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Martha Stewart could live here. Gorgeous 4BR/3FB/1HB Colonial situated 0.24 acres of flat, fenced yard (rear). Gourmet Kitchen with Stainless Steel Appliances, Granite, Hardwood floors, and so much more. Coming home is like being on vacation. Enjoy quiet summer evenings or your covered deck, or warm up next to the cozy fireplace in the family room. Leave all your worries behind as you relax in the large soaking tub in the owners suite. This home offers so much more that you don’t want to miss it. Directions: From Route 85 turn right onto Crestwood Blvd. Left on Corporate Drive (past Giant on your right), turn right onto Chillingham Place, to immediate Right on to Baron Ct to 6912 on left.
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2 Navigating the Real Estate Market | APRIL 2012 SPECIAL SUPPLEMENT TO THE GAZETTE
Negative trends reversing in Montgomery County market
By all accounts, the residential real estate market is looking up across the county. IN MANY CASES, WAY UP. | BY JIM MAHAFFIE |
Realtors are in virtually unanimous agreement—and the proof is in their sales. “When you look at the numbers, the spring market is off to a rocket-like start,” said Dave Kolakowski, an associate broker with McEnearney Associates. Kolakowski focuses on Bethesda, Silver Spring and Potomac neighborhoods. He said that sales and ratified contracts from January to February more than doubled. He also said there were 50 percent more contracts on homes over $1 million in that time, showing that sales are good in all categories. Over the past two months of available data, prices and inventory are down, and so are days on the market, said Diana Keeling, certified buyer representative, certified Realtor specialist and graduate of the Realtor Institute at Coldwell Banker. “In just the past couple of weeks,” she said last month, “we have seen an improvement in days on the market for homes for sale. Homes are now moving much more quickly if priced well and in good condition.” Keeling said she is seeing homes that had previously been on the market last year and did not sell now being put back on the market at lower prices. “They tend to be selling fast. There is not a lot of inventory at this point.” Karen Thibeau, a Realtor at Long & Foster, agreed. She is seeing a lot of buyers, but not a lot of homes on the market. Thibeau said she is seeing multiple offers on houses for the first time in two years and, while homes sat on the market for 60 to 90 days two years ago, they are now selling faster, usually at around 30 days, and in many cases, in just a few days. “It all depends on how it’s priced and staged,” she said, referring to the technique of sprucing up, cleaning out, decorating, and creating a good first impression to make a house appealing to buyers. Unlike the trends over the past several years where buyers would tackle a fixerupper and do-it-yourself projects with eagerness, “Buyers want to just move in, and don’t want to do a lot of work,” Thibeau said. Kolakowski agrees that buyers are looking for a good value. “They need to be wowed. They’re not in the mood to buy and fix up.”
Proof in the Numbers
Statistics back up the Realtor’s optimistic reports. According to McEnearney Associates’ Market in a Minute report and to Metropolitan Regional Information Systems (MRIS) figures from February, contract activity was up 8.8 percent over February 2011. Contracts actually
decreased for condos and attached homes. Of the properties going under contract, 42.4 percent were on the market 30 days or fewer. While sales were up, there was a 19.9 percent drop in the number of homes on the market compared with February of last year. According to Real Estate Business Intelligence reports for particular zip codes in the county: • 20832 – Olney: Dollar volume of sales was up 19.5 percent from 2011 and median prices were up 11.4 percent over last year. • 20850 – Rockville: Dollar volume of sales was up 16.5 percent from 2011 and closed sales were up 38.4 percent over last year. • 20878 – Gaithersburg/North Potomac: Dollar volume of sales was up 10.8 percent from 2011, closed sales were up 6 percent and median prices were up 21.2 percent over last year. • 20817 – Bethesda: Dollar volume of sales was up 28.3 percent from 2011 and closed sales were up 21 percent over last year.
