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How to budget for a new home

How do you know how much home you can afford? Understanding the financial responsibilities of homeownership and setting a budget before you start touring open houses will ease the process and help ensure a successful home buyer experience.

Luckily, budgeting for purchasing a home doesn’t require an accountant’s degree and high-tech calculators. Identifying how much you can afford, and a general household budget that will enable you to maintain that home, can be estimated using the following tips.

Start by adding every source of income that flows into your account each month. Paychecks, freelance work, investment income, etc. This number is your total monthly income.

Next, make a list of your monthly expenses. This is a great exercise as you might think you know what you spend each month but writing it all down in black-and-white is very eye-opening. Consult your bank statements, credit card statements and cash receipts for this exercise. Expense categories can include: charities, savings, utilities, food, clothing, entertainment, pet care, health care, transportation, childcare, etc.

If you have the time, calculate your monthly expenses for at least 3 separate months, add them together and divide by 3 to identify your average expenses. Certain months will have more expenses than others (holidays, vacations, etc.) so figuring an average is a better way of estimating a true value for your expense output.

Now, take your average monthly expenses and subtract them from your total monthly income. The amount left is what you have to cover monthly housing costs. This includes a mortgage payment as well as home maintenance and repairs. You can estimate a total home price by using a free mortgage calculator online. Your best option, however, is to take these budgeting figures to a local, experienced Realtor. He or she can help you use  those numbers to decide on the best home price range for your needs. Your Realtor can also help you figure out down payment numbers, moving costs, monthly maintenance figures and all the little things you might not think of to give you a realistic financial view of homeownership.

Planning your budget for buying a home doesn’t have to be scary. Just remember, your odds for a smooth and successful experience are much better with the right real estate professional on your side. If you’re ready to buy, sell or learn more about the real estate market in the Arlington and surrounding Northern Virginia communities, as a highly experienced Arlington Realtor, I’m here to help! Give me a call at 703-593-6320 or email mike@mikesellsvirginia.com.

7 reasons your home is not selling

The market is hot – so why isn’t your home selling? While you shouldn’t panic if your home has only been on the market for a few days without offers, you might want to take a closer look if those days turn into months. During my career as one of the top Realtors in the Arlington, Virginia area, I’ve helped clients avoid the following issues that can turn away potential buyers. If you’re wondering what’s keeping the offers from rolling in, this list might help:

BAD CURB APPEAL

Curb appeal is the first impression potential buyers have of your home. Things like messy yards or peeling paint can make people wonder about the condition of the rest of your home and mentally start adding numbers for repairs and upgrades. Even worse, a bad first impression can result in an immediate “no” before they even get out of the car. Ask someone to give you an honest first impression of your home’s curb appeal and fix anything you might have missed.

LOW-QUALITY PHOTOS

If your listing photos aren’t good, your home won’t get the attention it deserves. In today’s high-tech smart-phone world, most buyers will see photos of your home on websites, on social media, and via real estate apps like Zillow at least several times before making the decision to visit in person. Make sure photos are high-quality, professional-grade images shot with plenty of light, wide angles, and showcasing your home’s best features.

ASKING TOO HIGH A PRICE

If your home is overpriced, it won’t sell, it’s as simple as that. An experienced Realtor can give you an accurate value of your home and help you decide on the best asking price that gives you maximum profit while still attracting buyers.

YOU’RE ALWAYS THERE

You might think you’re being helpful, but always hanging around during open houses, showings, and any time potential buyers are touring your home will drive prospects away. Let your agent handle the showings without you, and just let them know you are available by phone if there are any questions they can’t answer. Buyers want to feel they can talk freely, explore, and discuss the details of a home without worrying about owners hovering nearby and listening in.

YOUR HOME ISN’T READY FOR THE SPOTLIGHT

Your home is cluttered and dirty. Your windows are streaked with dirt, your floors are tracked with the dog’s paw prints, and your teenagers forgot to clean their rooms – again! Dirty, cluttered, and messy homes will turn people away within minutes. It’s hard to imagine living in a home when you’re distracted by the mess. And buyers might make snap judgements and worry that the home hasn’t been taken care of either.

