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Customer service — the key to success

Attention to detail and going the extra mile imperative skills to offer as realtor

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Historically, real estate has always been thought of as simply a sales industry. But that’s only part of the equation. As a realtor, I never lose sight of the fact that the buildings I sell are much more than brick, wood and mortar. They are my customers’ homes. My customers depend on me to help them through the process.

Before becoming a realtor, I spent 10 years working in corporate management. I witnessed the downfall of many companies that focused more on the money than the customer. Thanks to that eye-opening experience, I entered the world of real estate with one simple goal: always provide exceptional customer service. At the end of the day, the key to real estate success is service — not sales.

As we all know, the past several years have seen an explosion in competition and technology. Let’s face it people have nearly endless choices in selecting a realtor or viewing listings online. Many realtors now find themselves working much harder and spending more time to obtain that listing or bringing a buyer to contract. But if a realtor can focus on the customers’ needs, repeat business and new business will come from word of mouth.

Loyalty and good will are not commodities that can be bought. Customers want to be treated and should be treated with honesty, professionalism, respect and above all, integrity.

I have lived in the Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington for 25 years and I cannot begin to tell you how many of my neighbors and friends have told me what people want from a realtor. They want a realistic, honest and accurate market analysis of their property. They want a realtor who will commit to action. They want their phone calls returned when they leave messages. The bottom line is — people are trusting a realtor to help them find or sell the right house at the right price. They deserve someone who understands and responds to their needs, their questions and their concerns.

Realtors with a keen business sense clearly understand that exceptional customer service is not a bonus —it’s a requirement. Realtors who can create and maintain the highest level of exceptional customer service will be the ones who will have a real advantage over their competitors. They view exceptional customer service as an opportunity to not only compete but flourish in today’s real estate market environment.

I recall a few years ago, I had a customer who owned investment property in Logan Circle. Her husband had died and left his half of the property to his wife, along with his surviving brother. We received a contract on the property and my customer, who lived in Virginia, readily signed off on it. But we needed her brother-in-law’s signature, too. Unfortunately, he had no cell phone, no computer and no fax. And he was leaving the next afternoon for a month-long trip to Europe. My customer desperately needed my help — she needed my service. I boarded a plane, flew to LaGuardia airport, met the brother-in-law and he signed off on the contract. I got back on the plane and flew home to D.C. The deal was ratified! My seller was so pleased with that exceptional customer service I later received the listing on her home in Virginia — which I successfully sold for her. I now have a customer for life.

Don’t misunderstand. In today’s environment, the sale is still critical. But, again, it’s only part of the equation. Without exceptional customer service, you won’t make a sale.

Here are some tips for finding a customer service-oriented realtor:

1.    Ask to see references. Much like a job interview, a realtor should be happy to provide references. Check them out. Contact previous customers and ask questions. Be satisfied you are a good match.

2.    Ask to see the realtor’s sales performance over the past few years. Is the business growing? Does the realtor have a niche? What is the price range of properties sold?

3.    Observe your realtor’s behavior. Does he/she return phone calls, make and keep commitments? Is the realtor punctual? Are you kept informed? These are all very important behavior characteristics that can be a good indicator of the realtor’s customer service approach.

4.    When in doubt, ask questions and then ask more questions.

My sellers and buyers are all treated alike when it comes to providing exceptional customer service. After all, they deserve it. Buying a house is a huge investment. They deserve a realtor who is fully invested in them.

John Lumsden is a realtor with Coldwell Banker Dupont, 1696 17th Street NW, Washington, DC  20009 and can be reached at 202.288.3185 or [email protected]. He’s licensed in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

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Real Estate

Standing on both feet in the current real estate market

Interest rates are up and contingencies are back

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Buyers have more power than they’ve had in recent years.

Gone are the days of a home receiving 25 offers and going well over asking price by more than $250,000. One would think…

The housing market in our immediate area as well as most of the United States has changed from what we’ve seen during the earlier pandemic days. Here in the nation’s capital, we have seen a market that is more in keeping with what we have historically seen. The fall market this year has brought on a substantial amount of new inventory to the market, which is consistent with earlier market trends. We have seen the prices reduce a bit and we have seen days on market linger a bit. But what exactly is going on here?

