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Alexandria, Virginia Area Real Estate Blog

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Displaying blog entries 1-10 of 63

Ways to handle Contingencies

by Stone Realty Services®

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An agent was presenting a contract to a single, senior woman who was moving into a retirement home.  It was a full price offer with reasonable terms and timelines but the seller wouldn’t accept it.  When the agent probed deeper, she discovered that the seller was concerned with her dining room table.

It had been the first piece of nice furniture that she and her husband had purchased and they had literally spent a lifetime celebrating and making decisions at that table.  It troubled the owner to think that the table would go to strangers who might not appreciate it as much as her family had.

The agent told the elderly seller that she knew of a church nearby that had a community room filled with lovely tables like hers.  If she liked the idea, the agent would call the church to see if they’d like to have it.  Once a new home for the table was found, the sale of the home went smoothly.

Lower inventory and increased demand in certain price ranges have increased the frequency of multiple offers on the same home.  Sellers are frequently faced with a decision dilemma on which offer to accept and the price may not be the most important factor.

Sellers generally need the equity from the sale of their home to purchase another one but they also don’t want to have to temporarily move if they’re not able to get into the home they’re purchasing.  Flexible buyers have discovered the value in coordinating the sale and possession of the homes.

Sellers want to know when they make a decision on an offer, that the buyers will be able to perform as the contract is written.  The more contingencies that can be eliminated or minimized, the more comfortable a seller will feel about the certainty that it will close according to schedule.

The buyer should be pre-approved with all verifications and credit reports having been done.  Simply having a loan officer’s opinion is definitely not the same thing as a pre-approval.

There is a unique dynamic to every transaction because the parties are individuals with infinite priorities and values.  The art of the deal takes place when these unique variables are considered to define a mutually acceptable offer involving price, terms and conditions. The role and experience of the agents contribute to the successful outcome.

Safety tips before having your home on the market.

by Stone Realty Services®

43997828_250pixel.jpgSeptember is REALTOR® Safety month when special attention is focused on the security of having a home on the market and the concerns for the well-being of owners is a day-to-day effort.  The following list may help sellers secure their home and minimize risk.

  • Locks – doors and windows should be locked at all times.  Additional locks like dead bolts or safety locks can provide a higher level of security.
  • Home lighting - turn on the lights prior to prior to purchasers arriving to improve the showing.  Not only will they be able to see things better, it could prevent them hurting themselves unnecessarily. Outdoor motion-sensor lights provide additional security.
  • Eliminate the possible hazards – try to identify anything that might cause a person to trip and fall such as loose objects on the floor or floor coverings that aren’t properly secured.
  • Security system – If you have a security system, it should be monitored and armed, especially when you’re away from home.  Most systems will allow you to program a temporary code that agents will be able to use based on your instructions. 
  • Prescription medications – remove or secure the drugs before showing the home.   
  • Secure valuables – jewelry, artwork, gaming systems;  mail containing personal information like bank and credit card statements, investment reports;  wine and liquor can also be a security issue.
  • Remove family photos –pictures can be distracting to prospective purchasers but the concern at hand is to eliminate photos of a wife, teenage daughter or children that might provide information to a possible pedophile or stalker who could be posing as a buyer.
  • Remove weapons – the reason to remove guns should be obvious to everyone but a knife block on the kitchen counter can become an opportunity of convenience.
  • Unexpected callers - when some people see a for sale sign in the yard, they think that it’s an invitation to look at the home immediately. Keep your doors locked so that people can’t let themselves in. If they ring the doorbell and want to see the home but aren’t accompanied by an agent, ask them to call your listing agent.

These precautions should be taken before the photos or virtual tours are made.  Having these items in plain sight in the pictures posted on the Internet can unwillingly provide prospective criminals with a menu of what is available.

Agents cannot protect a seller’s valuables other than to inform the owner of potential threats to their security.  In most cases, the seller’s agent will not be present at home showings and even if they were, it is not always practical nor desirable to follow the buyers and their agent through the home. 