OUTDATED / NEEDS REPAIRS

Your kitchen tile was new and gorgeous – 20 years ago. The garage door is hanging slightly askew and the guest bathroom pipes make a weird sound when the sink is turned on. Small repairs like leaking pipes and off-balance garage doors should be done before putting your house on the market. Any upgrades should be discussed with your Realtor, who can give you advice on the best projects that will increase the value of your home and give you a profitable return for your investment.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT REAL ESTATE AGENT

You can see throughout this article how important it is to work with an experienced, local professional who has detailed knowledge of the area you are selling or buying in, the current state of the real estate market, and the right actions you need to take to improve your chances for a speedy and successful home-selling experience.

If you’re thinking of selling a home in Arlington, VA or the surrounding area, please feel free to give me a call at (703) 593-6320 or email me at mike@mikesellsvirginia.com for ideas, information, free resources and all the help you need.

Real estate trends on their way out for 2019

If there’s one thing we learned from shag rugs and chevrons, some trends become classics, while others (thankfully) fade away. Here’s a quick list of disappearing real estate trends to be aware of if you’re planning a move or changes to your current home in the near future:

#1 Oversize is out. Secretly stylish is in

In this era of frugal mindsets and eco-conscious living, opulent statement homes and massive square footage aren’t appealing to as many homeowners. That’s where low-key luxury comes into play. Ostentatious and overdone homes aren’t what buyers are looking for when they think luxury these days. So take a second thought about adding swirled marble floors, 6-figure custom wall treatments or overly-themed décor. Instead, home buyers are looking for all the extras without all the drama such as game rooms, climate-controlled outdoor sport and living areas, expansive back yards with year-round kitchens, panic rooms outfitted with bathrooms and communications systems, wine cellars with full bars, and spa-like retreats – all hidden behind subtle facades that blend in with the neighborhood.

#2 Remote locations aren’t so great anymore

Today’s home buyers want to simplify their lives. That means they want their homes located near shopping, schools, work, dining and other services. An extra 10 or 20 minutes added on to a commute because of locked gates, remote roadways, extended entrances, etc. are not considered a luxury anymore, but rather an inconvenience.

#3 No more white-on-white kitchens

While white kitchens dominated the last few years of home design, in 2019 we’ll see a move toward natural materials and colors such as stone, copper, concrete, and granite. Bolder colors, painted cabinets, geometric patterns, and appliance finishes in more than just stainless will be seen more and more. In fact, According to a recent Zillow Paint Color Analysis, which examined more than 32,000 photos from sold homes around the country, homes that used blue or blue-grey paint colors in kitchens and bathrooms sold for thousands more than similar homes that used white paint.

#4 Accommodating all generations

Families are looking for homes that will accommodate the entire family and everyone’s special needs. By 2040, there are expected to be almost 80 million seniors accounting for 21 percent of the population. Many homes on the market aren’t equipped to accommodate the aging, so in 2019 expect to see more homes with walk-in showers, and master suites on the main floor, ADA compliant entrances or walkways, and features such as comfort-height toilets that will boost the value and comfort of the home for all.

The secretly stylish home next door

Take a peek inside that discreet rambler just a few doors down and you just might find some jaw-dropping amenities you never expected. In a real estate trend I’ve been watching, homeowners with big budgets are choosing to have it all by adding low-key luxury features to the homes they already love.

Here in the Arlington, Virginia area we’ve got our fair share of older homes, homes that have been handed down through generations and neighborhoods that people never want to leave. So when homes start to feel like they need an upgrade, moving isn’t an option. Instead, homeowners are focusing on adding luxury to their living spaces while leaving the exterior curb appeal just as it is.

In this era of frugal mindsets and eco-conscious living, opulent statement homes and massive square footage aren’t appealing to as many homeowners. That’s where low-key luxury comes into play.

Pull up to a single-story rambler with a subtle exterior and you may not expect to be wowed. But go inside and some of the features you might find include game rooms, climate-controlled outdoor sport and living areas, expansive back yards with year-round kitchens, panic rooms outfitted with bathrooms and communications systems, wine cellars with full bars, and spa-like retreats.

No matter the location, it’s always possible to reinvent the interior of a home to fit each homeowners’ personal design style without altering how the home fits into the neighborhood. For instance, if you’re a modern-design loving person who lives in a neighborhood that favors craftsman-style homes, the front of your home can feature a traditional, modest facade as seen from the curb. Inside, however, you can indulge your love of all things modern with Carrera marble, geometric patterned floors, and walls of windows that make a statement.

