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Getting over your home-buying concerns

Affordability, overspending among top reasons buyers fear taking the plunge

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fears of house buying, gay news, Washington Blade

When starting a house hunt, begin by setting a budget.

You keep hearing it from friends, family and co-workers — “You really should buy a place.” Truth is, you’d love to own a home, but figuring out how to get started is just one of the stumbling blocks you are putting in front of yourself and those elusive keys. You may also be afraid you can’t afford a house, or can’t afford one you like, and then there is the down payment. You may worry that you don’t have enough saved.

It’s understandable — making a major life change, making a major purchase, should be approached with some thoughtfulness. But don’t let your fears get in the way. With a little education and preparation, making the leap from renter to homeowner can be done with confidence.

Let’s address solutions to some of the top concerns I’ve heard from first-time homebuyers.

No. 1 “I can’t afford a home”

Some would-be buyers are consumed with the thought that they can’t afford a home, that they will be “house poor” and have to forgo vacations, shopping and evenings out with friends.

The first thing to do is to create a budget. How much are your living expenses now? How much rent do you pay and how much more, if any, do you want to spend on a monthly mortgage payment? What other expenses do you have or will you have with a new home? Utilities? A condo/coop fee? Make a budget of everything. With that budget in hand, start your discussions with a qualified lender. Using your monthly payment as a guide and layering on your income and credit history, your lender can help you determine the proper price range in which to search.

There are a lot of loan programs that can assist first-time buyers with down payment assistance. Talk with you lender about the specifics and if you do, or could, qualify by taking a class.

If you are in the military there are VA loans to consider. Those loans don’t require a down payment. Compare a VA loan to a conventional loan to ensure you are finding the right program for your financial situation.

Once your price range is determined, work with your lender to get pre-approved. Being pre-approved is a necessity in the D.C. market.

No. 2: ”I will not be able to purchase a home I love”

You’ve made a budget, now make a list. What features are important to you in your home? Location? Closets? Outdoor space? Parking? Living in a pet-friendly building? The answer is different for everyone so make a list. Then further divide that list into two columns: one for needs and one for wants. Put each item from your initial list into the proper column, in order of importance. Be realistic and rational. Share the list with your real estate professional so they can help you stay on track with what is important as your tour.

No. 3: “I’ll buy a house that needs unforeseen repairs”

First, accept that no home is perfect. It doesn’t matter if you spend in the hundred thousands or millions, every home eventually needs maintenance and upgrades. Repairs and homeownership simply go hand in hand. The good news is when you own the home you get to decide what to do, when to do it and how to handle it. You are no longer at the mercy of a landlord who may not see the broken HVAC as the urgent need that you do.

The key is to be prepared for repairs. Keep a home repair emergency fund for that unexpected leaky faucet or new refrigerator when your current one dies. And most importantly, before you purchase a home, have it inspected. An inspector can help you identify all systems and their possible age and life expectancy. They can look for signs of water damage or an electrical panel in need of replacement.  Many will even advise you on potential repair costs. With the inspector’s report in hand, you and your agent can talk through to identify which issues are important to negotiate with the seller.

No. 4: “I’m afraid I’ll overspend”

This one is really simple and uses some common sense — shop within your budget. It sounds simple, but too many buyers start looking outside of their identified range. Just don’t do it. There are great homes in all price ranges. Staying within the budget you have identified will make your search, offer and escrow period a lot less stressful.

Perhaps you have other concerns or questions? Know that every question is important, every concern valid. The important thing is to raise them all with your team — lender, agent, inspector and ultimately the title company. A good agent will bring all of these resources to your search so you can feel confident in your purchase.

 

Sherri Anne Green is an award-winning Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage having earned the prestigious International Sterling Society and numerous Top 100 awards. Focusing on custom, data-driven marketing and client service, she provides impeccable, high-touch service tailored to her clients’ unique situations. She can be reached via phone or text: 202-798-1288, email: [email protected], on Facebook or on Instagram.

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Real Estate

Rental housing discrimination and you

There are many ways landlords can disadvantage LGBTQ renters

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Housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender expression is illegal in the District of Columbia. This means that housing providers cannot refuse to rent to someone or treat them differently in their housing-related decisions because of their sexual orientation or gender expression. 

But what might housing discrimination against LGBTQ home seekers look like?

Discriminatory treatment can occur at a number of stages in the home rental or purchase process, including when scheduling rental (or sales) showings, during a tour of the property, or during the application or post-application process. 

But discrimination may also occur while you are living in a rental home. Today’s discrimination may not be as blatant as an outright rejection or a snide remark about a protected category. There have been incidents of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender expression discrimination cited in rental housing disputes and lawsuits.

