Virginia Real Estate Blog

What are dark sky ordinances?

Dark-Sky Ordinances – What It Means To A Homeowner

Dark-sky ordinances are popping up across the country. The movement started when a few amateur astronomers realized that urban lights were blotting out the stars, causing a disruption in sleep for both wildlife and humans alike. This nocturnal light pollution hurts the environment and affects the feeding, mating, and living patterns of local wildlife.

To combat this effect, more and more communities are adopting dark-sky ordinances designed to limit the negative impact of artificial light. Compliance with the dark-sky regulations is the responsibility of not just the city, but homeowners within those zones as well, all designed to illuminate skyglow.

Skyglow is the reflection of light caused by the saturation of artificial light. It’s the orange glow in populated areas that prevents one from seeing the stars. Dark-sky rules are designed to combat this and use a variety of methods to reduce or illuminate this light pollution. In addition to limiting the time and type of lighting, they also employ specific light strategies to comply with the ordinances.

Homeowners in a dark-sky location must also adjust the lighting on their property to avoid citations. As with commercial properties, the use of directional lights, lower “lamp” bulbs, and compliant fixtures allow the homeowner to have adequate lighting, while observing dark-sky practices.

The International Dark-Sky Association, or IDA, offers resources for communities, business owners and homeowners that identify best practices and compliant lighting strategies. As more cities recognize the benefits of dark-sky policies on the environment and their citizens, expect to find more dark-sky ordinances across the country.

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Questions most new home buyers ask.

10 Most Common Home Buyer Questions

Buying a new home is exciting and confusing. There are a lot of steps to buying a home, and people have questions. These are the most common questions home buyers have, and the answers.

1. How do I get started? – The first step is to speak with a lender and get a pre-approval. This will tell you, and potential sellers, how much you can afford.

2. How long does it take to close on a home? – Typically, it takes about 30-45 days once contracts are signed to complete the lending, appraisal, and inspection processes.

3. What does my agent do? – A buyer’s agent will negotiate terms and manage the closing process from start to finish.

4. How much do I pay for a buyer’s agent? – Nothing. The seller’s agent gives the buyer’s agent a portion of their commission from the seller.

5. What credit score do I need to qualify? – A 620 FICO score or higher is required for most home loan programs. Talk to a lender for other options for lower scores.

6. How much money do I need for a down payment? – It varies. FHA loans start as low as 3% and most lenders offer standard programs for a 5% down payment.

7. What other fees will I need to pay? – Closing costs and loan origination fees will add another 2-4% to the costs.

8. What if I change my mind? – Your agent will work with you to build in contingencies for condition,...

Home Security Basics

Home Security Basics

News reports all over the country are filled with stories of rising crime. Homeowners and business owners alike are concerned and looking for better ways to safeguard their properties and lives. Fortunately, there is a wide variety of options available on the market; from full-service security companies to DIY smart home systems, there is a solution available for every budget.

Following a few simple strategies can help protect you and your belongings from theft and crime.

· Install a Security System – Security systems are one of the most effective ways to protect your home. Many systems include motion detection video surveillance as well as two-way communication.

· Be Unpredictable – Burglars love routine. Using smart home devices, it’s easy to create unpredictable patterns for lights and sound. Leave a car in the driveway if you’re traveling as well, that makes it look like the home is occupied.

· Think Like a Criminal – Spend some time looking at your home and identify the weak points. Secure all doors and windows. Lock all entry points and be creative with a hidden key. Look for hidden entry points; where would you try and break-in? Do you have dark areas that are not visible from the street?

Finally, don’t make it easy for the criminals to track your movements. Refrain from advertising your trips on social media and consider asking a friend or neighbor to visit your home occasionally while you’re gone. The more your home seems occupied, the less appealing it will be to criminals.

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Has your listing gone stale?

Are Buyers Avoiding Your Listing? Strategies to Revive A Stale Listing

It may seem like every listing sells the first weekend these days, but as the market begins to slow down, more sellers are facing the dilemma of an aging listing. If your listing has been on the market for a while, buyers naturally assume that there is something wrong with the home and avoid viewing the home. Fortunately, there are strategies to renew the listing and re-engage buyers’ interest.

