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Sidelined by high interest rates?

Consider refinancing options, buying down points

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Fall means more inventory, but high interest rates are proving challenging for some buyers.

Unimpressed by the current offerings on these DMV streets? Yeah, me too. Luckily we are heading into the busy “fall market” where we are set to see an influx of new inventory hitting the market just after Labor Day. While you might still be unsure if buying in this current real estate market and with these higher interest rates really makes sense for you, I want to outline a few options that might make sense for you and make that dream of homeownership, in this current market, more attainable than you once thought.

DATE THE RATE – MARRY THE HOME

I’m sure we have all heard this by now. Everyone is saying to date the interest rate and you can always refinance. I agree with this sentiment 50% of the time. None of us knows what will happen in the future, right? Will interest rates drop lower than they are currently sitting? Sure, I think that’s a safe assumption. So if we are using that logic then if you find a home that you simply cannot live without then you should buy it and hope that interest rates drop and you can refinance that mortgage into a lower rate. With current limited inventory and higher interest rates we are seeing buyers getting some pretty good deals across all categories of homes (condo, co-op, townhome etc.) and so it still might make sense to buy a home now. Also, your motivation to move out of your friend’s basement or a roommate situation might be the driving factor.

ADJUST YOUR MINDSET

If you are dead set on buying a home right now, I get it. I am an Aries and I want things done NOW. That being said – there is a great option for making the current interest rates a bit more bearable. Adjustable rates are a great way to save in the short term. The way that adjustable rate mortgages work is that you are basically locked into a lower interest rate for a specifically set amount of time and then once that time passes your rate is adjusted to the current market or whatever your terms are set to increase by. Adjustable rate mortgages get a bad rep because of what happened in the last market crash. The loans that were being handed out back in 2007 were what’s called “no-doc loans” meaning that basically mortgage companies were not asking for documentation and would lend money out to everyone with very little verification of credit, employment, salary etc. In today’s mortgage market, the requirements to qualify for a loan are much greater and the same goes for an adjustable rate. Keep in mind that sometimes the terms of an adjustable rate loan do not make sense.

BUY POINTS

A newer method to make your mortgage more within reach is to buy down points. When it comes to your interest rate you have the ability, with most lenders, to come to the table with a specific percentage of the total loan amount, in cash, to buy down the interest of the overall loan and thus will result in a lower interest rate and lower monthly fee. This is, of course, only effective if you have that cash on hand needed to buy down the points and this would be outside of any down payment amount you have already put down on the loan. This is a costly method and sometimes depending on how long you see yourself in that home – it doesn’t always make sense.

TAKE A BEAT

Sometimes the best thing we can do in life is to just take a moment to breathe. This is also helpful in the real estate market, although I never do. Anyway, if you are just super stressed about home buying after writing a few offers and being beat out or if you just can’t wrap your head around the expense of these interest rates, then take some time and regroup. During this regroup you can make a few changes to your finances that will help you in the long run with your borrowing power and overall mortgage health.

Credit: your credit worthiness does affect your mortgage interest rate. Work on your credit score to help with your mortgage outlook and you will notice a change in your interest rate. It is pretty easy to work on improving your credit through healthy bill paying and spending. There are a few groups that can help with this, outside of your day-to-day healthy credit habits, but I always recommend speaking with a lender to help navigate you in the right direction.

Debt: pay off those student loans. Your borrowing power is surrounded by your debt to income ratio. Pay off loans that you have entirely or as close as possible. Just be aggressive with them. This will help you with the amount you can borrow in addition to your overall “image” when a lender looks at your file. While you are sitting on the bench waiting for more inventory or for the interest rates to drop – make smart decisions to buy down debt that you are currently carrying around.

As I mentioned before, economists’ predictions show that interest rates are sure to drop due to our current level of inflation being in a better place. It is likely that rates will drop, however no one has a crystal ball. The few tips listed above put the power in your hands and the ability to control what option makes the most sense for you in your home buying journey. Buying down points or adjustable rate mortgages are sometimes great options for some home buyers. Looking inward and working on your credit worthiness and debt are also great ideas for those that are not willing to subscribe to the refinance option or an adjustable rate mentality where the risk is too high. Home ownership is truly possible and when you have a toolkit outfitted with the right mortgage lender and realtor to help guide you through the process – it really is seamless.

(I am not a mortgage broker and do not claim to be.)

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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Real Estate

Back to basics in home buying process

Fantasizing about pricey condos you can’t afford is not the first step

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That multi-million dollar Logan Circle condo sounds good after a boozy brunch but can you really afford it?

