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Home sales in the time of coronavirus

A mixed bag for buyers and sellers in D.C. real estate market

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homebuyer, gay news, Washington Blade
October home sales, recession recovery, homebuyer, gay news, Washington Blade
Showings are down amid the coronavirus pandemic, but prices are holding steady in D.C.

Spring is almost always the strongest time of year to sell a property: buyers awaken from their winter slumber, all seeming to need to buy at the same time, and homes sell fast and sell high. For agents and sellers, spring is normally a season of plenty.

In the era of coronavirus, however, the market has undoubtedly changed. With government guidelines against gatherings and open houses, the traditional marketing process that is based on getting as many visitors as possible to a listing is turned on its head. One would think the real estate market would never survive such changes, and that prices would be in free-fall.

But interestingly, that is not happening. In fact, prices are, for the most part, holding steady. Many properties are getting multiple offers. Buyers are, indeed, still buying, and closings are still taking place. Perhaps, to the real estate market, COVID-19 might be just a mild cough after all?

Not so fast. It turns out, the effects are a bit of a mixed bag. Regulations restricting showings and open houses, and new procedures that agents and buyers are taking to protect their own health are having a negative impact on many types of properties. This is exacerbated by a tightening of lending in the investor community and an overall sense of caution for properties that are not thought of as mainstream. Some properties, like the recent listing at 142 Kentucky Av., S.E. in Capitol Hill, listed by my colleague Kara Johnson, received three offers and sold in just 4 days. Another move-in ready home at 3206 5th St., S.E. reportedly received 17 offers on April 1. But other properties, like a four-unit townhouse listing we have at 15th Street and U Street for $1.699M, and an enormous Mount Pleasant fixer-upper, are not getting many showings.

Kara, a long-time agent at Keller Williams Capital Properties, attributes her success to the character of the property, its price and the desirability of the location. “It just fits for so many buyers out there. It was a great price and it was move-in ready,” she said. The four-unit, more interesting to investors, attracts a smaller pool of buyers, most of whom would see that investment as non-essential, and possibly more risky, so… crickets. From this experience, it seems that this could be an excellent time to negotiate a great price for investors who have cash and aren’t afraid of our long-term prospects.

The nation’s largest real estate showing tool, ShowingTime, reports that showings in our area are down 70.9% from this time last year. Yet prices have held steady for the market overall. So how are the “mainstream” properties getting buyers in the first place? The process has changed. Tyler Smith, on the Bediz Group team at Keller Williams Capital Properties, recently showed our clients a property in Woodley Park. “It all starts online,” Smith said. “Most good listing agents are spending the extra money for fully interactive, immersive 3-D video tours, which gives buyers a very good sense of the house before they ever leave their couch.”

That technology, developed by a company called Matterport, allows users to tour a home from their computer and see every corner, every angle and basically every detail from their phone or computer. “Once my clients saw all the properties out there online, they only wanted to see one or two in person,” Smith continued. And by altering the normal showing procedure, from driving separately to those two properties, to bringing hand sanitizer and disinfectant spray for doorknobs and lockboxes, to maintaining as much distance on the tour as possible, it seems a showing can be done safely after all.

Once a property is under contract, the process changes a little bit more, but not noticeably. Brock Thompson, also on the Bediz Group, recently had a client go under contract for a condominium in Foggy Bottom. Once the buyer left the initial tour, he and Brock were never face-to-face again. The inspector was able to inspect the unit without interacting with Brock or the listing agent. The appraiser did what is called a “drive-by” appraisal, in which he or she relied on internet-based data, including photography from the listing, to confirm the value of the property. Everyone involved could work on their own. In fact, the buyer didn’t have to meet anyone in person again, until his settlement date. “My client is thrilled he could still realize his 2020 goal of home ownership, and stay safe and keep others safe at the same time,” Thompson said.

