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Preparing your home for sale

Showcase properties in their best light as spring market arrives

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Now’s the time to plant colorful flowers and shrubs if you’re planning to list your home for sale this spring.

A full nine weeks have passed since Punxsutawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter. That time has passed but even so, we have recently seen freezing temperatures, summer heat, and a weekend of blustery winds, all in a span of two weeks. Welcome to the DMV! It’s no wonder that expansion and contraction create cracks and leaks in our houses.

As I write this, my daffodils are in bloom, the green stems of my daylilies are growing tall, and an assortment of weeds are poking out among the clumps of grass in my yard – all signs that spring is here and with it, the dawning of the 2023 real estate market.

The inventory of homes for sale remains low, in some areas even lower than last year, and prices are still inching up despite higher interest rates. If you’re selling your home or investment property this spring, you should already be making improvements that will showcase it in its best light and garner the most interest and the highest price. 

You’ve been spending more time than normal in your home since COVID lockdowns and the onset of teleworking, so small, annoying problems may have taken on a larger significance. That faucet drip has turned into a leak under the kitchen sink. The dryer that is overheating may require a clean-out of its vent. Perhaps you found a shingle in your back yard after last weekend’s wind and need to prevent water penetration into your attic during the next downpour.

Well, git to fixin’!

Those of us in the real estate trade can tell you that a small item in need of repair can lead a potential buyer to think, “If this little thing is wrong, what big problem might be lurking somewhere else?” Test items around your house then call your favorite contractor, tradesperson, or handywoman to diagnose and repair anything out of the ordinary that you notice. Unless you have a background in household repair, this is not the time for a do-it-yourself solution. That’s another red flag for buyers.

Next, depersonalize the interior. Pack away family photos, treasured trinkets, and anything political. While visiting one house last fall, my buyers noticed a calendar posted in the kitchen that listed doctor’s appointments, children’s sporting events, and even something called a “red wave.” After looking at that, they totally forgot about the nice kitchen and sunroom addition and their minds wandered elsewhere.

Along with depersonalizing, it’s time to de-clutter each room and clean everything. And when I say clean everything, I mean not only carpets and windows, but also vents, baseboards, the tops of cabinets, inside the refrigerator, ceiling fan blades, and that nasty, moldy stuff growing on the seal of your front-load washing machine.

Little upgrades matter. Do you need a new bathroom vanity? How about a stylish kitchen faucet, cabinet pulls, or doorknobs? Most homes can benefit from fresh paint. Accent walls are on trend now, with contemporary wainscoting, complementary paint colors, or bold wallpaper. Don’t forget to replace any burned-out lightbulbs.

If you live in a detached home or rowhouse, look around the exterior for ideas to make it more attractive. Rake leaves and debris, power-wash siding, and sweep sidewalks. Repair broken steps or deck boards and railings. Plant colorful flowers or shrubbery. Something as simple as wiping away cobwebs on exterior lights and replacing old house numbers can give your home a fresh, inviting look.

Many properties in our area are sold while vacant. Professional staging replicates the look of a model home and can help buyers visualize their own items in the space. If you are staying in your home while selling, however, have your agent provide suggestions or seek a consultation with a stager to determine how your furniture might be rearranged to make the home seem larger, brighter, and more open. 

Do you have pets in the home? Some people have allergies and, believe it or not, not everyone loves your furry family members as much as you do. Doggy daycare or crating may be in order to relieve their stress, make sure they don’t escape, and keep pet aficionados like me from stopping to pet them and forgetting about the real reason they have come to see the house.

Once your home is ready to show, make sure you provide ease of access through the use of lockboxes, generous showing hours, and open houses. Except in unusual circumstances, if buyers can’t see it, they won’t buy it.

And think of BLT before leaving the house for a showing. No, not the sandwich but my last bit of advice: Blinds up, Lights on, Toilet seats down. 

