Starting Your 2022 Home Search

Question: We are looking forward to buying a home in 2022. 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 a list of 12-15 things. Then give yourself 100 points and allocate points to each based on how important each item is 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 so each home you see is scored on a 100-point scale.

Length of Ownership

How long you expect to be in your home is one of the most important considerations in defining what you prioritize and how you use your budget. 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 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 for single-family and townhouses right now with low supply, high demand, and increasing prices, but the condo market is more balanced.

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

Avoid Gaps In Your Condo Insurance Policy

Question: My condo association carries an expensive Master Insurance policy, but my lender is requiring that I purchase my own individual policy. What coverage do I gain from the individual policy that the master policy doesn’t include?

Answer: Every condo association has its own (expensive) Master Insurance policy to cover the common elements, but there are substantial gaps between the association’s policy and what you’re personally liable for without an individual HO-6 policy. Most people shop for the cheapest, fastest individual insurance policy and apply just enough coverage to meet the lender’s requirements, but that may put you at risk.

To explain common gaps between master policies and HO-6 (individual condo) policies, I’d like to re-introduce Andrew Schlaffer, Owner and President of ACO Insurance Group. Andrew is an expert in Master Insurance policies and has helped multiple local condo association’s reduce their cost and improve their coverage since writing a column on the topic last year. If you’d like to contact Andrew directly to review your association’s master policy, you can reach him at (703) 719-8008 or andrew@acoinsgrp.com.

Take it away Andrew…

Increasing Claims, Increasing Coverage Gaps

The condominium insurance marketplace is facing challenges that will impact homeowners in 2021. Water damage is leading this list of challenges—according to the Insurance Information Institute, about one-third of homeowner insurance losses are caused by water damage and freezing. The DMV is home to many aging condo buildings that struggle with mitigating water damage losses and their impact on insurance.

As water damage claims continue to rise and property damage costs increase, many insurance carriers are beginning to make changes to their coverage offerings that may increase your risk exposure.

Master Insurance vs Individual Insurance Policy

Nearly all master insurance policies in this area are written on a Single Entity basis which means coverage extends to general and limited common elements but also extends within individual units to fixtures, appliances, walls, floor coverings, and cabinetry, but only for like, kind, and quality to that conveyed by the developer to the original owner.

Items not covered by the master insurance policy and are generally not the association’s responsibility include:

  • Personal Property (clothes, electronics, furniture, money, artwork, jewelry)
  • Betterments and Improvements (demonstrable upgrades completed after the initial conveyance)
  • Additional Living Expenses (the cost to live at a temporary location, storage fees, loss of rents)
  • Personal Liability (provides protection for bodily injury or property damage claims arising from your unit)
  • Loss Assessment (triggered only if there is a covered cause of loss and the master insurance policy limits are exhausted; this assessment would apply collectively to all unit owners)
  • Medical Payments (no fault coverage available for injured guests within your unit)

Condo owners should purchase an individual condo insurance policy (HO-6), which is also required by lenders. This policy can provide coverage for the items listed above.

Review Your Dwelling Coverage

Dwelling Coverage should be included in every HO-6 policy to avoid significant out-of-pocket expenses. Many condo associations can hold you responsible for expenses that fall under the master policy deductible that are caused by the owner’s act, neglect, misuse, or carelessness. Due to the rise in water damage losses, many insurance carriers are increasing their deductibles, which in turn spurs the need for homeowners to adjust their dwelling insurance limit.

In a recent instance, a condo suffering from significant water damage losses was required by its insurance carrier to increase the master insurance policy deductible from $10,000 to $25,000. In this community, each homeowner should have at least $25,000 of dwelling coverage to indemnify them for the deductible expense in the event a claim arises from their unit. If coverage is not available, the homeowner would either pay this expense personally or the association can put a lien on their unit.

Dwelling coverage should also include a homeowner’s betterments and improvements (improvements made above what the builder originally delivered), including those completed by prior owners. Most lenders will require at least 20% of the unit’s market value insured under this coverage as well. 