Backyards are a great place to indulge as well by dressing up decks and creating patio paradises. Designing outdoor living spaces are a great way to increase the feel of your home’s square footage as you let what you love to do inside spill over into adjacent spaces outside. Start from the ground up with flagstones, brick or tiles laid in intricate patterns to define your space. Water features such as extravagant inground pools, spas, waterfalls and even picturesque ponds are great ways to up the wow factor of your backyard. Intricate landscaping with twisting hidden paths and fairy gardens, she-sheds or getaways, art studios and outdoor kitchen and entertaining areas are even more ideas for adding some low-key luxury to the home you love.

If you want to live in Arlington Virginia and like the idea of buying a home with character on the outside and all you ever wanted on the inside I can help. Give me a call at 703-593-6320 or email mike@mikesellsvirginia.com.

Luxury real estate trends that elevate any home

Throughout the United States, 2018 has been a year that defies expectations when it comes to the luxury real estate market. Even though frugal living and tiny homes are hot topics, buyers are still making the choice to pursue their dreams of multi-million-dollar homes.

Arlington and surrounding areas in Virginia are no stranger to the luxury home market. Beautiful properties with stunning homes can be found throughout Washington DC, Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church and McLean. Even though these properties can be very unique, a few common trends are emerging that can be applied universally for anyone who wants the very best in their own home, no matter how big or small.

Tech-savvy smart homes

In today’s high-tech world, homes wired to adapt to the apps we use to control our daily life are highly desirable. Luxury homeowners demand the latest in wiring and accessibility for every corner of their homes. Every homeowner can benefit from adding some technology, however, to the point of elevating them in buyer’s eyes if they list for sale. Check out this Home Technology article for ideas to upgrade your home.

Strategic use of space

Luxury homes mean exceptional quality, but don’t require thousands of square feet to get there. Even in this market, homeowners want just the right amount of space with everything they need – and nothing they don’t. Instead of a dining room you never use, knock out a wall to create a stunning kitchen, or create a space you’ve always dreamed of like a yoga room or cozy library.

Spectacular kitchens

The heart of the home is the same no matter what size your home is. No matter if you’re a professional cook or just love to putter around with grandma’s recipe book, a luxury kitchen is appreciated in all areas of the real estate market. Trends we’ve seen include spacious islands with second sets of appliances built in, His and Hers Kitchens, and setups equipped to handle everything from grand galas to extended family reunions.

Unique Factors

High-end homeowners want custom finishes and features that reflect their personality and taste and add a certain wow-factor to their homes. Hand-crafted, specialty items can be incorporated everywhere in a home. Hand-carved doors make dramatic first impressions. Custom outdoor cooking areas, firepits and sculptured landscaping create unique and memorable living spaces. Love to travel? Specially-sourced items from exotic locations displayed in your home are a great way to highlight your unique personality.

Private Getaways

Homeowners are taking the idea of creating a special place within the home to new levels by creating luxury retreats that cater to their particular interests and give them a place that feels like they are removed from the cares of the world, without the time and travel it takes to jet around the globe. From backyards to basements and everywhere in between, this is a home trend worthy of taking a look at for creating unique and creative getaway zones in the comfort of your home. For ideas, check out this article: Luxury Retreats Just Steps From Your Front Door.

The staging area most people forget about – outside!

When you’re ready to sell a home, staging is always a good idea. But there’s one space often forgotten – outside! Outdoor living and entertaining areas are high on home buyers’ lists, so we’ve rounded up a few tips for maximizing your outdoor appeal.

The first thing you need to do for patios, decks and any outdoor space is declutter and clean. Store or give away furniture you don’t use, toys, lawn care and gardening supplies, and anything else that makes it hard to walk around your property or makes the space feel cramped or busy.

Thoroughly clean lawn furniture, freshen up cushions and pillows, and get rid of all cobwebs, dead leaves or anything else in corners, around furniture, or stuck to light fixtures. Make sure all landscaping and other outdoor lights are in working order as well, and timers are all functioning correctly.

Finally, remove all weeds or dead plants from landscaping or containers and replace with fresh, colorful seasonal flowers and plants.

Now it’s time to have some fun staging your outdoor areas. Many home buyers will be considering the potential of your outdoor space for entertaining, play time, or just relaxing after a long day. That’s why it’s important to make the outside of your home as appealing as the inside.

Creating outdoor living areas

Homebuyers want to be able to use their yards, patios and porches as extensions of their home. Staging areas outside to function like living rooms, dining rooms, entertainment areas, and even kitchens puts a spotlight on the potential of your home’s outdoor space.