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

Exploring LGBTQ-friendly neighborhoods across the U.S.

Finding your safe haven, knowing your rights

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D.C.’s Dupont Circle remains one of the best-known LGBTQ-friendly neighborhoods in the country. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Finding a safe and inclusive community is paramount for LGBTQ individuals seeking a place to call home. Throughout the United States, various neighborhoods have become havens for our LGBTQ community, offering not only welcoming environments but also rich cultural scenes, diverse housing options, and vital community resources. 

The evolution of LGBTQ neighborhoods in the U.S. is deeply intertwined with the history of LGBTQ rights and activism. From the Stonewall Uprising in New York City to the Harvey Milk era in San Francisco, these neighborhoods have been at the forefront of social change. They serve as cultural and historical landmarks, symbolizing the resilience and strength of the LGBTQ community.

Top LGBTQ-Friendly Neighborhoods Across the U.S.

San Francisco – The Castro: The Castro is renowned for its rich LGBTQ history and vibrant community. Known as one of the first gay neighborhoods in the U.S., it offers a variety of local businesses, annual events like the Castro Street Fair, and an inclusive atmosphere that attracts both residents and tourists.

New York City – Greenwich Village: Greenwich Village holds a special place in LGBTQ history, being the site of the Stonewall Inn. Today, it remains a cultural hub with numerous LGBTQ-friendly bars, cafes, and shops. The Village’s historic charm, combined with its progressive vibe, makes it a desirable location for many.

Chicago – Boystown: Boystown, officially known as Northalsted, is one of the most recognized LGBTQ neighborhoods in the Midwest. It boasts a lively nightlife, an array of LGBTQ events such as the annual Pride Parade, and a supportive community. The neighborhood’s diverse housing options cater to various preferences and budgets.

Atlanta  – Midtown: Midtown Atlanta is a thriving LGBTQ community with a robust cultural scene. It’s home to the iconic Atlanta Pride Festival and numerous LGBTQ-friendly establishments. The neighborhood’s blend of urban living and Southern charm attracts a diverse group of residents.

Seattle – Capitol Hill: Capitol Hill is Seattle’s epicenter of LGBTQ life, known for its inclusive atmosphere and vibrant nightlife. The neighborhood hosts events like Seattle Pride and offers a wide range of housing options, from historic homes to modern apartments. Capitol Hill’s progressive environment makes it a welcoming place for all.

Washington, D.C. – Dupont Circle: Dupont Circle is a historic and cultural hub for the LGBTQ community in D.C. Known for its vibrant nightlife, diverse dining options, and numerous LGBTQ-friendly businesses, Dupont Circle offers a welcoming atmosphere for residents and visitors alike. The neighborhood is also home to several LGBTQ organizations and events, making it a supportive and inclusive place to live.

Navigating the real estate market as an LGBTQ individual involves understanding both the market trends and the unique needs of the community. Here are some tips to consider:

Work with LGBTQ-Friendly Real Estate Agents: Finding an agent who understands the needs of LGBTQ clients can make the home-buying process smoother. The agents at GayRealEstate.com are often more knowledgeable about LGBTQ-friendly neighborhoods and legal protections.

Understand Legal Protections: Ensure you are aware of local and state laws that protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Fair Housing Act provides some protections, but it’s essential to understand additional state and local regulations.

Consider Community Resources: Look for neighborhoods with robust LGBTQ community centers, support groups, and events. These resources can provide invaluable support and help you integrate into the community.

Evaluate Housing Options: From historic neighborhoods to modern developments, evaluate the types of housing available in your desired area. Consider factors like proximity to LGBTQ+-friendly businesses, safety, and community vibe.

Resources and Support

Numerous organizations and resources support LGBTQ home buyers and renters nationwide:

  • GayRealEstate.com: Provides a network of LGBTQ and allied real estate professionals.
  • Lambda Legal: Offers legal assistance and information on LGBTQ housing rights.
  • Human Rights Campaign: Provides resources on LGBTQ equality and advocacy.

