Newsletter

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: Is it a Boom or a Bubble?

Answer: Happy New Year, real estate readers! I hope you’re as excited as I am for another unpredictable year in real estate in Northern Virginia. These last couple of years have been ones for the record books — unprecedented times have led to unexpected results. Who would have thought the real estate market would soar during a global pandemic? More than surviving, the market is thriving. But…

Is it a boom or a bubble?

In my view — after analyzing the reports and many a deep dive into the economics — if it’s a bubble, it’s one made out of titanium.

Let’s look at why. There’s a trifecta of circumstances occurring right now, including:

  • Economic Inflation — We are starting to see inflationary pressure. Economic theory tells us that inflation leads to increases in real estate prices. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed inflation was 6.2% from November 2020 to October 2021. Inflation as an isolated factor drives real estate price increases. But it’s not an isolated factor…
  • Housing Shortage — This is an enormous factor in our current outlook. There simply aren’t enough houses to meet the demand. After the 2007-2008 financial crisis, building decreased dramatically. This has had a carry-on effect, and today you’ll see reports that we are a whopping 5 million units short of national housing demand (!!).
  • Low Interests Rates — Finally, interest rates remained in the 3% range for almost the entirety of 2021, even falling below 3% at some points. With inflation rising, it is likely that interest rates will increase as well. However, as such a low baseline, an increase to 4% or 5% still leaves us with great mortgage lending rates. If a buyer can lock in 30 years at that rate, they are likely in a solid position with their investment.

Ah, but “it’s bound to slow down soon,” right? “Prices will moderate?”…right?

There is some belief that yes, we will see a more moderate market this year. However, demand is still incredibly strong, and inventory is so very low as we start the new year, that there’s no indication of things slowing any time soon.

We shall see. But here’s a current example in the zip code where I live (Alexandria/Ft Hunt area). There are almost 4,800 detached homes in existence here. Of that, there are six for sale. Six. (That’s 0.125% availability for my fellow math geeks.) The demand hasn’t waned, so that’s dozens of potential owners looking to buy now, with six available homes in this area. That is just one example, of course, but it’s representative of the current constraints (or opportunity, depending on your position!). There are neighborhoods all across Northern Virginia with similar statistics.

Unsurprisingly, the current environment is impacting the price of homes. There are daily headlines of double-digit home value increases. What’s the reality here in Northern Virginia? Take a look at the chart below — you may find the numbers surprising.

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This week’s Q&A column is sponsored and written by 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 703-244-6115 or email [email protected] You may also submit your questions to McEnearney Associates via email for response in future columns.

Question: This might be a silly question, but…?

Answer: “I have a silly question” is something that I hear far too frequently and usually followed by something that I’ve been asked before and isn’t silly at all. Frankly, in my opinion, there are no silly questions.

Before I went full time into real estate, I taught health to 6-12th graders. Like real estate, the stakes were pretty high if questions went unasked. Believe me when I reiterate my opinion that there are NO silly questions. If there is something that you want to know about one of the largest purchases you will likely make — don’t be afraid to ask!

In the meantime though, here are a few of the most commonly asked “silly” questions that I get all the time!

Does the seller have to tell me if there is a ghost in their home? AKA, What must be disclosed?

To me, this is the epitome of a “silly question” and when I say that I mean: something everyone wants to know but doesn’t want to ask. Just further proof that a silly question doesn’t exist. Anyway, to answer the question in short — not in Virginia they don’t.

Sellers are only required to disclose material facts that would affect the value of the home, but ghosts are definitively non-material. Virginia is a “caveat emptor” state, which means “buyer beware”. In fact, the Virginia Residential Property Disclosure is a document listing sixteen items, from “Condition” & “Defective Drywall” to “Sexual Offenders” & “Historic District Ordinance”. All sixteen begin with the verbiage “The owner(s) makes no representations…”

While this may sound disheartening for those looking to buy property in the future, don’t worry — there are many opportunities for you to find out most of this information. Your Realtor will help you with resources and inspectors to ensure that you are well aware of what you are getting into before moving in.

Can I look in the closet? AKA, How up close and personal can I get with a home I want to buy?

As a general rule of thumb, I’d say treat a home that you are viewing the way you would want a visiting friend to treat your home, but maybe just a little nosier. Sellers will expect potential buyers to open a closet, go in an attic and poke around in the basement. However, things like adjusting the thermostat, turning on appliances, touching personal items, and forcing open something that’s been painted shut are definitely things to avoid.