The settlement process itself has also changed, albeit slightly. Rob Rothstein, a title attorney at Paragon Title & Escrow, developed an ingenious way of keeping buyers and his staff safe during this pandemic: drive-through settlements. While his office, in the heart of Logan Circle, is convenient enough, he knew that buyers, sellers and those refinancing would want to be able to do their business with as little human interaction as possible. He arranged to have all documents sanitized and brought to their customers in their car as they waited in front of his office. Once they complete signing and presented their identification cards, he is able to notarize the documents, then scan copies to them. For cash deals and with limited banks, he can even perform settlements using an “e-notary” service that eliminates the need for clients to even leave their homes. “Electronic signing isn’t here yet for most real estate settlements,” Rothstein said, “but perhaps one good thing that could come out of this is greater pressure to allow for it.” Currently, electronic closings are not accepted by most mortgage lenders and jurisdictional recorders of deeds, but laws and lender requirements have been loosening slightly.

All in all, our experience shows that as a buyer, you may have an opportunity to buy with less competition at the moment, but just as in any market, the most appealing properties are likely to get multiple offers. Savvy investors, handy homeowners and cash buyers might be able to get a better deal on properties that don’t appeal to mainstream buyers. And anyone concerned about safety can rest assured they can complete the journey to homeownership with little risk of infecting themselves or others in the process.

David Bediz is the 15-year veteran leader of Bediz Group, LLC, a boutique real estate team at Keller Williams Capital Properties in Dupont Circle. He is licensed in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and the District and can be reached at bediz.com, [email protected] and 202-352-8456.

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Real Estate

A real estate language primer

A few terms to know before you buy a home

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Before you start the home buying process, there are a few key terms to know.

When working with first-time buyers, I often hear them say, “I have a stupid question.” I automatically respond that there’s no such thing. 

What they think may be a stupid question almost invariably has been asked before by many other people in the same situation. The answer to a stupid question almost always makes you smarter, so what they really have may be a “smart question.”

Several questions that were recently asked of me have prompted me to take another look at what I discuss in my initial buyer consultations, so let’s start there. 

A Buyer Consultation is an initial meeting with a buyer, whether face-to-face, by telephone, or by Zoom or similar interactive means, where we exchange information about the buyer’s needs and the services I provide and determine whether we shall work together exclusively and for how long.

If we decide to go forward, we sign an Exclusive Buyer Representation Agreement, which allows an agent to be the buyer’s advocate by solely representing the buyer’s interests in a real estate transaction, protecting the buyer’s confidentiality, and providing essential services reserved for a client-based relationship. In the DMV, absent such an agreement, agents must legally represent and owe allegiance to a seller they have never met of a property they have never seen.

In D.C., our real estate contracts consist of 33 paragraphs of boilerplate language vetted by a committee of agents, brokers, and attorneys, updated as needed to comply with legislative changes and regulatory requirements. In other words, they contain a lot of “legalese.” In addition, there are a plethora of addenda that may apply to a real estate transaction.

It is important, therefore, for clients to understand what they are reading before signing and, rather than simply having buyers sign an offer electronically, I believe in providing them with a sample contract package and reviewing both the documents and the process with them to explain terms, market norms, and potential consequences of making certain choices.

The terms below seldom change in any meaningful way and learning them can be a good way to begin to understand the contract process.

Time is of the Essence, which is found at the top of our purchase contract, means that deadlines are fixed. There is no “wait just a minute more” unless both parties agree to an extension of time in writing.

An Earnest Money Deposit, generally an amount in excess of 3% of the offered price, accompanies or follows an offer and is held by a real estate brokerage or settlement firm until needed at closing. 

The terms Settlement and Closing are interchangeable and denote the signing and recording of documents transferring the property from seller to buyer.

A Contingency is a condition that must be met for the contract to proceed to settlement. An example might involve a satisfactory home inspection or appraisal, sale of a prior home, or receipt of financing. Compare it to a situation unrelated to real estate, such as “if you wear a mask, then you may enter the grocery store and shop.”