What Information to Share with Your Insurance Provider

You should always review the condo association’s governing documents and understand the applicable statutory requirements (i.e. Virginia Condominium Act) and lender requirements to verify their individual responsibilities, including maintenance/repair and insurance. Along with sharing the association documents, homeowners should also provide their personal insurance agent with the following:

  • What is the master policy deductible? ($5,000, $10,000, $25,000)
  • What approach is used for the condominium insurance coverage? (Single Entity)

My Recommendation for HO-6/Other Individual Policies

Thank you, Andrew, hopefully this helps at least a handful of readers better protect themselves.

I find that most buyers go straight for the path of least resistance and cheapest premiums for their insurance coverage. Adding coverage to your existing auto policy in 5-10 minutes probably means that nobody actually reviewed your association’s Master Insurance policy and thus you’re at risk of coverage gaps. Personally, I’d rather pay a bit more to know that my policies have been designed with some personal attention and reviewed annually for gaps. Andrew and his team can handle this for you as well.

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.

Who Is Responsible for Main Supply Lines?

Question: We bought an older home with original water and sewer lines. Who is responsible for the maintenance and replacement of these lines and how do I know if there’s a problem?

Answer: You are responsible for the main plumbing lines for water and sewage running between your home and the public lines. In most cases, the gas company is responsible for everything to and including the meter (attached to your home) and you’re responsible for the lines after the meter.

The main lines are usually buried under your front yard and replacement costs (water and sewage) often start at a couple thousand dollars and can easily exceed $10,000. Costs vary based on some key factors including:

  • Distance from the public line to your home
  • Pipe material
  • Type of excavation/installation (difficulty in digging up old plumbing, # of turns in new pipe)
  • Cost to return landscaping to original state (this is on you, not the County)

In most cases, Washington Gas will return your property/landscaping to its original condition, including hardscape and your lawn (even your driveway), after excavating for repair or replacement. It’s not a bad idea to find out where your gas supply line is and plan landscaping with that in mind.

Identifying Problems

The life expectancy on many of the most common materials used for main plumbing lines range from 50-100 years, but tree root growth, unnatural disturbances like new landscaping, corrosion, and pressure build-ups can cause leaks, blockages, and other damage that you should monitor.

The most effective and most expensive way to look for problems is to hire a plumber to scope the lines with a camera to see if there are any issues. The cost of doing this often exceeds $500 per line, but can give you piece of mind or early warnings of a problem.

If you don’t want to pay a plumber to scope your lines, you can monitor for signs of a problem:

  • Water Line: higher water bills, lower water pressure, flooding in yard when there isn’t rain
  • Sewer Line: slow drainage/clogs in multiple areas of the house, foul smell inside or outside, odd behavior from plumbing like bubbling sounds
  • Gas Line: if you smell a gas/rotten egg odor, hissing sound from a gas line/meter, hazy/cloudy near gas line, plants dying, issues with gas-powered appliances

Good To Know

Here are some other helpful tips regarding the main lines for water, sewage, and gas:

  • HomeServce USA, through Dominion Energy, offers insurance protection for the water supply line, sewer line, and in-home gas lines
  • In most cases, you can expect the gas company to have a utility easement on your property which allows them the right to access your property for repairs or replacement as needed. Check your survey/plat to verify this right of access.
  • Polybutylene pipes (grey plastic) were used from the 70s-90s and prone to breakage. If your sewer lines is Polybutylene, consider replacing them now.
  • Lead pipes (dull grey) were used in the early 1900s for water supply lines and risk leaching lead into your drinking water and should be tested or replaced
  • CSST (Corrugated Stainless Steel Tubing) became popular for gas lines in the early 90s and is often not property bonded which means a lightning strike can blow a hole in your gas line. Bonding your gas line is simple enough that most home owners do it themselves, although I must recommend you use a qualified Electrician.
  • These days, PVC/CPVC are the most common piping for the main water and sewer lines instead of the heavier cast iron/galvanized steel options that used to be the standard. Copper is still a popular choice for water lines, but more expensive and more difficult to install.