As a home buyer we often forget what goes into the home buying process. There are several steps that you must take in order to purchase a home and similar to school or continuing education, it’s always a good idea to get back to basics to refresh your memory (or perhaps learn for the first time) the nuances of home buying and those steps that a Realtor is there to help you navigate.

Most buyers assume that the first step in home buying is the HUNT! You have been on Redfin or Zillow stalking some properties that are on the market and going into open houses on your lazy Sundays after a boozy brunch imagining yourself in a condo in Logan Circle. Well I hate to be the one to tell ya – but that is not your first step. You may have just been wasting your time as you are not able to afford those properties you have been looking at online and daydreaming about the furniture placement. In reality the first step to home ownership is getting  a pre-approval from a reputable local lender. A lender will do a quick pull of credit and finances to give you an idea of what type of mortgage and the amount of that mortgage. While you may think you can afford a mortgage, the mortgage industry will financially let you know what you can actually afford.

Once you have that pre-approval in hand we can start the hunt. This is the time that your agent is going to ask you for your list of wants and needs. These lists will no doubt change over time when actually touring properties. Agents are there to guide you through the process. We are teammates on this hunt together. Likely your agent will send you properties and you will also find a few on your own that are of interest. Just like with teaching, learning, fashion, etc. there are different styles that work for different people. Please remember that if you do not like the style your agent uses, there are more fish in the sea. Find the agent that you jibe with — you are going to be spending a great deal of time together.

Once you’ve found the home of your dreams – this is where the real fun begins. Your agent will run comps on the property to find its value. Value is a subjective thing; at the end of the day a property is only worth what someone is willing to pay. Comparable sales (comps) are a list of properties with the same bedrooms, bathrooms, size and within the same radius of the property that you are interested in purchasing. These figures are used to either support the asking price or support a lower offer price for the piece of real estate. Once the comps are run and you agree on an offer price, there are a few other items that need to be hashed out that are part of the offer of sale. 

Arguably one of the more important factors is the inspection period. This is usually used to perform a home inspection and find any items that may need special attention or repair that would drastically affect the home’s value. This is also a time to take measurements, take pictures, bring in a contractor for quotes etc. So you will want to ask for an appropriate amount of time for these items to be completed. 

The final item to go over in the contract (we are just breezing through this here) is coupled with the financing piece. We need to determine a closing date. This will usually line up with what the mortgage lender (remember step one) will need in order for you to produce any and all documents to them and to get the loan into underwriting in order to close the sale. In the DMV this is usually about 30-days from contract acceptance to closing. There are, of course, instances where it can be sooner and those where it can be extended a bit. It’s all a fine dance between all parties involved to ensure a smooth transaction. It truly does take a village.

Once the offer is written, presented, negotiated and all parties agree to the terms – then this menagerie of bulleted items and timelines are set into place. There are timed items for different types of real estate and each jurisdiction is different regarding their timing – which is why its vital to use a Realtor that performs often in that specific area in which you are looking to purchase.

This is by no means an all-encompassing list of items within a real estate contract nor a true roadmap to home ownership, however, it represents the stripped down fundamental steps in the home buying process. Aside from the contract, which protects you as the buyer, it is important to ensure that you align yourself with your ‘A Team’ for the hunt. That includes a lender, title company, home inspector and any auxiliary contractors, etc., that your trusted real estate agent can help provide a list for you to choose from.

In this current climate there are mumblings and lawsuits about the “need” for a Realtor to be used in a home buying or selling transaction. After reading the snippet of tasks above, I would surely believe that a Realtor is vital to a successful home purchase in this market. We have gone from a seller’s market with super low inventory levels to a market with higher interest rates and equally low inventory levels. Realtors are on the pulse of the market and what is changing because we are in the trenches – I would argue that assistance with your home purchase, one of the most valuable assets you will have – is one in which having a professional by your side is of vital importance.

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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Real Estate

D.C. rentals: DIY or seek professional help?

Some landlords thrive alone, while others need property managers

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If you’re thinking of becoming a landlord, there are tasks you can handle and others that are best left to the professionals.

Owning a rental property in the District of Columbia can be a lucrative investment, which naturally comes with an array of professional and legal responsibilities. From federal laws and local regulations to moral and financial responsibilities, your obligations change substantially when you transition from being a homeowner to a landlord. 