Realtors agree on several market drivers. Pent-up demand comes from the severe downturn over the last two to three years, said Thibeau. “People realize that we’re at the bottom of the market.” Interest rates are another driver. In March, SunTrust
Bank was quoting a 30-year conventional fixed rate mortgage with an annual percentage rate of 4 percent – the lowest rate in decades. This makes homes more affordable. According to McEnearney Associates’ Market in a Minute report, the monthly mortgage payment required to purchase a median-priced home in Montgomery County is 40.4 percent lower in February 2012 than it was in February 2006. Scarcity of inventory drives buyer traffic through the homes that are for sale, and often yields multiple offers. “There are not enough houses out there for a million or less,” said Thibeau. “Though there’s lots of inventory sitting out there in the $2 million range.” Broker-owner Jeannette Lemieux of MoCoRealEstate, LLC focuses on the Darnestown and North Potomac markets. She said that the mild winter has driven the early market numbers. “People don’t mind going out and looking at houses because it’s not too cold,” she said. She added that the number of foreclosures and short sales caused by the market downturn have dropped. In her area of the county, that inventory of homes on the market is down 23 percent from the same period last year. “I honestly don’t see prices going down any further, either,” said Lemieux. The spring market began in January, say Realtors. “In years past, people want to wait to look at houses in April and May when the trees are green and the grass is up, but not this year,” said Lemieux.
Navigating the Real Estate Market | APRIL 2012 SPECIAL SUPPLEMENT TO THE GAZETTE 3
WHAT’S A 203(K)?
Loan helps first-time buyers renovate fixer-uppers “It’s a great opportunity to bring the property value to what it should be, and the neighborhood back to what it should be.” -Christine Sherrod, a Realtor with Weichert based in Silver Spring | BY ARCHANA PYATI |
Lifelong renters Jayne and Philip Stoner recently bought their very first home in the First Aquarius subdivision in the Rossmoor section of Silver Spring. The 1,200-square-foot ranch is the perfect size for the couple, who wanted single-floor living and a quiet neighborhood as they near retirement. Since the house was listed as a short sale, it needed a lot of work.The windows, roof, plumbing system and HVAC system all required major repairs.Yet comparable homes that were in better shape were consistently beyond the Stoners’ price range, and they would inevitably lose in bidding wars that erupted over each property. “It was very competitive,” said Jayne. “Everything we seemed to like, so many people kept putting bids on it. That was tough.” Through the real estate grapevine and a bit of online research, Stoner learned of a government loan
program that allows a borrower to combine a home’s purchase price with the costs required to renovate it. The 203(k) mortgage loan, backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), is attracting first-time homebuyers who might not have otherwise taken the plunge in a market that was recently glutted with foreclosures, short sales and other distressed properties. The 203(k) program is not new, but is attracting a surge of attention from real estate agents, mortgage brokers and lenders because of the housing crisis. SEE 203(K), PAGE 10
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Model Grand Opening Event Saturday, April 28 Imagine opening your front door and finding you are within steps of more than a half million square feet of upscale, convenience retail, a state-of-the-art fitness club, miles of walking trails and a neighborhood park. Picture a pedestrian-friendly community where impromptu social gatherings with neighbors develop; where the shopping, dining and nightlife of one of Maryland’s finest historic districts is just around the corner; and where there is easy access to the major commuter routes for DC and Baltimore. This is no dream – this is the lifestyle available now at Market Square at Frederick, a new, 49-acre, mixeduse community featuring luxury new homes from Beazer and Ryan. Now is the time to get in on the action where you can live, shop, dine, and play in one, great location. Join us for our model grand opening event on Saturday, April 28, and experience it for yourself!
suite. Slightly smaller in size, but boasting equal character and comforts, are the Matisse and Picasso two-story townhome-condominiums each with a onecar garage, upper level laundry facilities and large owner’s suites with walk-in closets. The standard, high-end finishes of all of Ryan’s homes, including minimal maintenance exteriors, GE appliances, ceramic tile tub surrounds, and Moen plumbing fixtures, to name just a few, can only be enhanced further with selections from the abundant customization options Ryan offers to make the home unequivocally yours. Prices start from the mid-$210s. Like your dream, the allure of Market Square doesn’t stop at just beautiful homes. When complete, the community will include 180,000 square feet of “Main Street” and inline retail, the centerpiece of which will be a 42,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art Sport & Health club. Add in conveniences like a Bank of America and nationally recognized restaurant concepts Buffalo Wild Wings, Noodles & Co., IHOP and McDonald’s, easy access to Wegmans, Lowes and Marshalls across the street, and the historic charm of Frederick less than a mile away, and what results is THE new place to live in Frederick.