Finding a safe and welcoming community is essential for LGBTQ individuals seeking a new home. By exploring neighborhoods known for their inclusivity, working with knowledgeable real estate agents, and leveraging community resources, you can find a place where you truly belong. Whether you’re considering The Castro, Greenwich Village, Boystown, Midtown, Capitol Hill, or Dupont Circle each neighborhood offers unique opportunities and a supportive environment.

At GayRealEstate.com, we’re committed to helping you find your safe haven in cities throughout the United States and Internationally. Explore these neighborhoods and connect with resources to make your home-buying journey a positive and empowering experience. Together, we can create a future where everyone can live authentically and safely.

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

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Real Estate

Real Estate in 1776

A revolutionary transformation of land ownership laws began centuries ago

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In 1776, the United States was on the brink of a revolutionary transformation in terms of land ownership.

I have been interested in real estate most of my life. Even at age eight, during family vacations when we drove to Nana’s house via old, country roads, I would point to any wood frame house in disrepair and talk about fixing it up. 

It got to be a joke in our family. My father would join in, pointing to every dilapidated barn we passed and saying, “Here’s one you could fix up.”  Little did he know that my childhood interest in real estate would make up a big part of my future.

That’s but a small part of my real estate history, but since I was born on Independence Day, I thought I’d relay a few facts about the real estate world of nearly 250 years ago. Turns out, it’s remarkably similar to today.

In 1776, the United States was on the brink of a revolutionary transformation (as we may also be in 2024), not only politically but also in terms of land ownership and real estate. This era was characterized by a blend of colonial practices, evolving legal frameworks, and a growing sense of independence, having separated ourselves from British rule.

Land ownership then, as now, was a primary source of wealth and status. Its distribution was highly uneven. Most of the land in the Thirteen Colonies was controlled by a small elite class, including wealthy merchants, planters, and colonial governors. 

These large landowners acquired vast tracts of land through royal grants, purchases, and inheritance. Small farmers, artisans, and laborers either owned modest parcels of land, paid to work on rented property, or became indentured servants as immigrants. 

The legal framework governing real estate in 1776 was a combination of English common law, colonial statutes, and local customs. Property rights were well-established, with deeds, surveys, and title records playing crucial roles in documenting and securing land ownership. Colonial courts adjudicated land disputes, often referencing English legal precedents.

The doctrine of primogeniture mandated that a family’s land holdings be passed down to the eldest male heir. This practice ensured the preservation of large estates but also contributed to social stratification and limited opportunities for younger sons and women. However, the revolutionary ideas of liberty and equality began to challenge such entrenched norms, leading to gradual reforms in inheritance laws.

The late 18th century saw a surge in land speculation, driven by the promise of new opportunities in the vast western territories. Wealthy individuals and companies acquired large swaths of land with the intent of selling them to settlers and investors at a profit. This speculative fervor was fueled by the belief that westward expansion would continue unabated, opening new frontiers for agriculture, trade, and settlement.

Land speculation, however, was fraught with risks and controversies much as it remains today. Conflicts with Native American tribes, who rightfully resisted the encroachment on their ancestral lands, were a constant threat. Additionally, disputes over land claims and titles were common, as overlapping grants and fraudulent transactions complicated the already murky legal landscape. 

While rural land dominated the real estate market, urban properties in burgeoning colonial cities like Boston, New York, and Philadelphia also held significant value. These cities were centers of commerce, trade, and political activity, with thriving ports and markets. Real estate in urban areas included residential houses, commercial buildings, warehouses, and wharves.

The design and architecture of colonial urban real estate reflected both practical needs and social aspirations. Wealthy merchants and professionals built grand townhouses, often in the Georgian style, while more modest homes and tenements housed artisans, laborers, and the urban poor. The value of urban properties was closely tied to their location, with prime spots near markets, docks, and government buildings commanding higher prices. (Sound familiar?)

