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Mortgage déjà vu

Your home is not an ATM, it’s a long-term investment

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The Big Short, gay news, Washington Blade, mortgage loans

The movie ‘The Big Short’ has given us insight into the role of the financial institutions in the housing crash.

Remember back in the early to mid-2000s when interest rates were low, financing was creative and mortgage loans were given out like candy by some unscrupulous lenders?

Properties were appreciating so quickly that homeowners were often encouraged to refinance and use the rising equity in their homes for debt consolidation, home improvements, college tuition and vacations.

Back then, borrowing money was easy. A person could state his income and verify his assets (SIVA loan), state both her income and her assets (SISA loan), or obtain a no income, no asset loan (NINA) just by having a stellar credit rating and paying a higher interest rate.

And remember those adjustable rate mortgages known as “Option ARMs,” where the borrower could choose each month to make a fully amortized payment, an interest-only payment, or an even lower payment based on an initial “teaser” rate? The initial rate was so low that the principal and interest you didn’t pay on a monthly basis would be added to the loan amount and when it came time to pay off the loan, you owed more than you did when you initially got it.

The assumption in the lending community was that rapid appreciation would overtake the additional debt and result in a profit on sale despite your having added to your initial loan amount. Nice work if you can get it and, like a Ponzi scheme, it worked for a while.

A Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) was also a popular option. You didn’t need to refinance; just get a new appraisal substantiating a higher value and have an instant line of credit of up to 100 percent of the newly appraised value. Easy peasy.

Then the economy took a downward turn and the money that had flowed so freely dried up.  Many homeowners simply put their heads in the sand, refusing to believe that third notice from the mortgage company containing the dreaded word, “foreclosure.”

Years later, I would tell my clients who had to bring additional funds to closing to be able to sell their homes that they did not lose their equity but simply spent it in advance. One could only hope to rob Peter to pay Paul for so long until Peter demanded payment as well.

But sometimes Peter agreed to accept less than owed and the concept of the short sale re-integrated itself into the housing market. It grew so exponentially that our tax laws were changed to eliminate penalties for debt forgiven by financial institutions.

The movie “The Big Short” has given us insight into the role of the financial institutions in the housing crash, but consumers were not entirely blameless. Some most certainly must share responsibility for their own fate by not seeking to understand their loan documents and by being mesmerized by the shiny object before them – a home they knew they could not really afford.

There are still areas of the country where people have not crawled out of the mortgage abyss so imagine my surprise the other day when I heard a television commercial for a lender that used the tag line: “Your home is your bank.”

To quote Yogi Berra, it was “like déjà vu all over again.”

Let me be clear: When I bought my first house, the interest rate was 11.75 percent. I also remember earlier conversations around the dinner table where my parents discussed rates as high as 18-21 percent, so I’m all for creative mortgage loan programs that make homeownership more affordable.

The problem with the home-as-bank theory, however, is that it presupposes that the borrower a) has equity in the home, b) has the income to handle higher payments, and c) understands any terms, conditions and limitations of the loan product.

With interest rates beginning to rise since the election, the promise of a 2.99 percent rate with “no closing costs” may seem enticing but remember, folks, there’s no such thing as that proverbial free lunch. The interest rate will have conditions and those closing costs are hidden in there somewhere, either in the amount of the loan or incorporated into the interest rate.

So, when deciding on a suitable type of mortgage for your purchase or refinance, remember that your home is not an ATM. Think of it instead as your personal sanctuary and a potential long-term investment in your future. Your financial solvency may depend on it.

Valerie M. Blake can be reached at 202-246-8602 or [email protected]. Each Keller Williams Realty office is independently owned and operated. Equal Housing Opportunity.

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Real Estate

Yes, there are other coastal Delaware towns besides Rehoboth

Explore Bethany, Ocean View, Milton for more affordable options

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World War II watch towers dot the Delaware coastal landscape outside of Rehoboth. (Photo by Ethan Bean)

Often when we Washingtonians think of Delaware we think of Rehoboth Beach only. Well, believe it or not, there are actually other coastal towns besides Rehoboth — even some that are being taken over by gay buyers. Although you won’t find anything quite like Rehoboth, there are other options out there when looking for something perhaps a bit more affordable than Rehoboth within close proximity to all that Rehoboth has to offer.

The first option would be to look a bit farther inland. There are great condo options a bit inland from Rehoboth that will afford you some more space and are more economically priced. These options are usually a closer commute to those of us heading to the beach from D.C. Think of those condos you pass along Route 1 near the outlets – still having a Rehoboth address, but not the asking price of in-town Rehoboth. 