If your listing is losing steam, the first step is to understand why. Typically, if a home is not getting offers, it’s priced too high. Even homes in terrible condition will sell quickly for the right price. In a market where homes are selling quickly, it’s common for sellers to assume they can push their listing price even higher, but savvy buyers and agents will reject overpriced homes.

Another strategy is to put the home on hold and make a few updates. In most cases, simply adding a fresh coat of paint or new carpet can offer a more appealing look to buyers. In other cases, to garner a top price, sellers may need to replace appliances or more. Always weigh the cost in dollars and time before making significant updates.

Finally, some Multiple Listing Services (MLS) allow an agent to refresh the listing by temporarily taking it off the market for a few days and then placing it back on “active” status (with seller authorization). This triggers new alerts to both buyers and agents who are looking for a comparable property. If your listing is not getting the attention it deserves, speak to your agent about your options.

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Short Term vs. Long Term Rentals

Short-Term vs Long-Term Rentals

Over the past few years, there has been a lot of excitement about owning a short-term rental as part of an investment portfolio. This marks a dramatic change from the traditional long-term rental model. As more travelers utilize vacation rentals instead of hotel chains for their trips, you may be wondering if owning a short-term rental may be the right situation for your needs.

Short-term rentals have caused a stir in many communities. Many full-time homeowners do not like having these properties in their neighborhood. Unruly vacationers often bring a party atmosphere to their quiet streets and some cities have banned them completely. In other areas, they are severely restricted in their use.

Another consideration is the amount of time a short-term rental will take to manage. Unlike their long-term counterparts, short-term rentals often require more repairs and maintenance as the tenants do not treat these properties as their homes, as long-term tenants do. Short-term rentals also require someone to be available 24/7 to address any needs of the guests. Of course, you can hire a property management company to handle these issues, but that will cut into profits and average 20%-30% of rents.

Short-term rentals can have a larger return on investment than long-term rentals, but they come with more work. They also have significantly higher vacancy rates, advertising costs, cleaning, and maintenance costs. On the other hand, having a vacation property you can enjoy yourself may tip the scale. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to real estate investing. Consider what works for you and make the best choice for your goals.

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Pricing your home in a softening market

How to Price Your Home to Sell in a Softening Market

The summer selling season has come. Unfortunately, those home sellers who were looking forward to sky-high prices and multiple offers may be disappointed to find the market softening. In a declining market, pricing a home becomes critical to success.

Pricing your home in a softening market

The first step is to realize the market has changed. Buyers will not overpay for a home in an uncertain market. Whereas just a few months ago it might have made sense to “test the market” and set an aggressive price, sellers who try that strategy today will lose valuable time, risking an even slower market when the home sells.

Home Value Truths

  • ·  What you paid for your home doesn’t affect its value.

  • ·  Your asking price does not affect its value.

  • ·  What it might have sold for 2 months ago does not affect its value.

  • ·  What your agent tells you about price does not affect its value.

    The value of your home is determined by what a qualified buyer in today’s market is willing to pay for it, comparing it to others on the market for sale.

    Pricing Strategy in a Softening Market

    Your pricing strategy should be the same, regardless of whether you are in an accelerating or declining market – to price the home ahead of the market. In a declining market, that means you should price your home slightly below the most recent comp.

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Do you need a backup Generator for your home?

Do You Need a Backup Generator for Your Home?

Many people live where power outages occur quite often. This can be caused by storms or simply an unreliable power grid. If you experience regular power outages, you may be wondering if you need a backup generator. Here are some considerations for you to think about before you buy.

You May Need a Back-up Generator if......
· You store large amounts of frozen/refrigerated food – Do you have a

storage freezer or regularly keep large amounts of food on hand?

· You have life-saving medical equipment on-site – Are you or a loved one reliant on medical devices to stay healthy that require power?

· You need electricity to stay warm in winter – Do you live in a location where temperatures drop to dangerous levels in winter and rely on power to generate heat?

