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Pride of place – the evolution of D.C.

Enjoying the architecture, diversity, arts of this great city

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evolution of D.C., gay news, Washington Blade
(Photo public domain)

So this came as somewhat of surprise to me. Apparently, I have a great love of my adopted hometown. After many years of living in this fascinating city, with all of its complexities and contradictions, I find myself falling in love all over again. 

Of course, I’ve enjoyed much of what the city has to offer, the very things that first attracted me – the beauty of the architecture, the diversity of the population, the multicultural, global aspects, the arts, the parks, restaurants and entertainment, the walkability, relative affordability, and the history. But over time I started to take it for granted, unless of course I had visitors from out of town (or the burbs). It’s true that I’ve always enjoyed showing people around, or guiding them on their way to explore the typical tourist attractions and local neighborhoods, but I hadn’t played the urban explorer myself in quite a while, until I started riding my bike, commuting to work in Georgetown, to meetings across town by Union Station, to visit friends on The Hill or Columbia Heights, Shaw or Southwest. 

It seems that I’ve always been tuned in to architecture, design and the physical environment and know intuitively that our physical environments affect our behavior, the way we feel, interact with one another, maybe even the way we think. I chose the area I live in because it reflects my values – and I got really lucky being at the intersection of a couple of amazing neighborhoods, brimming with character and in having amazing neighbors that give my world a small town feel within our larger city. We’ve seen gradual change, but nothing like what I’ve seen in other neighborhoods, like Chinatown, Georgetown Waterfront, Anacostia, 14th Street NW, H Street NE, NoMa, Chinatown, Navy Yard and now the Wharf. We’re talking transformative, with a “Capitol T.” In some cases, areas of the city that never recovered from the 1960’s riots have finally seen some love; and in others, communities and parks have sprung up where only warehouses and parking lots existed before. 

There is so much to take in and one has to wonder how this all came about so fast. Well, of course it wasn’t all fast and took visionaries and planners and risk takers and community makers; government and business and commerce – all collaborating through tough decisions and formidable obstacles to make this happen. It’s beautiful and complex and it’s not complete, but what we have is a city that is becoming united, where many of the gaps have been filled with human-centric places — new schools and libraries, parks and entertainment venues, public squares, grocery stores, fresh markets, retail and office space. Design and scale, multi-use concepts, community building and inclusion are key. D.C. has offered opportunity to so many through the years and will continue to navigate that path to keep long-time residents in place and open doors for newcomers too.

While each facet of the city has its own personality and reflects the people who live there, you can’t help noticing many of the common elements. Not surprisingly, food is often at the heart of it, with developers taking great care to incorporate a mix of national brands and local restaurants to create a sustainable combination and attract residents and tourists alike. There is a kaleidoscope of ethnic and health-conscious options in fast food, white tablecloth and the ever-growing “fast casual” dining. In some sectors there are also food trucks and food halls where entertainment and family fun are encouraged. The communal table is making it big and residential and office spaces alike are incorporating it in their common areas to help build community and offer that feeling of the third space, so successfully marketed by Starbucks so many years ago. 

All of this change has broadened my view and opened up a multitude of options to explore. These communities are linked by their location within the borders of D.C. and by their offering a sense of community, of belonging and identity – and yes, for me pride of place and more chances to explore our nation’s capital and my home. I’m often asked why I’ve stayed in D.C. so long, I simply respond with much of what I’ve said here – and the fact that I don’t need to move to have change, the city has changed around me.

watJennifer Bolick is a D.C. resident and project manager at Van Eperen, a PR, marketing and advertising firm in the region. Reach her at [email protected].  

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Real Estate

5 tips for novice house flippers

Hire an architect, budget for overruns, and more

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Do your homework before entering the home flipping market.

If you still use Facebook, you know that there is a group for everything, from different breeds of dogs and cats to silly games that lead to data mining of your information for business or nefarious purposes, to groups that offer advice on certain medical issues, to everything real estate.

One of the Facebook groups in which I participate allows users to share do-it-yourself home improvement tips. It’s a bit like HGTV or the DIY network, with a dose of reality thrown in.

Simple topics might include improving curb appeal, selecting paint colors, installing flooring, replacing an electrical fixture, or changing a toilet. 

Sometimes contractors weigh in on more complicated work and even give an idea of how long a project might take and how much it might cost in a particular area of the country. 