A home showing is a time to see if you like the home. An inspection is the time to check if things are in order since inspectors are licensed and insured.

Who pays who? AKA, ANY money questions

If we haven’t gotten real enough — let’s get REALLY real. No one likes to talk about money, especially in the terms of “how much am I paying you?” But, it is a very valid question and one that must be addressed.

As a home buyer, all of the money you pay will go towards your home purchase. In addition to your down payment, there are closing costs that you will owe, mostly to the lender and settlement company in order to process your loan and title work. The Realtors however, are paid by the seller.

Will I need to buy new appliances? AKA, What comes with the home?

While it is typical in Virginia for all items attached to the home to convey (or come with) the home, this doesn’t always apply. The sales contract includes a list of conveyances, and it can typically be assumed that if a home has an item on the list, it will convey. However, there can always be exceptions.

Sample conveyances list from a real estate contract

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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: How did the real estate market in the City of Alexandria finish the year in 2021?

Answer: In September we wrote about contract activity from January through August of 2021 for the City of Alexandria compared to the same months of 2020 and 2019. It was not a surprise to see increases in contract activity compared to 2020 which was impacted by shutdowns and isolation due to COVID, but the increases were also significant when compared to the more “normal” market of 2019.

This week we are looking at contract activity through the end of the year which still finished strong. The overall percentage increase for 2021 compared to 2020 was 12.5%, and it was 26.7% compared to 2019!

For the past three years, overall contract activity for each year breaks down as follows:

  • 2019 had 2,516 contracts
  • 2020 had 2,835 contracts
  • 2021 had 3,189 contracts

The first chart below shows that contract activity for 2021 increased for each price category over both 2020 and 2019. The second chart shows overall contracts by property type (condo, attached and detached homes). Detached homes, which is the smallest of those categories in the City, did have a slight decrease in the number of contracts. The third chart looks at contracts by quarter and demonstrates that this year mirrors 2019 with activity increasing from the first to the second quarter and becoming quieter in the last two quarters. In 2020 COVID was a major disrupter to that typical cycle with a quieter spring and more robust fall instead. (Source: BrightMLS. Data deemed reliable, but not guaranteed.)

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This week’s Q&A is a conversation with Dave Hawkins, Chief Operations Officer & Managing Broker, Alexandria Office, of McEnearney Associates Realtors®, the leading real estate firm in Alexandria. To learn more about this article and relevant market news, contact Dave at 703-403-5799 or email [email protected]. You may also submit your questions to McEnearney Associates via email for response in future columns.

1. What in the real estate market do you think has changed the most over forty years?

I would have to say technology has driven the greatest change. Look at the way we conduct our business today. Property information is available to everyone, agents and customers alike, at our fingertips. The internet, phone apps and QR codes give instant access in real time. Purchasers view photos and videos of homes for sale from their home or car. Contract offers are written, signed and presented to sellers electronically. The access to information makes everyone better informed. The systems and programs advanced through new technologies impact every aspect of the buying and selling process for real estate agents and their clients.

2. Why is it important as a business to be involved in the community?  

Our communities support our business. It seems only right that we should give back to those who make our success possible. Because we are so connected our agents naturally become involved in the many organizations, charities, business and programs that make our communities strong. We sit on boards. We contribute dollars to sponsor events. We advertise programs and fundraising efforts. Our clients do the same and make us aware of ways that we can help. We recently championed an effort to improve a park in D.C. in an underserved neighborhood. We painted structures, built new ones, cleaned up trash and had a great time doing it. That day about 60 of our agents wore their blue jeans and t-shirts and felt like we had made a difference. Why get involved? It feels really good when we do.

3. How has the pandemic changed the way your agents conduct business? 

Although real estate agents have been capable of working remotely for years, the pandemic forced us to fine tune our systems and skill sets. Instead of standard open houses we created virtual opens. Instead of on-site meetings we gathered on Zoom calls. We worked harder to communicate frequently with our fellow agents and our customers and clients. And we developed a greater appreciation for one another and longed to be together again.

