This week’s Q&A column is sponsored and written by Ann Duff of McEnearney Associates Realtors®, the leading real estate firm in Alexandria. To learn more about this article and relevant Alexandria market news, contact Ann at 703.965.8700 or email [email protected]. You may also submit your questions to McEnearney Associates via email for response in future columns.

Question: Can I avoid losing thou$and$ of dollar$?

Answer: Now, that I have your attention… it will not surprise you to know “the devil and the angels are in the details,” and you must keep your guard up during any transaction, especially in real estate.

Maybe my own experiences from just this past week can explain.

  • The lender forgot to add in buyers’ front foot MD tax fees, so the numbers were off by $1,000; we had to chase him down late on Friday night, so my sellers could remove their financing contingency for their out-of-state purchase today!
  • Digging deeply to find proof of the additional $500 security fee the tenant must cough up to a D.C. condo association and track down the mystery extra condo paperwork required meant lots of phone calls.
  • Ratified a contract with a long settlement date and had to specifically ask for my buyers’ sizable deposit to be placed in an interest-bearing account. It won’t total very much in the end, but maybe worth a celebratory night out on the town. (Remember those?)
  • Hit the books (or database) to find out when the property last sold and where, so my buyers can get a discount/reissue rate on title insurance. Sometimes this requires a trip to the city or county courthouse to check recordation dates and title company names, but it’s decidedly worth the 30% reduction. (The last sale must have been less than 10 years ago.)
  • “Moving” targets — seeded to hurry two different tenants along to get elevator and loading dock reservations nailed down to match their preferred packing/unpacking days. Stress reduction for both.
  • Accomplished two different remote settlements with far away sellers by arranging notary companies to appear, as if by magic, at their Paris hospital bedside (really!) and at their Colorado Springs retreat.

Specific suggestions:

A. Create a unique calendar for your purchase/sale/rental/tenancy and match it with a checklist. Watch those “exit ramps” and deadlines. Lean on your Realtor for guidance and keep track of your travel and commitments.

B. Get on “the list” now — whether you need a refrigerator, new carpet, painting or repairs, it’s hard to get work accomplished due to a broken supply chain or swamped resource people. COVID and those shutdowns have had layers of unexpected consequences. People are waiting months for A/C systems.

C. 1. Actually read the sales contract. Set aside a couple of hours, and pour a glass of wine, but do look at the terms, timelines and commitments involved. Written in English and scrubbed of ponderous legalese now, take time and a yellow highlighter to identify questions in your contracts and leases.

C. 2. Ask if any recent boilerplate language changes in the various jurisdictions will impact your timeline or protections — Northern Virginia Association of Realtors (NVAR), Greater Capital Association of Realtors (GCAAR), as well as Maryland Association of Realtors (MAR) and the county-specific affiliates, such as Montgomery County and Prince Georges County, all have different contract language, treatment of deadlines and enforcement! To know one contract is NOT to know all contracts, especially since the cancellation of the Regional Sales Contract which, at least, got things somewhat aligned. Get ready to really, really focus if you are selling, for instance, a Capitol Hill townhouse and buying in Arlington, or down-sizing from Potomac, Maryland, to Old Town Alexandria. Those boundaries take minutes to cross and make a world of difference!

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This week’s Q&A column is sponsored and written by Lisa Groover of McEnearney Associates Realtors®, the leading real estate firm in Alexandria. To learn more about this article and relevant Alexandria market news, contact Lisa at 703-919-4426 or email [email protected]. You may also submit your questions to McEnearney Associates via email for response in future columns.

Question: How do I get a house ready to sell when I live out of town?

Answer: Funny you should ask… I have had the opportunity to help five sellers in the past year in this very same situation. One couple had been renting their home for over 10 years — they live in Canada. The second rented his townhouse for about 15 years — he lives 1.5 hours away. I am working on three more now. One is an estate with the executor living in South Carolina. Another is a large single-family home, and the owners have already moved to their farm in Tennessee. And one will close this week with the sellers signing remotely from California.

I cannot say that it is easy; however, working with an experienced team of professionals who can lessen the burden of getting a home ready for market makes a big difference in an already stressful situation.