· You have essential equipment on site – Do you have systems that must run constantly to prevent damage? A good example is a sump pump that prevents flooding.

If you do need a generator, there are still options you must investigate. How much power do you need and for how long? Generators need fuel and regular maintenance. They also are loud and emit fumes, so placement is very important. You can also choose from a permanent generator or a portable version.

Power outages can cause serious issues and a home backup generator is a great way to safeguard from loss. Do you need a backup generator? Consider why you want one and then do some homework. Generators are an expensive investment but may be important for...

Hedge Against Inflation

Homeownership Is A Great Hedge Against Inflation

Over the past couple of months, the news of rising inflation is fueling concern across the country. Currently, inflation is at a 40-year high. This is impacting household budgets the most as families try to make ends meet with less buying power. For potential home buyers, rising interest rates may cause worry that you will not be able to afford the home you want.

While these are all valid concerns, for those who are still able to finance a home, homeownership is one of the best hedges against inflation and may be worth stretching your budget to do.

The biggest advantage of owning a home in an inflationary period is a fixed-rate mortgage stabilizes your largest household expense. Most people budget 25-45% of their monthly income for housing. As costs continue to rise, rental rates will rise right along with them. These costs can far outpace salaries and increase the burden on families.

The second advantage is that home values historically outperform other assets in appreciation. Owning a home builds equity for the future that is based on a tangible asset. Even if the home loses value short-term, some studies show that over 7-years, homeowners should gain more equity than other investments.

The bottom line is that if you’ve been thinking about buying a home this year, it makes sense to act, even if interest rates are rising. This allows you to stabilize your monthly housing expense while potentially building equity for the future.

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Should you buy down your interest rate?

Should You Buy Down Your Mortgage Interest Rate?

Rising interest rates can be a major concern if you’re shopping for a new home. A higher rate reduces your buying power and increases the home cost thousands of dollars over the course of the loan. One option to avoid this is to “buy down” your loan rate. This allows you to purchase your home at a more attractive rate.

A rate buydown is when you pay an upfront fee in exchange for a lower interest rate. This increases your closing costs and for every 1% of the purchase price you pay in points, your mortgage interest rate is reduced. Buying a lower interest rate may be a good strategy for a home you intend to keep for a long time, thus making up the difference over the life of the loan.

There are a couple options for a rate buydown. The first is a simple payment of increased closing costs up front in exchange for a lower interest rate. The buydown lasts for as long as you have the loan and is requested by the buyer.

The second is a temporary buydown often initiated by a homebuilder or lender to incentivize a purchase. In this case, the buydown is for a set period, two or three years, and then the rate will return to the higher rate if the borrower does not refinance. This strategy is a good one for a starter home or if one believes the interest rates will be lower in a few years.

Utilizing a buydown as part of your loan origination can be a smart way to save money and maximize your purchasing power. It’s important to recognize the breakeven point, however, so that you know when you have started gaining money on the plan.

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Considering Solar Panels

Considering Solar Panels?

With soaring energy costs, many homeowners are turning to solar for both their homes and their cars to save money. With solar companies touting huge monthly savings for electricity costs, how can you know what makes sense for your needs? Here are the basics of solar panels to help you start the process.

How do solar panels work?

Solar panels are positioned on your roof and absorb energy when the sun shines on them directly. The amount of energy generated will be affected by the amount of square footage of the panels. Therefore, your roof must have enough area with extended direct sunlight each day to be effective.

How to find a solar panel company?

There are a lot of solar panel companies advertising their service right now. Some companies specialize in panels as well as roofing companies adding solar as an option and big-box home improvement stores. It’s important to consider both price and expertise when choosing a contractor to install the panels. You should read reviews and get referrals before making a final decision.

How long will the panels last?

Solar panels are typically guaranteed to last 20-30 years. The amount of energy generated will decrease over time and you should choose a warranty that guarantees the amount of energy over the life of the panels.

Summary

Solar panels can offer significant energy savings and lessen your reliance on shifting prices. A solar system is also a large expense, so before purchasing or leasing a system, do your due diligence and learn your options.