It constantly surprises me how little people know about how their home works. I fault the seller’s market over the past years, where inspections are either short or non-existent, for much of that.

It used to be that an inspector would spend several hours with a buyer, going through the condition and operation of a home’s systems and fixtures, providing a written report, and even including a binder that outlined how to fix simple items or when to conduct general maintenance. 

The advent of the “walk and talk” inspection, conducted prior to making an offer, shortened that process. A buyer would have to take his own notes while the inspector was talking and pointing things out. Often, the buyer would go home with information in cryptic shorthand that made no sense a few weeks down the road.

Some people still fancy themselves as house flippers, intent on making a massive profit by making a few choice renovations and reselling a home. My Facebook group often brings out those who have the desire but lack the skills or funding. 

One person recently posted photographs of a house he was interested in renovating for profit. His first question was whether he could remove all the mold himself or whether he should hire a professional mold remediation company.

I looked at the photos and immediately thought of Tyvec suits, respirators, and those movies where CDC warns of a toxic environment that must be contained and the toxins eradicated — not my idea of a DIY project.

Another unrealistic aspect of this renovation was his cost estimate — $100,000 to cover mold remediation, a new roof, central air conditioning and heating and, of course, new electrical, plumbing, drywall, fixtures, cabinets, and appliances. Even with a price of $175,000 for the house and a potential value of $400,000 after renovations, the professional flippers told him he was living in La-La-Land.

Amateur flippers in the DMV have seen their options dry up in the past five years, as even distressed properties left in disrepair can sell for half a million dollars or more. Even the professionals are knocking on doors, sending postcards in desired neighborhoods, and calling or texting owners and real estate agents, looking for properties to fix and flip.

Still, if you are inclined to try rehabbing, even for your own home, here are my top five things to consider before diving in.

• Get to know what permits you will need and the process and timeline for obtaining them, or else you may face the dreaded orange Stop Work Order slapped on the home’s window.

• Find an architect and/or engineer to help with planning the layout. Remember, not every wall can come down to make an open concept floorplan without shoring it up in another approved manner.

• Learn about “hard money.” Unlike traditional home loans that are based on income, assets, and credit, these high-interest, short-term loans rely on the difference between what you pay for the house (“as is” value) and what the “as renovated” value is estimated to be upon resale.

• Consult with a real estate agent about popular features and finishes to help you sell the house quickly and get the highest price. Purchase those items locally to avoid supply chain delays.

• Budget for unexpected cost overruns of 10-15%. Even with an interest-only loan with no payments due until resale, you will still owe taxes and insurance and make periodic payments for materials and labor. Don’t forget to add commissions and closing fees on the purchase and sale.

Your first project may not result in the profit you anticipated, but it will give you a sense of whether it’s worth trying again or leaving renovations to the professionals.

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

Mortgage rates continue to drop while rent skyrockets

Start living for yourself and not your landlord

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Remember you can always refinance a high interest rate down the road.

There are several sayings that I keep in my “Realtor tool kit,” aside from those catty, snarky comments, I hold two true and use them on a daily basis: “Date the rate – marry the home” and “You’re paying a 100% interest rate when you rent.”

It’s pretty simple. As we have seen rates fluctuate as much as some of our waistlines — mine included. Let’s look at the housing market in terms that we all know and understand: DATING! 

It’s important to realize that we are NOT marrying the interest rate we purchase our home with, instead we are merely dating — for however long or short it may be. Here in D.C. it’s often short; can I get an amen? But in all seriousness, we see rates come and go up and down. We were spoiled with the unsustainably low rates for the past several years below 4% and now that rates are, frankly, where they should be, we are claiming the victim role. Today is still a great time to buy. The rates we are seeing today are still historically low when you think about it. We are lucky to live in an area such as the D.C. metro where demand is always strong and a change in party means more than a recession in regards to the housing market. Rates have continued to drop in the past few weeks. 

Aside from the current rate that you are paying, it’s important to realize that you are marrying the house and just simply dating the rate. You can refinance your interest rate whenever you want. Trade that baby in for a new model with a lower rate. You are, however, married to the home that you decide to purchase. If you are currently in the market and see a home that you absolutely love — or in my case is like 80% okay because we all know that you are the arm candy here and hold up the relationship — or I mean the house has a dishwasher and central AC, then buy it. You can always refinance later to a lower rate.