Selecting a real estate agent who has long-standing relationships with contractors, painters, hardwood and carpet experts, plumbers, and decluttering and staging professionals will make your task more manageable. I have worked with long-distance sellers on projects from completely gutting and remodeling kitchens and bathrooms; selecting all new appliances, vanities, mirrors, window treatments and lights; to having the house painted and hiring contractors to make repairs and updates.

My list of contacts includes companies that specialize in clearing out unwanted furniture and taking items to donation sites and to the dump. I met with a decluttering and staging expert today to decide what to pack away or move out of the house and what items to use for staging. I am walking through a property with a landscaper later this week to discuss an expansive yard clean-up and ways to create more curb appeal.

I asked a current client to share some of her thoughts about working with me from another state, and she responded: “You managed the entire process of getting the house on the market so that I did not have to travel to Virginia at all. I also appreciated the way you handled the sensitive situation where the children had a difficult time going through their mother’s personal belongings.”

Here’s an example of the difference a powder room renovation can make. The old vanity was dated with a dark wood whereas the new one is crisp and bright.

In another situation, the seller initially said he did not want to do any updating to an older townhome. Once we explored a variety of options and compared the price of the renovations and the potential increase in value, he decided to do quite a bit of renovating. In the end, he made the decision to modernize his house, resulting in over $100,000 more in the sales price!

“In just several months Lisa valued my townhouse in relation to the market; made recommendations to help its presentation; suggested a pricing strategy for optimum positioning; and on an almost daily basis, managed, coordinated and communicated all the work being done,” the seller said. “Lisa has trusted loyal professionals she recommends, including painters, carpenters, plumbers, electricians and cleaners, and it seemed as though whatever needed to be done, she was able to make it happen.”

Check out some of these before and after pictures of the dining room and kitchen renovation that was done to list this home for sale.

Before the renovation, the dining room and kitchen were separated by a wall and the kitchen was very tight for food preparation.
After removing the wall, the ever-coveted open concept dining room and kitchen will elegantly play host to gatherings large and small.

Whether you are thinking of buying or selling — or just need suggestions for updating your home — I am happy to provide suggestions and ideas or recommend contractors for your specific projects. I am a resource for the duration of homeownership, not just the buying or selling process. Feel free to reach out anytime!

Lisa Groover is a licensed real estate agent with McEnearney Associates, Inc. in Old Town Alexandria, VA. As an active member of the community since 1989, Lisa specializes in Alexandria, and is thrilled to have the opportunity to work closely with her friends, neighbors, former clients, and their referrals.

In addition to enjoying the Old Town lifestyle and the art related events and activities, she is a member of a number of volunteer organizations. Having had eight Golden Retrievers, she is dedicated to helping other dog owners through the challenges of renting, buying and selling their home.

If you would like a question answered in our weekly column or to set up an appointment with one of our Associates, please email: [email protected] or call 703-549-9292.

McEnearney Associates Realtors®, 109 S. Pitt Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. www.McEnearney.com Equal Housing Opportunity. #WeAreAlexandria

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This week’s Q&A column is sponsored and written by Kim Peele and Hope Peele of The Peele Group and McEnearney Associates Realtors®, the leading real estate firm in Alexandria. To learn more about this article and relevant Alexandria market news, contact The Peele Group at 703-244-5852 or email [email protected]. You may also submit your questions to McEnearney Associates via email for response in future columns.

Question: Should I rent or buy?

Answer: When considering a move, sometimes there’s a dilemma. Is this the right time to buy, or should I rent again? In some areas of the country, it’s a clear choice. If mortgage payments will be consistently lower than rent, or at least close, there is an obvious opportunity to see appreciation in your investment and come out ahead in a few years. In our area, it can be a little tricker.

The first step in your decision-making process is to find a good Realtor who will be patient, answer all of your questions and see you through the process — whether you decide to rent or buy this year. Your Realtor will guide you through the process of shopping for homes that fit your situation and budget and will negotiate diligently on your behalf when the time comes. They also have great resources and can refer you to trusted lenders, which is your second most important step in making your decision about a home!

