder who acquires a lot you like is also a builder you want to work with.

Here are some highlights and key pieces of information about the Sandy Spring Bank construction loans:

  • You can purchase a tear-down/lot and finance the construction of your home with a single closing. After closing on the tear-down/lot, they will finance the construction, and then the loan will automatically convert into a permanent 30-year loan after the construction is completed.
  • The loan is interest-only until construction is completed, making your payments during the construction phase much lower
  • Sandy Spring allows cross-collateralization on construction loans, meaning they will include equity in your current home towards your future down payment when considering your loan application/qualifications for your construction loan
  • It will take 6-8+ weeks to finalize the loan on your tear-down/lot purchase, which may put you at a disadvantage in some cases if you are competing against buyers or builders who are paying cash or using a standard loan product that can close faster
  • All construction loans are Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs), but can be refinanced into a fixed rate mortgage with a second closing
  • Interest rates are competitive with rates you will find on standard, non-construction loans. This is noteworthy because oftentimes specialized loan products require paying higher interest rates.

If you’d like to talk with Skip Clasper about Sandy Spring’s remodel, construction, or other loan products the best way to reach him is by email at sclasper@sandyspringbank.com or phone at 301-928-7523.

New Construction Homes vs Recently Built Homes

Question: How much more do new construction homes sell for compared to similar homes that were recently built?

Answer: Roughly 100 new construction single-family homes have sold each year in Arlington since 2015 (per BRIGHT MLS). The cost of a new home shot up in 2018 and again in 2020 and 2021, but the size, layout, features, and design of the homes have remained mostly consistent.

Table 1: Arlington New Construction Sales Since 2015

Now that we’re seeing more resales of recently built homes, I thought I’d take a look at how the price of new construction homes compares to similar homes built in the last 5-6 years. To do this, I looked at the 2021 sales of new construction homes vs the 2021 resales of homes built from 2015-2019 in the 22207 zip code (by far the highest volume of new/newer home sales in Arlington). I also removed a few outlier sales so that we have a more accurate comparison.

Figure 1: New Construction at 3196 Pollard St Arlington VA 22207 ($2.3M)

New construction homes sold in 2021 sold for 16.9% more than similar 2021 resales of recently built homes (built 2015-2019), however, new construction homes were an average of 22% bigger (based on total finished square feet) than 2015-2019 builds sold in 2021.

As a result, new constructions homes actually sold for a lower price-per-square foot on both above grade (not including the basement) and total finished calculations. Thus, one could argue that new construction, with its lower price-per-square foot and brand new systems (HVAC, appliances, roof, windows, floors, etc), is a better value…but it’ll cost you a lot more in dollars to get there.

It’s also worth noting that while you get brand new systems in new construction, a resale has (hopefully) already gone through the initial pains of breaking in the house and the inevitable issues that come up for owners of new construction. You may also find that the first owners have invested in some improvements that a builder may not have such as upgrade exterior living spaces or landscaping.

Table 2: New Construction vs Resale of Recent Construction

If you’d like to discuss buying, selling, investing, or renting, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column or to discuss buying, selling, renting, or investing, please send an email to Eli@EliResidential.com.

Video summaries of some articles can be found on YouTube on the Ask Eli, Live With Jean playlist.

Eli Tucker is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland with RLAH Real Estate, 4040 N Fairfax Dr #10C Arlington VA 22203. (703) 390-9460.

New Construction Tips and Learning Opportunity

Question: What recommendations do you have for somebody just beginning to consider building a home?

Answer: If you’re considering building a home and looking for a great educational opportunity, I’d like to invite you to a walk-through with the builder of a home that’s currently under construction (3196 N Pollard St). The builder, James McMullin, is a 3rd generation Arlington home builder. At the end of July, he’s offering two educational walk-throughs for small groups during the framing stage of construction to provide a peek behind the walls.

If you’re interested in attending, please email me at Eli@EliResidential.com (I promise you won’t get spammed with marketing!).

I sat down with James McMullin to outline the key phases of building a new home from acquisition through post-completion, along with some helpful tips at each stage.

