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Alexandria, Virginia Area Real Estate Blog

Stone Realty Services®


Displaying blog entries 1-10 of 117

One-button Pricing?

by Stone Realty Services®

An Automated Valuation Model, AVM, is a computer approach that looks at public records to make a determination based on square footage, comparable sales and other elements. It is as easy as putting your address in a blank but unfortunately, AVM results may only be accurate about 20% of the time.

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A popular AVM, Zestimate®, states “It is considered a starting point at determining a home’s value.” While an AVM contains some of the same information as a comparable market analysis, it lacks a critical human factor.

Having a pair of experienced eyes consider aspects that are not easily quantified can make a big difference. A skilled professional can tell which properties are truly comparable. A knowledgeable expert can recognize features, floorplans and other things that can affect value but are difficult to quantify.

Even if a person isn’t ready to sell their investment, they like to know its value. It is easy to find the price of stocks or mutual funds on any given day but the value of a home is more difficult.

Regardless of whether you’re just curious as to how much your home is worth or are ready to monetize your equity, I’m available to give you that information without obligation. If you’re not ready now, just keep the letter for when you are.


Holiday Lights Events and Locations!

by Stone Realty Services®

Tis the season for extravagant light displays and holiday cheer! Check out our list of favorite events and locations during this time of year.

Professional Holiday Light Displays

Meadowlark Winter Walk of Lights, Vienna, Nov 13 – Jan 3 

First to open this season, Meadowlark Botanical Gardens lights up for the holidays with over 500,000 lights and displays on a .6 mile outdoor walking trail. Purchase timed entry tickets in advance to ensure you get parking and avoid long lines, though some tickets are available at the door. Pick up a hot chocolate before your walk, then shop at the Snowflake Shoppe for holiday ornaments, flashing jewelry and other goodies. Tickets for adults/children are $13/$8. Opens nightly at 5:30 – 10:00, last admission at 9:15.‚Äč

Busch Gardens Christmas Town, Williamsburg, Nov 27 – Jan 3

Celebrate the spirit of the season at Busch Gardens’ Christmas Town™. Christmas Town brings holiday traditions to life with heartwarming shows, delicious holiday dining and festive shopping opportunities. Experience Christmas traditions from around the world and keep warm with a mug of Busch Gardens' signature hot chocolate. This year, Christmas Town is brighter than ever with more than eight million lights. Of course, no visit would be complete without a stop at the North Pole to see Santa's workshop and meet the jolly old elf-himself. Tickets start at $35 per person for a one day pass OR all Christmas season pass! This is a great deal if you want to visit multiple times this holiday season!

Bull Run Festival of Lights, Bull Run Regional Park, Nov 18 – Jan 3

A perennial favorite, the Bull Run Festival of Lights dazzles with a 2.5 mile drive-through display of holiday and fairytale vignettes. While most of the displays repeat year-to-year, many of the lights were upgraded and brightened in 2014. This is an ideal family activity even for the youngest kids, who stay warm and cozy as you slowly drive through the fun, animated displays.

Weekends get very busy so try to visit on a weekday night when you’ll find fewer cars, no lines, and a $3.00 discount (with coupon). In December, the drive ends at a Holiday Village with rides (brrr), merchandise and activities. Weekday/weekend admission is $15/$20 car. 5:30 – 9:30 weekdays, 5:30 – 10:00 weekends.

Grand Illumination Feast and Festivities, Colonial Williamsburg, Dec 6th 3:30–6:00 pm

For something a little different, gather around a table for a sumptuous supper before experiencing the Grand Illumination Celebration light up the night. The chefs of Colonial Williamsburg have planned a hearty holiday meal as memorable as the evening's main event. As you dine, enjoy live musical performances sure to get you into the holiday spirit. It's a grand way to celebrate the holiday season—the grandest of all! Tickets are $85.95 for adults and $42.95 for children 6-12 years old.

ZooLights, November 27 – January 2 (Except December 24, 25, 31)

With lights starting from 5 pm – 9 pm, join the thousands of visitors who make ZooLights a part of their annual holiday tradition. ZooLights includes live music performances, rides, tasty winter treats, and plenty of opportunities for holiday shopping.

More than 500,000 environmentally-friendly LED lights transform the Zoo into a winter wonderland. New this year will be a dazzling light show set to music.

Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lights, Alexandria, Dec 5

At sundown on the day of the Scottish Christmas Walk parade, brightly decorated pleasure boats compete as they light up the Potomac River at the historic waterfront in Old Town Alexandria. Stop at the marina before and after the parade to visit the Holiday Festival; and Take a Walk in the Woods at the Torpedo Factory Art Center from 4:00 – 9:00 to enjoy performances by the Alexandria Harmonizers plus gift shopping in open artist studios. Free; parade begins at 5:30.

