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COVID real estate — the new normal

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COVID real estate
Masks, sanitizers, and other precautions have enabled real estate business to continue and to thrive in the D.C. market.

Despite the circumstances of this year, the D.C. Metro area real estate market has felt like it is our busiest in recent memory.

It seems that we are now in what we expected our spring market to be (delayed due to the virus shutdown), and July’s numbers prove this to be true. Typically, July is slower than June, but this year, sales increased 17% month over month, 20% in D.C. alone. July area home sales were at a 10-year best for the month. Median home prices in the area were up 13% compared to July 2019, and days on market (8) were at the lowest July level in 10 years, also the second shortest number of days on market overall in 10 years.

This market is great for both buyers and sellers, although for different reasons.

It is a great time to sell, with chronic low inventory and many people figuring out some new “must-haves” for their extended time at home. We’ve found that many sellers with second homes went to those homes early on in the shutdown, and have decided to stay there, rather than return to the city (whether that’s D.C., New York, or elsewhere). While moving during a pandemic didn’t seem possible at first, everyone has figured out how to safely manage the process. The current market is proving to also be a great time to buy, with historically low mortgage interest rates. Buyers are flocking to homes with more outdoor space, larger office areas, and to locations with proximity to outdoor access, including local parks.

Buyers, sellers, and agents have all figured out how to safely function (masks, gloves, sanitizers, and distancing are all mandatory) in our “new normal.” We continue to show property, hold open houses, and work diligently for our clients, it just looks different than it used to. Virtual showings, while initially employed more for health safety, are continuing to be used as a convenient tool for out-of-town buyers. These Facetime or Zoom showings allow buyers to preview property and get a sense of the area before taking time out of their busy schedules to go see it.

With title companies and lenders now allowing many virtual options, the teamwork that goes into a smooth real estate transaction is stronger than ever. As we continue to work and move forward, we also understand and acknowledge that safety is the first and foremost priority for everyone.

The entire Hagen-Bergstrom team wears masks throughout the day, and we provide gloves, sanitizer, and keep our distance while meeting our clients in person. This allows us to ensure safety while still maintaining that personal relationship that is crucial to a successful real estate transaction. We strive to make sure all our clients, and anyone else with whom we interact, feel safe in this new environment. Luckily, we have experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, and other leading medical specialists, to guide us through this global pandemic.

Sylvia Bergstrom has been a top-producing agent since launching her real estate career and Marin Hagen joined her mother’s successful practice in 2007. Their business is nearly 100% repeat and referral, a testament to their high ethical standards, strong negotiating skills, energy, and discretion. Sylvia and Marin consistently rank among Coldwell Banker’s top three Mid-Atlantic teams out of more than 2,000 agents.

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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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Real Estate

White’s Ferry closure hurts businesses, real estate market

Economic activity that benefits both sides of Potomac River interrupted

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White’s Ferry connects Poolesville and Loudoun County, Va. (Photo courtesy town of Poolesville, Md.)

There are about 20 ways to cross the Potomac River and all but one of them are bridges.  White’s Ferry, connecting Route 15 in Loudoun County to Route 107 in Montgomery County, is the only ferry operating on the river. In existence since the late 1790s, the ferry is in lockdown because the two private parties involved in its operation can’t agree on new terms. It is a vital part of the Western County and Poolesville in particular. The impasse not only affects commuters but nature lovers, history lovers, hikers, bikers, and the economies of towns and areas the ferry connects.  

While the number of cars that pass through the ferry each day — 600 to 800 — can seem small in terms of how much traffic daily moves along Route 15, it is a large traffic flow in a small town like Poolesville. A large number of small, local, often family-owned businesses make up the commercial fabric of Poolesville. Traffic from White’s Ferry is an important contributor to their success.   

Tom Kettler, president of the local Chamber of Commerce, noted that some businesses in Poolesville have seen a fall off of almost 20 percent in traffic since the ferry closed in December of last year. Local Realtors have seen the impact of the ferry’s closing as some buyers and sellers seem to be motivated in part by the added commute time.

Economic activity that benefits both sides of the river around White’s Ferry is promoted by its operation with access to shopping, restaurants and outdoor venues. Leesburg is only 11 miles from Poolesville via the ferry. Sales are enhanced for Virginia and Maryland businesses, particularly small businesses, when the ferry is open. 

The ferry uniquely fits the historic and environmental characteristics of the lands it is connecting. It allows for commercial traffic, but effectively meters it so that the Agricultural Reserve in Montgomery County, an environmental and agricultural gem, can be maintained and preserved. 

It is also a “living history” example of life on the Potomac. One hundred ferries once crossed the river, connecting the C&O Canal to farms on both sides of the river and promoting trade up and down its course. Keeping this “living history” legacy alive adds to the richness of the C&O Canal’s presence and provides ongoing, tangible educational opportunities for students to understand and appreciate an early and highly important commerce channel in the history of the DMV. The opportunities to build on the unique assets of the ferry and the surrounding park land could be substantial for Poolesville and both Loudon and Montgomery Counties.  

White’s Ferry connects two areas with many similarities in terms of history and rural and agricultural spaces. Historic sites, including Civil War sites, the Underground Railroad, 18th and 19th century homes, barns, mills, and school sites dot the landscape. Biking, hiking and a wealth of other outdoor activities are widely available in the areas connected by the ferry.   

At the same time, the ferry is a direct and vital commuter connection between two of the most traveled counties in the region. Even though it is “low tech,” White’s Ferry makes it possible for the entire eastern section of Montgomery County to physically link up with Northern Virginia, boosting the high-tech businesses in both counties including biotech and cloud-based industries. A quarter million cars per year have used the ferry, promoting prosperity and reducing traffic along heavily congested Route 15. White’s Ferry is more than the sum of its parts.

Leaders on both sides of the Potomac in Loudoun and Montgomery Counties have gotten together to mandate a study that will help sort out the complicated history of the ferry and develop ways to reopen it so as to avoid future disruptions. This is a unique situation – a public service for commuters, bikers, trucks and farmers to use like most roads that has a vital link in private hands. The study should be coming out in just a few short weeks and then it is time for action. The sooner the ferry gets running again, the better for the two counties it connects and the DMV.

Link Hoewing is a Western Montgomery County resident and chair of the Fair Access Committee for Western Montgomery County. Reach him at [email protected].

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