At the tail end of 2002, very happy home buyers closed on a deal in the Active Adult community of Dunbarton in Bristow. They had landed one heck of a deal–a large brand new, three level home backing to Broad Run and siding on the east to what the builder (Brookfield Homes) told them would remain common area to Dunbarton. As Brookfield put it, the neighboring lot could not be built upon without considerable expense to improve the grading, so the buyers were assured their view of the wooded lot next to them would remain common area. The asumption was that Brookfield would deed the lot to the Dunbarton HOA.
On March 11th (2023) the buyers mentioned above, my former clients who had purchased and sold investment property with me, called. Unfortunately, I was in the middle of a home tour with a buyer in the Winchester area and didn’t have time to hear the entire scoop. The headline was simple. Brookfield Homes had listed the lot next to their home for sale at $90,000. WHAT???
Having promised to follow up on the matter the following day, I did some research before calling my former clients. Sure enough, the lot was listed by Brookfield for sale at $90,000. The listing agent told me there was a building site on the property and it would be the last buildable lot in Dunbarton. Brookfield had decided they were no longer holding onto the lot and there was no duty to donate the lot to Dunbarton as common area. Whoever bought it would have full rights and access to the Dunbarton amenities. They would also have to pay the monthly HOA fee. This listing agent already had promises of other offers coming in and one offer in hand. When that last bit of news was relayed to my former clients, no matter how much they disagreed with the building site information or the misleading information they had been given by Brookfield years prior, they had some thinking to do.
The following day, they called and decided they were making a bid for property. They wanted to protect their view. The only way to do that was to buy the lot. By that point, there were three offers on the table. And my buyers knew full well the intense interest in the property. They had a front row seat for the buyers, considering the opportunity, coming to the lot and sniffing out the possibilities.
My clients were able to meet with me quickly and take swift, decisive action in the form of an above list price offer with an escalation clause on March 13th. There were no contingencies needed for my buyers. They were not buying with the intent to build. They knew exactly what they were getting as they had been admiring the lot for over twenty-two years. They were making a cash offer, with a large earnest money deposit and offered to settle within two weeks. The fast settlement was made possible by a phone call to my most trusted title partners at RGS Title who offered to start the title search the day of our offer.
Thankfully, my buyers’ offer was accepted. They thwarted unwanted construction on the wooded lot they had thought was common area for all these years. Their offer had escalated to $115,000 to beat the next highest offer. It closed March 29th for $25,000 over list price. From the settlement table, I texted the listing agent to know when our side had signed. She shared her amusement that she was receiving yet another offer on the property on settlement day. Apparently, not all agents understand the “pending” status in the MLS (multiple listing service.) My buyers are delighted that they had the ability to ensure their view for as long as they want it. Obviously, if they ever decide they no longer care about the view, it is a lot in high demand.
As 2023 began, Northern Virginia real estate agents were wondering if the pause in the market that happened in the last third of 2022 was going to continue. Interest rates had more than doubled during 2022, but going into 2023, they had eased a bit. Were they back in the threes or fours? No. They were in the low sevens and high sixes. Yet, just as consumers are prone to do, in light of the most recent highs, this felt like a relief. Indeed, it is the “new normal.”
Buyers have begun flooding the market, just as they did in 2020 and 2021. The same problem that existed then exists now. Where is all the inventory?
While buyers had their momentum paused in late 2022 as mortgage rates rose steeply, sellers seem to have hit their own pause button in 2023. It is certainly not for lack of buyers looking for homes. In fact, from Winchester to Stafford, and in my own home town of Bristow, I have represented buyers and sellers in multiple offer scenarios. In all cases, offers accepted were well above list and waived contingencies. The reality of the situation is this: as there is less and less to sell, buyers are left to duke it out on the homes available.
To sellers, this means another shot at unprecedented buyer demand and multiple offers. Not all houses are getting multiple offers, but those that do the listing preparation and price right, are the ones reaping the reward. Of course, in 2023, a handful of sellers are experiencing seller’s remorse and begging to be released from their contracts. Why? There are no homes for them to buy once they sell.
To buyers, this means shrugging off the national news of a real estate market crash and realizing that asking for closing cost help along with every conceivable contingency in a purchase offer is no longer going to be competitive. In fact, if the demand keeps up and lack of inventory continues to be a problem, we will likely see sight unseen offers again. Believe me, I wish this were not the case, but it seems we are trending back to the insanity of 2020 and 2021 in Northern Virginia and the surrounding market places.
Buying in 2023 is likely to feel like a rough and tumble sport. Knowing what you want and where you want it is essential. If you are tire kicking, this isn’t the market for you. Buyers that will do what it takes to succeed are the ones that know when they have found the home that meets their needs and want to be done before prices, or rates, go any higher.