RISING MORTGAGE RATES

For two years we saw a wild real estate market that was fueled by the need for more space, new space, fresh space, and insanely low interest rates. The lack of inventory in the market also assisted in allowing sellers to get substantial amounts of money over their asking price and left buyers giving everything away. Since then the landscape has changed. Due to higher than the “old normal” interest rates, the market has begun to correct itself a bit. I would like to point out that the interest rates are NOT the only reason for the market correcting itself, this is also due to the influx of inventory coming to the market. Buyers now have so many options to look at, things to consider, and time is truly back on their side in order to make a more sound and informed decision when it comes to home ownership.

Please don’t get it twisted — if a home is well photographed, well marketed, and well priced in addition to having a brilliantly charming Realtor at the open house — it will surely sell with several offers and over asking. That is just no longer the norm.

TIT-FOR-TAT NEGOTIATIONS 

Although we no longer live in a world where sellers can expect to receive $250,000 above asking, we also don’t live in a world where buyers can expect to offer 30-50 percent less than asking and expect for the results to be positive. Similar to dating – we are back to a more intimate handholding experience when it comes to both the home buying and selling experience. As a seller it is important to ensure that your home is in tip-top shape while pricing it properly. As a buyer you should ensure that you have a great pre-approval, provide an appropriate EMD and realize that now you can include CONTINGENCIES! Yes! Once again, you can actually have a home inspection, financing contingency and even a radon test if you are feeling frisky. Those are the most valuable changes in the market for buyers.

INFLATION OR INFLATEGATE?

While turning on the news might be grim these days between inflation, the stock market, and interest rates – home prices are still over 6 percent more expensive than this time last year. If you look at the job market for example, unemployment is at an all-time low. You are still getting paid every week and if your manager makes you angry enough you have the flexibility to quit one job and find another relatively quickly. This mindset combined with an increase in active home listings and decrease in demand – you will likely still say: “Let’s go buy a home.”

Justin Noble is a Realtor with Sotheby’s international Realty licensed in D.C., Maryland, and Delaware for your DMV and Delaware Beach needs. Specializing in first-time homebuyers, development and new construction as well as estate sales, Justin is a well-versed agent, highly regarded, and provides white glove service at every price point. Reach him at 202-503-4243,  [email protected] or BurnsandNoble.com.

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Real Estate

What you get for the money in D.C.

Plenty of options from $200,000 to $10 million

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Looking to buy in D.C.? There are plenty of options at all price points.

As I write this, the national average 30-year, fixed-mortgage rate is 6.33%, with VA and FHA loans hovering around 5.7%. These rates can fluctuate based on the amount of your down payment, your assets and liabilities, your credit score, and the type of home you purchase. 

A $400,000 mortgage that cost $1,686 per month in 2021 at 3% will now increase your monthly payment by an additional $798. Sadly, this may eliminate a portion of the buyer pool or necessitate postponing a purchase, particularly for the first-time buyer.

On the other hand, we are beginning to see an increase in inventory, longer marketing time, periodic price reductions, and even offers of closing help and repairs to items found in a home inspection. So where are these homes and what do you get for your money?

First, let’s define the term “home.” 

There are two types of fee simple structures: a detached house and a rowhouse (a.k.a. townhouse in the suburbs). With a fee simple purchase, you own the land and the structure(s) on it.

Another type of home is a condominium, where you own the unit and a corresponding percentage of the land beneath the building and the common areas within it. 

In a cooperative apartment, instead of owning the unit and peripheral areas, you own shares of stock in the corporation that holds those things. 

Believe it or not, you can still buy property in D.C. for less than $250,000. It will most assuredly be a condo or co-op. It will probably be a studio or one-bedroom, although there are a few two-bedroom units and even four three-bedroom units currently available to choose from. If you’re looking under $100,000, however, you’ll be sleeping in your very own parking space.

Where are these inexpensive homes hiding? You can find many of them in Adams Morgan, Cleveland Park and Petworth and quite a few east of the river in Congress Heights, Deanwood, Hillcrest, and Randall Heights. 

River Park, a popular co-op along the Southwest Waterfront, features a 2-bedroom, 2-bath unit for only $189,000, if your budget can withstand a monthly fee of nearly $1,400, including property taxes and utilities.

If you raise your purchase price to $500,000, then you can select from 538 available homes, including dozens of rowhouses in Anacostia, Congress Heights, Deanwood, and Lily Ponds just west of the Anacostia Freeway.