"What To Know About Murphy's Law"

by Stone Realty Services®

home maintenance 250.jpgA common expectation of homeowners is to want the components and systems in their home to work when they need them. Periodic maintenance is just as important as having a trusted service provider to make necessary repairs.

Victims of Murphy’s Law can attest that their air conditioner goes out on the hottest day of the year or the water heater fails when you have out of town visitors.

If the convenience of having things work doesn’t justify maintaining your home’s systems, consider that it can be less expensive than the results of neglect causing repairs or replacement.

  • Replace burned-out, dim or missing bulbs in light fixtures and lamps. Consider switching to LED bulbs.
  • Dryer exhaust vents build up lint even though you may be cleaning the filter regularly.
  • Fire extinguishers need to be recharged or replaced after expiration date.
  • Establish a recurring appointment on your calendar to change filters in your HVAC.
  • Replace missing or damaged caulk around sinks, bathtubs, showers, windows and other areas.
  • Clean gutters.
  • Schedule an inspection with a pest control a minimum of once a year unless you have a service contract.
  • Schedule a chimney cleaning prior to using the fireplace for the first time in the season.
  • Keep all tree branches and shrubs trimmed away from the home.
  • Pressure wash exterior, deck, patio, sidewalks and driveway.
  • Keep levels of insulation in the attic above your ceiling joists.
  • Check appliances with water lines for leaks or worn hoses. 
    • ice maker  • washing machine   • dishwasher   • others
  • Test all GFI breakers and reset.
  • Inspect all electrical outlets for broken receptacles, fire hazards or loose fitting plugs.
  • Have furnace and air conditioner serviced annually.
  • Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and change batteries.

The early fall is a great time to take care of these items before the weather becomes harsh.

PMI vs VA Loans

by Stone Realty Services®

iStock_000012313013Small200.jpgPrivate mortgage insurance is necessary for buyers who don’t have or choose not to put 20% or more down payment when they purchase a home.  It is required for high loan-to-value mortgages and it provides an opportunity for many people to get into a home who otherwise would not be able.

The problem is that it is expensive and a homeowner’s goal should be to eliminate it as soon as possible to lower their monthly payment and avoid putting good money down the drain.

FHA loans made after 6/1/13 that have 90% or higher loan-to-value at time of purchase have mortgage insurance premium for the life of the loan.   FHA loans made prior to 6/1/13, can have the MIP removed after five years and if the unpaid balance is 78% or less than the original loan-to-value.

VA loans do not require mortgage insurance.

Conventional loans, in most cases, with higher than 80% loan-to-value require mortgage insurance.  The cost of that insurance varies but with a $250,000 mortgage, it could easily be between $100 and $200 a month.

Your monthly mortgage statement should itemize what your monthly fee is for the mortgage insurance.   Unlike interest that is deductible, most homeowners are not able to deduct mortgage insurance premiums.

If you plan to remain in the home or to stay there for a considerable number of years, the solution may be to refinance the home.   If the home has increased since it was purchased, the loan-to-value at its new appraised value may not require PMI.  You might even be fortunate enough to obtain a lower rate than you currently have.

Cash on Cash

by Stone Realty Services®

Cash Flow.pngMany years ago, Las Vegas hotels would entice customers with inexpensive rooms, meals and entertainment so they would gamble.  It may have worked initially but if you’ve been to Las Vegas recently, the bargains are gone.  Hotels expect each division to be a profit center on its own.  As a consumer, I might not like the changes but as an investor, I’d have to be pleased with increased profitability.

Years ago, real estate investors used to accept negative cash flow buoyed by tax incentives in hopes of making a big payday due to appreciation when they sold it.   Today’s investors are focusing on tangible, current results like cash flow and equity build-up.

Cash flow is the amount of money you have left over after collecting the rent and paying the expenses.  Since rents have gone up considerably due to supply and demand in the last few years and mortgage rates are at near record lows, income is up and expenses are down, making the cash flows attractive.