Some of these include landlords refusing to rent or renew leases to LGBTQ tenants; harassment of LGBTQ tenants by landlords or from other tenants; imposing different rental terms and conditions; failing to provide necessary repairs or maintenance to a rental unit where LGBTQ individuals reside (while other non-LGBTQ tenants receive prompt service); as well as failing to take action against other parties who engage in discriminatory behavior toward the LGBTQ tenants.

But there is good news.

Housing industry leaders are actively working to eliminate these instances of discrimination in housing. Both at the national level through the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and at the local level through the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors (GCAAR) association leaders are working with real estate professionals such as licensed sales agents, brokers, and property managers to improve understanding and sensitivity. Their overall promotion of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) includes a substantial component surrounding sexual orientation and gender expression.

Christine Barnhart, Vice President of Strategic Communications at GCAAR told us, “We are doing our part to identify opportunities for diversity and inclusion conversation and education, and to promote the practice of inclusion and equity among our leadership, members, staff and within the industry.” GCAAR seeks to drive a larger conversation around DEI In addition to their “DEI Champions” program, providing a summary of their larger DEI initiatives can be found on their website.  

That education of the key industry players is being delivered through a variety of initiatives and updates to codes and policies. Barnhart points out that the programmatic elements of the training being done keep their members up to date, GCCAR’s ‘DEI Champions’ program features three key diversity training elements:

  1. “Completion of the six-hour ‘At Home With Diversity’ (AHWD) certification course
  2. “The National Association of Realtors (NAR) ‘Fairhaven fair housing simulation,’ and
  3. NAR’s Bias Override: Overcoming Barriers to Fair Housing video.”

I took this certification course and found it very helpful. My original inspiration to become a GCAAR DEI Champion was to augment my service to the community. Now having been through the course, I’m better enabled to “put myself into others’ shoes.” I gained a stronger awareness of how each of us possesses inherent biases. And the program made me more authentically aware of the impact of my comments, my decisions, and my actions on others.

Similarly, the District of Columbia provides ethical codes and regulations for housing providers here in the city to address discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender expression. For example, D.C.’s Office of Human Rights (OHR) has implemented guidelines and training programs for landlords and property owners to ensure they are aware of their obligations under anti-discrimination laws.

These regulations, industry guidelines, ethic codes, and best practices all help to make the D.C. rental housing market more inclusive and welcoming than other jurisdictions for all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender expression,. However, if you feel that you have been a victim of discrimination, there are many agencies to turn to.

  1. Equal Rights Center – a civil rights organization that identifies and seeks to eliminate unlawful and unfair discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations in Greater Washington, D.C. and nationwide.
  2. D.C. Office of Human Rights – The District of Columbia Office of Human Rights enforces local and federal human rights laws, including the D.C. Human Rights Act, by providing a legal process to those who believe they have been discriminated against.
  3. Whitman-Walker Health – A non-profit organization that provides legal services, including assistance with housing discrimination cases, to the LGBTQ community in D.C.
  4. National Center for Transgender Equality – A national advocacy organization that works to advance the rights of transgender people, including those experiencing discrimination in housing.
  5. The DC Trans Coalition – A community-based organization that works to advance the rights and well-being of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals in the District of Columbia.
  6. Pride Center of the Capitol Region– A community center that offers a variety of resources and support for the LGBTQ+ community in D.C., including assistance with housing discrimination cases.

As a gay-owned business and long-term member of the Equality Chamber of Commerce, it is important to me that all who interact with me and my companies feel welcomed and taken care of, particularly the LGBTQ community.  Building on the foundation of the DEI courses, our firm will work to educate our staff and reinforce a culture of understanding and acceptance.  How about yours?

Scott Bloom is senior property manager and owner, Columbia Property Management. For more information and resources, go to ColumbiaPM.com.

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Real Estate

The art beneath your feet

Select rugs that reflect your personal style

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Let the art under your feet reflect your personality and style, and enjoy it for years to come.

Buying art for your new home can be both fun and an investment for the future. You can scour local galleries, visit antique stores, or buy paintings and posters online. Sometimes, you’ll even find local artisans displaying their work on the walls of real estate offices.

When it comes to a budget for art, the sky’s the limit. From original oil or acrylic paintings to clay or marble sculpture, to lighting of Chihuly glass, there is much to choose from. Even street art and painted murals can bring joy to accent walls.

Personally, I have a fondness for contemporary lithographs in primary colors and Blenko glass, but no matter what your taste, you may find art you love right beneath your feet in carpets and rugs that enhance your décor. Before you choose a rug to anchor your furnishings, determine what it’s made of and how it will work in your space.

Near the top of your budget, you’ll find pure wool rugs. They stand up well to high-traffic areas like living rooms and feel cozy beneath your feet. Good at repelling water and dirt, they can be hand-knotted or loomed and may have fringed edges.