Whether you want to buy now, or even in a year or two, an experienced local lender will provide all the important financial information that you need to make your decision. They will look at your credit score, job history, income, as well as your assets and debt. All this information will help them to map out the best plan for your future, regardless of where you already are in the process. A good lender will give you options for loan programs, helping you create the most competitive offer when you are ready to buy, and they will show what your interest rate would be depending on how much you put down on your loan. They will also have guidance for you on how your tax savings may allow you to make a mortgage payment higher than what you would be comfortable paying for a rental. Your Realtor and lender should be identified early, as they will become your close advisors in this journey to decide whether to rent or buy.

Let’s talk about the upside of buying. Clearly, there are many reasons to buy. First, you can truly make your home your own. Remodeling, updating and even just painting are all your decisions and to your tastes. Second, your investment will grow and make money for you as home values increase. Third, depending on the mortgage program chosen, your payments will remain almost the same for many years, except for minor changes in taxes and insurance. Lastly, the cost of waiting will be higher interest rates — now at all-time lows — and more expensive homes. Your buying power will lessen the longer you wait.

A few years back, we met Margaret and Devon (names have been changed) at a rental in Alexandria where the monthly rent was $2,700. It was a 2-bedroom, 2-bath condo about a mile from the center of Old Town. They were newlyweds and expecting their first child. They mentioned to us that they didn’t think that it would be possible for them to own a home in this area. We suggested they talk with one of our favorite lenders, and they discovered that a mortgage payment for a home up to $550K would be about the same monthly payment. Also — they could get away with just 5% down. Like many newlyweds, they didn’t have quite that much to put down, so their parents gave them a tax-deductible gift of $25K. In this instance, it made much more sense to buy than rent, and this family was thankful for the information. Several years later, their $549K purchase is now worth $635K and growing.

Now, let’s talk about the cons of buying and why some are deciding to rent.

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This week’s Q&A column is written by Rebecca McCullough of McEnearney Associates Realtors®, the leading real estate firm in Alexandria. To learn more about this article and relevant Alexandria market news, contact Rebecca at 571-384-0941 or email [email protected]. You may also submit your questions to McEnearney Associates via email for response in future columns.

Question: What does the 2021 real estate market look like so far?

Answer: Real estate fascinates many people. The real estate market over the last year, however, has been particularly captivating to follow. Whether you’re actively in the market or just mildly interested, there’s been a lot to discuss this year (and we’re only halfway through!).

The headlines, the stories from neighbors and our personal experiences have inspired many a recent conversation in this busy, sometimes unpredictable market. Not surprisingly, we hear some useful analysis, but we might also hear the myths, misconceptions, and falsehoods about the state of the market and where it is headed.

What really happened in the real estate market between January and June 2021?

Did every house on the market sell? Did they all get a dozen offers and sell for $100,000 over the asking price?

The answer is no. (Well, one house really did sell for over $1 million over asking price, but that was rather exceptional, to say the least). The extreme demand and its effects were well-advertised events that happened to many but certainly not all. Most homes that received multiple offers and sold quickly (and sometimes over the asking price) had a few things in common: They were in desirable neighborhoods, they showed very well, they had good outside space and they were priced right (or some combination thereof).

Many sellers who invested in their homes in order to put their best foot forward did very well. This included painting their home interior in light neutrals, lightening up dark kitchen cabinets (more paint!), changing outdated countertops, updating bathroom vanities and fixtures, replacing worn carpets, refinishing scratched flooring, removing clutter, and freshening up the landscaping.

The other end of the spectrum also did well. Homes in original (or close to it) condition that had not been updated but were located in desired neighborhoods and — importantly — priced right, attracted contractors and those looking to purchase for renovation.

The homes that struggled were the ones somewhere in between. This is true in almost any kind of market. Homes that have been updated at some point in their history, but 10 to 20 years ago, struggled.

Sellers who thought the hot market meant that they could just put up a sign and get multiple offers were often disappointed. In some cases, these homeowners not only did not get multiple offers, but they may have received no offers at all. The unintended impact in many cases was that buyers saw the home remain unsold in a very active market and thus wondered what was wrong with it.

What do the stats say?