When you “Do It Yourself,” you’re tasked with managing the property, handling tenant relations, ensuring legal compliance, and much more. The key questions to ask yourself when you seek to master the D.C. rental housing market include: 

  1. Which property management tasks can you take on yourself, and 
  2. At what point should you entrust the job to professionals?

DIY Property Management Tasks

Looking at things from a distance, it seems like a no-brainer to self-manage a property you have purchased. You have a solid property. You find good tenants. You cash in on the rent income. What could go wrong? Here are a few things that many landlords feel confident in managing on their own.

• Routine Maintenance: Regular upkeep is essential to maintaining the value and appeal of your property. Owners can handle tasks such as lawn care, cleaning common areas, painting, and basic maintenance like changing light bulbs or air filters. Staying on top of these tasks can enhance tenant satisfaction and reduce the likelihood of major repairs down the line and it can save money. 

• Communication: Establishing clear communication channels with tenants can foster a stronger landlord-tenant relationship. Landlords can personally address concerns, answer questions, and provide timely responses to maintenance requests. Open lines of communication contribute to tenant retention and satisfaction and better long-term rentals.

• Rent Collection: Collecting rent is a straightforward task that landlords can manage themselves, so long as you have a tenant who is paying on time. Ask yourself if you want to be interfacing directly with a resident in your rental who runs into economic troubles and becomes a late payer, month after month. By setting up a convenient payment system and providing clear rent due dates, landlords can maintain consistent cash flow and make the process more efficient.

Lease Agreements: Crafting a well-drafted lease agreement is within the capabilities of landlords, especially with many online platforms that provide lease templates these days. With the assistance of legal templates or resources, landlords can outline terms, responsibilities, and expectations for both parties. However, always have a legal professional versed in D.C.’s landlord-tenant law review the document to ensure compliance with DC’s rental laws.

Property Management Tasks That are Better Left to the Professionals

When you hit the wall with the various complexities in D.C. and federal landlord/tenant laws, it’s time to think about what critical components of successful rental housing should be outsourced. When you think of your best and favorite skills, are you prepared for key things required of landlords in the District? Take a peek at just a few of the most important ones below.

 • Market Analysis and Pricing: Professionals have the expertise to conduct thorough market analyses, helping landlords determine competitive rental prices. Setting the right rent ensures steady occupancy rates and maximizes returns on investment. Stair Stepping your rental price during advertising can save you from lost revenue month-on-month. And property managers with units in their portfolio similar to yours can often have a stronger sense of what the market is paying for a rental like yours.

• Tenant Screening: One of the most crucial aspects of property management is selecting the right tenants. Landlords can take charge of this task by thoroughly screening applicants, checking references, and conducting background checks to ensure responsible and reliable tenants. The District’s City Council has imposed a wide array of restrictions on what you can and cannot check for with prospective tenants. Do you want to be caught off guard and faced with a discrimination lawsuit? Think twice before you decide to use subjective measures for tenant selection. 

• Legal Compliance: The District of Columbia has strict rental laws and regulations that landlords must adhere to. Professionals well-versed in local laws can ensure your property and practices are compliant, reducing the risk of legal disputes and financial loss. 

• Complex Maintenance and Repairs: While landlords can handle basic maintenance, significant repairs and complex issues are best left to professionals. And you will need a skilled intermediary to help navigate the different bids to know which is realistic and which simply has overblown costs. Hiring qualified licensed and insured contractors ensures that repairs are done correctly and safely, preventing potential hazards and tenant dissatisfaction, and keeping liability for problems with the contractor.

Emergency Response: Property management professionals have systems in place to handle emergencies, such as plumbing leaks or electrical failures. Their round-the-clock availability ensures that tenants’ needs are met promptly and efficiently. Do you know folks who can be your support system? If not, you may want professional property management.

Tenant Evictions: Dealing with tenant evictions is a sensitive and legally intricate process, particularly in the District of Columbia after 2002 legislation. Property management professionals can guide landlords through the eviction process, ensuring that all legal requirements are met while minimizing potential conflicts. Trying to represent yourself in Landlord Tenant court now has so many risks to invalidate your lawsuit it is best to use an attorney specialized in DC Landlord Tenant Law to make sure all of the requirements are met for the lawsuit to proceed.

Finding the Balance

Making the decision to do your own property management tasks or hiring professionals depends on several factors, including your experience, time availability, and the scale of your rental property portfolio. Some landlords may thrive in handling many aspects themselves, while others might benefit from entrusting their properties to seasoned property managers.

