DRIVING THE NEIGHBORHOOD

Whether you’re shopping for a home in a familiar location or a new neighborhood, remember that you’re buying more than a home. You’re also buying the neighborhood, so it helps to become familiar with your favorites, whether you drive them or walk them.

Why is that important? It’s the neighborhood that helps establish home values, which depend largely on location and local amenities (close to high-paying jobs, high-scoring schools, high-starring restaurants, etc.)

Neighborhoods can change over time, so look for signs of transition. Do you see reinvestment or decline? Homeowners reinvest by repainting, making repairs and refreshing their homes with updates. What kinds of stores and services do you see? Dollar stores or boutiques, payday loan shops or investment firms, fast food or upscale restaurants. Are you the right target demographic?

Visit the area at different times of the day and on weekends. What’s traffic like? How long is your commute?

As you drive, check a few home-buying apps. On our local Virginia community pages, you can see crime stats and amenities and save your favorites to show your Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Select Realty sales professional.

You’ll be happier if you pick the neighborhood first, then choose the home.


Three Things Sellers Should Never Do

Selling your home is one of the largest transactions you’ll ever make, so you want to make sure you sell your home quickly, for the most money and for the best terms possible you don’t want to start off on the wrong foot. Here are three things sellers should never do.

  1. Sell it yourself. A real estate professional has the resources and experience to help you price, show, sell your home and safely navigate it to closing. He or she can provide numerous marketing and showing services to help sell your home quickly and with as few hurdles as possible.
  2. Pick the wrong sales professional. Interview several real estate professionals to learn how they plan to market your home, what services they provide, and what you need to do to get the highest and best offer for your home. Choose the one who is straight with you about your home’s assets and drawbacks, and who explains current market conditions so you’ll know how to price your home successfully.
  3. Ignore your sales professional’s advice. Your Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Select Realty sales professional is trained to help you present your home at its best. Staging, updates, and repairs will help, but what’s most important is price. Your home’s price, location and condition should be supported by comparable homes in the area. You’ll attract the most interest if you price slightly below comparable homes, allowing room for buyers to bid up the price.

Remember, every market is different and can change quickly, so be prepared. Request a free, no-obligation market analysis from your local Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Select Realty sales professional and learn more about obtaining the highest value for your home in todays market.


Portable Gardens for Curb Appeal

To make your home more attractive to homebuyers, you could plant fresh flowers or you could put plants in containers and take your garden with you when you sell your home!  

Containers can accent your home’s personality – like washtubs for a farmhouse look or colorful fired pottery for a bohemian vibe. They’re the perfect solution for styling a porch, entry or walkway.

Follow these easy tips to make sure your potted gardens thrive:

Pick the right container. A confined space means substituting what the plants would get if they were in the ground. You need to have enough space for plants to grow and proper drainage holes so your plants don’t become sodden.

Use fresh potting soil. Good potting soil doesn’t clump and allows roots to spread. It contains nutrients to give plants a good head start.

Group plants according to sun and water requirements. A mix of cascading plants, tall leafy plants and various flowers make a beautiful composition. You can even mix in edibles like vegetables and herbs, but make sure all the plants in one container require the same amount of sun and water.

Water frequently. Container gardens dry out quickly, especially smaller pots. Check that the container is draining properly and you don’t have to worry about overwatering. Water daily in warm weather.

Bigger is better. Larger containers hold more soil, allow plants to grow larger, offer more room for variety and require less frequent watering.


How to Decorate Your Kitchen with White Hues

Kitchens decorated with mostly white hues never seem to go out of style but there’s a fine line between white that’s serene and beautiful and white that’s stark and clinical. If you love the color white, here are some tips to make your kitchen modern and sophisticated:

  1. Include a little grey. Choosing a light grey to accompany white in your kitchen will still give your white color some dimension. It’s like a shadow that helps define the white.
  2. Go monochromatic. Monochromatic doesn’t mean using all the same hue. If you look at paint colors, tiles, countertops and appliances, there are hundreds of whites. Each white has an undertone, typically blue or yellow. Choose the shade you like best and make sure all the colors you use are in the same family.
  3. Break it up. White can bring the drama if you have an element like stainless or black matte appliances instead of white. Or choose a backsplash in a color that you can repeat in a fabric like curtains or placemats.
  4. Bring the outdoors in. A great view of side or backyard landscaping can bring a lot of color indoors. And what looks lovelier with the color white than nature’s woods and greens?
  5. Pop your white colors with art. Your only “color” in a white hued kitchen might be a contemporary painting with splashes of red, orange or blue. Accessorize with dishes or enameled cookware to complement other color accents.

How to Challenge Higher Property Taxes

According to the National Taxpayers Union, between 30% and 60% of taxable property in the United States is over-assessed, yet less than 5% of homeowners appeal their assessments.

Your 2020 tax assessment will outline county, city and school taxes, as well as special assessments. Look online or call the assessor’s office for a list of factors used to evaluate properties and render assessments, including time frames. Compare them to your bill and make sure your square footage, lot size, number of bedrooms and baths are listed correctly.

If you can’t find the assessment rate on your statement, call the taxing authority and ask what the assessment rate is for your home’s location. There should also be directions for how to file an appeal, by mail, electronically and in person. You’ll be given a specific time and date for your appeal.

Your Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Select Realty sales professional may be able to help by providing you with a comparable market analysis of similar homes sold or on the market in 2019. Choose three to five properties with the same age, size, and condition of your home, noting any differences between the homes, such as additions or other improvements.

Your estimated property taxes could be escrowed, but you might owe more. You could also owe less if any discounts available apply to you. Some taxing authorities give seniors, workforce personnel (teachers, police, EMTs and fire personnel) and military veterans a break.