COVID has changed the way a lot of people are choosing to live. Home offices and backyards, for example, weigh more heavily than home theaters and chef’s kitchens this year. The first six months of 2021 continued the trend of increased condos on the market, and high demand for detached and attached homes with outdoor space.

To truly understand the market today, we need to understand two important statistics: The number of homes for sale and under contract, and the demand for those homes. Either in isolation means little.

The real estate housing headline of 2021 is, and will continue to be, “There is an inventory shortage.” Let’s unpack that.

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This week’s Q&A column is sponsored and written by Ann Duff of McEnearney Associates Realtors®, the leading real estate firm in Alexandria. To learn more about this article and relevant Alexandria market news, contact Ann at 703.965.8700 or email [email protected]. You may also submit your questions to McEnearney Associates via email for response in future columns.

Question: Why do local traditions matter when selling a home?

Answer: In February, I told you about the somewhat painful and sometimes silly family organization of my parents’ home to prep it for sale. (Click here for a refresher.) What I didn’t tell you was about the toddler-sized nutcrackers in my mother’s collection, which scared everyone who stayed in the guest room, or the drama caused when a large, live opossum landed on the chest of the HVAC technician installing new systems in the crawl space.

Next came the selling… I tried not to be the “out-of-state” buttinsky, fancy pants, Realtor daughter with all the East Coast “how to sell” ideas. On that, I was only partially successful. (I’ve got to work on restraining myself — ha!)

Yes, I had interviewed listing agents and found a wonderful broker and firm. They are experts in their market (operative word: “their”) and patiently listened when I would veer into stories of the state of real estate in the D.C.-area market.

For instance, on pricing… The beautiful, custom 3+-bedroom, 3.5-bath detached house with sunroom, huge screened-in porch overlooking a glorious, landscaped lot was to be listed for $359,000. They had to hear me exclaim my shock, knowing that this gem would go for $1,359,000 if it were in Belle Haven.

For instance, on home inspections… While one potential buyer did a pre-contract inspection, which was a rarity, others often ask for 10-14 days because there aren’t many qualified inspectors nearby.

For instance, on other contingencies… In contrast to our area, no one there waives appraisal or financing — or offers their first-born child to secure the chance to even be in play. Here, it’s hard to get an offer to get passing attention with any of these contingencies included.

For instance, on earnest money deposits… Shockingly low checks accompany contracts, mostly 1% of the sales price, while here we almost always see 3-5% (or more).

For instance, on terminology… Ratification is called binding, etc.

For instance, on timing… There is no or very limited hesitation to taking the first contract coming through the door, but I requested nine days for showings before looking at any offers, as we have been seeing in our metropolitan area. Agents in that area apparently think the idea of waiting is rude, but I compromised with seven days.

EPILOGUE: The spiffed, cleared and beautifully photographed home in a highly desirable neighborhood got a full measure of showings during that week, one pre-contract inspection, and on the offer due date received three contracts. And, again contrary to D.C.’s new normal, sold for $8,000 less than the asking price at $351,000.

No wonder there is such sticker shock and the need for strategy boot camps when buyers start looking in VA/DC/MD, and no wonder I was so surprised in reverse because I didn’t know their local ways and traditions. I needed smart, local Realtor guidance — and to be simply a good daughter, not an agent.

Listen to those who know the ways to best guide you. Experience will win out.

Ann Duff, your positive advantage for residential and commercial properties throughout the area. Experience and energy, negotiations and knowledge — all with a splash of fun! Let’s get busy! 

If you would like a question answered in our weekly column or to set up an appointment with one of our Associates, please email: [email protected] or call 703-549-9292.

McEnearney Associates Realtors®, 109 S. Pitt Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. www.McEnearney.com Equal Housing Opportunity. #WeAreAlexandria

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This week’s Q&A column is written by Karisue Wyson, Director of Recruiting & Agent Support at McEnearney Associates Realtors®, the leading real estate firm in Alexandria. To learn more about this article, contact Karisue at 703-615-0876 or email [email protected]. You may also submit your questions to McEnearney Associates via email for response in future columns.

Question: What Can Ted Lasso Teach Us About Real Estate?