With so many floorplans from which to choose, coupled with unmatched community and surrounding amenities, it’s no wonder homebuyers from all over the region are flocking to Market Square at Frederick to experience this dream lifestyle. We invite you to visit today and learn more about Frederick’s NEW rich appointments include nine-foot ceilings, a stateurban lifestyle neighborhood where you can “Live It of-the-art kitchen with Whirlpool stainless steel Up!” appliances, granite countertops, Bruce hardwood flooring in the kitchen/breakfast area and foyer, ceramic tile in all baths and the laundry room, a designer trim package and luxury owner’s suite, among other features. In addition to loving the inside of the home, homebuyers can enjoy “lock and leave living” with Beazer’s low maintenance exteriors, including lawn care! The Chandler is priced from the upper $200’s. Ryan Homes’ offerings at Market Square include three luxury townhome floorplans from its Composer series – ranging in size from 1,900 to more than 2,400 square feet – featuring a two-car detached garage, nine-foot ceilings on the first floor, and a fully finished recreation room on the lower level, not Sales centers open daily. For homebuilder hours and to mention large, country kitchens, walk-in closets additional property information, visit and separate soaking tub and shower in the master www.marketsquareatfrederick.com.
Beazer Homes offers the popular Chandler floorplan, an elegant, three-level townhome with three bedrooms, 2½ bathrooms and a two-car garage. Its
Directions: Market Square at Frederick is conveniently located at the intersection of Route 26 and Worman’s Mill Road in the City of Frederick. From I-270 North, take Route 15 North to exit 17/MD 26 East toward Libertytown/Walkersville. Make an immediate left on to Worman’s Mill Road, and the community is on the right. 1845983
New homes at Market Square include three-story townhomes and two-story townhome-condominium units to satisfy any homebuyer’s dream. What’s more, homebuyers have six floorplans from which to choose, featuring beautiful and traditional brick fronts, up to four bedrooms, 3½ bathrooms, 100% ENERGY STAR ratings and a long list of high-end finishes.
Navigating the Real Estate Market | APRIL 2012 SPECIAL SUPPLEMENT TO THE GAZETTE 5
Buying a Foreclosure Are they still the deals they used to be? “You have to weigh the amount you’re going to have to spend to get it in the condition you want.” -Susan Ader, a Long & Foster agent based in Potomac Village | BY ARCHANA PYATI |
A quick search on Google of the terms “foreclosure” and “bargain” comes up with 6.26 million results. Adding “Maryland” to the search yields another 1.95 million results. Websites such as foreclosureconnections.com and RealtyStore.com give the impression that buying a foreclosed property is the hottest real estate trend to come out of the economic crisis, and Realty Trac, billing itself as the “leading online marketplace for foreclosures,” proclaims that the “Foreclosure Tide (Is) Rising” on its website. Are foreclosures the steals they are touted to be? Sometimes, but not always, say real estate experts, who warn of the unanticipated costs to transform one of these properties into the home you want it to be. “People
have expressed a lot of interest because they think they’re going to get a great deal,” said Susan Ader, a Long & Foster agent based in Potomac Village. “You have to weigh the amount you’re going to have to spend to get it in the condition you want.” In Montgomery County, there are fewer foreclosures on the marketplace than in neighboring Prince George’s, which has the highest foreclosure rate of any county in the state, according to a January report from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. As banks work through their inventory of thousands of distressed properties, though, it’s a safe bet that foreclosures will be option for savvy buyers for years to come.