Selling in 2023 is going to feel like a second shot at the insane seller’s market of recent years. Again, that is only for those that take the time to create buyer enthusiasm. Buyers aren’t likely to compete on listings that are over priced or under prepared for market.
What’s your move in 2023? No matter if you are buying or selling, get in touch with me and I will be happy to give you the real state of our local real estate market. My business is a full-time venture and has been for over eighteen years now. That means you will be represented by someone who is well versed in the ebb and flow of our market place. When the result matters, the agent you choose is the first critical decision. Let me know how I can be of assistance.
Log in to any neighborhood social media site or group and you are bound to hear often repeated themes. In high density neighborhoods in Bristow, Virginia, medium to large single family homes are squished into fifth to quarter acre lots. This is prevalent in Gainesville and Haymarket as well. Privacy and views are sought after by virtually every buyer. Builders know this well and sell the most private lots, which are usually those with the best views, for extremely high premiums on top of already inflated home prices in the area.
Protected views and privacy are usually an illusion on such small lots. When more development comes into play, be it more homes, places of worship, transmission towers for power lines or data centers, cries about the encroachment to privacy and view are immediate and heated. People get used to what they see out of their windows every day. Few actually think about what it would mean to have legitimate privacy and views. It means owning the land around you.
When home buyers are faced with what their budget will allow, most are faced with a new house on a postage stamp lot closer in or buying an older, likely outdated home on acreage farther out. And if a home buyer really wants a view and privacy, they will likely be looking at the latter. Only then can a view or privacy be considered protected. You may only need to buy three to five acres. Maybe you want ten. You don’t have to buy hundreds of acres for the type of privacy most suburbanites desire.
One need only watch the hit series Yellowstone to see the dramatization of the value of acreage. There is a limited supply of land and our growing population demands more of it. In higher density housing areas like where I live in Bristow, our overall society’s near complete reliance on a digital way of life has brought data centers to the forefront. Nobody likes the look of them. No one wants them in their view every day. It is doubtful the world would change its ways overnight and lessen their dependence on things like Ring doorbells, cell phones, streaming devices, etc.
When faced with data centers needed to continue to serve growing digital demand, the cries to the potential impact to those higher density housing areas is every bit legitimate as it is pointless. No matter the objections to to them, the reality is that home owners don’t want things like data centers in their back yard. Who can argue with that? Sadly, when you don’t own the land in question for the such development, citizens only have the power to protest. Politicians carefully craft statements and reschedule meetings for rezoning that makes citizens feel heard, but those elected officials have to consider the larger population when making decisions. Hundreds of protesting citizens is impressive, but in a county of nearly a half-million people may be acceptable collateral damage to elected officials looking to the benefits to the larger population. It is frustrating to realize you have no control as a home owner to what is built around you.
If you truly want a shot at protected buffers, privacy and views, buying acreage is truly the only way to achieve that goal. It may mean making the sparkle of newly designed kitchens and bathrooms of modern floor plans the lowest priority. It may mean living in more rural areas and absorbing larger commutes or even dealing with satellite internet. However, if you truly want as much control over your immediate environment as possible, buying land is the only way to have it.
There is a very important footnote here and that is the government’s power of eminent domain. The government has a right to seize property by force, giving fair market value to the owner, if needed for the greater good. Governments could take a subdivision from many home owners or a farm with hundreds of acres from one land owner. A quick Google search on eminent domain cases in the United States can show you why governments use this power. Many believe the use of eminent domain is being stretched beyond its original intent. What truly serves the greater good?
While it unlikely that the vast majority of land owners will ever have to deal with eminent domain, it could happen. What that land owner is left with is money to buy elsewhere or add to their wealth. When home owners in high density areas have no control over the land around their homes, they get zero compensation for whatever development takes place that impacts their daily life.
More and more I see buyers pushing out to under developed areas like Frederick, Clarke and Shenandoah Counties. Fauqier, Loudoun, Stafford and have opportunities depending on budget and desired location. And it is far more often that I find buyers wanting more than a quarter acre lot or neighborhoods free of HOAs. If you value privacy, having to apply for a garden, or what color you paint your front door probably doesn’t line up with your home ownership priorities. Buying properties with more land require long term vision, particularly on limited budgets, to transform older homes over time. One thing is certain, owning your view and privacy are priceless.
If a seller is reviewing multiple offers on a home, the first thing that becomes the focus is price. How much does each offer net them? Once that burning question is answered, other questions come up.
Does each offer have an appraisal contingency?
What is the down payment amount of each buyer?