The Revolutionary War marked a pivotal point in American history and had profound implications for real estate. The war disrupted traditional land ownership patterns, as loyalists who sided with the British Crown often had their properties confiscated and redistributed. This period also saw the rise of the new concept of individual rights, which influenced land policies.

In the aftermath, the new nation faced the challenge of creating a fair and equitable system of land distribution. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787, for instance, established a standardized system for surveying and selling western lands, promoting orderly settlement and expansion. 

As the United States embarked on its journey toward independence and nationhood, the evolving concepts of property rights and land distribution would continue to shape its development for years to come. Generational wealth for the masses, however, still has a long way to go.

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 to protect yourself from rental scams

Beware of fraudulent checks, identity theft

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Scams can affect both tenants and landlords during summer rental season.

As the summer rental season ramps up, be aware that scams can affect both tenants and landlords. As a property owner looking to rent out your space, you might encounter various fraudulent schemes when advertising your property online. Understanding these scams and recognizing the red flags can save you stress and even financial loss.

Three of the most common scams that landlords face in the District of Columbia include the following:

1. Fake Payment Scams

Tenants provide fraudulent checks or money orders for rent or security deposits. These payments appear legitimate initially, but eventually bounce or are identified as fake.

Why it works: Scammers take advantage of the delay between the initial deposit and the time it takes for banks to identify fraudulent checks, allowing them to secure access to the property.  Once they do, they have possession and in the District of Columbia, that means a court case to remove them.

Prevention Steps:

  • Verify Funds: Wait for the check or money order to fully clear before handing over keys or signing the lease. This can take several days.
  • Use Electronic Payments: Encourage tenants to use electronic payment methods like bank transfers or verified payment apps, which can be more secure and quicker to verify.
  • Bank Verification: Contact the issuing bank to verify the authenticity of the payment instrument.

2. Identity Theft Scams

Prospective tenants use stolen or fake identities to pass background and credit checks. Once they secure the lease, they may engage in illegal activities or fail to pay rent.

Why it works: Scammers exploit the reliance on documentation and credit reports which, if fake, can be difficult to verify without thorough checks.

Prevention Steps:

  • Thorough Screening: Conduct comprehensive background checks, including employment and previous rental history. 

As a self-managing landlord, this can be both time-consuming and complicated.  There are several easy ways to get caught in unlawful methods of screening based on the Districts strict tenant laws.  When in doubt to get it legally right, seek out professional help, so you do not inadvertently end up violating regulations in place to protect renters.

  • In-Person Meetings: Meet prospective tenants in person and request multiple forms of identification to verify their identity. Again, it’s critical to do this within the boundaries of the law. Make sure if you do it for one, do the same process, have the same questions and take the same actions for all interested parties. 
  • Cross-Check Information: Contact employers and previous landlords directly using publicly available contact information to confirm details provided by the tenant. Make sure you are indeed speaking to their prior or current landlord by preparing very specific questions about their lease agreement or other items a fake reference will not know or will stumble to answer. 

3. Subletting Scams

Tenants illegally sublet the property to others, often at a higher rate, without the landlord’s knowledge or permission. This can lead to over-occupancy and property damage. You may also not know who is living in your unit or if they would have qualified if you had screened them.  Lastly, if they have possession of your property, getting them out involves a court case. 

Why it works: Scammers take advantage of landlords who do not monitor their properties closely, allowing them to profit from unauthorized subletting.