Choosing a Property
Pulling up a listing of foreclosures on any number of real estate websites is easy enough. However, real estate brokerages have access to the most up-to-date information on properties through the Metropolitan
Regional Information System (MRIS), so it’s often best to find an agent you trust to help navigate you through the process. Keep in mind that short sales are far more common in Montgomery County. A SEE FORECLOSURE, PAGE 12
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6 Navigating the Real Estate Market | APRIL 2012 SPECIAL SUPPLEMENT TO THE GAZETTE
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Navigating the Real Estate Market | APRIL 2012 SPECIAL SUPPLEMENT TO THE GAZETTE 7
6 THINGS TO CONSIDER
when choosing a real estate agent You’re thinking of buying or selling a house—an enormous decision either way— and for that you need a professional on your side. So how do you find the right person? Here are some qualities to look for in a Realtor or a buyer/seller agent relationship: | BY JIM MAHAFFIE |
1) Look for Experience
“There’s no substitute for it,” said Diana Keeling, certified buyer representative, certified Realtor specialist and graduate of the Realtor Institute at Coldwell Banker. She has been selling homes and working with buyers for longer than she cares to admit. Often, a longtime Realtor will know a home’s history, or have extensive knowledge of a particular neighborhood, Keeling said.
“If I’m looking to buy or sell a home, I want somebody that’s not only knowledgeable, but also honest with me and understands as a seller my needs and wants,” said Francie Whitlock, a Realtor at Keller Williams Home Towne Realty in Darnestown. “You don’t want someone who’s just out for the listing and just says what a seller wants to hear,” she said. “I will always give people the actual costs of the sale up front, tell them everything we’re going to do for them, and let them know what the worst possible outcome could be.The market is turning, but we never know what tomorrow’s going to bring.”
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4) Communication Skills & Timeliness
How fast does the agent get back to you? Besides being a good barometer of the quality of their service, that becomes vitally important when you’re in con-
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3) Knowledge of the Market
This doesn’t just mean the regional market or even the particular area. Most important is knowledge of a neighborhood, its schools, traffic, recreation possibilities, shopping—and even intangibles such as neighborhood culture and dog-friendliness. “If you know where you want to live in or want to purchase in, you need to work with someone who is keyed in to the marketplace,” said Keeling.
8 Navigating the Real Estate Market | APRIL 2012 SPECIAL SUPPLEMENT TO THE GAZETTE
tract negotiations, said Karen Thibeau, a Realtor at Long & Foster. “In this spring market, deals often move very fast, and your Realtor needs to stay on top of your needs,” said Thibeau.
There are a lot of real estate agents out there, said Michael Greenberg, a Realtor at the Rockville/White Flint office ofWeichert, but you should make sure that yours is thoroughly trained and educated. Their performance depends on it, he said. It’s a big investment and, “You want to make sure your trust is worth the relationship.” Greenberg specializes in serving first-time homebuyers, particularly townhomes in Gaithersburg, North Potomac, Germantown, Derwood and Rockville.
“Not only is it a good idea to ask for referrals from friends and neighbors, it’s a good idea to ask for referrals to an agent who works mostly by referral,” said LynneTucker, a Realtor at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage. “An agent who works by referral will want to do such a great job for you that you are excited about your experience and want to tell all your friends.” She points out that there are different types of agents and referrals by friends and neighbors who know your personality and actually know the agent will help you find the one who will be a good match for your personality. “Stress levels can get pretty high during the purchase or sale of a home and it’s extremely important to have a competent agent in your corner that you feel comfortable with during that time.” Plus, if an agent works by referral, they might spend much less time looking for clients and a lot more time providing excellent service.