Lot Acquisition
  • You can do this yourself or through a builder. A key competitive advantage for builders is a pipeline of quality lots.
  • If you acquire your own lot and find yourself in competition, it’s important to understand what type of offer terms you’re up against. Builders frequently offer existing homeowners months of free rent-back.
  • If you acquire a lot, make sure you establish a relationship with a builder before making an offer so they can provide necessary feedback on the feasibility of building the home you want either before making an offer or after (Study/Feasibility Study)
  • There are special loan programs available if you plan on acquiring your own lot. Troy Toureau (ttoureau@mcleanmortgage.com) of Mclean Mortgage is an excellent resource for construction loans
  • Cost: Lots in Arlington are currently selling from $500,000 for less desirable lots/locations to well over $1,000,000
Planning/Design
  • Designing the floor plan and elevations (exterior design) can be fun for some, but it’s easy for people to let this process drag on for months if they’re indecisive or unprepared
  • Having a great architect who understands your vision and current home design trends is critical
  • Full custom vs semi-custom: A fully custom home is designed from scratch to suit your tastes and will take much longer and cost much more in design fees. A semi-custom home uses a pre-designed floor plan and elevation template and you make small adjustments to suit your taste.
  • Cost: Semi-custom homes often range from zero design cost to a few thousand dollars, while fully custom homes usually cost tens of thousands in design fees.
Permitting
  • In Arlington, you will submit plans for County review/approval including demolition, building (architectural), and civil (engineering) before any work can begin
  • It usually takes four months for permits to be approved by the County, assuming everything is submitted correctly
  • Cost: Permit fees vary based on a number of factors but will generally be $25,000 + for new construction.
Demolition/Construction
  • Common pitfalls:  If you are selecting fixtures and finishes, meeting timelines is often a challenge. Most people struggle to make finish decisions and the ordering process often takes longer than expected (months) with buffer needed to shipping issues or incorrect shipments. Having an experienced interior designer on-board can be helpful.
  • Demolition and construction often take 4-8 months and can be delayed due to weather, material shipping/availability issues, and an assortment of other factors
  • Cost: The cost of demolition and site prep, including utilities, generally costs about $100,000. Construction costs, including materials and finishes, generally ranges from $400,000-$700,000+ in this area
Completion/Post-Move
  • Throughout construction the County will conduct inspections of the home, but you cannot move in until the County has issued a Certificate of Occupancy (final permit approval)
  • You may also consider hiring a 3rd party inspector with home building experience to inspect the property through each stage of construction including the foundation, pre-drywall, and the finished home
  • It’s common for there to be a (long) list of punch-out items for the builder to complete after the County has issued a Certificate of Occupancy (paint touch-ups, a chipped cabinet, missing light fixture, etc). Most builder contracts require you to close on the new home within a certain number of days of the Certificate of Occupancy and allow the builder access to the home after closing to complete the punch-out list.
  • Minor issues, especially cosmetic ones like settlement cracks in the drywall, are common after closing and will require maintenance for the first 6-18 months. Many builders offer post-settlement touch-ups/maintenance as a courtesy.

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

Resale Value of New Construction

Question: We bought a new home in Arlington five years ago and are considering selling, but we’re concerned about the resale value of new homes given the amount of newer homes being built in the market. Do you have any data on how new homes do when they resell for the first time?

Answer: The new/newer construction market is the only Arlington sub-market that is anywhere close to properly supplied, with almost 4.5 months of inventory available (number of homes for sale divided by average sales per month = months of inventory).

Most housing economists say that a market is at balance for buyers and sellers when there is six months of inventory. For comparison, sub-markets like one-and-two-bedroom condos, <$1M detached homes, and townhouses each have between one and three weeks of supply.

New Homes Are Appreciating…

There’s a logical case to be made that when a new home (built within the last decade) gets resold, it will struggle to compete with other brand-new homes given how similar these homes have been over the last ten years, combined with the amount of supply in the market. Fortunately for owners of recently built homes who may sell in the near future, that logic does not prevail and new homes are being sold for more the second time around.

…But Just A Little

There aren’t a ton of data points yet (most people buying expensive new construction will be there for a long time), but just enough that I think we can start to get a good idea of how new homes (that aren’t new anymore) from the past decade perform when they’re resold into a market with many similar new homes.

To study this, I identified homes built since 2012 that have since resold, excluding homes that sold within one year of their original purchase or any homes with major improvements since the original purchase or clearly left in disrepair. Here’s a summary of my findings:

  • 53 homes met the criteria, nearly all in North Arlington
  • Average appreciation on resale was 6.7%
  • Average annualized appreciation was 2.1%
  • Only seven homes sold for less than they were bought
  • Sixteen homes sold for at least 10% above what they were bought
  • On average, it took 64 days for these homes to go under contract, about 30% longer than the entire detached home market during that same period
Cause For Concern?

For those who own a new(er) home, you may be underwhelmed by these numbers relative to what the rest of the market is doing — compared to other detached homes in the Arlington market, new homes are appreciating at a noticeably slower rate.

Part of that is due to the fact that there’s a much higher supply of similar new/newer homes for sale so that will naturally keep prices more stable. Another reason is that it takes longer for the upper end of the market to appreciate, so the growth we’ve seen <$1.25M hasn’t impacted the $1.5M+ market as much.

So is a new home a bad investment because it appreciates less than other homes? Not at all.

First, one of the reasons buyers pay a premium for new/newer homes is because your maintenance and repair costs should be significantly lower for the first 10-15 years. Investment value isn’t only about what you buy and sell for, it’s also about how much you spend between the two transactions keeping the house operating (often more valuable than appreciation).