4. What does your leadership role provide for clients?

At McEnearney Associates we have always believed that the benefit to our clients is delivered by our agents. The best agents in the business deserve the best support that a company can provide, so that they can in turn deliver exceptional service. Our managing brokers provide guidance, education, tools of the trade, and an environment where agents thrive and excel. That commitment empowers our agents to deliver on the promise of superior service and value to our clients.

5. McEnearney Associates has hit a new milestone in all of Alexandria, what do you think are the things that contributed to your firm’s success?

First and foremost, our agents. Without a doubt, they are the most well intentioned, skillful and determined group of real estate pros that I have ever known. They care about their clients and strive to succeed for them. They have the knowhow and tools required to tackle any situation. And they don’t give up when faced with a challenge. In addition, due to the excellence of our agents, we have a very loyal following in the communities we serve. Our reputation is nothing more than the sum of the reputations of our agents. And that is a tidy sum. A reputation well-earned and respected. Ours is a people business. We are fortunate to have very talented people.

We look forward to answering your real estate questions in 2022. Our best wishes for a Happy New Year!

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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Ask McEnearney: Man vs. machine?


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: Man vs. Machine?

Answer: For many a successful Realtor, this recruiting call will sound familiar… “Technology will boost your business and make you a star.” (While I agree it helps, personal relationships and real substance mean the most to me. Signed, Ann D.)

For instance, I absolutely hate to throw out old files which, of course, can be scanned into my iCloud account, the company server or a system we have called “Skyslope”. But, much like holding a real book instead of a Kindle, I really prefer reaching for the old, ink-stained file with scribbled notes from your purchase on N. Fairfax Street or Mount Vernon Circle, or sale on Grand View or Prince Street, when it is time for me to sell or help someone buy that property.

What is so blasted precious? A wide range of hidden treasures can be found in those paper files — the first name of the scheduler for the unreachable master carpenter who put in the den bookshelves, the key pricing information for the French drain contractor, as well as for the contractor you didn’t choose and why, or the cell phone number for the talented electrician and his brother who can install fans in 14- to 20-foot family room ceilings (imagine the Flying Wallendas).

Oh, I’m not such a dinosaur that these people aren’t also in my personal Excel Resource List, but the context, receipts, paint colors and scribbles are often a huge help in getting onto a pro’s schedule.

Luckily, I have outgrown many out-of-date practices — heck, we used to have 25 copies of a photo made at Ritz Camera, then wield Glue Sticks to attach them to the front of cardboard brochures! Open Houses were heralded with waving helium balloons before we realized that helium is a non-renewable resource — made on earth via nuclear decay of uranium, and it is recovered from mines (TMI?) — we even had a tank here in the office.

And even I have graduated to creative tools — Saved Searches, instant alerts to screen and match listings, text flashes — though just last month I went “street walking” with a pen and notebook, like a flat foot detective, to find clues for commercial lease opportunities – unadvertised empty spaces, old signs, etc.

I also rely on the personal strength and human excellence of my full-time assistant. We take any situation and make it better with laughter and a nice dose of creativity.

Using the skilled, real people of our company’s in-house marketing staff means we can personalize each one of my listings far more effectively than using a standardized format in a technology-constrained data dump.

People are just better. We haven’t hired a robo-calling program to make cold calls as some firms have. Some vendors even use call centers to create lists of homeowners who don’t hang up when they are asked whether “they’d sell their home,” then sell those lists to startup real estate companies for targeted mailings or Meta blasts.

Yes, Realtors do grow with the new systems, but I just can’t give up all of my emails, text messages, or, yes, my own vice of using way-too-many Bitmojis with a character designed to look like me on a good day, with regular wardrobe changes!

Warm messages and hundreds of memes are found in my email and paper files, mixed with the real work of contract strategy, home inspection results, and eventual successes. Even today, I have 20,585 emails tucked in my new iPhone — to the shock of the Verizon tech guy — but heck, I can find my “people” quickly any time I need them or see their name pop up when they need me.

The future is great, but so is embracing our past, either for a laugh, a lesson or an experience. “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold.” The Scout jingle of years ago applies as we weave the tapestry of our daily lives in these crazy times holding people, not machines, close.

These thoughts and years of experience are brought to you by Ann Duff, Realtor, with McEnearney Associates. Based in Alexandria, Ann is busy day-in and day-out in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, listing, selling, and leasing distinctive properties with and for wonderful people — and all with a splash of fun! Let’s Get Busy… contact Ann at 703-965-8700 or visit her website AnnDuff.com.