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Navigating the Real Estate Market | APRIL 2012 SPECIAL SUPPLEMENT TO THE GAZETTE 9
203(K), CONTINUED FROM PAGE 4
Facilitating homeownership through the 203(k) program, they say, is one way of boosting depressed home values and revitalizing blighted neighborhoods. “It’s a great opportunity to bring the property value to what it should be, and the neighborhood back to what it should be,” said Christine Sherrod, a Realtor with Weichert who is based in Silver Spring. While Montgomery County has fewer foreclosures compared with neighboring Prince George’s, housing markets in areas such as Germantown, Wheaton and Aspen Hill have yet to stabilize, she said. Since 2009, the FHA has insured 647,774 203(k) purchase and refinance loans, according to Lemar C.Wooley, a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), spokesman. Each year has seen a steady increase in the number of 203(k) loans insured compared with the standard FHA loan—also known as the 203(b)—whose applications have been decreasing. In some cases, agents are encouraging clients to shop for bargains and finance their dream homes with a 203(k) loan. Aaron Prather, a Realtor with Re/Max 2000 in Silver Spring, spoke of a client who wanted to buy in the exclusive Woodmore subdivision in Prince George’s County, but had had multiple offers rejected. The client went with a foreclosed property, whose appraised value was $450,000 after the renovation; he had only paid $380,000 for it. Prather’s client opted for the “full” version of the 203(k) loan, required for large-scale renovations that exceed $35,000. The Stoners, meanwhile, worked with
the “streamlined” version for less than $35,000 since their repairs were relatively minor and didn’t involved structural changes. The down payment required for both versions is the same as it is for all FHA loans: 3.5 percent of the total acquisition cost, which, for the 203(k), includes the purchase plus the renovation costs. “The product has some limitations, but it’s very vast as to what you can do,” said Andrew Litchfield, the 203(k) manager of the Fitzgerald Financial Group at Rockville’s Monarch Mortgage. “It’s kind of open to interpretation.”
In the early days, the 203(k) program was commonly used by investors to purchase and flip properties that in many instances were owned by HUD. After 1996, however, investors were barred from the program due to cases of fraud where they would take out loans meant for construction and pocket a portion of the money. Now, only individuals who will occupy their properties, nonprofit organizations and government entities are eligible. In light of the loan’s history and as a safeguard against abuse, HUD mandates an extra level of scrutiny for the 203(k), requiring borrowers of the full version to hire a HUD-approved consultant to oversee the renovation and to monitor payments from a special renovation account to the contractor hired by the client. “The role of the consultant is to make sure the rehab project is completed according to the scope of work given by the contractor,” said Ray Amin, an architect and HUD-approved consultant based in Rockville.This scope of work document is important since it determines the home’s “after-improved” appraisal value, which is what the 203 (k) loan amount is based upon. If there is a critique to be made of the 203(k) loan, some say it’s that the process can feel cumbersome and requires patience. Donald Weinroth, a HUD-approved consultant based in Friendship Heights, said the extra paperwork and administrative costs for the 203(k) loan make it “a little difficult to work with.” Consultants are paid up to $200 per inspection, and banks may charge higher fees for servicing the loan. For larger projects,
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10 Navigating the Real Estate Market | APRIL 2012 SPECIAL SUPPLEMENT TO THE GAZETTE
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HUD mandates an extra level of scrutiny for the 203(k), requiring borrowers of the full version to hire a HUD-approved consultant to oversee the renovation and to monitor payments from a special renovation account to the contractor hired by the client. clients need contingency money in their renovation accounts to cover unforeseen expenses. While the loan is commonly being used on uninhabitable fixer-uppers, a house may simply have some undesirable elements—an outdated kitchen, for example—to qualify. Banks are eager to point out that its rising popularity is not entirely driven by consumers searching for discounts in the housing market. “The increase in the 203(k) loan is not specifically related to the growth of foreclosed properties,” said Jim Ragan, Bank of America’s national renovation lending
manager and 203(k) product manager. Still, he added that the 203(k) loan provides consumers with a useful tool to deal with the “volume of properties on the market today.” And with many of these properties, inspiration and vision are as important as cash for borrowers to bring to the table. “Sometimes when you take a person to a house with all its bumps and warts, they can’t picture how it can be turned into something,” saidWeinroth, the consultant. “These 203(k) houses, they’re houses. It’s up to you to be creative and imagine a home. It takes imagination.”
