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It takes a village to buy a home

There are many players in the process



It takes a village, gay news, Washington Blade, buying a home
It takes a village, gay news, Washington Blade, buying a home

There are many players in the process of buying a home.

Buying a home is not just a duet between the buyer and the real estate agent. Although these two parties will spend a lot of time together in the process of looking for and buying a home, there are many other players involved in this process. Hence, “It takes a village to buy a home.”

The first players may not even know the Realtor whom the buyer chooses: these are your financial planner and/or CPA. These players will help you decide the right time to buy a home, and the implications for your savings and taxes.

Your next step before beginning to look for a home is to get pre-approved by a lender and to secure a pre-approval letter that you can submit along with your bid on a specific property. You may already have a relationship with a bank that has a mortgage department, so you may want to start there. Your Realtor (if already chosen) will probably also have some suggested lenders with whom she has prior positive experience.  The lender will analyze your financial suitability to buy a home at the current moment, and will figure out your “allowance” in terms of what you can afford to buy given the loan program you are using. Although you have seven days after getting a signed contract to make formal loan application, it is usually a good idea to stay with the same lender with whom you are pre-approved. Even though another lender may offer slightly better rates, you want to make sure that they have the same kind of program under which you were pre-approved, because you may not qualify for as much otherwise.

Choosing a compatible real estate agent is critical because you will be spending a LOT of time with this person over the course of house-hunting, negotiating (perhaps several offers), and closing on a new home. A good place to start your selection process is by asking your friends for recommendations about Realtors to use (or to avoid). Make sure that your agent is a licensed Realtor, that is, a currently licensed agent in the jurisdiction where you are looking and also a member in good standing of NAR (the National Association of Realtors) and the regional Realtor association, GCAAR (Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors). When you first meet with your potential Realtor, he may ask you to sign some forms creating a Buyer Agency Agreement between you and him. This agreement protects you by creating an advocate on your side who will represent your best interests in the transaction. Although there is no financial commitment on your part, you may wish to wait to sign these forms before you have had an opportunity to read them and ask questions, as well as to go out on at least one viewing trip to judge the compatibility between you and the potential Realtor.

The average buyer looks at 12 properties (3-4 viewing trips) before making an offer. Once you find a property you’d like to bid on, you should strategize with your Realtor about the most attractive offer you can make: How much down payment can you offer? How much earnest money (a deposit that accompanies the offer) can you put down? How quickly can you close? What kinds of contingencies will you place on the offer? (For example, will you require a home inspection?) You will also go back to your lender to get a pre-approval letter with exactly your offering price so that the seller doesn’t see that you could offer more.

It’s pretty safe to say that in this market, the contract wins with the biggest down payment (especially all cash) and the fewest contingencies (especially none). Many homebuyers are now performing a pre-offer inspection to identify any problems with the property before they make an offer, as well as to remove one of the most common contingencies (home inspection) from the contract offer.

Congratulations, you’ve got a ratified contract offer signed by all parties! Now you’ve got about another month of activities before closing on your home:

• Your agent should send your earnest money and a copy of the ratified contract to the title company specified in the contract to begin the legal process of preparing title (ownership) transfer and to schedule an appointment for the closing day.

• You will need to make formal loan application. This process is more detailed than the pre-approval process.

• You may need to have a home inspection done if you didn’t do so before making an offer. Make sure your inspector is licensed. You and your agent will want to be present for this inspection.

• Your lender will order an appraisal to be done on the property to make sure the contract price is justified by fair market value. Although you are paying for this appraisal, only the seller’s agent is typically present at the appraisal visit, but you will receive a copy of the report when the lender does.

All of these activities are bound by deadlines specified in the contract. (“Time is of the essence,” it says there.) Your agent should stay on top of all these deadlines to make sure things are flowing smoothly and in a timely manner.

Some additional players are also involved in the final stages before closing:

• You (or your agent or the lender or the title company) will need to secure homeowner’s insurance on the property that begins the day you close.

• You’ll want to schedule a cleaning service to perform a “deep cleaning” before you move in (but after closing day).

• You’ll also need to make arrangements for your move. Although this happens at the end of the process, you’ll want to reserve your date as soon as possible because most movers’ schedules fill up (and their rates increase) quickly, especially in the spring and summer.

• Don’t forget to arrange for utilities transfer. The owner is required to have utility service maintained through the closing, but you are responsible for them immediately afterwards.

At last closing day arrives. You’ll do a final walkthrough of the property before closing, attend the closing document signing (usually an hour), and receive the keys to your new home.

Mazel Tov!

Ted Smith is a licensed Realtor with Real Living | at Home specializing in mid-city D.C. Reach him at [email protected] and follow him on Facebook, Youtube or @TedSmithSellsDC. You can also join him on monthly tours of mid-city neighborhood Open Houses, as well as monthly seminars geared toward first-time homebuyers. Sign up at


Real Estate

Top tax benefits of homeownership

Mortgage interest, property tax deductions, and more



Thinking of buying a house? Here are some of the many tax advantages that come with homeownership.