Answer: One of the best things I discovered during the pandemic was “Ted Lasso” on Apple TV+, and I know I wasn’t the only one who connected with the sheer positivity that permeates each and every episode.

For the uninitiated, “Ted Lasso” is about an American football coach who is drafted to lead a ragtag U.K. football club (what Americans call soccer) and find a path to victory amid monumental challenges. It’s a classic fish-out-of-water trope that completely rises above expectations to deliver what viewers needed most in a time of doubt, loss and fear: a reason to hope and dream of bigger things.

Photo via Apple TV+

I think about Ted Lasso, the leader, as I speak with people who are thinking about starting a new career in real estate or who are seasoned agents looking to elevate their business goals. In anticipation of the release of the second season of this delightful show (July 23!), here are a few of the parallels between sports and the competitive world of real estate and the lessons you can learn from Coach Lasso:

1. Be ready to step outside your comfort zone

When Ted Lasso arrives in the U.K., he has to learn not only a new sport but a new “language,” culture and rhythm. Even if you’ve had experience buying, selling or renting your own home, being the one in charge of ensuring the transaction goes smoothly for your clients is a whole new world.

Now, you are expected to know contractual language clearly enough to explain it accurately to others. Now, you are a part of a network of professionals who are each the CEO of their own startup companies, each with their approach to real estate and each with their own expectations of you. Now, you are an independent contractor who doesn’t necessarily have office hours or a “boss” to report to on a daily basis, but you have clients who deserve constant attention, other agents who are calling you for information at all times of the day and a brokerage that is invested in your success. AND, you have to manage your family, friends and business contacts in the process.

Be prepared for a steep learning curve and look for leaders who will help support you. There’s an oft-repeated statistic that 87% of new agents will be out of real estate by their fifth year. If you are taking the risk to embark on a challenging new path, make sure you identify brokerages with strong training, mentoring and coaching programs that are as invested in your career as you are.

2. Know yourself but also get to know others

One of the most endearing traits of Ted Lasso is his ability to connect with others, chiefly by leveling the field — he knows his skills and limitations and is not ashamed to own both — and by letting people know that he values them and what they bring to the table.

As a Realtor® you will meet many people who have a different approach to a transaction, whether that is a competing agent in a sale, a power-player client or a colleague who moves in the same circles you do. Take the time to know the people with whom you are interacting, and you will be rewarded greatly!

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This week’s Q&A column is sponsored and written by Brian Bonnet, Senior Loan Officer (NMLS ID# 224811) of Atlantic Coast Mortgage, LLC (NMLS ID# 643114). To learn more about current mortgage rates and the home loan process, contact Brian at 703-766-6702 or email [email protected]. You may also submit your questions to McEnearney Associates via email for response in future columns.

Question: What’s the current status of the mortgage industry?

Answer: The pandemic has had a significant impact on the residential mortgage industry. At the beginning of the public health crisis, investors in mortgage-backed securities stopped purchasing the instruments, which caused a liquidity shortage and a spike in the rates available to consumers. The Federal Reserve quickly stepped in and began purchasing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac issuances, stabilizing the market and easing rates. Underwriting standards involving employment, income, liquid reserves and credit scores were tightened by Fannie, Freddie and jumbo loan providers. Some lenders in the jumbo space chose to stop making those types of loans until the economic impact of the pandemic was understood.

By late April 2020, conforming interest rates had dropped to the low three percentiles, and the volume of refinance applications had reached record levels. Interest rates dropped further into the two percentiles, and volume further increased. Lenders who had been able to turn purchase and refinance transactions in 30 days or less, found those processing times significantly slowed. Atlantic Coast Mortgage generally requested 30 days for purchase transactions and 55 days for refinances. Some lenders in the industry were slowed to as long as 60 days for their purchases and six months for their refinance transactions!

The record mortgage application volume continued throughout the year as rates dropped into the two percentiles, and the nation experienced a robust residential purchase market. By the late spring of 2021, the economy appeared to be stable and on the verge of beginning to expand. Interest rates moved higher, which slowed the rate of refinance applications and provided some relief to the mortgage industry, which had been operating at unprecedented levels for one full year.