Local Holiday Light displays

  • East Juniper Street, Sterling

  • Stones Throw Drive, Reston

  • 3308 and 3309 Prosperity Ave, Fairfax

  • Archdale Road in Reston (off Fox Mill)

  • 6226 Stonehunt Place, Clifton, and the surrounding neighborhood (across from Centreville High School on Union Mill Road)

At least consider a shorter one

by Stone Realty Services®

At least consider a shorter one

Affordability and stability are reasons homebuyers choose a 30-year fixed rate mortgage. It makes the payment lower than a 15-year mortgage and the principal and interest portion of the payment will be constant for 30 years.

A common belief among homeowners for decades was that they would always have mortgage payment. The Great Recession has caused many individuals to rethink that concept and make plans to get their home paid for sooner.

For people who can afford it, shorter term mortgages will provide a lower interest rate and build equity faster. A 3.09% 15-year fixed-rate mortgage compared to a 3.87% 30-year loan will have a $562.42 higher payment.

The equity would be $66,903.04 greater on the 15-year term at the end of seven years. Even after you consider the higher payment on the shorter term, the equity difference is still almost $20,000 greater.

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By choosing a 15-year loan, a borrower is committing to the higher payment for the term of the mortgage in exchange for a slightly lower interest rate. Another approach would be for the borrower to acquire a 30-year mortgage and make payments as if it were on a 15-year term. The slightly higher rate would allow the borrower the flexibility of not having to make the higher payment in the event he could not afford it on any particular month.

Discussion with your Insurance Agent

by Stone Realty Services®

Insurance and homeowners go together like peanut butter and jelly. Lenders require fire insurance at a minimum for homes with a mortgage but many owners opt for a more comprehensive coverage with a homeowner’s policy.


However, comprehensive doesn’t mean that everything is covered. Filing a claim is not the time to learn that you don’t have the right coverage. Discuss the following issues with your insurance agent to get a better understanding of your policy and whether some adjustments might be in order.

  • Flooding?
  • Rising water? 
  • Mold?
  • Earthquakes?
  • Pools?
  • Termites?
  • Certain kinds of pets or breeds of dogs?
  • Limits on jewelry and cash?
  • Deductible amount?

The whole concept behind buying insurance is to transfer the risk of loss that you cannot afford for an annual premium that you can. Price and coverage need to be considered when comparing policies. Call your agent and make sure you understand what you’re insured for and if there are alternatives available.

Real Cost of Housing

by Stone Realty Services®

A variety of factors have led to a shortage of rental units, especially single family homes, and as a result, rents have been steadily increasing nationwide. In most markets, it is considerably less to own than to rent.

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In some cases, the total house payment is less than the rent for a similar size and condition home which supports a purchase. However, when you factor in some of the financial benefits like principal reduction, appreciation and tax savings, the difference becomes even more dramatic.

Let’s look at an example of a $250,000 home with 3.5% down payment and a 4.50% mortgage for 30 years. We’ll assume a 3% annual appreciation, 25% federal tax bracket, $1,200 annual maintenance and current rent of $2,100 a month.

The total house payment with property taxes, insurance and mortgage insurance premium would be $1,834 a month. Once the principal reduction, appreciation, tax savings and maintenance have been considered, the net cost of housing is about $673 a month. It costs a tenant over $1,400 more a month to rent than to own which would amount to $17,000 in the first year alone. That’s almost twice as much as the down payment to get into the home.

6 Reasons for Rentals

by Stone Realty Services®

Rental homes have several distinct advantages compared to alternative investments. These advantages coupled with the opportunity for a higher yield make it a clear choice for some investors.

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  1. Most investments must be paid for in cash. Stocks can be purchased with 50% cash but if the value goes down, more cash has to be used to keep the margin at 50%. Rentals can readily be financed with only 20-25% down payment.
  2. Most loans made for business or investment purposes are at a floating interest rate compared to the prevalent fixed-rate mortgage on non-owner occupied real estate.
  3. Terms for investment loans if possible are generally six months to a year with a possible renewal but real estate commonly has long term loans up to 30 years.
  4. Real estate has a long-term history of appreciation.
  5. Real estate enjoys tax advantages like long-term capital gains treatment, cost recovery and tax deferred exchanges that are not available to many other types of investments.
  6. Single family homes and similar properties give the investor a reasonable amount of control to make improvements and manage the property which are limited to simply determining when to buy and sell for other investments.