If the cash flow is sufficient, you could have a good investment even if the value of the property never increased.  Cash on Cash doesn’t consider appreciation and measures the cash flow before tax advantages by the initial investment.  A rental with $3,170 CFBT divided by an initial investment of $29,000 would generate a 10.93% Cash on Cash rate of return.

Low down payments on investor properties are also a thing of the past.  Non-owner occupied mortgage money is available but the investor should expect to put down 25-30%. An advantage of having a smaller mortgage is a lower payment.

Most mortgages are amortized loans with both principal and interest due with each payment.  The forced savings of the principal contribution builds equity in the property and can be considered a part of the rate of return.

A $100,000 mortgage at 4.5% for 30 years would have $1,613.29 applied to principal in the first year.  Divide that by the same $29,000 initial investment and the amortization would generate another 6%.

Without factoring in appreciation or tax advantages, this rental example generates much more than most alternative investments.  There certainly are many different aspects that affect the risk and return on rental investments.  If you haven’t scrutinized single-family rental opportunities in a while, you should look again.

Home Inventory

by Stone Realty Services®

home inventory3.pngHow old is your bedroom furniture and what did you pay for it?  Don’t know?  That’s okay, let’s try an easier question.  When did you buy the TV in your family room and is it a plasma, LCD or a LED?

Whether you are the victim of a burglary, a fire or a tornado, most people are comforted they have insurance to cover the losses.  However, unless you’ve filed a claim, you may not be familiar with the procedures.

The adjustor will want to know the date and how the loss occurred.  Assuming you have contents coverage, the claim for personal belongings is separate from damage to the home.

You’ll be asked to provide proof of purchase, like receipts or canceled checks, or a current inventory.  If they’re not available, you can reconstruct an inventory from memory.  The challenge is trying to remember things you may not have used for years and may not miss for years more.

Relying on memory can be a very expensive alternative.  A prudent homeowner will create a home inventory with pictures or videos while all of their belongings are in the home and they can see them.

Download a home inventory to make your project a little easier.

How Was It Measured?

by Stone Realty Services®
 
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In an attempt to compare homes, one of the common denominators has been price per square foot.  It seems like a fairly, straight forward method but there are differences in the way homes are measured.

 
The first assumption that has to be made is that the comparable homes are similar in size, location, condition and amenities.  Obviously, a variance in any of these things affects the price per square foot which will not give you a fair comparison.
The second critical area is that the square footage is correct.  The three most common sources for the square footage are from the builder or original plans, an appraisal or the tax assessor.  The problem is that none of sources are infallible and errors can always be made.
Still another issue that causes confusion is what is included in measuring square footage.  It is commonly accepted to measure the outside of the dwelling but then, do you include porches and patios?  Do you give any value for the garage, storage or other areas that are not covered by air-conditioning?
Then, there’s the subject of basements.  Many local areas don’t include anything below the grade in the square footage calculation but almost everyone agrees that the finish of the basement area could add significant value to the property.
Accurate square footage matters because it is used to value homes that both buyers and sellers base their decisions upon.
Let’s say that an appraiser measures a home with 2,800 square feet and values it at $275,000 making the price per square foot to be $98.21.  If the assessor reports there are 2,650 square feet in the dwelling and the owner believes based on the builder, there is 2,975 square feet, you can see the challenge.
If the property sold for the $275,000, based on the assessor’s measurements, it sold for $103.77 per square foot and by the owner’s measurements, it sold for $92.44 per square foot. Depending on which price per square foot was used for a comparable, valuing another property with similar square footage could have a $30,000 difference.
The solution to the dilemma is to dig a little deeper into where the numbers come from and not to take the square footage at “face value”.  It is important to recognize that there are differences in the way square footage is handled.

What You Need to Know About VA Loans

by Stone Realty Services®

Benefits of VA financing 2.pngThe Veterans Administration guarantees home loans for eligible veterans.  It is considered an attractive loan because the veteran can purchase the home with no down payment up to specific loan limits and no mortgage insurance. This makes the monthly payment considerably lower.