Second, for most families, a new/newer home offers square footage and a floor plan they can’t find anywhere else so the non-financial/quantifiable benefits are significant. Opportunities to customize to taste also factor into the non-financial/quantifiable return that owners may receive.

The new construction market operates differently from the rest of the housing market. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com. And a quick plug for two custom homes on ¼ acre lots I’m selling in Bellevue Forest, being built by James McMullin, Arlingtonian and third-generation Arlington developer/builder. Demolition and excavation will start in the next month!

Arlington’s Next Luxury Condo Building

Question: Do you think Pierce condos in Rosslyn will be able to sell for the prices they’re advertising?

Answer: A few months ago, local developer Penzance released details on their upcoming Highlands development that includes three luxury residential buildings, one of which will be a 27-story condo building called Pierce.  Here’s a summary of what we know:

  • Large Floor Plans: 104 units ranging from a 1,270sqft 1BR+Den to a 3BR with over 2,400sqft
  • Larger Prices: Starting at $900k and increasing to over $3M
  • Luxury Finishes: Thermador appliances, hardwood throughout, Snaidero cabinets, floor-to-ceiling windows, some direct-access elevators and other luxury touches
  • Top Amenities: 24hr staff, rooftop pool, two-story gym, club room, to name a few

Courtesy of Mayhood at PierceVA.com

Is There Anything Else Like It?

It seems that Penzance is modeling its approach after Turnberry Tower, the iconic all-glass blue building a block from the Rosslyn Metro. Both buildings’ smallest units are 1BR+Den with about 1,300sqft, they have similar high-end finishes, many units with direct-access elevators, and both have luxury amenities.

Demand and prices at Turnberry have increased significantly over the last 18-24 months, which is a good sign for Penzance.

Meeting New Demand

There is a significant, relatively new, demand in Arlington for large condos to satisfy Baby Boomers downsizing from big suburban homes around the DC Metro. Over the last 20 years of condo development in Arlington, most floor plans have been 1BR-2BR, ranging from 700-1,000sqft. To find larger floor plans, buyers are mostly left with buildings constructed in the 70s and 80s, so there is currently an underserved market for newer condos with large floor plans.

For example, 2000 Clarendon, a condo building in Courthouse set to deliver next year, originally planned six 2BR+Den units of ~1,400 and ~1,700sqft. They had so much interest that they added two more. Their current waitlist for the 2BR+Den units has over 20 people on it. However, the price of 2000 Clarendon units are about half what similar units at Pierce will cost.

Will People Pay These Prices?

  • 1BR+Den with 1,270+sqft start at $900k (4 units)
  • 2BR with 1,320+sqft start at $1.1M (44 units)
  • 2BR+Den with 1,953+sqft start at $2M (46 units)
  • 3BR with 2,411sqft start at $2.6M (10 units)
  • More than half of the units will be $2M+
  • More than half of the units will be over $1,000/sqft. Over the last five years, seven Turnberry condos and two Waterview condos have cross the $1,000/sqft mark. DC hits this mark in its premier buildings.

Rosslyn has only begun its transition into a luxury market and Pierce will be a great indicator of where Rosslyn is in the eyes of the market. The sales won’t come overnight, or be without challenges, but the developer can afford to be patient for:

  • The down-sizing Baby Boomers that Pierce is suited for can afford to pay a significant premium for the right floor plan and building
  • Amazon, Nestle, consulting/law firms, Defense contractors, and tech start-ups are supplying more and more highly-paid Executives to the Arlington housing market
  • International money will be drawn to its proximity to DC and Amazon
  • Trophy units with direct views of DC and the Potomac River should be in high demand because it’s unlikely that future developments will block those views, something that has had a major impact on many Turnberry owners in the last five years (I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of them move a couple of blocks up the street to reclaim their views)

There are some challenges that will likely slow the pace of sales and maybe even cause them to bring prices down on some units:

  • At these prices, buyers will also be looking at similar units in DC’s top addresses in neighborhoods like Georgetown, West End, and The Wharf
  • There will be a 7-11, fire station (quiet-exits will help, but won’t convince everybody), and a school (a negative for most, despite the beautiful design) within one block
  • Being up the (steep) hill from many of the neighborhood’s top draws including Rosslyn Metro, Key Bridge, Mt Vernon Trail, and new dining options
  • Rosslyn still has many elements from its sleepy government office district days and probably 5-10 years from shedding that completely via redevelopment that’s in the pipeline

Pre-sales are scheduled to begin in early 2020, but the building probably won’t be finished and ready for move-in until well into 2021. I don’t think the current market, or even the 2020 market, will be ready to pay these prices for most of the 104 units, but I think by 2021 we’ll see Rosslyn far enough along and Arlington’s market driving forward enough to generate some eye-popping sales for Penzance’s Pierce condos.

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.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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.