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 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 703-244-6115 or email [email protected] You may also submit your questions to McEnearney Associates via email for response in future columns.

Question: Should I consider a home in an HOA?

Answer: When looking to buy a home, an important thing to consider is whether or not you are interested in having a home within either a homeowner’s association or condominium association. What is also important is understanding the differences between the two! While many have heard of HOAs and condos, not many understand exactly what they are. It is even a common misconception that the terms can be used interchangeably — however, they are actually quite different.

So, how can you tell the difference?

As a general rule, most apartment style homes and townhomes fall under an association and most detached homes do not. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule!

Differences Between an HOA & a COA

First of all, what is the difference between a Homeowner’s Association and a Condo Association? Condominiums usually exist within a building, in which owners own their own unit as well as a joint interest in the common areas. Common areas include community spaces such as patios and party rooms, as well as the roof and other exterior features, such as pools, tennis courts and more. Sometimes, they even designate windows and balconies to be common responsibilities. All owners in a condo building own equal share and financial responsibility for maintenance of these common spaces and responsibilities.

In a homeowner’s association, the ownership is a little different. Each member owns their own home and parcel of land. Common areas, such as playgrounds, pools, tennis courts, and parks are owned and maintained by the association. Sometimes the roads are maintained by the HOA, and sometimes it is the county responsibility. There is no joint ownership.

Both condos and HOAs have fees that the owners pay — typically monthly or quarterly. These are different from fines, which owners are required to pay if they break rules in the community. The rules for communities and associations can be vastly different from place to place. The majority of rules are in place with the intention of maintaining the integrity of the community and common areas.

Contingency Period During the Buying Process 

Once a contract is agreed upon and signed by both buyer and seller there is a required time period for the purchaser to review the association documents. In Virginia, the period to review is 3 calendar days from receipt. The documents will include meeting minutes, by-laws, rules, and other documents that can give a better understanding of the community and its financial stability.

The good thing about this contingency period is that it is required to be given to all buyers. In a competitive situation with multiple offers, buyers often waive contingencies such as inspection or appraisal. The document review period cannot be waived by anyone and puts everyone on the same playing field. All buyers have the right to know the details of the association they are joining, before they join, and will have the opportunity to cancel if they don’t like what they see.

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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: I have often wondered how real estate agents juggle multiple listings, numerous buyers, pre-listing updates and their personal priorities all at the same time. Would you mind sharing your strategy?

Answer: During this season of thanks, I value the occasion to recognize those who have truly helped me throughout the year. Whether in my business or my personal life, surrounding myself with amazing contractors, terrific service providers, wonderful clients, great friends, collaborative agents, supportive brokers, lovely neighbors and of course my fabulous golden retrievers, makes all the difference in my fast-paced lifestyle.

In 2021, I had the pleasure (and sometimes challenging) opportunity to list a number of homes for sellers who did not live in the area. In every situation, quite a bit of work was required prior to initiating the marketing plan. Over the years, I have accumulated an outstanding team of like-minded and dependable service professionals to take the pressure off me. My general contractors, painters, hardwood floor experts, carpet companies, electricians, plumbers, mold and water remediation specialists, cleaners, fireplace pros and landscapers have saved the day more times than I can count.

I would also like to extend my sincere gratitude to my preferred lenders, settlement companies, inspectors and real estate attorneys. Knowing you can count on this group of real estate professionals for the many details associated with a transaction makes all the difference in a sometimes stressful situation.

Whether the sellers are living in the home or not, during the time that a house or condo is getting ready to go on the market, I have the privilege of working with McEnearney’s excellent marketing team to create my print ads and brochures, mailings and social media. Once the repairs are complete, my stager adds the finishing touches and my photographer takes professional photos, and produces a 3D Tour and video.

It always amazes me how so many moving parts come together according to a predetermined timeline. Hitting the market in time for the listing to be syndicated to hundreds of websites prior to the weekend so that open houses are publicized in order to attract the most buyers is always a top priority.

As my fourth career, I give credit for my success in real estate to the skills I acquired in my previous lives. My experiences in sales and marketing, as well as my problem-solving background and people skills, allowed for a natural transition into this industry. I am still working on getting my personal list of priorities in order but have made big headway over the last few years thanks to another team of professionals.