Let’s assume a buyer wants to purchase a $200,000 home and can get a 4.5% interest mortgage for 30 years.

A FHA loan would require a $7,000 down payment plus $3,377.50 in up-front MIP which can be rolled into the mortgage. The monthly mortgage insurance premium would be $221 per month for a total payment of $1,215.94.

The VA loan doesn’t require a down payment. There is a 2% VA funding fee that can be rolled into the mortgage which would make the principal and interest payment on $204,400 much less at $1,035.66.

The revised loan limits for 2014 are published by VA and can change each year especially based on high-cost areas. However, a lender can allow a home purchase in excess of these amounts with a 25% down payment on the amount above the limit.

If a purchaser wants to buy a $600,000 home in an area where the VA limit is $417,000, the lender could require a $45,750 down payment and make a $554,250 mortgage. In this example, the purchaser is able to get in for less than 10% down payment and no mortgage insurance.

Veterans with the available funds for a down payment should compare all loan products to consider which will provide the lowest cost of housing. A skilled real estate professional and a trusted mortgage advisor can be valuable resources.

Home is the Best Investment!

by Stone Realty Services®

iStock_000009336073Small 250.jpgMore money has been lost to indecision than was ever lost to making the wrong decision.  The economy and the housing market have caused some people to take a “wait and see” position that could cost them in lost opportunities as well as almost certain higher costs in the future.

To illustrate what the opportunity cost might be, let’s compare what the value of the down payment two years from now would be if it was invested in a certificate of deposit, the stock market or used to purchase a home today.

A 3.5% down payment on a $175,000 home is $6,125.00.  If it was invested in a CD that would earn 2%, a person would have $6,372 in two years.  The earnings would be taxed as ordinary income tax rates.  It wouldn't earn much but it would be safe and secure.

The same amount would grow to $7,013 in the stock market if you picked the right stock or fund and it yielded 7%. The earnings would be taxed at the long term capital gains rate.  The return could be greater but so is the risk involved.

If this person were to purchase a home today that appreciated 2% in value over the next two years, the equity in the home would grow to $18,769 due to value going up and the unpaid balance going down.

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The question, we all must ask ourselves is “where should our money be invested?”  Try Your Best Investment to see the difference it will make based on your price range, down payment and earning rate.

The 6 W's Every Renter Should Ask

by Stone Realty Services®

Questions.jpgThe first home purchase can be the culmination of years of planning and consideration. Buyers typically look for 12 weeks and use a variety information sources for research before purchasing. However, many renters are not near as thorough in their study.

Like any other commitment a person makes, careful consideration and understanding is required. There are things that every renter should know before they rent a home or apartment.

  1. A lease is a binding, legal document.
  2. Understand the lease before signing and ask questions.
  3. Get the complete agreement in writing instead of verbal statements.
  4. Tenants have rights too and they vary depending on the state and city.
  5. Tenants need renter’s insurance for their personal belongings and liability.
  6. The landlord is responsible for a habitable and safe environment and should typically pay for repairs due to normal wear and tear.
  7. Do a walk-through of the property before signing a lease.
  8. Don’t withhold the rent to settle a disagreement with landlord.
  9. The landlord must return your deposit or tell you why it is being held in a reasonable time.
  10. It may cost you considerably less to own the home than to rent.

With the exceptionally low mortgage rates available, the house payment including taxes and insurance can easily be less than the market rent of a home. By the time you factor in appreciation, forced savings due to amortization, leverage and tax savings, the actual cost of housing could be close to half of the rent even if a reasonable repair allowance is factored. Check out your net cost of housing.

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Displaying blog entries 1-10 of 63

Contact Information

Brenda Stone and Stone Realty Services®
Keller Williams Realty
2165 Jamieson Avenue
Alexandria VA 22314
Office: 703-739-HOME (4663)
Cell: 703-615-4862
Fax: 703-683-9692