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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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Real Estate

Nationwide housing trends: A look back at 2021 and ahead to 2022

After overheated year and low interest rates, a cooler market to come?

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Low inventory and interest rates made 2021 a seller’s year.

For many potential homebuyers, 2021 was a difficult year in the real estate market. Finding a home that you love at the right price – and having an offer accepted at or around the asking price, in some markets, seemed nearly impossible. On the opposite side of the coin, for sellers, 2021 was a year that, for many, meant multiple offers above the asking price, record sales prices, and the chance to make significant profits. According to a recent Forbes article, cities across the country saw rocketing sales prices – which made for some frazzled home buyers – and some very happy sellers. 

A review of housing trends in a few of the country’s larger and popular LGBTQ-friendly cities prove that this is true. 

• In New York City, the average home sale price was $429,288 in 2020 while the average list price was $579,667 in 2021, indicating an increase in average sale price of approximately 3.3%.

• The Los Angeles area saw an average sale price of $674,395 in 2020 and an average list price of $864,998 in 2021, indicating an increase in average sale price of 5.49%.

• In Seattle, the average home sale price in 2020 was $512,046 while the average list price in 2021 was $651,648, indicating an increase in average sales price of around 6.7%.

• Denver indicated an average home sale price in 2020 of $433,268 and an average list price in 2021 of $526,633, reflecting an increase in average sale price of around 4.40%. 

• San Francisco saw rising prices too, with the average home sale price in 2020 coming in and around $811,787, and the average list price in 2021 being $872,296, marking an increase in average sale price of 2.31% over the course of the year.

From a nationwide perspective, real estate statistics gathered over the course of the last year indicate that the average home sale price between February 2020 and February 2021 was $264,300 across the 97 most populated metropolitan areas in the United States and that the average list price during the same time was $301,389. Moreover, on average, cities across the country reflected a year-over-year increase in home sale prices from 2019-2020 to 2020-2021 at 5.43 percent.

Without question, 2021 saw skyrocketing prices in most major cities and fierce competition for available homes. Mortgage rates are low, and supply has also been somewhat low, increasing demand even more in most cities across the country. Although the market is still certainly a seller’s market, there are some signs here and there that it is beginning to cool down a bit, and that 2022 may see a more even playing field. Indeed, recent reports have indicated that housing inventory is beginning to increase, which will mean more options for buyers, and thus, less competition per home, and a wider selection of homes to choose from. 

While this appears to be likely, many experts are finding it unlikely that the market will turn completely.  It is thus not expected that 2022 will be a buyer’s market per se, but simply that the market will be slightly more balanced overall. Mortgage rates and financing generally are expected to remain favorable, which will also enhance the buying power of those looking to make a home purchase. While home prices are expected to rise, it’s generally assumed by financial experts that they will rise at a slower and more reasonable rate for buyers than they did this year. Ultimately, then, whether you’re a buyer or a seller, 2022 looks to be a promising year.

Without question, for much of the country, 2021 was an excellent time to sell a home, and perhaps a more difficult time to buy the one you loved at the price you wanted to pay. While that is currently the case, it’s important to remember that the truth about the real estate market is that it’s ever-changing. Trends can change from year to year or even month to month. That’s why it’s important, whether you’re a buyer or a seller, to connect with a real estate agent who understands those trends, and who can help you determine the best strategies to reach your real estate goals. 

At www.GayRealEstate.com, that’s where we come in. We are passionate about connecting LGBTQ buyers and sellers across the country with talented, experienced, LGBTQ-friendly agents who know and love their communities, and who are dedicated to helping their clients achieve their dreams. Having the right agent can make the difference between a smooth and successful real estate experience and a stressful one – and you deserve the best. We’re here to help you find it. Get in touch with us any time – we look forward to helping you soon.

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

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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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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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