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Are You Still Renting?

Still Renting Your Home? 4 Facts That Might Change Your Mind

Each year, home renters face the question of whether to renew their lease for another year or determine it is time to buy a home of their own. Over the past couple of years, the US housing market has changed dramatically as home values have soared and interest rates have remained low. So, if you are still renting your home, it might be time to buy instead.

4 Facts About Renting your Home

1. Rents Are Rising Quickly – Higher priced home values drive higher rent costs. While a 30-year fixed home loan will provide steady monthly payments for the duration, most renters are shocked to see their housing payments rise each year.

2. Paying for Your Landlord’s Equity – As home prices rise, so does the equity in the property. As a renter, you are making the loan payments for your landlord, while they reap the benefit of increased equity.

3. You Get What Your Get – A homeowner can paint, renovate, and customize the home to their heart’s content. A renter must live with the choices the landlord made about décor.

4. No Tax Benefits – Homeowners can deduct the home mortgage interest and property taxes off their gross income, offering huge tax savings.

With a wide variety of home loan programs available, buying a home may be more affordable than you think. If your lease is up for renewal, this could be a good time to consider the benefits of homeownership instead.

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Would You Buy Your Home Again?

Would You Buy Your Home Again?

Buying a home is often an emotional decision; perhaps even more so than a practical, financial decision. Real estate marketing has recognized this for decades which is why agents have emphasized curb appeal and staging to their clients. Open houses have featured the smell of fresh baked cookies and soothing music, all in an effort to appeal to the buyer’s sense of home and comfort.

Many homeowners ponder this question, along with whether they can make adjustments via remodels or additions. The fact is that our tastes, needs, and lifestyles change and evolve over time. The past few years have dramatically changed the way we look at our homes. More people than ever before now work from home. That cute cottage or condo might have been the perfect home base for evening and weekend activities, but fall short of the ideal full-time work space.

On the other hand, some homeowners have realized that they have under utilized their property. During the pandemic, we saw home cooking, gardening, and crafts boom. Yards have been redesigned to include vegetable beds and fruit trees. Kitchen remodels have emphasized cooking space and gathering areas for family.

For anyone who has lived in their home for 7+years, it’s natural to wonder if the property still suits their needs. Families grow and contract, lifestyles and jobs change, and as life moves on, homeowners should periodically ask themselves if they would buy their current home today.

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Should I Pay to Lock in my Interest Rate or No?

Rising Interest Rates – Should I Lock in the Mortgage Rate?

One of the most important financial considerations of buying a new home is the interest rate paid on the mortgage. Over time, a higher interest rate can add thousands of dollars to the true cost of buying the home. When interest rates are low or steady buyers have greater confidence that they will get a favorable rate when they go to secure the loan, but in our current environment of rising interest rates, many lenders are suggesting a rate lock at the time of pre-approval.

What is a Mortgage Rate Lock?

A rate lock freezes the interest rate on a mortgage for a period of time before the close of the loan. Typically lasting for 30-60 days, the lender guarantees the rate will not change during this period for a fee that is paid when you agree to the loan terms.

A mortgage lock protects the borrower from rising interest rates while the loan is processed and approved.

When should you lock in a Mortgage Rate?

Lenders will offer to lock in the rate at the time of loan approval. With escrow periods of 30-60 days, the lock assures the buyer that their rate will not increase during the time it takes to complete the loan process.

In a period of rising interest rates, as we see today, locking the rate may be a smart idea. The borrower will pay a higher fee for the lock, as the lender is also taking a risk, but it could be worth thousands of saved dollars over the life of the loan. Even a small increase in the interest rate can have a huge financial impact.

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Questions to ask when hiring a Listing Agent

Additional Criteria When Hiring a Listing Agent

Most sellers spend a long time considering whether they should sell their home. These same people who have considered all the financial and personal pros and cons of moving hire the first real estate agent they like. While certainly it’s important to find an agent you can communicate with, the right agent brings more than a pleasant demeanor to the transaction and it’s critical to choose the right one.

