Monday, June 1, 2009

Garden Space

Nothing cleanses the soul like gardening. This applies to big or small spaces and the finished product may be admired for many months. However, along with the soil digging comes the many hours of watering and sunlight.

I have paid children, friends and anyone walking down the street to come water my garden when traveling. My first assessment when I return is the garden. July and August in the Washington area can be disastrous without a daily and sometimes twice a day watering.

I finally invested in the battery operated gadget that automatically turns the water on when programed. Of course nothing is without some drawback. My garden gate opens to a slanted alleyway and the water flows out to the sidewalk and street much to my neighbor's dismay. So I set the time for 4 AM hoping the excess water will be gone when she walks down her street.

In many US and European areas interesting private gardens are open to the public once a year. The Garden Conservancy's Open Days are available online at Admission is typically $5. The hours are 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. There are a few gardens in the area open June 6 and 7. This is a great way to see which plants grow under sunny or shady conditions and view various garden designs. Beautiful gardens help sell homes!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Short Sales

Short sales are not small sails on a boat nor are they quick sales between listing a property and having it under contract. They are very popular though today. Actually I have noticed there are a lot of sales today in super markets, retail stores and even hotels. But a real estate short sale is the sale of a property that has a sale price lower than the mortgage owed on a property.

My first experience was 12 years ago with a sale to my son. He was my most difficult client at the time wanting a three bedroom condo on a street where only 6 of these models existed. By phoning all the residents I came across a family who had to move and they owed $10,000 more than the condos were selling at the time. Thus began my nightmare.

Short sales are not easy for the agent, seller or buyer. It takes a lot of patience and many times these transactions never get to settlement. In the current market with so many sale prices dropping, short sales are plentiful. If you have the time and patience they can be bargains.

Banks are very difficult to deal with on this matter. For some reason every time I call the bank I have to start all over with the process. I thought computers were supposed to retain information so that we wouldn't have to do this.

Do you ever wonder what happens to all the information that is sent somewhere and no one seems to know what you are talking about when you make a followup call?

The short sale process goes a little like this. A seller has to sell a home. He calls the bank to tell the bank that his property is not worth the mortgage. They don't care at the moment. The seller lists the property with a real estate agent who spends a lot of time and money marketing the property.

In the meantime, the bank still doesn't care about the sale UNTIL an offer is presented on the property. Buyer and Seller sign the offer and then the nightmare begins. The agent sends all the information - listing, offer, and closing statement to the bank. The seller must fill out a financial statement and have a letter of request for a short sale.

Provided this information gets to the right person the first time (most often it does not) then a committee reviews the information and either counters, rejects or approves the sale. In most cases the real estate commission is lowered. The year and a half that the agent has spent on marketing the property becomes a negative.

This is the simple version. Time wise the whole transaction from offer to settlement can take 3 to 6 months. As I said if you have the time, bargains are available. Smart sailing!

Monday, May 11, 2009

What Is Your Name?

Just like all professions real estate has its funny moments and that is what keeps real estate agents going during the tough times. Our weekends are usually the busiest times since buyers use their time off to look at properties. One agent in my office came into work on Saturday and saw a client sitting in the reception area. The receptionist had stepped away for the moment. When the agent called the client John, the client responded with a smile and stood up. So off the two went to look at properties. Since the agent was thankful for the referral from his friend, the agent started discussing some mutual ties. He asked John how Lisa was doing after her operation. John was surprised that Lisa had undergone surgery recently. Then the topic of college came up. "I didn't go to Cornell, I went to Colgate" John said. "Well, how is work going at Commerce?" the agent asked. A little description followed from John. This chit chat continued for a few moments until the car stopped in front of a house in Old Town Alexandria. John looked a little confused. When the agent got out of the car and started to describe the inside and particulars about the property, John said "I don't want a house in Old Town, I am looking for a small condo in Arlington!" "But Lisa told me you wanted a house in Old Town???" said the agent. John replied "I don't know a Lisa!" It was clear that the agent had picked up the wrong client. When they returned to the office the receptionist announced that the agent's client was waiting for him. Then who is John and why did he act so concerned about Lisa's illness? Just then another agent walked in to say she was sorry for being late and whisked John out the door for another venture. I wonder if John worked at Commerce?

Friday, May 8, 2009


Do you remember the sitcom Friends? A group sat around the living room and helped one another solve problems. Each person would give his point of view. So many times I have seen this same type of gathering distroy a client's dream. After I have taken a client out two or three times, he/she usually finds the right property. I can see it in the body language and the phrases such as where the furniture would go and when do the sellers want to move. The excitement builds as we get back to the office. Then comes the risky question of "Could I take a friend, brother, father, cousin to look at the property with me before we write the offer?" Since I am representing the buyer at this stage, I want to make sure he/she is making the right decision with no regrets later. I agree and we set another appointment. I don't know if it is sour grapes, false knowledge of the market or a real opinion but when the other person visits the property all of a sudden there are negative issues that pop out from the disposal, size of rooms, closets, etc. I can see the doubt registering on my client's face. Everyone goes back to the living room to discuss friend's ideals which then don't seem so great after all. The next call I get from the client is a postponement of shopping for their dream. When we get together again the enthusiasm is gone. So when you want to buy something make sure the "friend" really has your best interest at heart. Take a positive person with you who has already purchased a property. They know all the angst that you are going through.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Rain, Rain, Come and Stay for Settlement Day

Has it rained enough for you lately? What a great time to buy a house. It may not seem ideal to look at property when the heavens have opened up and the sky is falling down. But just think, you can check the basement for dampness. In some cases there may be creeks running across the lower level. Water will follow the path of least resistance. When there is a crack in the foundation water will find the way. In the area along the Potomac River, there are low water tables. When we have had as much rain as we have in the last couple of weeks there is no place for the water to go and so the water just stands and puddles in huge amounts. In the case of older homes there may be a crack in the foundation. In normal weather this can go undetected. Many home inspectors can detect if the basement has had water. Look for signs around the baseboard and use your nose to smell. I once purchased a house that had a basement smelling like clorox on settlement day. I should have known the owner was masking the damp odor.

Many times a complete waterproofing is not necessary but in fact just some outside landscaping to force the water away from the structure. Beware of removing large trees close to the building. Their roots will leave spaces for water when once the roots absorbed the wet. Sometimes a structural engineer must be consulted. In any case a wet basement can be a constant problem. It will NOT go away by itself and it only takes one time to ruin personal belongings to dampen your spirit about the new house that you once loved.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Let's Buy a House!

Wow. So the housing industry is finaling getting some good publicity. I think we are all tired of hearing about short sales ( selling for less than the mortgage due) and foreclosures. I know when I look at the news there are foreclosure signs everywhere. Have you noticed that most don't have area codes of Northern Virginia? In the first quarter single family homes in Fairfax County have gone from an absorption rate of 23% in Janurary to over 45% in May. First time buyers are realizing this is THE time to buy with a possible $8000 tax credit and interest rates around 5%!

There are plenty of Open Houses on the weekends and agents are ready to help you. Look for your favorite area. Call a Realtor who will educate you on the buying process and get started. This market will not last forever. In fact it looks as if it has hit bottom already.