Many thanks to my accountant, bookkeeper, financial advisor, insurance professionals, and overall support team for your expert advice and service. Based upon your guidance, I was able to check quite a few things off my to-do list in 2021 and look forward to continuing to do so in the year to come!

Whether you are thinking of buying or selling, or just need suggestions for updating your home, I am happy to provide ideas, or recommend contractors for your specific projects. I am a resource for the duration of home ownership, 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 nine 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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Ask McEnearney: Giving & thanks

This week’s Q&A column, sponsored and written by McEnearney Associates Realtors®, the leading real estate firm in Alexandria, is a bit of a departure from our usual format. To learn more about this article and relevant Alexandria market news, contact us at 703-549-9292. You may also submit your questions to McEnearney Associates via email for response in future columns

It’s Beyond Selling Homes

When McEnearney Associates was formed in 1980, John McEnearney knew that he wanted to create a firm that went above and beyond just selling and buying homes for clients.

He wanted to give back to the communities that helped grow the firm to more than 350 Associates today. Every Associate that joins our firm stands behind a brand that invests in the communities where we live and work.

In the spirit of giving this holiday season, we would like to highlight some of the community organizations we have worked with over the years. Our individual Associates have also supported many more throughout the DMV. We offer our sincere thanks to these organizations who strengthen our communities and to all those whose donations of time, money, and resources make it all possible.

ACT for Alexandria

ACT for Alexandria is a community foundation designed to connect donors with causes and collaborate with nonprofit organizations to optimize resources and impact. McEnearney Associates is proud to be a main sponsor this year for Giving Tuesday on November 30. Please join us in donating to this wonderful foundation. To learn how we are matching donations, follow us @mcenearneyalexandria.

Arlington Realtors Care (ARC)

McEnearney Associates has joined together with other real estate firms to collect essential items for those in need this holiday season. Through December 31, items may be dropped off at our Arlington location, 4720-D Langston Blvd (Lee Hwy), during office hours. Essentials include canned and shelf-stable food to support Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) and coats, hats, gloves and warm clothing for Path Forward.

Blue Ridge Hospice

With warmth and compassion, Blue Ridge Hospice provides expert services and care for those with life-limiting or advanced illness. Their services also help loved ones manage the challenges of being caregivers and the grieving process. There are 9 thrift stops throughout their service area where you can shop or donate items to help support the care they provide.

Capital Area Food Bank

Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB) is the leading hunger relief organization in the DMV. Working with partners from food distributors and retailers to restaurants, farms and individuals, they help provide more than 45 million meals a year across D.,. Maryland and Virginia.

Dr. Bear’s Closet at Children’s National

A hospital stay is especially difficult for children and families during the holidays, so toys are often a way to make that time a little happier. We’ve always enjoyed collecting for Children’s National, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, they are only accepting items that are mailed/shipped to them or purchased through their online holiday wish list.

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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: Why is Zillow closing their iBuyer program?

Answer: If you follow real estate at all, you probably saw the announcement that Zillow is closing its iBuyer program. This is big news, but what does it really mean for Zillow and the real estate industry?

First, let’s clarify what is an iBuyer program. It’s where deep pocketed online companies offer sellers an instant cash offer on their house (the “i” in iBuyer is for “instant”). Usually the sales price is computer-generated (like a Zestimate), and the homes are bought unseen. The buyers are not typically looking to do major renovations and want to resell quickly.

Online buyers have existed for quite a while now, and many have been very successful. Zillow’s iBuyer program was not national, but in a few carefully selected markets with plans to eventually roll out more extensively. Zillow was aggressive in its purchases, relying on the automated price generated. Some buyers were thrilled with their offers, receiving more than they may have expected. In fact, it appears Zillow overpaid for many of the homes and now has a huge inventory that it must sell off, potentially at a loss.

This doesn’t speak well for the Zestimate data or technology-based pricing methods. Why not? In large part, because technology can’t determine a property’s condition, a major factor in pricing homes.

This is no surprise to real estate agents. Recently, I was trying to price a home and was looking at the neighborhood comps. A home a few doors down that looked wonderful in the pictures had just sold for a fairly low price. I called the listing agent to understand why. According to her, the house had a very unpleasant pet-related odor, and the neighboring house was very cluttered, “like a junkyard”. These are extenuating circumstances that automated technology can’t determine or factor in.