The ins and outs of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, commodities and other investments are unfamiliar with most people. It is obviously possible for anyone to invest in them but the lack of knowledge about how they work could make it more difficult to have a successful outcome. On the other hand, homeowners can use their experiences to select, manage and sell with much more confidence using a single family home for rental purposes.

To find out more about investing in rental properties, contact your real estate professional.

Your Best Investment

by Stone Realty Services®

According to a Federal Reserve report on Consumer Finances, homeowners' net worth is 36 times greater than that of renters. Building on that study, the National Association of REALTORS® believes that by the end of 2015, the factor will grow to 41 times greater.


There can be several factors that contribute to this disparity but an important one is the forced savings that is achieved due to an amortized mortgage. A portion of the payment goes to the reduction of the principal balance of the mortgage which increases equity in the home.

Appreciation is also a major contributor to homeowners’ equity. Homes, in most areas, have consistently increased in value over the long term and during the past four years have experienced solid growth. Many economists expect home prices to increase in the next five years.

Let’s look at a scenario where a qualified buyer considers three different options to see what their investment would be in five years: purchase a certificate of deposit, invest in the stock market or buy a home. The following assumptions are made: a $250,000 home with an $8,750 down payment with a 4.5% mortgage for 30 years and 3% annual appreciation; CD rate at 2% and a 5% return in the stock market.

The $8,750 would grow to $9,661 in the certificate of deposit, to $11,167 in the stock market and to $69,900 in equity with a home purchase. That is over a six times growth in the same period of time due to the amortization of the loan and the appreciation.

Check out Your Best Investment to compare possible differences in your price range. 

The Cost of Co-Signing

by Stone Realty Services®

It seems fairly innocuous; a friend or family member wants you to co-sign on a loan because they don’t qualify. They assure that they’ll make the payments; they’re quite convincing and very appreciative. You don’t want to disappoint them and after all, it’s not like it’s going to cost you anything…is it?

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Think of it this way. They couldn’t get a loan unless you co-sign for them. If they don't make the payments, the lender is going to look to you to repay the loan plus late and collection fees. The lender may be able to sue you, file a lien on your home or garnish your wages.

And it’s not just money that you could be losing, it could be your credit too. Co-signing a loan is a contingent liability that could affect your debt-to-income ratio and your ability to borrow.

Co-signing is an obligation to repay the debt if the other signer is unable. You could be out the money and unable to recoup the loss because you don’t have control of the asset. The impact on your credit could take years to recover.

Before you obligate yourself, consider all of the ramifications involved in co-signing a loan for someone.

Finding the Best Mortgage

by Stone Realty Services®

As rates are inching up but still very affordable, buyers should remember that there is an alternative to a fixed rate mortgage that can provide the lowest cost of housing for the homeowners who understand the parameters.

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A $300,000 fixed-rate mortgage at 4% has a principal and interest payment of $1,432.25 per month for the entire 30 year term. A 5/1 adjustable mortgage at 3% has a $167.43 lower payment for the first five years and then, can adjust, up or down, based on a predetermined index.

Another interesting fact is that the unpaid balance on the ARM at the end of the first five years is $4,624 lower than the fixed-rate mortgage. The total savings in the first five years on the ARM is $14,669.00.

Adjustable rate mortgages are not the right choice for everyone but buyers should at least consider the options based on their individual situation. It could be an obvious choice for a buyer who is only going to be in the home for five years or less.

Use the ARM Comparison worksheet to see what possible savings you could have based on your actual numbers. A trusted mortgage professional can help you to understand the advantages and disadvantages based on your situation. You need the facts to make the best decision. 

Cut Mortgage Insurance

by Stone Realty Services®

Making additional payments toward the principal of your mortgage will do three things for the homeowner: save interest, build equity and shorten the term on fixed rate mortgages.


These things should be beneficial enough to justify the extra payments but another huge advantage is available to those who have private mortgage insurance on their loan. Mortgage insurance rates vary but can range from seventy-five to two hundred dollars a month on a $200,000 mortgage.

Lenders are required to automatically terminate mortgage insurance when the principal balance reaches 78% of the original value of the property. It is important for homeowners to monitor their balance because sometimes lenders may inadvertently fail to terminate the coverage.

Mortgage insurance is a necessary but expensive requirement for many people who are limited to a down payment of less than 20%. Eliminating the need for it can save thousands of dollars over time.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, CFPB, issued a compliance bulletin on August 4, 2015. 

Displaying blog entries 1-10 of 117

Contact Information

Photo of Stone Wood Team Real Estate
Stone Wood Team
Keller Williams Realty
2165 Jamieson Avenue
Alexandria VA 22314
Office: (703) 739-4663
Office: (703) 739-HOME
Fax: 703-683-9692