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

Answering Your Appraisal Questions

Question: Can you explain the basics of the appraisal process?

Answer: I sat down with one of the best local lenders, Jake Ryon at First Home Mortgage (Jryon@firsthome.com), and came up with a list of some of the most common questions we hear about appraisals, which I’ll answer below:

What is an appraisal?

An appraisal is an objective assessment of a property’s value, conducted by an unbiased third party who does not have a stake in the sale of the property.

Below is an example of the core component of a recent appraisal in Arlington, the Comparable Sales Analysis. It compares objective features of the subject property (the home being assessed by the Appraiser) to the same features of similar/comparable homes that have sold nearby to reach a valuation of the subject home based on the Appraiser’s determination of how the difference in features change the value of the homes.

Why are appraisals done?

In most cases, the bank/lender is the primary investor in a home purchase. If you put 20% down, the bank is investing the other 80%. Appraisals are done to ensure that banks are making responsible investments in homes they otherwise know very little about and to make sure they do not lose substantially if you, the borrower, default on the loan and the bank is forced to take over (and sell it).

In short, the bank conducts an appraisal to make sure they agree with the value (aka the agreed upon sale price) you’ve placed on the home.

Who does the appraisal?

Anybody can hire a licensed appraisal to provide an opinion on a property’s value, but most appraisals are done through a bank/lender. Lenders have a pool of independent, licensed appraisers or appraisal companies that receive a notice when an appraisal is needed for a loan and an appraiser from the lender’s pool claims the job.

The selection of the appraiser is designed to be a blind selection process to maintain independence and objectivity so that lenders can’t handpick the appraiser they want and potentially influence the results.

Is an appraisal required? What is an “appraisal wavier”?

Most lenders require an appraisal to approve a loan, but in some cases an “appraisal waiver” is issued if Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac determine that that they do not need the additional assessment of an Appraiser because the sale price falls within an acceptable range based on sales history and reliability of comparable sales.

Waivers may also be given if the borrower has a high enough down payment that enough of the risk of overpaying for a property is being absorbed by the buyer.

How long does an appraisal usually take?

When Appraisers are not overwhelmed with orders and a lender submits a rush order right away, I’ve seen appraisals completed in as little as a few days. However, in most cases, appraisal reports are usually completed within 1-2 weeks of the order being placed by the lender.

What effect does a low or high appraisal have on a property sale?

If the appraisal value comes in at or above the purchase price, the bank is happy and the loan proceeds along the approval process. If the appraisal value is below the sale price, the bank will require the sale price to be reduced to the appraisal value or that the buyer put more money down to satisfy the loan-to-value ratio.

In most cases, the amount of additional money a buyer needs to put down is equal to the percentage the bank is contributing to the purchase (e.g. 80% if you’re making a 20% down payment or 95% if you’re making a 5% down payment) multiplied by the difference between the contract’s sale price and the appraisal value. However, this additional contribution can vary or may not be needed depending on your down payment amount, type of loan, and other details of your loan arrangement.

What happens if we disagree with the value or it comes in low?

The borrower/buyer is the only party who can challenge an appraisal and they must provide other (better) comparable sales, facts, or justifications to support an adjusted valuation.

I have dealt with some frustrating scenarios as a listing/seller’s agent when an appraisal came in low based on factually incorrect information on the appraisal report (incorrect bedroom count, square footage, etc) and there is nothing that can be done unless the borrower/buyer requests a revision.

What is an appraisal contingency?

An appraisal contingency is one of the three “standard” contingencies in the residential real estate contract (inspection, financing, and appraisal are the “big three”). It protects the buyer in the event a property appraises for less than the sale price by giving the buyer the ability to renegotiate the sale price or void the contract without losing their deposit.