Before signing with the nice agent who stopped by the community garage sale, interview a few local options. Ask friends and neighbors if they have any recommendations and arrange a sit-down visit with the agents. Ask questions, such as:

  • ·  How many homes have you listed and sold in the past year?

  • ·  How do you handle the marketing of the home?

  • ·  Will you hold open houses?

  • ·  What kind of offer should I expect? How will you handle multiple offers?

    Ask for specific examples of how they have handled difficult situations in the past. What if the appraisal comes in low? How do we negotiate request for repairs? Most importantly, ask what list price they recommend and why. You should expect a full comprehensive analysis and the agent should be able to answer any questions you have.

    Finally, ask for references and call them. Ask the references the tough questions – what did they like and dislike about the agent? Buying or selling a home is typically the largest financial decision of someone’s life, hiring the right listing agent is the most important aspect of a successful transaction. Choose the best agent, not just the one that seems nice.

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Prepping an Empty Home to Sell

Prepping an Empty House for Sale

You read that right. Should you “prep” an empty house? This is not about adding furniture or plants to a vacant home, but it’s about looking at the empty home and making it more appealing to buyers.

Not all homes need furniture to sell for top dollar, but even a vacant home needs attention before it’s ready for showing. The key is to remove anything that would distract from a buyer seeing the home in its best light and highlight its best features.

What Should You Remove from a Vacant House?
· Anything that isn’t clean – Remove dirt from ceiling fans, baseboards,

sink, dishwasher, windows, shelves, etc.

  • ·  Leftover Items – Hangers in closets, old batteries from drawers.

  • ·  Cable and Cords – Neaten walls and floors by removing or hiding.

  • ·  Worn or Stained Carpet – Replace old, damaged, stained, or dated carpet.

· Old Window Treatments – Old dated curtains and tired Venetian blinds are distracting, remove them.

· Spider Webs and Dust Balls – Check those corners for dead bugs, cobwebs, and dust.

· Leave Behind Furniture – Don’t be tempted to leave indoor or outdoor furniture you no longer want.

· Dead Leaves – Clean the yard and remove all...

Top Fireplace Questions

Ready for the snap, crackle and pop of a roaring fire? Fireplaces are one of the most sought-after home features, but using one can be intimidating, and you’ve probably got questions. Here’s a quick guide to get you and your fire started this fall.

How do I use a wood-burning fireplace?

1. Get your chimney inspected

Safety is your first priority! Have your fireplace and chimney inspected by a licensed professional. This is something you should do every year, before the first fire of the season.

2. Prepare the fireplace

Clean out any old ashes with a broom (make sure they’re cool, of course). Check that the damper is open and working properly.

3. Gather and prep your wood

Use seasoned hardwood that has been split and dried for at least six months — preferably for a year. Seasoned hardwood logs should be dark and cracked at the ends, and they should make a hollow sound when knocked together. To construct a long-lasting fire, place a rolled-up ball of newspaper or fire started beneath the grates. Then lay pieces of narrow, finely split wood in a crisscross pattern on the grates, called kindling. Finish the stack by securely resting one to three dry logs over the kindling.

4. Prime the flue

This step heats the cold air inside the flue so you don’t get a backup of smoke. Before you light the fire, light a tightly rolled-up sheet of newspaper, and hold it toward the open damper. Keep it there for a minute or two until you see the smoke going up the chimney.

5. Light it up!

Now you’re ready to light your fire and enjoy. If the fire starts to go out, gently fan the flames with folded newspaper or use a poker to get the air flowing again. Add logs to the fire with tongs to provide more fuel. When the fire has gone out for the night, close the metal or glass doors before you go to bed.

Are fireplaces efficient?

It depends. Wood-burning...

Get Your Home Ready For Guests This Holiday Season

Hosting a holiday gathering can be a lot of fun, but perhaps a bit intimidating, too. You want your house to look its best, but now isn’t the time to undertake any major updates.

Chances are, you’re busy enough get ready for the event. So, focus on just the areas of your house where your guests will spend time.

Whether you’re a first-time party host with a few jitters or an old pro looking for some new ideas, these tips will help you ensure that your home is ready for any gathering.