Navigating the Real Estate Market | APRIL 2012 SPECIAL SUPPLEMENT TO THE GAZETTE 11
FORECLOSURE, CONTINUED FROM PAGE 6
recent search of the MRIS showed over 315 properties listed as short sales and 139 were listed as foreclosures of three types: bank-owned, auctions, and “pre-foreclosures,” where the seller still owns the home. An attorney who represents banking clients such as Chase and GMAC Mortgage, James E. Savitz was handling 40 to 50 bank-owned properties a month in his practice at Village Settlements; now, that number has dwindled to four to five per month due to several factors. Banks are more willing to work with homeowners to arrange a short sale to avoid foreclosures. While lenders take a loss on the loan, short sales helps sellers avoid destroying their credit. Banks are halting foreclosure proceedings since they’re not sure if they might be tainted with the “robo signing” scandal, when loans were rushed through the system and processed with flawed paperwork. Finally, in order to protect home values, lenders are leery about flooding the market with distressed properties. “There are not the bargains there once were,” said Savitz, principal with the company. Amy Donley, an agent with Long & Foster in Silver Spring, echoed this sentiment: “To tell you the truth, there’s not a lot of foreclosures out there. The banks are holding out [and] realizing that it’s a lot cheaper for them to sell a house in distress to investors or as short sales.”
Once you’ve identified properties that are in your price range, be prepared to compete with investors who can usually offer banks cash on the spot for the property.
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“There are investors who go in with their eyes wide open,” said Ader. “The average buyers may not be aware of how much it’s going to take to rehabilitate the house because the home has been neglected.” Being consistently outbid by cash investors is what happened to Brandon Childers, who was in the market to buy a home in Montgomery County in 2009. After a dispiriting search, Childers and his wife, Clarissa, saw a property in Germantown that had been rehabilitated by AHC Inc., a local nonprofit. AHC Inc. had received funds from Montgomery County to rehabilitate foreclosures, so Childers and his family had to agree to certain terms to become eligible buyers of the house. They have to live in their house for three years, their income couldn’t exceed a certain amount at the time of their purchase, they had to be employed in Montgomery County and they had to take a class for first-time homebuyers. Childers’ search took about eight months, not exactly a speedy turnaround for a family eager to settle into a new home. The couple and their three children stayed with relatives in the interim. Bargain-hunting in the foreclosure market takes patience and working with trustworthy professionals, said Childers. “People have to be careful,” he added. “Don’t rush through anything and take your time.”
Financing, Inspection and Settlement
The more cash you have on hand, the easier it will be to buy a foreclosure. Remember that with few exceptions,
electrical systems in serious disrepair, and missing appliances are some of the scenarios homebuyers might encounter. Getting a good home inspection is the only way to assess property’s flaws for yourself; inspections cost between half to 1 percent of the home’s sales prices, said Bernard Mizelle, a broker with Mid-Atlantic Realty. “It’s crucial to have a very thorough inspector and not cut corners to get the inspection done,” he said. It’s also a good idea to purchase title insurance even with foreclosures, whose clouded titles are often automatically cleaned out after the bank takes possession of the home. Closing the deal is the day every buyer dreams of when they embark on the journey of homeownerISTOCKPHOTO\SJLOCKE ship.With a foreclosure, closing day can sometimes feel like a mirage. banks will sell you the property “as is,” leaving the cost of Ryan Donovan, a Great Falls, Va.- based agent recently fixing the property up to you. guided a client through a foreclosure purchase in Prince A few banks offer special loans that combine the purGeorge’s County. Negotiating with the bank over repairs chase and rehabilitation cost,as can be done under the they had promised to make was a challenge, he said: “You’re Federal Housing Administration’s 203k program, but buynot going to get answers like you would from a typical sellers still need cash on hand for the down payment and coner…We went weeks without hearing anything.” tingency funds for renovation. Conventional loans, FHA In the end, the struggle was worth it since his client got loans andVeterans Administration loans are harder to obtain for properties that need serious work. “With the house that a great deal on a house he is now thrilled to inhabit. needs fixing, it limits the type of loan that most buyers can Donovan urges those interested in buying foreclosures to get,” said Donley. be flexible with their time. “Banks are not in the real estate Homes that have been foreclosed upon are often in a neg- business,” he said. “At the end of the day, they want to get lected—and sometimes abused—state. Mold, plumbing and rid of the house.”