Let’s take a look at coastal towns that are outside of Rehoboth. Let me preface this by saying that I am a Delawarian. Born and raised in a real estate centric family with deep roots in Delaware. My grandfather always said, “Buy as close to the water as they won’t make more of it.” Obviously he was kind of wrong, because they make these hideous man-made retention pond, but of course he was speaking about the ocean and bay. No matter what coastal town I speak about in this article, they will be costly. It is just a fact. There are some options, however, that are priced a bit better than others.

Bethany Beach, for example. I know, it’s a bit sleepy and considered “family friendly,” however it is also priced better than Rehoboth. I am biased because that’s where I hang my hat and it’s a quick drive or Uber to Rehoboth for a night out or day at Poodle Beach. I also enjoy the fact that I have oodles of friends who have boats and have easy access to the bay for kayaking and afternoons out on the boats for happy hours. There’s nothing better than watching the sunset on the bay in a boat with a glass of rosé, something easily done with the access points from the Bethany Beach area.

Another coastal town that is on the opposite side of the state is Broadkill Beach. If you have ever visited the Outer Banks, this is the Outer Banks of Delaware. Broadkill Beach is technically in Milton, Del., and is a smaller beach community with essentially one road in and out providing a very exclusive feel for residents. The beaches are not like those of Rehoboth, Dewey, Bethany, or Fenwick. There is no boardwalk, no tourist attractions, little commercial development, etc. You literally go here for the beach, rest, and relaxation. Peace and quiet — the polar opposite from what Rehoboth provides.

Lastly, there are always quaint inland towns that offer respite from the beach but allow a quick drive to the sand. Some of my favorites are the town of Milton, which is a quick drive to Lewes beach. Milton provides a charming downtown area with shops, restaurants, coffeeshops, a lively arts district, and more. Truly a once upon a time sleepy town that in the past few years has woken up – it still retains its charm and character. Some of my favorite restaurants and shops are here. A quick drive takes you to the beaches of Lewes and also the town of Lewes, which is equally charming.

My next favorite coastal town – again – because I am biased – is Ocean View, which is a town outside of Bethany Beach. This town is more spread out, however it offers lots of restaurants, coffeeshops, Delaware State parks and this side of the Indian River Bridge, you gain easy access to the bay, which truly changes your way of life.

The next time you are at the beach, take time from kik’ing at Aqua or Poodle Beach and spend some time exploring the quaint town of Milton or drive along scenic Route 1 south to Bethany Beach to see what other coastal towns Delaware has to offer outside of Rehoboth that might be a more economical option in making your beach home a reality. I promise that a second home at the Delaware beaches is more within reach than you may think.

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 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

Summer means time for annual maintenance

‘Gonna turn this house around somehow’

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Spring and summer mean it’s time to freshen up your landscaping and curb appeal.

It’s almost summer! The last days of school are here, people are getting ready to wear their swimsuits again, and suddenly BBQ sauce is front and center on all the aisles at the grocery store. What does that mean for all the homeowners out there? It means a bit of yearly maintenance.  

Summer maintenance checklist:

  • Check gutters and clean downspouts. The summer storms can knock a lot of branches and leaves around.
  • Have the HVAC serviced if you haven’t already.  A good rule of thumb is after winter, and again after summer. 
  • It’s time to trim back bushes and trees away from power lines. 
  • Wash windows and replace the window screens.
  • Reverse the ceiling fans so that it pushes the cool air downward.  You want them to spin counter-clockwise.
  • Clean the garbage disposal and the dishwasher.  You can add a cup or two of vinegar to the dishwasher and run a low wash cycle.  
  • Clean baseboards.
  • Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors – replace batteries as needed.
  • Check outdoor hoses and appliance hoses – refrigerators, dishwashers, etc. for any leaks or cracks.  
  • Freshen up your yard, porch or deck spaces. A quick trip to a hardware or a garden center can help you liven up any outdoor space and get it ready for entertaining.  Don’t forget the citronella candles and bug spray.
  • Power wash decks and driveways.
  • Clean and scrub any grills. Check any hoses and connections for gas grills.  
  • Get a dehumidifier for any musty basement spaces, clean it up and plug it in.
  • Check seals on washers and dryers, and wipe down with an all-purpose cleaner.

Spending a little time and energy on your home – one of the biggest investments you will make, can help you to improve its resale value and optimize the enjoyment of your purchase.  Spring and summer can also be time to tackle those larger projects such as cleaning out a garage, a closet, or a spare bedroom.  