As we are closing out 2023 and getting ready to start 2024, now is a good time to review what tax benefits most homeowners are getting. There are several categories that you can look at to see if you will benefit from being a homeowner. According to, here are some of them:

  • Mortgage interest.  Most newer homeowners are paying more on the interest in their monthly mortgage payment than on the principal, so this could be a big tax benefit.
  • Home equity loan interest – HELOC (home equity line of credit) loans are like a 2nd mortgage on your home. Many homeowners can use it to make upgrades to their house and interest on these loans is deductible if you used it for that purpose.
  • Discount points – for those of you that purchased in the last year or so these may apply, as these are the price paid to lower an interest rate on a loan.
  • Property taxes – depending on where you live, your state and local property taxes may be a big source of tax deductions for you.
  • Necessary home improvements – even if you did not use a HELOC to improve your home, some of your expenses in this category may be deductible.
  • Home office expenses – as more and more people are working from home, this should not go unexamined in your search to find tax deductions.
  • Capital Gains – a capital gain is the difference between the value of a home when you sold it versus when you borrowed it. So, if you sold your home for a significant profit and did not roll over those gains into a new property within a short period of selling the old property, then ask your tax professional up to which amount of these profits are not taxable.

We asked Tina Del Casale ([email protected]), a DMV-area lender with Sandy Spring Bank, what she thought about the tax benefits of homeownership, and here is her answer:

“Most homeowners wish they knew sooner that most every major home improvement can reduce your future capital gains when you are ready to sell your home. While the deduction for a single person is $250,000, and for married couples is $500,000, the DMV has seen property appreciation that outpaces those numbers. So keep ALL your receipts for replacement items like your HVAC, windows, doors, roof, major landscaping and updating bathrooms and kitchens. You will thank me later! Of course most importantly consult a tax adviser for up-to-date information!”

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to either of us if you have more questions and happy holidays! Let’s get you home for the holidays.

Joseph Hudson is a Realtor with the Rutstein Group of Compass. Reach him at 703-587-0597 or [email protected].

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Real Estate

Celebrating friends and family at Thanksgiving

The kitchen is always a bustling hub during this festive season



(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

By the time you read this article, you will likely have filled up on turkey, dressing, gravy and pumpkin pie. Perhaps you have unbuttoned the top button on your pants or are lounging in your sweats, watching football, playing board games, reading a new book, or braving the crowds at the shops on Black Friday. 

Maybe this is the day you buy a Christmas tree or bring one out of your storage area, intent on spending the weekend decorating and drinking hard cider. Perhaps you are celebrating Thanksgiving (or Friendsgiving) at someone else’s home, or they may have come to your place, where you will be the gracious host. 

Whatever your plans, Thanksgiving should be a time of gratitude and appreciation, offering a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the treasures within the sanctuary of our homes and the people who inhabit them, ruminating on things you are thankful for. 

Wherever you are and whatever your role, the kitchen is always a bustling hub during this festive season and holds an abundance of reasons to be thankful. It’s where the aromas of childhood family recipes waft through the air, promising a delectable feast and a weekend of leftovers. The communal act of preparing meals together can foster bonds that remind us of the importance of laughter and togetherness.

Within the walls of our homes lie spaces of relaxation and repose. The warmth of a cozy fireplace crackling softly, casting a gentle glow upon the walls, invokes a sense of comfort. It’s a haven that shields us from the briskness of the outside world and encourages moments of reflection. 

The soft embrace of a well-worn armchair or the inviting ambiance of a comfy sofa offer respite from the demands of the day. These items are more than just furniture; they become the cocoons where we can decompress and rejuvenate our spirits.

The belongings in your home, according to Marie Kondo, should spark joy. There may be a family heirloom passed down through generations, a gift from a special someone, or a shelf lined with well-worn and oft-read books that transport us to different worlds. These items, each holding a story or a memory, add richness and depth to the tapestry of our lives and the personality of our homes.

Outside, the surroundings also contribute to a sense of pride and accomplishment. The beauty of a well-tended garden, the soothing rustle of leaves in the wind, or the sight of a breathtaking sunset from the porch remind us of nature’s glory. These outdoor spaces offer a retreat, a canvas for moments of quiet contemplation and appreciation for the world around us.

For those embracing a full house during the holidays, ingenuity transforms shared spaces into impromptu sleeping quarters. Nooks and alcoves are repurposed, made comfortable with privacy screens or curtains, ensuring a sense of personal space in otherwise communal areas. 

Pull-out sofas in the living room transform seamlessly into slumber zones, outfitted with pillows and extra blankets. Air mattresses can turn any available space—a study, a home office, or even a cleared-out corner—into a peaceful resting place. The hidden Murphy bed has also resurfaced as a viable alternative and, if you’re really crowded, consider a hotel or Airbnb – for yourself or for your guests.