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Navigating the Real Estate Market | APRIL 2012 SPECIAL SUPPLEMENT TO THE GAZETTE 13
HOW TO BUY A HOME THAT’S EASY TO SELL | BY GINNY FRIZZI |
14 Navigating the Real Estate Market | APRIL 2012 SPECIAL SUPPLEMENT TO THE GAZETTE
Purchasing a house is the largest investment most Americans make in their lifetime. With it come questions about how to maintain the value of the home. Interestingly, some of the answers can be found before a house is actually purchased. It’s common advice to buy the worst house in the best neighborhood. But what exactly is meant by the “worst” house? For most people, the term “worst house” conjures up images of a ramshackle structure that will require expensive repairs. To real estate experts, however, it can mean other things, including the least expensive or the smallest. “The smallest house in a neighborhood probably can be added onto without changes in zoning or setbacks (the distances from adjacent structures) and can be enlarged to be more in-step with the demand.That often means a greater return on investment,” said real estate authority, columnist, radio host and author Greg Rand. The worst home in the neighborhood
also could be the one that has not been kept up or needs a lot of renovation, according to Jennifer A. Chiongbian, a senior vice president and an associate broker at Charles Rutenberg Realty. “It can be as obvious as black and white; some of the features of the house don’t live up to those of the other houses in the neighborhood,” she said. “The ugly duckling is what most professional investors look for,” Rand said. Chiongbian points out that the term “worst house” is relative when it comes to real estate. “You want a neighborhood where property values are stable,” she said. Good schools often provide such stability to nearby neighborhoods. Even if you do not have children, you should consider schools. When you put the home on the market, prospective buyers who have children, or who plan to have them, will want to know how good the schools are. Linkages— proximity to public transportation and services—are another consideration when looking for a house that will retain its value.
“More jobs equals more people equals more demand. It also means more demand for your property when you want to sell. When you find a market like that, digging in to learn the nature of the workforce is important,” Rand said. “Will you be near stuff you need?” asks Chiongbian. Most people want to be comfortably close to churches, shops and supermarkets, she said. Proximity to these things is especially important for homes in new developments or subdivisions. But when determining how well such a home will retain its value in the future, what else should prospective buyers consider? According to Rand, prospective homeowners and investors should be wary of half-finished subdivisions and buildings, especially in today’s challenging economic climate. “I speak to many people who bought in a new development because they were attracted to the lifestyle amenities, such as a club, pool, tennis, golf…” he said. “But if the project stalls and the rest of the units are not built or are put on hold, those amenities may never materialize. Or worse, the amenities are built and the existing owners/members wind up carrying the cost of all the amenities on their backs.” Rand, whose book, “Crash Boom!: Make a Fortune in Today’s Volatile Real Estate Market,” was published last year, said: “As
much as being first in can be attractive, be careful. What does the contract say about your responsibilities if they don’t complete the job? I would insist on an opt-out clause regarding the amenities.” Once you purchase your house, it is important to avoid overbuilding or overimprovement, which can actually decrease a house’s resale value. “Customized details may not add value,” Chiongbian said. “For example, Donald Trump may have gold bathroom fixtures. How many people would want or need them?They wouldn’t be of use to most people. I advise clients with weird custom touches in the house to get rid of them and return things to the way they originally were.” The same goes for additions. “Say the house has three bedrooms and two bathrooms.You might want to add one bath, but not five. There comes a time when enough is enough in a neighborhood,” Chiongbian said. Rand concurs. “You never want to have the best house in a neighborhood.The market for that house is very small. Most people who do this are in love with their neighbors, so they overbuild.The problem is that the next buyers don’t love the neighbors yet, and can’t see being at the top of the food chain.” -CREATORS.COM
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16 Navigating the Real Estate Market | APRIL 2012 SPECIAL SUPPLEMENT TO THE GAZETTE