Home Inspections are typically conducted after a contract is Ratified, meaning all parties have agreed to the price and terms. They may allow for repairs to be negotiated with the sellers or for simple acceptance or rejection of the property based on the findings. Some buyers opt for a Walk-and-Talk inspection, which is conducted prior to submitting an offer. The cost is less, since buyers take their own notes and no report is issued. The offer the buyers make will be well-received by the sellers without the delay of a contingency. 

An Appraisal is ordered by the lender to determine the value of the property and whether that value supports the amount of the loan being made to the buyers. Don’t confuse this with an Assessment conducted by city assessors to determine value for property tax purposes. 

A Title Search is conducted to determine that there is nothing in the chain of ownership that would prevent the sale of the home. Title Insurance insulates the lender from issues such as fraud, forgery, liens, and other items that may not have been discovered in the initial search. The buyers may also purchase title insurance to similarly protect themselves.

In closing, a word about Closing Costs, the amounts paid to lenders, attorneys, brokers, and municipal offices at settlement for expenses incurred in completing the property transfer. The earnest money you have on deposit will be credited to you for these one-time costs or for the remainder of your downpayment. As J. G. Wentworth says, “It’s your money. Use it when you need it.”

Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with RLAH Real Estate. 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 end of foreclosure moratorium may impact LGBTQ homeowners

Help is out there for those still struggling

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Almost anyone who has ever purchased a home would agree – it is a very special and meaningful moment in life. For most of us, and often perhaps especially for those in the LGBTQ community, a home can be a place of refuge – a place where you can be part of a community and a neighborhood of others to whom you feel connected. It can be a place of support, celebration, and a starting point from which to thrive and grow with others you care about. 

Understandably, then, the idea of losing that home that you love so much can be overwhelming, to say the least. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the predicament that many homeowners found themselves in as a result of the recent pandemic and all that has accompanied it. 

Until recently, under the Cares Act, homeowners across the country who found themselves in a difficult financial position as a result of the pandemic and were having difficulty making their mortgage payments were offered two types of protection: first, a foreclosure moratorium that prohibited banks from foreclosing on homes, and secondly, the right to request and receive a forbearance, which would permit homeowners to temporarily stop making mortgage payments. Both gave homeowners the option to breathe a little easier as they tried to navigate all of the unanticipated life changes that accompanied the pandemic.

Recently, however, after being extended several times, the federal moratorium on mortgage foreclosures ended. Understandably, many homeowners, including many in the LGBTQ community who relied upon the moratorium may now find themselves feeling overwhelmed and anxious about what this means from a practical perspective. Does it suddenly mean that homeowners will find themselves faced with thousands of dollars of overdue payments that had been on hold for more than a year? 

If you find yourself asking this question, know first, that you aren’t alone. It’s estimated that around 1.75 million homeowners, or approximately 3.5% of all homes, are in some stage of the foreclosure process with their bank. While it’s understandable to wonder and feel worried, try not to panic. While the end of the foreclosure moratorium does mean that lenders can proceed with foreclosures, LGBTQ homeowners who find themselves in a difficult situation can still reach out for help, and there are resources available.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has advised that those who received forbearance under the Cares Act and who are still experiencing financial hardship as a result of the pandemic may have the opportunity to ask for and receive an extension. The federal government has also offered a series of measures that are intended to help prevent foreclosures, including:

• Providing qualifying homeowners with what roughly amounts to a 25% reduction in monthly principal and interest payments;

• Continuing the requirement that mortgage servicers give those borrowers who can resume payments the option of moving missed payments to the end of the mortgage at no additional cost;

• Offering assistance to those who are making less than they did before the pandemic, which will help them to seek work and catch up on missed tax and insurance payments.