The essence of hospitality lies not only in the physical comforts but also in the graciousness of hosts. A warm welcome and attentiveness to guests’ needs contribute to the overall experience that transcends mere sleeping arrangements, creating an atmosphere of connection and camaraderie.

Beyond the confines of the designated sleeping quarters, the true magic of hosting overnight guests during the holidays lies in the shared moments, the spirit of togetherness, and often, the ability to hold one’s tongue during uncomfortable conversations. Instead, laughter echoing through the halls, late-night chats by the fireside, and the joy of being together should evoke the true essence of the season.

Whether you live in an apartment, a condo, a house, or are meeting in another location, it is family, friends, and neighbors who fill our lives with love, support, and companionship. Their reminiscences and shared experiences enrich our lives and make our homes not just a series of rooms, but places to forge new memories.

So, what are you thankful for? Me, I’m grateful that I have a roof over my head and healthy food to eat when others have none. I am thankful to have helped many clients find housing amid the neighborhoods of the DMV. I am delighted to have beloved pets to keep my spirits up.

But most of all, I’m thrilled that I don’t have to cook.

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, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.

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Real Estate

Let there be light

An essential aspect of home design



Exterior lighting can improve the appearance and security of your home.

If you have ever shopped for a home, built a home, renovated a home, read a book in your home, or approached your home at night, this article is for you.

What do all these things have in common? Lighting.

Lighting is an essential aspect of home design, contributing to the overall atmosphere and functionality of a space. Various areas of the home may require different lighting solutions to fulfill specific needs and create the desired ambiance.

Often, my clients cite natural light from windows, glass doors, and skylights as being a very important criterion in their home search. As one afflicted with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) who is currently struggling through a return to standard time, I make natural light a priority as well. 

Although I sit in front of a light bar for 20 minutes a day during fall and winter, I find that natural light enhances my mood, promotes better sleep, and reduces eye strain while reading or watching television. If there is a harsh glare that interferes with working on my computer, I draw the curtains or pull down a shade.

Ambient (general) lighting ensures overall illumination of a room. Chandeliers, recessed lights, and ceiling fans with light kits are popular choices for ambient light, and builders are offering switch-operated ceiling fixtures as standard features in bedrooms again. 

The placement and intensity of ambient lighting should depend on the room’s size and purpose. Entering a dark room without a switch that connects to an overhead light can be daunting. On the other hand, rooms that feature multiple rows of recessed lights can make an open floor plan feel like the operating room of a hospital or an airport runway, although dimmer switches can be used to tone down particularly bright lights.

Task lighting is essential for specific activities that require focused illumination, such as reading, cooking, or working. Task lights are typically adjustable and provide bright, directed light to enhance visibility, prevent eye strain, and improve clarity and comfort. Examples of task lights include desk lamps, under-cabinet lights in the kitchen, and vanity lights in the bathroom.

Accent lighting is used to highlight specific features or objects in a room, such as artwork, curio cabinets, mirrors, or architectural elements, and can add depth and drama to a room by creating contrast and visual interest. Spotlights, track lights, rope lights, and wall-mounted fixtures with adjustable heads are popular choices for accent lighting.

Decorative lighting fixtures serve both functional and ornamental purposes. Chandeliers, pendant lights, table lamps, and sconces can add a touch of style and elegance to a room. The decorative fixture you choose can complement your décor or serve as a statement piece, such as an heirloom or vintage lamp, to create a cohesive and aesthetically pleasing environment.

Exterior lighting can serve a multitude of purposes. Landscape architects often recommend illuminating pathways, gardens, and architectural features. Proper lighting contributes to safety and security by improving visibility, reducing the risk of accidents, and ensuring a secure environment for residents and visitors, especially if you entertain outside at night. 

In addition, exterior lighting can create a warm and inviting tone, adding character and drama to the landscape and transforming outdoor areas into cozy retreats. Spotlights are often used to highlight a particular item, such as a tree, a garden sculpture, the property address, or holiday decorations. Solar fixtures that do not require underground wiring are a popular option.

With advancements in technology, integrated home lighting systems with smart bulbs and fixtures provide convenience, energy savings and environmental sustainability while allowing homeowners to control the intensity or color of lights, and even schedule when fixtures turn on and off or dim through smartphones or voice commands. They can also be linked to other items such as garage door openers, motion sensors, and security systems.

You may want to consult a lighting designer to develop a plan for your home. If you want to take more of an active role, check out free apps like Light ARchitect from Cooper Lighting Solutions or the Planning Guide: Lighting at

Then, rather than head off to the big box store for builder-grade items, look at online options from,,, and, to find something that suits your style and isn’t seen all over town.

The right lighting can enhance the ambiance of a room, highlight a favorite piece of art, let you comfortably read a good book or cook a gourmet meal, and increase security. But remember what your mother always said: Turn out the lights when you leave the room!”

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, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.

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