Arrange furniture and add extras to create the ambiance you desire. For outdoor cooking or dining areas, set tables with linens, plates, silverware, glasses and fresh flower arrangements. Create cozy seating areas by adding pillows and cushions to armchairs places ready for a group to sit and chat. Add a center or side table with coasters, wine glasses and candles to make it more functional.

For small spaces such as balconies set up a bistro table and chairs with a coffee set, newspaper and flowers for early showings, or stage it as a cocktail hour for later showings.

Speaking of later showings, if home buyers will be touring your home at dusk, set a welcoming tone by turning on all landscape and decorative lighting, placing flameless candles on your table settings, and lighting gas fireplaces or firepits. (Always be sure to check with your Realtor about any open flames for safety’s sake.)

Whether you’re selling your home, or just want to freshen up the home you love and live in right now, I hope you’ve found some fun ideas you’re excited to start working on. Setting the stage both inside and outside your home for sale is a great way to show home buyers the potential of your home and motivate them to start enjoying it as soon as possible. Have questions, need a free home value assessment? I’m here to help at 703-593-6320.

Essential home maintenance tasks to prepare for winter

posted by: Mike in Home Owner Tips

With Fall around the corner, it’s the perfect time to get your home ready for winter – and for potential buyers. Performing a simple round of seasonal maintenance chores now can save you time, money, and stress when the cold weather comes. And it will ensure your home looks good and shows great when potential home buyers come around.

Fall home maintenance checklist

Clean your gutters: Fall foliage is beautiful, but not so much when it starts building up in your gutters. Depending on how many trees surround your home, you may need to clean out your gutters a few times before the first snow falls. Packed leaves, twigs and dirt will clog your gutters and cause water to back up into your home or dangerous ice dams to form in winter.

Check the chimneys: An easy annual task is to have chimneys checked by a professional and cleaned if needed. Creosote, soot and ash buildup in chimneys that are used often and can block ventilation and cause smoke and dangerous fumes to come back into the home.

Check your roof: Damage from storms, wind and rain, along with natural wear-and-tear, can loosen and damage roof materials making your home at risk for leaks during winter or invading vermin looking for a warm place to nest. A visual inspection with binoculars walking around your home is a good first step, but having a professional check is even better.

Disconnect garden hoses and drain faucets: When temperatures start dropping dramatically, it’s time to head off damage from freezing water in your pipes. Disconnect hoses from outdoor faucets, drain, and put them away for the winter. Turn off shutoff valves on water supply lines and open exterior faucets all the way to drain the lines and prevent them from freezing and breaking.

Pack up your patio: Clean and store all cushions, pillows and outdoor rugs for the winter. Clean furniture and if you won’t be using it during the cold season store it away. Your furniture will last longer this way and keep snow and debris from building up into a big mess you’ll have to clean up come Spring.

Service fire extinguishers: Fireplaces, firepits, and candles are all a part of the season, and a good reason to make sure you’ve got fire extinguishers in good working order placed carefully where they might be needed. It’s also a good idea to review how to use a fire extinguisher with every member of the household that might have to use it.

What do I need for my home inspection?

If you’re selling a home and are preparing for an official home inspection, there are a few things you need to set the stage for a stress-free experience. First, let’s talk about what will happen. A licensed professional will perform a visual inspection of the structure and components of the home. The purpose is to determine if there are any items not performing correctly or safety concerns. Any issues found will be noted in a written report.

Some of the systems that are usually inspected include heating and air conditioning, plumbing and electrical systems, roof, windows and doors, foundation, basement, and garage.

The first thing to do when preparing your home for sale for an inspection is to make sure it looks its best, inside and out. Check for minor repairs that you or a handyman can accomplish such as loose carpet, disconnected gutters, missing shingles, and leaky faucets.

Some of these might seem minor but fixing them now not only means you’ll have less to worry when the inspection is done, it also shows the inspector and the buyers that you’ve taken good care of your home.

Next, clean your house top to bottom. This may seem like a no-brainer, but so many homeowners forget to do this. A clean home makes a good first impression on the home inspector and sets the stage for the entire process.