Who pays for the appraisal and how much does it cost?

Buyers pay for the appraisal as a pre-closing expense and the cost usually ranges from $500-$1,000 depending on the type of loan and value/complexity of the property.

Does appraisal value equal market value?

I would argue that the answer is no. Market value is the price a buyer and seller are willing to exchange a property for and often incorporates forward-looking expectations (future construction, development pipeline, market trends, etc).

The appraisal value is generally backward-looking given that Appraisers are tasked with determining a home’s value based on similar properties that have sold/closed nearby (generally within 6-12 months). There is subjectivity in which comparable sales an Appraiser chooses for the report and how they value different features, like a pool, view, or extra garage space.

Oftentimes I find that things the market values like beautiful finishes/design, a quiet neighborhood street lined with mature trees, or lot quality (privacy, flat yard, etc) are not valued by Appraisers to the same extend as they are buyers. Appraisers are generally focused on objective, measurable criteria like bedrooms/bathroom count, square footage, parking, lot size, etc.

It is worth noting here that Appraisers do know the contract sale price of the property they’re appraising in real-world appraisals for lenders (as opposed to my hypothetical scenario above).

Does appraisal value impact my property tax assessment?

No, the appraisal value has no impact on anything outside of the loan. The County will not receive the appraisal value to include in their assessment for tax purposes.

Can I switch lenders and use the same appraisal?

For Conventional loans (the majority of loans in Arlington), most lenders will not accept an appraisal done through another lender, but VA and FHA appraisals do have reciprocity on appraisals between lenders.

If you have additional questions about appraisals, you can email me at Eli@EliResidential.com or a great local lender, Jake Ryon of First Home Mortgage at Jryon@firsthome.com.

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

Answering Common Real Estate Timeline Questions

Question: I’m getting ready to buy my first home and wondering how long things will take during the process. Can you explain some basic timelines I should be aware of?

Answer: Timelines vary by regional markets quite a bit due to different customs, contract structure, or local/state governance. Below, I’ll offer a quick answer to common timeline questions I get as it relates to real estate in the greater DC Metro area.

1. How long does it take to close/settle on a home after an offer is accepted?

The median contract-to-close period in Arlington has been ~30 days since 2018, down from ~36-38 days a decade ago. Most sellers want to close as quickly as possible, so buyers who can close faster have an advantage. Be sure to talk to your lender about how long they need to close before signing off on your offer. Some bigger, national banks and credit unions often need 35-40+ days to close. Many of our local lenders can comfortably close in as little as three works (sometimes even faster).

2. How long does a seller (or buyer) have to respond to an offer/counteroffer?

Our contracts do not stipulate a response deadline so any deadline for a response must be written into the contract or otherwise communicated by the party who wishes to set a deadline. Technically, an offer/counteroffer can go on forever if it is never responded to or withdrawn.

3. When is the Earnest Money Deposit (EMD) due?

It is common for the EMD (usually 1-3% or more of the sale price) to be due to the EMD holder (usually the Title Co) within 3-5 days of going under contract. With such a quick turn-around for a substantial amount of cash, make sure those funds are in an account that you can quickly and easily transfer (wire or check) money out of. For a reminder on what the EMD is, here’s an article I wrote earlier this year.

4. How long do you have to complete a home inspection and decide whether or not to move forward with the purchase?

The game has changed lately for home inspections, which I wrote about earlier this year, but for buyers who can secure a post-contract inspection contingency, they usually have as little as two days to as many as ten days from going under contract to complete the home inspection and decide whether or not to move forward or submit their requests for repair or credit. The timing and type of inspection contingency are all negotiable terms and factor heavily into the strength of offer.

5. How long does the mortgage financing process take?

As noted earlier, this varies by the type of lender you choose to work with and can range from as little as 10-14 days to 45+ days. Here’s an article I wrote earlier this year highlighting the importance of choosing the right lender.