Are any buyers waiving contingencies?
When are the proposed settlement dates?
Are any of the offers from owner occupants vs. investors?
In the case of the townhouse that I closed today in Bristow, the sellers were indeed interested in making the most money, but were also wanting to sell to an owner occupant. As parents of grown children who were up against investors on the homes they wanted to buy, and often losing out, when these sellers had the chance to sell to an owner occupant, they ran with it. Of course, the owner occupant offer was even a little higher, but carried more risk of a low appraisal. Their desire to help someone trying to buy their first home happened to be aligned with making the most money as long as the home appraised for the higher sales price.
Come appraisal time, the sales price was not supported and the sellers were faced with a choice. Lower their sales price and stick with the offer they chose, or get into business with the investor who may still be able to net them more money. Not every seller chooses money. In this case, having to carry another month of mortgage and utilities on a vacant home while waiting for the next appraisal outcome was not worth the potential of making a bit more money. The sellers stuck with the owner occupants they had first chosen.
Time and again I have seen sellers weigh what is important to them when selling their home. Making the most amount of money is up there, but usually doing so with minimal risk. The owner occupants that landed this townhouse in Bristow are fortunate that the investor was in more of a conservative mindset when writing his offer. When there is a lot more money at stake in much higher offers, selling to an investor over an owner occupant does not seem like such a bad idea. Investors are not in that mindset right now.
In the current market (spring 2023) we are still experiencing low inventory and high buyer demand. Owner occupants are the ones emotionally invested in an outcome and not likely to write low offers. Investors are more likely to believe stories of a market crash on the horizon and offer accordingly. The good news for owner occupants is that if they reasonably swing for the fences, they are likely to win.
If you are searching for a home in the Bristow/Gainesville or surrounding area, the search is a lot easier with an experienced, full-time professional agent on your side. At this point in time, I am able to accomodate new buyer clients. Get in touch and let’s start by talking about the process.
Listing a home for sale is no small task. Counseling sellers on prepartion projects, getting photos taken and creating a description of a home that draws in buyers is only a very skeletal part of the job. Understanding what your seller needs from the process is essential. Basic questions that I ask at a listing appointment include:
Are there any items that do not stay with the home?
Are there items that you want to leave with the home?
Where are you moving?
When you do need to move?
Do you need the funds from the sale of this home to buy your next home?
Is there a particular settlement date that works for your situation?
Are there any appliances that are not functioning that you don’t plan to fix?
These questions provide a framework for how the sales contract needs to work for my sellers. For instance, if a seller has gone under contract to purchase a home and needs to settle quickly, or needs a rent back, that is important information for a buyer and their agent to know.
One of the wonderful things about our MLS (Multiple Listing Service) is the ability to add documents for agents to see. In my listings, I love to provide what I call an Offer Info Sheet. There are many fields in our standard Residential Sale Contract that a buyer’s agent won’t know how to complete without looking through photos or cross referencing other sources. Owner names, conveyances, license numbers, where seller notices are going, etc. In the Offer Info Sheet, I provide information so that offers come in complete and have a shot at working. Preferred settlement date is always in there if needed.
In some cases, settlement date is critical. If a seller has already gone under contract to purchase another home on a specific date and needs the funds from the existing home sale to do that deal, the settlement date needed is critical information for those making offers. If you haven’t provided it in the MLS through remarks or some semblance of an Offer Info Sheet, when a buyer’s agent asks a specific question about the settlement date, you should be ready with the answer if you are committed to the best outcome for your sellers. Being caught off guard and stating your seller needs a quick settlement date AFTER you have received one or more offers is not the best way to get what your seller needs. Yet, these are things that happen in the practice of real estate that make me scratch my head.
My seller-clients never have to wonder if I am prepping buyer’s agents, or buyers, for what are mission critical goals. In the multiple offer situations of 2020 and 2021 that yielded offers in the double digits on many properties, my seller-clients were amazed to see that ninety-nine percent of offers met whatever settlement date or post settlement occupancy was requested. (There are always the one percent of buyer’s agents that never look at Offer Info Sheets, or the like provided by listing agents.) It is no less impressive when a seller has one offer that checks their boxes.
When selling a home must be within a specific time or have other critical components to work, don’t leave it to chance. Hire a listing agent that understands communication is the key to a successful, smooth transaction. In Gainesville, Bristow, Haymarket and points beyond, I am happy to meet and discuss how we can get it done.
Ever wonder what would happen if you were under contract to sell your home, but you changed your mind and wanted to stay put? Unfortunately, it does occasionally happen that sellers will be under contract with a buyer and have a change of heart. Does a seller have any outs in the Residential Sales Contract used in Northern Virginia? That’s a question every seller should ask of every listing agent they interview.