“Flaneur” the Way To Your Next Home

Have you ever taken the time to stroll the marketplace in your neighborhood or the city simply for the pleasure of observation? Then you might be what the French call a “flaneur.”  The flaneur was first described in the writings of 19th century poet Charles Baudelair as one who casually wanders, watches and chronicles the street life they observe. You could try the concept to help you find your next home.

You can wander neighborhoods you’re interested in by car, bus or train, but you can do so much more effectively by foot. Start at places with lots of activity, like shopping centers, business districts or city parks. Try to have no other agenda except to meander and let the sights, sounds and smells of the streets make their impressions on you. Go during the workday, on the weekend and at night. Find a coffee shop or café with outdoor seating so you can sit comfortably and take in the surroundings. Talk with a few residents or shopkeepers to learn more about the area.

Next, walk the neighborhoods that the commercial area serves. What are the homes like? Are they well kept? Are they within walking distance or a short drive to locations you would use, like a school, restaurant or fitness center? 

Your feelings should tell you a lot. Do you feel attracted to the area or indifferent? Do you feel safe, happy and at ease? You’ll soon know if this is a community you want to join.

To learn more about local Northern and Central Virginia communities visit our communities page and search by area, then contact a Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Select Realty sales professional to explore these communities in greater detail.


What the CMA Can’t Tell You

The comparison market analysis, otherwise known as a CMA, is an analytics tool real estate professionals use to help sellers learn what homes similar to theirs in size, age, and features have sold for, and buyers learn how close to asking price homes have sold for so they have a better idea how much to offer.

A CMA can provide quantifiable commodity details – such as age, square footage, lot size, and location, and number of bedrooms, living areas, and baths. But it can’t tell you the subjective details that make one house more attractive than another similar home, such as how well it’s been updated, landscaped, or maintained.

And that’s where your Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices sales professional can be invaluable. With their market knowledge, neighborhood expertise, and connections, they can provide the house-by-house intelligence you need to make a better-informed decision.

For homes that are listed for sale, your Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices sales professional can show you inside the ones most similar to your home or the home you’re most interested in buying. Homes that have already sold could still have virtual tours and photos that you can peruse.

Your Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices sales professional can also provide you with a detailed market report including graphs and pie charts compiled by the multiple listing service. You’ll learn the current macro and micro market conditions that explain why prices are trending up or down.

The market is constantly changing, and the more you know, the easier it is to reach your buying and selling goals. Contact a Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Select Realty sales professional to learn more about what your home could be worth in the current market.


Prequalify, Preapprove – What’s the Difference?

Some mortgage terms can be confusing, none more so than the similarities and differences between prequalification and preapproval. The two terms are often used interchangeably, but they mean very different things to lenders, real estate professionals and home sellers.

Prequalifying is a rough-idea process that tells you how much money you’ll likely be able to borrow to buy a home. You can prequalify yourself on any banking or real estate-related website simply by putting your salary, type of loan you want, down payment amount and a ballpark home price into a mortgage calculator. You can talk with a lender, who will also give you a ballpark amount without a credit check.

When you apply for a mortgage loan, you’ll share your income records, the source and amount of your down payment, and your social security number so the lender can pull your credit. This is the key difference between prequalification and preapproval – when the lender is able to review your application and verify your credit standing to make a lending decision.

The lender will get back to you within three days or less with a preapproval letter stating the maximum amount of money you’re approved to borrow.

Preapproval gives you the real numbers so you know exactly how much you can spend on a home. It lends you credibility with real estate professionals and with sellers who will take you seriously as a buyer.

Prequalification becomes preapproval once you have a purchase contract on a home. Then, the preapproval is real.


Build Wealth with a Less Expensive Home

Here’s a case for buying a less expensive home than you secretly want.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American spends approximately 37% of his or her income on housing. Notably, the top 20 percentile earners spend only 29.9% of their income, while the bottom 20% pay 39.9%. So what do high earners know that you don’t know?

If you have a little less money invested in housing, you’ll have more money to do other things, like: 

  • Invest more in your 401K or Roth IRAs.
  • Pay extra on your mortgage so one day you’ll be mortgage-free.
  • Save money to buy another property. Rent out the first home for passive income as renters make your mortgage payment for you.
  • Build or add to an emergency fund.
  • Make improvements without adding more debt or tapping into equity.
  • Reduce debt.

Conventional loan guidelines from Hud.gov suggest that the average homebuyer spend no more than 29% of his or her monthly gross income on housing. If your gross monthly income is $4,167, spend no more than $1,208, which should include property taxes and home insurance.

What if you have current debts? The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recommends that your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio be no larger than 43% to secure a qualified mortgage – one the lender has done the due diligence on your ability to repay the loan according to government standards. However, many lenders aren’t comfortable with more than 36% DTI and may charge you higher interest rates accordingly.


FOUR THINGS TO DO BEFORE YOU MOVE IN

You’re almost done! All that’s left to do is to pack up and move in to your first real home. Here are a few tips that will make your first day as a new homeowner easier.

  1. Sort your belongings. Moving can be more expensive when you cart along items you don’t really want or need. A great way to do it is to sort and pack at the same time. Think in terms of three piles – keep, donate, trash. Trash the trash and drop the donations off at the first opportunity. Put your “keep” pile into moving boxes labeled by room.
  2. Plan your storage options. Closets, attics and cabinets can fill up quickly, especially if you’re downsizing. Where will the out-of-season sports gear go? What about holiday decorations? What goes in the garage?
  3. Plan your trip. Pack your car with necessities, including first aid, drinks, and snacks. Let each family member choose their favorite items to bring, like blankets, pillows, games, books, and a change of clothes, just in case.
  4. Meet your neighbors. If possible, introduce yourselves to your neighbors before you move. You’ll have a greater sense of belonging on moving day.