Looking at the second saying in my bedazzled sparkling Realtor tool kit we have the saying “You’re paying a 100% interest rate when you rent,” which is for sure factual. You are paying someone else’s mortgage and as such that interest rate is 100%. Don’t get me wrong, when I first moved to D.C. from quaint Bethany Beach, Del., I rented as I was unsure of what neighborhood I wanted to call home. But once I got my bearings I stopped paying 100% interest and helping pad the landlord’s pockets and started living for myself, my future, and married the house. I would encourage everyone that is reading this and who is currently in a rental to speak to a mortgage broker – see what you can afford and if it makes sense for you to buy — I bet it will. In most cases, it is less expensive to buy than it is to rent in cities, including in D.C. Not only is it less expensive, but there are several grant and down payment assistance programs available to district residents to help with making homeownership a reality for you.

Start living for yourself, not your landlord, and always remember to date the rate and marry the 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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Making the most of the housing market

Tips for buyers and sellers

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The market is cooling off — exponential growth can’t continue forever.

After being on fire for the last couple of years, the housing market across the United States is finally starting to cool down. Various reports over the course of recent weeks have shown that record price growth and sales activity are finally starting to taper off. The long-range outlook throughout the end of 2022 and into 2023 is that the housing market will continue to cool down, at least slightly, from its current state.

It’s not entirely unexpected – after all, exponential growth can’t continue forever. Even so, any shift in current conditions can be slightly unsettling, and whether you’re a buyer or a seller, it can bring peace of mind to feel prepared and know how best to react when the market changes to maximize the chances of reaching your real estate goals.

So the question is: How do you prepare and maximize your potential? Let’s take a look at a few tips together.

TIPS FOR BUYERS

Be budget conscious: As a buyer, it is always a wise decision to decide on your budget and stick with it. Particularly with interest rates on the rise and home prices still generally higher than ever before, although trending downward slightly, it is easy to get carried away and decide to exceed the budget you planned on. Particularly over the last couple of years, scarcity in the market has led buyers to feel a sense of urgency about buying a home immediately, exceeding their budget, or paying over asking price. As the market begins to cool down, buyers should realize that they have some breathing room and that the right home will come along and is worth waiting for.

Finalize your finances: Be certain you have your financing secured and preapproved prior to making an offer. While not mandatory, this step can certainly give buyers an advantage in any market. Really think through your wants and desires in a house and what you can afford, and then seek a preapproval. Getting preapproved allows you to show a seller that you will be able to follow through with the deal if they accept your offer, and that offers peace of mind and assurance that many sellers find appealing.

Find an agent you trust: The importance of this step cannot be overstated. An agent who knows and loves the community that you’re interested in will be familiar with the market there. They will be able to advise you as to the trends in the area and whether the offer you are making is competitive, but not over and above what you should be spending on a particular home, particularly as the market calms down. They will also be able to help guide you toward a variety of homes that are within your budget, and truly fit your needs and desires.

ADVICE FOR SELLERS

Price your home competitively: As a seller, it is important to realize that as the market begins to cool down slightly, you will want to keep your home priced competitively. It can be tempting to ask for as much as possible and hope that you’ll receive it, but you may risk leaving your home on the market too long because it is priced too high, which can make some buyers wary. Consulting with an agent who knows your community well and can help you price your home competitively. Doing so can make a significant difference between a quick and successful selling experience and a stressful one.

Don’t forget curb appeal: Not all homes need major renovations, nor can all sellers afford them, and that’s okay. A little bit of hard work and sweat goes a long way. Clean up, declutter, and try to present your house in the best possible light. Presentation is important and can be a deciding factor in getting that  offer that you truly want.

Choose the right agent: In any real estate transaction, finding the right agent can make all the difference. Especially as markets begin to shift, cool off, and change, you will need an agent on your side who can help you price your home competitively, market it effectively, and generally work with you to achieve your real estate goals.

Ultimately the good news is that whether a buyer or a seller, and whether a hot market or one that is cooling down slightly, achieving your real estate dreams is possible and well within your reach. 

(At GayRealEstate.com, it’s our mission and our passion to connect LGBTQ buyers and sellers across the country with talented, and experienced LGBTQ-friendly realtors who know and love their communities. We know that having the right agent can make all the difference in the real estate process – and we believe you deserve the very best. If we can help you with any of your real estate needs, we’re ready to connect with you today and get started.) 

Jeff Hammerberg is founding CEO of Hammerberg & Associates, Inc. Reach him at 303-378-5526 or [email protected]

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