One-bedroom condos and co-ops abound in this price range as well, so check out those in Brightwood, Brookland, Capitol Hill, and even Friendship Heights and Georgetown. For the brand-conscious, there’s even a 1,000-square-foot one-bedroom co-op available at the Watergate for only $425,000, reduced from $570,000. Who says you can’t get a bargain in D.C.?

In the $500,000 to $750,000 range, you can live pretty much wherever you want by selecting from a rowhouse or detached home in the Brookland-Woodridge-Michigan Park-Riggs Park enclave or an assortment of two-bedroom condos in Columbia Heights, Dupont Circle and Logan Circle, and even three-bedroom units in Shaw. Why not? There are 471 homes to choose from.

Inching up further to $1 million, there are 330 homes on the market: beautifully renovated houses in Park View, Petworth, 16th Street Heights, Brookland, Brightwood and Capitol Hill, as well as condos in Georgetown and co-ops in Foggy Bottom.

If you can afford the next price band of $1 million to $1.5 million, 197 homes await. There are some lovely three- and four-story rowhouses available in Bloomingdale, Capitol Hill near the H Street Corridor, and Columbia Heights. You’ll also find condos in West End, in the Central Business District, and along the U Street Corridor.

There are 83 homes available in the $1.5 million to $2 million range. Select from fee simple properties in Upper NW, Capitol Hill, Chevy Chase, and Georgetown, or splurge and choose one of two two-bedroom, 2.5-bath condos at the Ritz-Carlton. You’ll only pay a “small” monthly fee of about $3,100. 

For those lucky people for whom price is no object, there are 142 homes currently listed from $2 million to $10 million. They are scattered throughout Georgetown, Forest Hills, Logan Circle, Dupont, Kalorama, Wesley Heights, and the Embassy Row area of Massachusetts Avenue.

Unlike New York or Los Angeles, you won’t find anything in the tens of millions, but there are four homes listed between $10 million and $12 million in Wesley Heights and Massachusetts Avenue Heights, as well as one 11-bedroom beauty in Forest Hills, with an estimated 17,000 finished square feet on four levels – just perfect for you and 10-20 of your closest friends.

Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with RLAH Real Estate / @properties. Call or text her at 202-246-8602, email her via DCHomeQuest.com, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs

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Real Estate

When does it make sense to pay for mortgage points?

It depends on how long you plan to stay in the house

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If you’re buying this fall, consider how long you plan to live in the home before deciding on buying mortgage points.

Sometimes when you hear people talking about mortgages you might hear the term “mortgage points.” In case you are wondering what that means, here’s the definition: Mortgage “points” are the fees a borrower pays in order to lower the interest rate on their loan. Sometimes referred to as “discount points” – since it discounts your rate (but increases your closing costs).

According to lender Brooke Lowry with Atlantic Coast Mortgage, the decision to use points relates to timeframe. She says, “The clear advantage of paying points is that it lowers your monthly payment. The clear disadvantage is that is increases the amount of cash due at closing. So, how do you decide if paying points makes sense or not? It really comes down to timeframe. Let’s say you pay $2,500 in points to lower your monthly payment by $50 per month. You would recapture the cost of paying points ($2,500 in this example) in 50 months. And after that is when you would start realizing the benefit of the points you paid several years earlier.”

So, if you plan on staying in your home for a longer period, and don’t plan on refinancing anytime soon, you might want to buy down your rate with points. As Brooke says, “The bottom line is that if you plan to have the same mortgage for a long period of time, then paying points can make sense since you give yourself a long enough runway to recapture the upfront cost and then benefit from the continued monthly savings. If you think you’ll refinance your loan, or potentially sell the house, then many times minimizing the amount of points you pay, or avoiding them altogether, can benefit you in the long run. The hard part is, none of us know when rates will fall so it’s hard to decide which option makes the most sense.”

For some people having the extra cash on hand to put toward the closing costs, a bathroom renovation once they move in, or just for moving costs and various other needs is more important. For others, having the lower rate and keeping the monthly payment down for as long as possible is more important. As one of my college professors used to say, “Context is everything.” 

Joseph Hudson is with the Rutstein Group of Compass and can be reached at 703-587-0597 or [email protected].

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