6. How long does it take to have an appraisal done?

In most cases, when you finance the purchase of your home through a lender, they require a third-party appraisal before approving the loan. In short, they need to make sure that the market value of a home, per the appraisal, is equal to or greater than the purchase price of the home (here’s the most relevant article I have, but I’ll do a deeper dive into appraisals soon). Most lenders will order the appraisal within a week of you going under contract and it usually takes a week or two for the appraiser to visit the home and submit the report, so the total time to get appraisal results back is usually 1-3 weeks depending on when it’s ordered and if it’s a rush order.

7. How long does the Attorney Review take?

An Attorney Review period is common in other jurisdictions (New York/New Jersey), but not here so there is no legal review period built into our contracts. It is rare that an attorney outside of the Title Company is involved in the transaction.

8. How long does it take to sign paperwork at closing/settlement?

For sellers, it often takes just 10-15 minutes and for buyers it usually takes 45-60+ minutes, depending on the size of the loan package and questions you have for the title attorney while signing.

9. When can you start moving into the house after closing?

You can walk through the front door and start moving in immediately following the closing, unless otherwise stipulated in the contract.

10. How long can a seller rent a home back from a buyer?

If a home is being purchased using a mortgage for a primary residence, the law states that a buyer must intend on moving into the home as their primary residence within 60 days, so the longest time a seller can rent-back (link to an article I wrote in 2019 on rent-backs) in that scenario is 60 days. If the buyer is paying cash or buying the home as an investment property, there are no restrictions on how long a seller can remain in the home after closing.

11. How long does the home search process last?

This is the question everybody wants to know but there’s no good answer for. I have worked with buyers who plan on buying a home 6-12+ months from starting their search and end up finding a home they love in the first week and have worked with buyers who want to buy right away and end up spending two years searching for the right home. If I had to estimate, I would say that most buyers find a home within 6-12 weeks of starting their search.

Remember that these timelines are not fixed and vary widely by jurisdiction/market across the country and a heavily dependent on the negotiations/circumstances of the buyer and seller on a specific transaction. Use these timelines as general guidance on the customs and common practices in the greater DC Metro area.

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

Expect Short-Term Increase in Listing, Contract Activity

Question: Will I see more homes being listed for sale in the fall or is there a stead drop in sales activity until next year?

Answer: It is completely normal for the market to slow down (pace of listing activity and contract activity)  during the summer, but it was discussed much more this year because the preceding months were so crazy, locally and nationally, and everybody is on high alert to a potential bubble.

Nothing I have seen so far has suggested that the change in market conditions over the last couple months is anything more than normal seasonal behavior, so I expect the next couple months to lead to similar seasonal patterns as in years past (except for 2020).

This means a quick bump in post-Labor Day listing activity and contract activity, followed by a steady drop in both measures through the end of the year.

The chart below shows monthly listing and contract activity as a percentage of total annual activity for Arlington from 2015-2019, broken out by single-family homes (SFH)/townhouses (TH) and apartment-style condos/coops. The following bullets are some highlights I pulled from the data:

  • The September bump in listing activity only lasts for a couple of weeks before starting a steady decline through the end of the year
  • The SFH/TH and condo markets behave similarly, but the changes in condo activity aren’t as extreme as the SFH/TH market. The spring peaks and summer lull are closer to average for condos, meaning seasonality plays less of a role in the condo market than the SFH/TH market.
  • The bump in post-Labor Day SFH/TH contract activity outlasts the short, but more extreme, burst in listing activity
  • From October-December, contract activity actually exceeds new listing volume, but this generally does not lead to better sales results during this time of year
  • The four months from March-June account for nearly 46% and 43% of annual SFH/TH and condo listing volume, respectively, and almost 44% and 40% of annual SFH/TH and condo contract activity, respectively.

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

Should You Stage Your Home?

Question: Do you recommend staging for vacant homes?

Answer: When you stage a home, you are placing temporary furniture and accessories in a home while it is being marketed for sale. In most cases, I strongly encourage staging a home instead of leaving it empty.