Natural fiber rugs made of jute, seagrass, and sisal work well on their own or as an underlayment for other rugs. While inexpensive, you may find that they shed fibers, so using a rug pad under them will keep those fibers from scratching your floor.

An animal hide rug often serves as a statement piece, with each being as unique as the animal from which it came. Thankfully, you can now obtain the same look with synthetic hides with natural coloring or even dyed in bright hues.

Cotton rugs, braided or hooked, provide a more casual look for less. Many are machine washable, but they fade easily, especially if used in areas of direct sunlight or high traffic. They are also slippery when used on hard floors, so be sure to place a rug pad beneath them.

Most wall-to-wall carpet and bound area rugs today are made of synthetic fibers such as polyester and nylon. Since these machine-woven beauties often mimic real wool and there are plenty to choose from, they are generally the most affordable.

Silk rugs are best in low traffic areas where there is little chance of pet accidents or spills. You may also see them hung on walls in lieu of paintings. These rugs will require professional cleaning and are among the most expensive offerings. In addition to the Persian and Oriental styles, you can now find more modern designs made of silk.

Another thing to consider is whether you want an eco-friendly or non-toxic rug. Determining which is which can sometimes be confusing. While eco-friendly refers to a product that is healthy for the environment, a non-toxic rug made without potentially harmful chemicals focuses on the health of people.

Always read the label of a rug that you are considering purchasing. Rugs made of olefin, polyester and nylon are created through chemical processes. Flame retardant and water repellant coatings can be toxic. Natural materials may have been sprayed with pesticides. Even dyes and rubber backings may contribute to an unhealthy home.

Several rug manufacturers advertise their products as non-toxic, including FLOR, Safavieh, Lorena Canals, and Hook & Loom. If you can’t find a non-toxic rug you like, you can minimize the effect of chemical treatments and odors by allowing your rug to off-gas outside or by leaving a light coating of baking soda on it overnight before vacuuming.

Next, think about the size and shape of your new rug. Will there be at least 3 inches of rug behind the front legs of your furniture as suggested by Martha Stewart? Do you have an apartment or condominium that requires a certain percentage of hard flooring be covered? Do you want to soften the edges of a room by using a round or oval rug or will you need a runner for hall or stairs?

The style, pattern, and texture of your rug will determine whether it simply muffles noise or becomes a favorite piece of art. Try a modern shag or an antique dhurrie. Layer several silk rugs on top of each other. Select a bold chevron, an Ikat pattern, or a mid-century Mondrian vibe.

Embrace color with an abstract Bohemian or choose a floral, stripe, or sculptured, tone-on-tone rug. You can also let your creative juices flow by designing a custom piece.
Whatever you choose, let the art under your feet reflect your personality and style, and enjoy it for years to come.

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

How does offer strength factor into a real estate transaction?

Buyers consider price, contingencies, timeline

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As we enter the spring market, it might be a good time to review what makes someone’s offer to buy another’s home competitive or not.

At various times in the housing market, we have seen where the need for a buyer to write a very competitive offer has been crucial to “win” the offer and to purchase the desired home. If a seller receives six offers for their home, they will usually pick one that makes it easier for themselves in the transaction. At other times, and in other scenarios, a buyer can ask for more agreeable terms from their perspective.

Usually there are about three categories that buyers and sellers focus on when they are crafting and reviewing an offer. These categories are PRICE, CONTINGENCIES, and TIMELINE. There are various ways to address each of these factors:

PRICE
Above the asking price
At the full asking price
Below the asking price

CONTINGENCIES
NO financing contingency vs. Conventional or FHA financing contingency
NO inspection contingency vs. home inspection and seller credits or repairs
NO appraisal contingency vs a home appraisal contingency

TIMELINE
2-3 week closing period
4 week or 30-day closing period
45-60-day closing period

There are ways to structure your offer where you may have a combination of the three factors above. I have written offers where the buyer waives the home inspection contingency, but keeps the financing contingency, and agrees to close in 21 days or 30 days. Some offers have been written with the most competitive of all three terms, and some offers for less competitive terms in all three categories.

How does one decide how to structure their offer? Well, that’s where the agents come into play, and find out from each other what the seller and buyer are both aiming to gain out of the situation. Does the seller want the full price, but doesn’t mind if the closing happens in 45-60 days? Does the seller want a quick close but doesn’t necessarily need the full asking price? Maybe the seller is under contract to buy another home and needs to access their equity in a few weeks. Maybe the buyer wants some repairs done but will just take a credit from the seller or a reduction in sales price.

It’s usually a good rule of thumb to work toward a “win-win” situation for the buyer and the seller, to keep things moving smoothly. Have more questions? Shoot me an email and let’s talk.

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

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