It’s also important to keep in mind that ultimately, banks don’t currently have much incentive to foreclose on those homeowners who are behind on their mortgages. Housing prices have been steadily rising, meaning that few homeowners owe more on their mortgage than the overall value of their homes. As a result, banks are often more likely to restructure a loan, or possibly place missed payments on the back end of a mortgage. In some circumstances, a bank may attempt a forced sale instead of a foreclosure – allowing the bank to get some of its money back, and the homeowner to receive the equity they built in the home, and to move forward without a negative mark on their credit report.

In addition to helpful options offered by the government, LGBTQ homeowners facing foreclosure should reach out to their local communities and explore options that may be available there as well. Talk to realtors who know the community well and who may be aware of local assistance, counseling, or other resources. Reach out to family and friends who have been through this situation before. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Sometimes, we all need it.

Lastly, it’s important to remember that any legal proceeding takes time – typically, a foreclosure proceeding takes at least 120 days per federal law, as well as additional time for court proceedings. For that reason, instead of panicking, remember that you have time to plan. Reach out to family and friends for leads on places that you may be able to rent or stay at while you work to get back on your feet financially. Take advantage of any offers that your bank or lender may make to work through your current financial issues and come out in a better place on the other side, if possible. Most of all, remember that this time, like all difficult times in life, is temporary. You will find a way forward, and there is a better and brighter chapter ahead. At GayRealEstate.com, we’re here to help you get there.

At GayRealEstate.com, helping the LGBTQ community through every aspect of the real estate experience is our passion. In many cases, this means offering assistance with the home buying and selling process and connecting LGBTQ home buyers and sellers across the country with realtors who know and love their communities, and who can ensure that the buying and selling process is the best it can possibly be. In other cases, it means being there for our LGBTQ communities across the country and helping existing homeowners continue to love and live in the homes that they own. Whatever your real estate needs, we would welcome the opportunity to speak with you and learn how we might be able to help. Contact us at any time.

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

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Real Estate

What to do when your house floods

Be ready to negotiate with insurance companies

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Hurricane Ida reminded us of the dangers of flooding this week.

So, what do you do if your house floods due to rain, or a busted pipe, or a backed up sewer? Well, I learned from a colleague the other day that you DON’T just call your favorite contractor. You DO call a company that will immediately come out, rip out wet or moldy drywall, any part of the house that is affected by the water damage, and install fans to help the situation dry out. Then after the wet stuff is removed and your place is dry, you can call the favorite contractor to come out and start to replace or rebuild what needs to be repaired.  

For example, the homes that were affected in New Orleans and Louisiana this week due to Hurricane Ida will need to go through this first step. The damage has to be assessed and then the drying out has to occur before the next step of repairing and rebuilding begins.  

The first step is to call your insurance company. They usually move slowly, so you’ll want to get that process started immediately. Depending on your exact policy and carrier, they may have restoration companies they will want you to use. 

The next step is to call the restoration company. These companies don’t usually specialize in the repairs as their name would have you think, but they are experts in identifying damage, drying it out, and demolishing what needs to be removed. They will come to your house, use moisture meters to assess how extensive the water damage is, rip out damaged walls and flooring, and set up industrial fans to help dry the space out.

Once the restoration people have begun drying your house out and removed the trash, it’s time to call your contractor. They will want to come out and assess what needs to be repaired and provide a quote for you to take to your insurance company. You’ll want this quote to be detailed and broken down as much as possible so that it’s easily deciphered by your claims agent. Make sure your contractor is taking precise measurements, as the insurance company will go through the quote with a fine-tooth comb to find any discrepancies.

Depending on your insurance company and policy details, you may need to negotiate a little once you have submitted the contractor’s quote to your insurance company. Insurance companies generally use national averages to compile their internal estimates. As you know, D.C. is one of the most expensive cities in the country, so naturally contractor pricing is also more expensive. This means the insurance estimates sometimes don’t line up with the real-world costs, and you may need to haggle a little bit. 

We hope this information will help, should any homeowner face moisture issues in any upcoming storm or flood. 

Joseph Hudson is with the Rutstein Group at Compass; and Alex Phillips is senior sales manager with Beautiful Home Services.

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