The value of staging shows up in two critical parts of the selling/marketing process. It improves the quality of the photos by helping people understand the scale and purpose of a room. Better photos lead to more showings. Good staging also improves the way Buyers experience the home in-person during a showing. Better showings lead to better/more offers.

Figure 1: Great staging helped Buyers make sense of an otherwise large, open space at 3196 N Pollard St Arlington

In my opinion, the three main benefits to staging a home are:

  1. Add Life to Empty Homes: Walking into an empty house can be eerie and makes a home feel lifeless. Those are not feelings you want potential Buyers to have while walking through your home. Good staging can add energy and life to a vacant home.
  2. Help Rooms Feel Larger: This is counterintuitive, but most people perceive empty rooms as being smaller than they really are. I’ve experienced this on numerous occasions walking through empty rooms with Buyers who have trouble understanding how a bed or couch can fit into an empty room that is more than big enough for their furniture.
  3. Engage the Eye: Well staged properties keep Buyers engaged with room layout and functionality, but unstaged empty rooms allow Buyers to focus on flaws like paint scuffs, separating trim, poor lighting, and other things you’d prefer Buyers to overlook during their visit

You do not need to stage every room. In a larger townhouse or single-family home, that can get unnecessarily expensive. Prioritize the most important rooms like the living room, dining room, and primary bedrooms for the best return on investment. Accessorizing walls, countertops, and shelves also adds a lot of value.

Figure 2: Don’t forget about staging for outdoor spaces like this patio at 4645 4th Rd N Arlington

Good staging isn’t cheap, often ranging from ~$2,000-$10,00+ depending on the size of a home and type of staging furniture, but it should be looked at as an investment like anything else you do to prepare your home for sale like painting, cleaning, and landscaping. As a rule of thumb, I think that investing .25-.5% of the market value of a home generates a clear, strong return.

Cheap, thoughtless staging provides little or no value at all. Sticking a chair or two in the living room or simply laying a blow-up bed on the floor of a bedroom are not the same and provide little, if any, benefit.

If you intend on living in your home or leaving your existing furniture for the sale (photos and showings), consider “occupied” staging, whereby you hire a stager to help you maximize the use of your existing furniture and accessories. Just promise not to get offended if they recommend removing your favorite lime green shag carpet 

ies from the owner, with some add-ons from the Stager, in a great example of a successful Occupied Staging approach at 1276 N Wayne St #1230 Arlington

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

Demand Drops Regionally, Remains Competitive

Question: Is the housing market slowing down?

Answer: Over the last 2-3 months I’ve experienced a noticeable slowdown in the single-family and townhouse market relative to what we’ve experienced most of the last 12+ months. While slower than it has been, the market is still very competitive, and prices are holding.

Properties that would have gotten 8-10+ offers a few months ago might get 2-3 now. Escalations over asking are still common, but less extreme. And in some cases, Buyers can secure modest contingencies (inspection, appraisal, financing). I believe the main factors in this change are:

  • Buyers have distractions they didn’t have for much of the lockdown (vacations, events, commute, etc)
  • Asking prices are more reflective of market values now that 6+ months of closed sales in 2021 are available for market pricing analysis
  • Some Buyers have given up after months of struggling to find/win a home
  • Normal seasonal behavior. Demand usually subsides in the summer, relative to the previous spring.

Home Demand Index Readings

To put the receding demand into perspective, I pulled out some charts from the most recent Bright MLS Home Demand Index, which tracks regional and local demand by analyzing data ranging from buyer showing activity to closed sales to feedback from local real estate agents.

Demand in the overall Washington DC Metro housing market dropped 17% from June to July and 13% year-over-year. The July 2021 Demand Index reading of 123 is lower than the Demand Index reading in 10 of the last 14 months, with the four months from November 2020-February 2021 being the only months with lower readings since May 2020. July 2021 is also the first month with a year-over-year decline in demand over the last 12+ months.