While landlords can handle tasks like routine maintenance, and rent collection, seeking legal help for District landlord/tenant law compliance, other necessary skills may be harder to develop and can leave you in hot water with a knowledgeable tenant. Think deeply about alleviating the stress and mitigate potential risks by understanding your strengths and limitations as a landlord. Doing so today will help you make informed decisions that contribute to the success of your rental property and get you the revenue you want to see tomorrow.

Whatever decision you make on your property management, feel free to contact us [email protected]. Stay informed.

Scott Bloom is owner and Senior Property Manager at Columbia Property Management. For more information and resources, visit ColumbiaPM.com.

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Real Estate

Chores for the fall before the chill arrives

Clean gutters, replace smoke detector batteries, and more

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Get busy now on house projects before the winter chill sets in.

While it may not feel like fall is in the air yet, it won’t be too long before pumpkin spice will explode everywhere — in food, drinks, candles, and body lotions, to name a few places. If you’re not a fan, you’ll find air freshener plug-ins in scents like Frosted Cranberry, Fresh Fall Morning, and Sweater Weather among the offerings at Bath and Body Works.

Soon after, hordes of December holiday decorations will appear in the stores, often bypassing a smidgen of items for Halloween and Thanksgiving. Except candy. Halloween candy will always figure prominently.

But before you hibernate and chow down on mini-Snickers bars, there is work to be done to prepare your home for the winter.

Inside the home. To ensure your safety, check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Replace batteries or buy new detectors if they are more than 10 years old. Have your chimney inspected and cleaned, and make any necessary repairs, then test your fire extinguishers. Seal doors and windows that might allow drafts to enter with weatherstripping.

Now is the time to take advantage of the discount prices on heating system tune-ups that some HVAC companies are offering. As little as $59 for a check-up will help your equipment function better and extend its life. 

A furnace tune-up should include cleaning all components, lubricating motor parts, checking electrical parts for rust or corrosion, making sure your thermostat is working properly, and replacing the filter. You may want to take this opportunity to have your vents cleaned as well. 

A heat pump inspection includes cleaning and lubricating the blower and fan motors, inspecting indoor and outdoor coils, flushing the condensate drain, and testing the controls.

If you have a boiler instead of a furnace or heat pump, you can expect your serviceperson to inspect, test and calibrate all gauges and safety mechanisms, measure and record the flame pattern concentration and carbon monoxide, check electrical connections, and more. 

Don’t forget to bleed the radiators to release air in the pipes and enhance the circulation of warm water. And if you’re like me, cross your fingers that your 47-year-old boiler will last one more season.

Outside the home. While the leaves haven’t started falling yet, the recent rain and winds may have blown yard debris into your gutters, so make sure they, and your downspouts, are clear. Position the downspouts so they will take any water away from your foundation and regrade the perimeter of your house, if needed.

Check your roof for lost shingles. Look for missing flashing or bricks in need of tuck-pointing or parging on the exterior of your chimney. Walk around your house and note any foundation cracks or unsealed openings. Check retaining walls for missing mortar. There is still plenty of time to make these repairs before the cold sets in.

Now that 90-degree temperatures have receded a bit, plan the power washing and painting of exterior surfaces that you have been putting off tackling. And since the Labor Day barbecue is now over, it’s time to winterize your gas grill.

In the garden. Far be it for me to profess to be an expert in the garden. I’m the first one on the phone to a landscaper to seek help. In fact, there is a barrage of weeding going on at my home this week. Nonetheless, here are a few suggestions.

Prune trees and bushes to promote future growth. Water, aerate, and fertilize the lawn. Select any bulbs you want to plant and enjoy next spring and consult a source such as Better Homes and Gardens magazine for tips on how and when to plant them. 

Drain garden hoses, detach them, and drain the pipes that run to the hose bibbs as well. If you’re lucky enough to have underground sprinklers (I am not), follow the manufacturer’s instructions for winterizing them, or call a professional.

Store lawn furniture and cushions in a shed, garage, or basement. Or do as I do – throw away the cushions that are dirty or moldy and buy new ones next spring. And when the leaves fall en masse, rake them, bag them, and recheck your gutters and downspouts to be sure they’re clear.

Finally, head to the hardware store to buy a snow shovel, some windshield de-icer and washer fluid, and a few bags of salt or pet-safe, snow-melting product before the rush. You’ll be glad you did.

And if you happen to live in a condominium or cooperative, when you have completed any relevant interior chores, relax for the rest of the season and enjoy some candy. I stash mine in the cabinet above the refrigerator. 

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