This summer has seen rates for Fannie and Freddie conforming loans drop back into the upper two percentiles. Currently, the maximum conforming loan amount is $548,250 across most of the country. In the Washington metro area, the maximum conforming loan amount is $822,375. As refinance applications have moderated, turn times for some lenders have returned to 30 days or less, and some of the tighter underwriting standards imposed last year have begun to be lifted.

One aspect of residential lending that has seen multiple changes has to do with property appraisals. At the start of the pandemic, appraisal requirements in many cases were modified to allow for exterior only inspections or “drive-by” appraisals. Now, in those cases where an appraisal is required, most lenders are requiring full appraisals with interior inspections. More and more, however, property inspection waivers (PIW) are being provided in the Fannie and Freddie automatic underwriting decisions. Both agencies are building their own property valuation databases, and based on the other strengths of the proposed loans, they are often not requiring any type of appraisal or inspection of the property.

Another change the industry recently experienced has to do with the maximum percentage of non-owner occupied property loans, which may be included in Fannie and Freddie securities. The new limits have had the impact of significantly increasing the rate and point structure on those types of loans.

As the economy heats up, increasing concerns of inflation, there is the possibility, if not likelihood, that mortgage interest rates will increase. But with rates still generally in the high two percentiles, even an increase of one full point generally keeps rates at very good historic levels for the balance of the year.

If you would like more information to help plan your next move, please contact Brian Bonnet at [email protected] or call 703-766-6702.

If you would like a question answered in our weekly column or to set up an appointment with one of our Associates, please email: [email protected] or call 703-549-9292.

McEnearney Associates Realtors®, 109 S. Pitt Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. www.McEnearney.com Equal Housing Opportunity. #WeAreAlexandria

 

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This week’s Q&A column is sponsored and written by Kim Peele and Hope Peele of The Peele Group and McEnearney Associates Realtors®, the leading real estate firm in Alexandria. To learn more about this article and relevant Alexandria market news, contact The Peele Group at 703-244-5852 or email [email protected]. You may also submit your questions to McEnearney Associates via email for response in future columns.

Question: I found a home that I really love, and the list price looks low for this market.
Is it too good to be true?

Answer: Well, the short answer is, probably yes! And the long answer is also yes, but here’s why — and how you can get that home. It’s definitely worth understanding the “whys” of pricing strategy if you plan to buy or sell a home in 2021.

As a buyer, you are probably wondering, “Why don’t sellers just advertise the price they want?”

It’s really difficult to look at the big sticker price of a home and wrap your head around paying more. Most of us are taught to shop around and then bargain for a better price, and in past real estate markets, that worked. In today’s market it could work — but most likely only on homes that are very overpriced in the first place, need a lot of work or have been for sale for a long time.

As a seller, you may be thinking, “Homes are selling quickly right now, so why don’t I just go right to the high-end, or even above, the price that I hope to get for my home?” While you may still get a buyer, the price-it-high strategy usually results in fewer buyers looking at the home, lower-priced offers (if any) and less favorable terms for the seller.

In any negotiation, it is important to consider the other’s perspective. Most buyers are looking for value, and most sellers are looking for the best return on their investment. How do they both win in 2021? Sellers need to present their home to the market in a way that appeals to buyers and at a price that gives buyers some hope for competing and winning the home. Buyers must always know that there will likely be competition. If the home is worth it for them to enter the fray, then they should submit an offer that gets the seller’s attention.

In a market like the one we are in now, sellers are expecting multiple offers. Many have seen their neighbors’ homes sell quickly and for more than the list price. It’s even possible that this was their motivation for selling. Perhaps they were planning to sell in a year or two, but with the great interest rates and low inventory, some sellers are moving up their plans to sell.

When the seller meets with a Realtor, they are getting professional advice on how to price their homes so they can get the highest return possible. A good real estate professional will create a Comparative Market Analysis, or CMA, that details recent sales of similar homes close by. They will compare the size, features and updates of the home to others that have sold. This will help them set an approximate value range for the lowest and the highest that they could hope for.