The contract used in our area, written by the Northern Virginia Association of REALTORS®, primarily focuses on the rights buyers have to void (get out without penalty) the deal. Unless a seller has a contract with the “Contingent on the Seller Purchasing Another Home” clause, sellers have no avenue to unilaterally void a contract. And even in the case of the home purchase contingency, if a seller is working with a listing agent that isn’t watching the calendar, the contingency dissolves at the deadline, obligating the seller to sell. A seller definitely wants to know when that home purchase deadline is up.
If a seller does NOT have a home purchase contingency in place and finds their desire to sell has changed, there is little more they can outside of pushing back on any requested home inspection repairs or price reductions due to low appraisal that their buyer requests. The ultimate hope here is that the buyer, in the absence of the seller’s willingness to do anything in the buyer’s favor, would void the contract. Obviously, that is a poor strategy and reliant on the buyer having significant repair requests that would trouble them immensely if not done, or the property having a significantly low appraisal that the buyer can not cover.
In my business, I have never had a seller-client that wanted to halt the sale of their home while under contract. Of course, my sellers are counseled on exactly what they are getting themselves into when accepting an offer on their home. My seller-clients also have in me, someone who can read non-verbal communication very well and will address it out right. If I get the vibe a seller is having second thoughts, I am going to ask about it.
In representing my buyer-clients I have come across situations where sellers are wanting out of their home sale. In particular was a buyer-client of mine who happened to be the seller-client of another agent. Every time we went house hunting, there was remorse that they should not be selling their home. It started before the home was even listed. Naturally, not being my clients on the home sale, all I could do was encourage them to talk to their listing agent.
As time went on and they were under contract, the seller’s remorse became stronger. By that point in time, their buyer was past all of their contingencies and ready to close. What does a seller do then? They either a) ask the buyer kindly to release them from the contract, b) hire an attorney and discuss their options, or c) suck it up and sell their home as much as they hate doing it. Again, all I could do was tell them to talk to their listing agent. They ended up sucking it up and selling their home, which made me very sad for them.
The most recent buyer-client I had that encountered a suddenly reluctant seller happened about ten days before closing. The seller, through their agent, begged to be released them from the contract. In mulling it over, my buyer decided (with other factors at play that had not been discovered) to let the sellers out. The sellers were so relieved that we were able to work out reimbursements for my buyer-client from them to cover out of pocket expeneses incurred for inspections, appraisal and survey.
The bottom line message to sellers here is that if you are listing your home, you should be ready and willing to sell under the terms agreed upon in the sales contract. You can not rely on buyer’s being empathetic and kind enough to let you out of the deal, especially in a low inventory market. Have a back up plan if you can’t find a home you want to purchase next. Start by hiring a listing agent that isn’t invested solely in getting you to closing, but whose business is relational. Agents like that…like me, are going to care more about what is in your best interest and not the pay day at the end of the deal.
Common knowledge seems to be that the best time to sell a home is spring. However, that philosophy would mean hitting the market when everyone else does. That increases competition. The one thing that the wild ride that started in 2020 taught us is that not having more buyers than competitors is where the money is made.
This Bristow townhouse at 10158 Pale Rose Loop hit the market on January 13th (2023.) Showing requests were immediate. There was only one other competitor on the market at the time in the neighborhood and a few others in nearby neighborhoods. Nineteen showings and a two hour open house that was like Grand Central Station were proof that when it comes to townhouses in Bristow, it is still a seller’s market.
After two offers on the fifth day on the market, the sellers felt accomplished with their multiple offers. They chose one and were under contract on the sixth day on the market.
Want to create that kind of scenario when you sell? Give me a call and let’s talk about the process of creating buyer enthusiasm.
Is January a good time to list a home in Bristow? It is if you want to hit a time where there are not as many sellers and there are plenty of buyers looking to find a home.
On January 13th I introduced 10158 Pale Rose Loop to the market, priced at $458,000. The sellers had refreshed the kitchen and bathrooms and done a lot of other really important things. In 2020, they replaced the roof, garage door, large living room window, refrigerator and installed LVP (luxury vinyl plank) flooring in the kitchen area and foyer. The year 2019 was when the Owner’s Bathroom got updated along with every toilet in the home, as well as the water heater. Even the water heater and HVAC are not original. Water heater was replaced 2019 and HVAC 2016.
The main level is where every day life happens. A living room is open to the kitchen. On the other side of the kitchen is a breakfast nook with a gas fireplace. There is even a generously sized deck right off the kitchen. That passes my hot dog test with flying colors. (What’s my hot dog test? How far do you have to walk from the refrigerator after grabbing your hot dogs to get to the space where you grill.)