Light the way

The sun sets early this time of year, so it’s important to make sure the entrance to your home is clean and well-lit.

If you have a large front yard, focus on the entryway and the path leading up to it. Install porch lights or replace the bulbs if needed. Cut back any shrubbery that is obstructing the walkway.

On the day of your party, open the blinds on the front windows so your guests can see into your warm, festive-looking home as they approach. It’s a great way to create a sense of welcoming anticipation.

Pro tip: The easiest way to create instant lighting for walkways and paths is with the solar lights that you just stick into the ground. The sun does the rest of the work!

Take care of the bottom line

Our mothers used to say this, and it’s true: If your floors are spotless, they make your whole house look cleaner.

Even if you’re unable to do an in-depth house cleaning before your gathering, make sure your floors have been cleaned before that first guest steps over the threshold.

Pro tip: If you have carpeting, clean the carpets a minimum of three days ahead of your affair so they have time to dry fully.

Brighten up your bathroom

If you’re bothered by grimy-looking grout in your bathroom, try this easy, inexpensive,...

Protecting Your House After Snow

Who doesn’t love a snow day? Cuddling on the couch with a mug of hot cocoa while watching holiday movies can make anyone not want to venture out into the cold. Next time you find yourself in this spot, it will be a good idea to head out for half an hour to protect your home, especially if you want to sell in the future. Once your driveways and sidewalks are shoveled, check out these tips on protecting your home that you may not have considered.

Clear Your Vents: Make sure your furnace vents are clear of snow. Carbon monoxide could build up if your furnace vent is blocked.  A blocked vent may also cause a hot water heater to quit functioning. Use a broom to remove any snow.

Uncover Fire Hydrants: If you live near a fire hydrant, you should take a few minutes to dig it out if you notice it is covered - this can help a firefighter if there is an emergency!

Unblock Ice Dams: Be sure to check your gutters for ice dams. When ice dams are present and water backs up, it slows the water melting off the roof behind it and that water then seeps under the shingles and into the house.

Sweep Off Hot Tubs: Always broom off your hot tub if you happen to own one. The weight of heavy snow can cause the cover to buckle in the middle.

Shovel Decks:  If there is more than half a foot of snow, you may want to consider clearing it from your deck. Using plastic shovels can help prevent unwanted scratching on your deck material. Avoid using ice melter or salt as it could damage wood decks.

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3 Ideas for Turning Your Home Into a Winter Haven

What better time to turn your home into a warm and welcoming den than during the chilly winter months? With just a little investment and some ingenuity, you can bring a distinctive winter-friendly look into your home. Here are three concepts to inspire you and some tips to get you started.

Look 1: The British study

The vibe: This look is a perfect fit for a snowy winter day. Filled with shelves of leather-bound tomes, tufted chesterfield sofas and focused lighting from brass sconces, the study is the perfect spot to curl up with a favorite novel, enjoy a cup of tea or nap away the afternoon.

Get the look

Built-in bookcases can get expensive, but two or three flat-pack units arranged tightly in a row can nearly fill a wall without breaking the budget. Fill the shelves with as many books as you can find — the fuller the better. Check out garage sales, thrift shops, and library clearance sales for additional hardback books if you’re short.

While you may not have a tufted leather sofa on hand, any love seat positioned in front of the bookcases will look dramatic. Instead of square throw pillows, try round bolsters in the corners for a more formal style. A vintage-style rug is perfect underneath.

For the coziest of lighting in the evenings, add sconces to your bookcases. Inexpensive clip-on downlights work perfectly in a pinch. Floor reading lamps placed behind the sofa are another great option to pull this room together. 

Look 2: The Scandinavian chalet

The vibe: Crisp white paint, whitewashed wood, and neutral furnishings make even the gloomiest of days feel bright.

This aesthetic is definitely modern, yet it’s touched with woodsy rusticity and directly connected to nature. Winter-friendly accessories bring in a bit more comfort and prevent the space from feeling cold.

Get the look

Compatible with the popular all-white color scheme,...