Home Demand Index

The Index uses the same price ranges to track demand across all Bright MLS market centers (DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia) so the price ranges aren’t the best for the DC Metro/Arlington, but still provide a good indication of regional and local demand trends.

The Demand Index for single-family homes $395k-$950k dropped 19% from June to July and 9% year-over-year. For single-family homes over $950k, the Demand Index dropped 29% from June to July and just 2% year-over-year.

While these reports show significant drops in demand recently, the actual demand is still very high and is enough to support recent price appreciation.

Single Family Home $395K-$950K
Single Family Home Above $950K

Listing Volume Still High

The number of condos listed for sale over the last 12 months is significantly higher than any other 12-month period we’ve seen in Arlington, but July listing volume settled down to finish closer to historical averages than we’ve been seeing. This is a sign that the surge in condo supply may be tapering off while we’re also seeing condo demand increase relative to the 2nd half of 2020 and early 2021.

High market values and changing housing needs have also led to an increase in the number of single-family homes listed for sale in Arlington lately, but that volume is much closer to the historical average than what we’ve witnessed in the condo market. It also does not seem like it to most Buyers because demand has quickly absorbed the extra supply.

New Listings In Arlington County

Looking Ahead

There’s usually an increase in demand and homes listed for sale after Labor Day and I expect to see similar seasonal behavior this year until we reach the winter/holiday market starting around early November when demand and listing supply both tend to retract.

Historically, it has taken until late February/mid March for demand and listing volume to ramp up towards their spring peaks, but the last few years we’ve seen the ramp-up period, especially for demand, start in January. I expect a similar pattern next year, but will be surprised to see anything like the double-digit price appreciation that we experienced in 2021 repeat in 2022.

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

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.

Off-Market Homes Sell for 17% Less

Question: Do homes sold on-market sell for more than homes sold off-market?

Answer: I want to start by saying that I know that this column comes off as being a shameless/salesy pitch for Realtors, but those of you who have followed my columns over the years hopefully recognize that I focus on informative, data-driven articles and steer clear of using this platform for sales pitches for myself or my industry.

With that said, I’m sharing this recent study of off-market vs on-market sales released by BRIGHT MLS (link to my column explaining what MLS/BRIGHT MLS is) because I think that they did a good job solving for the right answers in the data (not just favorable answers) using a massive sample size, filtering out the right data, and using a number of different cross-sections to confirm the findings within more specific datasets.

Study Overview

You can download and read the full study at the first link in the paragraph above (also linked here). The study included nearly 443,000 sales in 2019 and 2020 in the three BRIGHT MLS Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) of greater Washington DC, Baltimore, and Philadelphia markets. The researchers compared about 116,000 off-market sales (using public records data) to about 327,000 comparable on-market sales.

What is On-Market vs Off-Market?

An on-market sale is a sale that is listed and marketed on the BRIGHT MLS platform, which provides mass syndication/distribution to the 95,000 real estate agents in the BRIGHT network (includes VA, MD, DC, PA, DE, and WV), brokerage websites, and most 3rd party consumer-facing sites (e.g. Zillow). An off-market sale is one that is not listed on the BRIGHT platform and either sold without any online marketing or only placed on a brokerage and/or 3rd party website for marketing. Off-market sales can take many forms, but are ultimately defined by the lack of market exposure via the BRIGHT platform.

Results Favor Selling On-Market

Across the entire dataset, homes that were sold on-market sold for 16.98% more, based on the median price of comparable sales. Here’s a screenshot from the study showing the cross-section of the Washington DC MSA (extends all the way into WV).

I’d like for this study to report on more cross-sections of the market and include larger and smaller homes, different price points, condo vs single-family, and more because I think it’s all really valuable data to help consumers make decisions about the sale of their home. There are certainly scenarios where sellers might benefit from an off-market sale or an off-market sale makes sense for reasons beyond a seller’s bottom line, but having as much data as possible to help people make educated decisions is key.

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