However, it is important to note that the value they arrive upon does not always directly translate to list price. Experienced Realtors educate their sellers to know that if they price their home is listed a little low, more buyers will come to see the value of the home and make offers. Multiple offers usually result in a higher sales price and better terms for the sellers. So, it’s in the seller’s best interest to price the home at the low end of the value range to get the most interest in their home.

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This week’s Q&A column is written by David Howell, Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer, of McEnearney Associates Realtors®, the leading real estate firm in Alexandria. To learn more about this article and relevant market news, contact David at 703-738-9513 or email [email protected]. You may also submit your questions to McEnearney Associates via email for response in future columns.

Question: What is full market exposure?

Answer: Full market exposure means that every qualified buyer has full access to every home on the market for sale, because property listings are in BRIGHT MLS — our region’s Multiple Listing Service. With the MLS and our affiliation with Leading Real Estate Companies of the World®, your home instantly distributes to more than 50,000 websites regionally and around the world. No matter the listing brokerage, your benefit is much greater if you publicly market your home.

At McEnearney Associates, our responsibility is to represent our clients with honesty, integrity and professionalism. We took an oath with the National Association of Realtors® to uphold this promise. We strongly believe it is in the best interest of our clients to give equal access to all homes — not only to protect equal housing opportunities, but also for our clients to maximize their investments in a time of record-low inventory.

We are proud to be the trusted real estate advisor for more than forty years by making our clients’ best interests our number one priority. Ask your McEnearney Associate why full market exposure is the best way to market your home — through ALL companies and ALL Realtors®.

If you would like a question answered in our weekly column or to set up an appointment with one of our Associates, please email: [email protected] or call 703-549-9292.

McEnearney Associates Realtors®, 109 S. Pitt Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. www.McEnearney.com Equal Housing Opportunity. #WeAreAlexandria

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This week’s Q&A column is written by Rebecca McCullough of McEnearney Associates Realtors®, the leading real estate firm in Alexandria. To learn more about this article and relevant Alexandria market news, contact Rebecca at 571-384-0941 or email [email protected]. You may also submit your questions to McEnearney Associates via email for response in future columns.

Question: What can you tell me about schools?

Answer: “Class, today’s subject will be schools. Who can tell me which is the best school? Realtor, maybe you would like to answer this question? I’m sure you know where the best schools are located! You help buyers and sellers in different neighborhoods every day and must have the inside scoop!”

OK, so this dialogue might be fictional, but barely. Buyers who are choosing a home based on schools definitely hope to lean on their Realtor for help. The good news is they can and should — but with some important caveats.

Your Realtor can’t — not won’t — can’t tell you which schools are the best because (1) the question requires a subjective answer, (2) our opinion doesn’t actually matter, and most importantly, (3) it’s illegal. You read that right — by advising buyers to look at certain schools, Realtors could be accused of “steering” under the Fair Housing Act. According to the National Association of Realtors, “Steering” is the practice of influencing a buyer’s choice of communities based upon one of the protected characteristics under the Fair Housing Act, and it’s illegal. Realtors cannot tell you what neighborhood to choose, and therefore cannot tell you what school you should choose, either.

Fortunately, there are other resources, such as websites that provide a rating system of schools. But even before you look at schools and their ratings, you need to answer a few questions about the type of school you’d like your child to attend.

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Does the size of the school matter to you?
  • How about the number of children per grade/class?
  • Are sports important? Which ones?
  • Is there a Gifted Student program?
  • Does the school offer AP/IB programs?
  • Does the school offer vocational programs?
  • What art programs are offered?
  • Is there a marching band?
  • Do they offer language immersion programs?
  • Are you considering private school?

Once you’ve given those questions some thought, there are websites you can go to that provide school ratings. A couple of common ones are niche.com (a personal favorite) and greatschools.org. Then, when you have a few to consider, call the schools. Ask for tour. Drive around the area. Is the area comfortable, too urban? Too isolated? What are the home prices like? (Your Realtor can definitely help with that question!)

TIP: Dive in deeper to really understand the basis for the ratings. Don’t just look at the numbers, look at parent ratings and comments, and talk to school administrators to better understand the ratings. Ask to speak to coaches if sports are important. Talk to department heads if science is their thing, or the band director. You get the idea.

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