As someone who just moved after 10 years in the same building last year, I can speak to the level of freedom one feels after taking old appliances to Goodwill, finally selling that table or those chairs online, and hauling out bags and bags of trash. Do yourself a favor and clean it all up. You will be so happy you did when it’s finally done, and it can give you a sense of new beginnings.  

How might you use that extra space after you clean it up? Who knows, there’s only one way to find out. Need a little motivation to get all these projects done?  Don’t forget to find your favorite summer playlist, or even put on a Gay Pride Playlist. You could even recreate your favorite scene from “Saltburn” and dance around naked in your newly cleaned home when you are done. 

Joseph Hudson is a referral agent with Metro Referrals. Reach him at [email protected] or 703-587-0597.

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Real Estate

What property should I purchase if I’m not sure how long I’ll be in D.C.?

Row homes, English basements and more options abound

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D.C. offers an array of properties no matter how long you plan to live here.

Great question! If you are looking at real estate as an investment – two great property types to look at would be a smaller row home and also a row home that has an English basement. Some property types that you might want to stay away from would be a condo or a co-op unit. Let’s take a look at why these properties would be good and bad:

Smaller Row Home

Row homes are a great investment for many reasons. You can often find smaller two-bedroom row homes in the same price point as those of a two-bedroom condo, which might be seen as a “condo alternative” and afford you much more freedom. There are no condo associations or home owner associations that you must belong to so this keeps your monthly carrying costs on the lower end and you are allowed to make more independent decisions. For example, if you wanted to paint the house purple – in most cases you would be allowed to. If you wanted to change the color of the front door or put shutters on the windows – you would be allowed to. This is usually not the case with condo or co-ops. 

When it comes to the rental market – similarly renters like the independence of privacy in a home and not being among many other people. The luxury of perhaps direct off-street parking, outdoor space or even just more space at the same rental amount that a two bedroom condo rent would be – this is more appealing for a renter and would likely rent faster than that of a condo or co-op. For this model – you would obviously need to move out before you could take advantage of the investment of this type of real estate.

A row home with an English basement 

With this type of real estate you can immediately begin receiving income after your purchase. You can occupy the upstairs of the row home, which is usually the larger portion of the home, or you could even occupy the basement, which is usually the 1-2 bedroom smaller portion of the home and receive rental income for the other half of the home. This can be in the way of a yearly traditional tenant or in the manner of short-term rentals (check with the most recent STR policies within the District). With this model, you stand to make even more of a return on your investment upon your move out of the home as you can rent the entire home or you can rent the top unit and basement unit independently to gross a larger amount of income. It is important to note that it is never advised to purchase a row home unless you can fully afford it WITHOUT the idea of accepting additional rental income to offset the mortgage cost.

These two options listed above are the most typical found within the District because they are fee simple, standalone pieces of real estate and are not within a condo association, HOA, or a co-op with governing documents that tell you what you can and cannot do which makes row homes an attractive type of real estate for a long-term hold.

When looking at types of properties that you might want to stay away from – condos and co-ops come to mind and I say this with a caveat. You can surely purchase these types of real estate but must first understand the in’s and out’s of their governing documents. Condos are bound by the governing condominium documents which will tell you for how long your lease must be, a minimum of lease days, you can only rent after you have lived in the residence for a number of years, likely will stipulate no transient housing – which means no short term rentals. It could also quite possibly say that you can only rent for a specific amount of time and lastly it will also stipulate that only a specific amount of people can rent at one time in order to stay below the regulated lending requirements set forth by Fannie and Freddie Mac. Similarly, Co-ops are even more strict – they can tell you that you are just not able to rent at all or if you can you can only do so for a specific number of years and then you are required to sell or return back to the unit as your primary residence. 

As you can see, when it comes to condos and co-ops there are more specific and stringent bylaws that owners must agree to and follow that limit or even outlaw your ability to rent your piece of real estate. When you purchase a row home – there are no regulations on what you can and cannot do regarding rentals (outside of the short-term regulations within the District).

When looking for a piece of real estate in the District it is important to think through how long you could possibly wish to hold onto this property and what the future holds. If you think this is a long-term hold then you might consider a row home option – again, you can find a smaller two-bedroom row home that amounts to that price similar to a two-bedroom condo and would afford you a more flexible lifestyle. It’s important to work with a real estate agent to ensure that they guide you in this process and help answer any questions you might have. It’s also always advised to speak directly to a short-term rental specialist should you wish to go down that route as they will truly understand the in’s and out’s of that marketplace.

All in all, there are specific property types that work for everyone and within the District we have a plethora of options for everyone.

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 provides white glove service at every price point. Reach him at 202-503-4243,  [email protected] or BurnsandNoble.com.

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