Who wouldn’t love this kitchen with plenty of granite counter space, under cabinet lighting, gas cooking and even a light fixture pot rack over the island?
Another test specific to townhouses is simply put, “When nature calls.” To put this one delicately, when nature calls, how far to you have to go to get to a bathroom? In a townhouse, staircases may be involved. Not in this townhouse! There is a half bathroom or better on every level. The main level powder room is also updated to be farmhouse chic.
One of my favorite rooms is the owner’s suite. A sliding barn door opens to to the spa-like owner’s bathroom with high end vanity, cubby cabinetry, seamless shower and soaking tub.
Secondary bedrooms and additional full bathroom are on the uppermost level. Basement level (entry level) is where the garage enters the home and is also where you find a cozy family room with walk out exit, laundry area and additional half bathroom.
This townhouse offers so much, but buyers will need to bring their own washer and dryer. It will be open on Sunday, January 15th from 1pm-3pm. Make sure to take a peek for yourself or sneak a look at the immersive 3-D tour.
In late July I was contacted by former clients that had sold a townhouse and moved into a single family home in a Bristow HOA community in 2016. The reason for the move back in 2016 was to get more space for a growing family. The prevailing sentiment in 2022 was that the HOA lifestyle and neighbors pushed in snuggly on smaller lots was not for them. With property values being high, they wanted to investigate selling their existing home and getting something with more separation from neighbors and privacy.
The hardest component of a move-up purchase is timing the sale of the existing home with the purchase of another. When you aren’t quite sure what you want, it means taking time and trying on different types of homes in different locations. While we spent weekends shopping from Front Royal to Bealeton, Catlett and Warrenton their existing home was undergoing listing preparation.
About two weeks before their listing preparation was complete, my clients find the one that was meant to be their home. A twenty-two year old single family home nestled on six and a half wooded acres in Marshall, VA. We crafted their offer on August 24th, a time when the market was beginning to shift. It was a toss up if the seller would be willing to accept a home sale contingency, but they did, along with every available inspection contingency. You don’t buy your first rural property without at least a home inspection, water quality test and septic inspection.
Anxiety about if their existing home would sell was in the back of their minds. Sure enough, it was under contract in record time. While Bristow HOA suburbia may not have been for them, it was still a hot button for many buyers. Of course, taking the time to truly finish the listing preparation and not going off half-cocked combined with my professional marketing was what got that home sale done the right way.
After some negotiation over necesary repairs, the seller agreed to solve some mjaor issues and even a handful of smaller ones. My buyers were able to close knowing they have no immediate concerns in their new home. They were also able to secure a mortgage interest rate that was below market through a special loan program that crossed my desk in the middle of summer.
Are you ready to sell your home and want to try on some possibilities for your next home? Or are you just ready to stop paying your landlord’s mortgage and invest in your own future? Get in touch and let’s talk about what the market has to offer.
“Was Anyone Ever Murdered or Did Anyone Die Here?”
With Halloween coming up and skeletons seemingly around every corner in October, it is a great time to address a rather macabre subject that ocassionally comes up with buyers as they narrow down their home selection. It happened just this afternoon that a buyer asked, “Was anyone ever murdered or did anyone die here?” Her friend, a former client of mine, told her that sellers didn’t have to tell you unless you asked. Let’s unpack fact from hearsay.
Just because you ask a seller this question does not mean they have to answer it. Sellers are required to disclose material defects to the property, but not events that transpired there. The Virginia Residential Property Disclosure Act specifically states:
Purchasers should be aware that neither a seller nor a real estate licensee is obligated to disclose facts or occurrences which have no effect on the physical structure of the property, its physical environment, or the improvements located thereon, or the fact that the property was the site of a homicide, felony, or suicide.
The thought that someone may have died in a home they are contemplating purchasing is not the only thing that can cause a buyer anxiety. It was actually a closing just days before Halloween 2019 when sellers and I, as their Listing Agent, were accused of violating the Residential Property Disclosure Act. Buyers were doing their final walk through and noticed the neighboring lot was an old family cemetery. While the idea of living next to a cemetery may freak out some buyers, that’s just as much a non-disclosure for sellers. All a seller is held to is disclosing any material defects of which they are aware within the boundaries of their own property. Deaths, murders and suicides are not among them.
Navigating the Northern Virginia real estate market can be complicated on many levels. I would love to help you if you are looking for a place to call your own. Investing in yourself vs. a landlord is the first step to building wealth. Give me a call and let’s get started find you a house that YOU can haunt for years to come.