Prevention Steps:

  • Find management: Ensure that preventative steps are taken, to ensure renter compliance with any sub-letting rules you’ve laid down in the original agreement.
  • Regular Inspections: Conduct regular property inspections to ensure that only authorized tenants are residing in the property. Inspections in the District are tricky, a landlord cannot just enter at will or too frequently.  Be sure you know the rules, or ask a professional for advice before you enter your renter-occupied property.
  • Lease Clauses: Include clear clauses in the lease agreement that prohibit subletting without written permission from the landlord. Is your agreement rock solid? Or do you need professionals on your side who know what to do to ensure both you and your renters are protected fairly?
  • Neighborhood Watch: Establish good communication with neighbors who can alert you to any suspicious activity or unauthorized occupants.  If you used to live at that location your former neighbors and friends are the best way to keep eyes and ears out on what is going on in your property and to alert you to any unusual behaviors.

By taking these preventive measures, landlords can better protect themselves from common scams and ensure a more secure rental process.

Anatomy of a Common Rental Scam

Another prevalent scam starts when you post an advertisement for your rental property. Scammers may copy your listing, post it at a lower price, and pretend they are the landlords. Unsuspecting tenants may pay a deposit to them or even the first month’s rent to these fraudsters, believing they are securing their new home. Here’s how the scam typically unfolds:

Step 1: Scammers take the details and photos from your legitimate listing and create a fake one, often with lower rent to attract more potential tenants.

Step 2: They claim to be out of town and unable to show the property, urging potential tenants to drive by and view the property from the outside.

Step 3: They ask for a security deposit or the first month’s rent via online payment methods before the tenant has signed a lease or even seen the inside of the property.

How to Protect Yourself

Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself from these scams:

Secure Your Listing: Use reputable rental platforms and websites known for their security measures to advertise your property.

Watermark Your Photos: Adding a watermark to the images in your rental listings can prevent scammers from easily stealing your photos.

Educate Potential Tenants: Inform applicants about common scams and encourage them to be cautious of listings that seem too good to be true, ask for money up front, etc.

Meet or Video Call Potential Tenants: If possible, meet tenants in person or through a video call to verify their identity and discuss the rental terms. Requiring a matching photo ID during the application process is an added layer to ensure this is the same person.

Verify Tenant Information: Conduct a comprehensive background check, including credit, employment, rental history, and criminal records.

Red Flags for Landlords

To protect yourself and potential tenants from a scam like this, be aware of the following red flags during the tenant screening process:

  • Paying All Cash Upfront: If a prospective tenant offers to pay the rent for the entire lease period in cash without a proper background check, be cautious. This can be a sign that they want to avoid detection due to illegal activities or poor credit history.
  • Urgency to Move In: A tenant who is pushing to move in immediately, especially without seeing the property, should raise a red flag. They might be trying to rush the process before you notice any inconsistencies in their story or background.
  • Lack of Interest in Viewing the Property: Be wary of tenants who do not ask to see the property or who are satisfied with just external views. Genuine tenants will usually want to inspect where they are going to live.
  • Poor or Incomplete Documentation: If a tenant cannot provide proper identification, proof of income, or previous rental history, this is a significant warning sign. Scammers often avoid giving out personal information that can be traced back to them.
  • Unusual Payment Methods: Be cautious if a tenant wants to use unconventional payment methods like wire transfers or cryptocurrency. Standard practices include checks, bank transfers, or credit card payments, which offer more security and traceability.

Organizations That Can Help

If you find yourself a victim of a rental scam, there are organizations that can offer assistance and guidance:

Federal Trade Commission (FTC): They handle complaints about deceptive and unfair business practices, including rental scams. You can file a complaint at ftc.gov.

Better Business Bureau (BBB): The BBB provides information on businesses, including complaints and scam alerts. Visit their website at bbb.org for more resources.

Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3): This is a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center, and it allows victims to report internet-related criminal complaints. Visit their site at ic3.gov.

Local Law Enforcement: Contact your local police department to report the scam, especially if money has been exchanged.

By staying vigilant and informed, you can protect yourself and potential tenants from falling prey to these sophisticated scams. Remember, prevention is always better than cure, especially in the real estate market.

(Note: For examples of the three scams included, we have produced some of the content of this article using AI.)

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

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