Technology wasn’t the only downfall for Zillow’s iBuyer program. Zillow has not been immune to the global supply chain issues and labor shortages. When time is of the essence, these delays can be very costly for the home improvements sometimes needed. Finally, Zillow determined that the iBuyer business scale needed to be very large in order to be as profitable as was hoped and, in the end, they decided that this was something they did not want to pursue.

Does that mean Zillow is in trouble? In short, no. Prior to 2018, when Zillow decided to get into the iBuyer business as well as the mortgage business, they offered consumers a marketplace to sell, buy or rent properties. They also marketed properties listed by real estate agents where buyers can search properties and reach out to an agent for more information or to schedule a showing. The person they contacted was not always the listing agent, but a Premier Agent who pays fees to Zillow to obtain leads.

This marketing program has mostly produced buyer leads. By getting into the iBuyer program, Zillow was hoping to be able to generate more seller leads for their Premier Agents, therefore hoping to increase the number of Premier Agents and their revenue stream.

While there are many in the real estate industry who fear Zillow is trying to replace the real estate agent, I do not believe this is their model at all. Contrary to popular belief, Zillow does not sell properties directly to the public. For their iBuyer program, they rely on a small group of staff to purchase properties. Once a home purchased through the iBuyer program was ready to sell, they would offer it to a vetted Premier Agent.

Real estate agents of course have the advantage for detailed information and acute market knowledge, but we can’t offer national searches. We are restricted by our local MLS. Here in the DMV, we are fortunate to have an expansive area with feeds that include parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. But Zillow saw a gap, and thus an opportunity: give the consumer an opportunity to not be restricted by a single MLS.

Zillow is a fine place to start looking for a home, but it should be the first step, not the full process. Most buyers don’t want to wait too long before reaching out to a professional, as we often know about homes not yet listed that are for sale (see our article about “Full Market Exposure” for more details.) or know the nuances of a particular home or market.

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This week’s Q&A column is sponsored and written by 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 703-244-6115 or email [email protected]. You may also submit your questions to McEnearney Associates via email for response in future columns.

Question: How can I find out what additions I am able to make to a property, before purchasing?

Answer: Many buyers I am working with lately are looking at the future potential of homes and considering properties that they will add additions to — either before they move in or in their long-term plans.

Some lots have the space for an entire extra room or would benefit from a large deck off the back, and others have the potential to be bumped up a level. Even smaller adjustments, like a new fence, garage, or shed can be important to know about before purchasing a home.

The first step in finding out about a potential add-on is to have your Realtor call the listing agent. They will be able to tell you if the seller has ever considered something like this before — sometimes, if you’re lucky, they will have plans from a builder to give you an idea of what could be done. Even if the seller has considered this option before and found that it isn’t possible, that is valuable information.

More commonly, they will have a survey from when they purchased the home. This is a document that shows where the boundaries of the property are, as well as measurements of structures, such as sheds or patios. If there is an existing fence, it will tell you which property it is on and which home it belongs to.

Survey example courtesy of jadsurveyor.com

If the seller does not have a survey, a buyer has the option to have the settlement company order a survey to be completed before they purchase the property. In Washington, D.C., a location survey is required in order to issue title insurance. In Maryland and Virginia, the survey is optional but highly recommended. A buyer can only order a survey once the home is under contract, therefore, this information is not available before making an offer unless the seller already has it.

If the home is in a community with a Home Owners Association (HOA), there will be guidelines in place that clearly state what can and cannot be added to the property. If other homes in the neighborhood have additions or updates similar to what you would like to do, it is very likely that you will also be able to add them to your home, but there are no guarantees. It is still very important to look over all the HOA documents, and if the update that you want is very important to you, a call to the management company or HOA president is recommended, before making an offer.

For a home in an HOA, once a home is under contract, the buyer will have a period (typically 3 days) in which they are given the opportunity to review the HOA documents and then void the contract if they see something they don’t like. Unfortunately, HOA documents are usually not available until you are under contract, so if a buyer has a specific question before making an offer, their Realtor can sometimes get answers from the listing agent.

Even if the home is not in an HOA, there will likely be city or county guidelines for what can be built on a property. For example, I added a new, larger deck to my home a few years after I bought it. I had to submit my property survey to the city, along with architectural plans, before I could begin construction. The city even provides a manual with specifications on what materials to use, and how things must be built to adhere to code.

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