In addition to small repairs and cleaning, here are a few more things to consider before the big day:

  1. Make room: Check with your Realtor, but it’s usually a given that items like the furnace, air conditioner and water heater will be inspected. Be sure to clear away any clutter and leave plenty of space for the inspector.
  2. Leave utilities connected: The inspector will test things like the stove, dishwasher, furnace and air conditioning so be sure they have power, even if the house is empty.
  3. Leave keys and remotes: Be sure to leave keys or remotes for anything secured in the home the inspector will need access to, including garage door openers, electrical boxes, exterior building access, etc.

Should I attend my home inspection? Home inspections are usually a time when buyers tour the home at leisure with the inspector and their agent, so it’s best to give them the space to do so. If the buyer’s agent has a question they can reach out to the selling agent, so best practice is to make sure you are available for calls or texts if there are any questions.

Arlington, VA Real Estate

How home technology can help sell your house

When it comes to making your home for sale more attractive you already know that curb appeal and staging are great for boosting your home’s appeal. But if you’re looking for something that will really make your house for sale stand out home tech is the way to go.

A fresh coat of paint and new flowers are great, but today’s homeowners are expecting a little more. Studies have shown that more and more potential homebuyers are looking for preinstalled smart-home tech when they are home shopping. This includes devices and systems such as smart thermostats, smoke detectors, garage door controls, home security cameras, doorbells and locks.

The good news for sellers? A lot of this kind of tech can be installed quickly and easily by the homeowner and without spending a lot of money. Even better, these small investments have the potential to catch the attention of home buyers and increase the home’s perceived value in their eyes. Ready to get started? Here are a few ideas for smart home-tech upgrades that are easy to DIY.

Smart thermostat

Forget about having to take a walk to the hallway every time you want to adjust the temperature. Smart thermostats come with everything from remote apps you can use on your phone to voice controls and can be installed by following manufacturer’s step-by-step instructions. There are a lot of versions available that list for under $200, are easy to program for energy-saving, and make life much more comfortable for the whole home. You can check out CNET’s recommendations for the best smart home devices for 2018 for ideas by clicking HERE.

Smart smoke detectors

Peace of mind goes high tech with smart smoke and carbon dioxide detectors such as ones offered by Nest Protect, Kidde and First Alert. These detectors send alerts to your phone if they detect smoke and can even tell you when the battery is running low to avoid middle of the night sessions trying to figure out which one is beeping. For recommendations, check out LifeWire’s article about the best smoke detectors of 2018 HERE.

Video doorbell

While the idea for Ring’s video doorbell originally fell flat on The Shark Tank a few years ago, since then America has voted with their dollars to make businesses like Ring into billion-dollar success stories. These products add a sense of security to homes by putting a camera right at the front door. When it detects motion, or someone presses the doorbell, it sends an alert to a smartphone and saves a video clip of the activity to the cloud. Many models can connect wirelessly to allow homeowners to talk to the person at the door through the speaker no matter where they are. Most models can be had for under $200 and can be installed by homeowners without hiring an electrician.

Smart lock

Another way to boost the security of your front door (or any door for that matter) is to install a smart lock. A company called August offers several versions of smart locks, with options for under $200 as well. Functionality includes remote auto-lock and unlock and the ability to monitor door activity from anywhere. You can also create temporary guest passes for handymen or visiting friends and family.

Smart garage door opener

Every homeowner has had that moment where you leave the house, drive down the block, and then think to yourself, “Did I remember to close the garage door?” Smart garage door controls can answer that question with the tap of an app, much easier than driving all the way back home again. The garage door is used in many homes much more than the front door, yet it’s often overlooked by tech aficionados at first. But once you install a smart controller, you’ll see how easy it is to open, close and monitor activity remotely. Some versions also monitor time and temperature in the garage and offer motion-sensitive lighting for quick trips in and out. You can find options from makers like Chamberlain, LiftMaster and Ryobi and learn more in this article on CNET.

At the end of the day, you can probably install most of the tech we’ve mentioned here for around $1,000. When you’re ready to list your home for sale, make sure your Realtor has access and knows how to demonstrate the tech to dazzle prospective buyers while you remain confident that this small investment will give a great return in catching people’s eye and truly making your home stand out from the crowd.

Arlington, VA Real Estate

6 signs it’s time to sell your home and move to a new one

In the beginning you really loved your home. But lately you’re feeling like maybe it’s time to sell and move on. Is it cabin fever? Or are you really ready for the next step? Here are 6 signs that it’s time to make a move to your next perfect home.

Six Signs its Time to Sell your Arlington, VA home

#1: You need more space

One of the most common signs it’s time to sell your home and buy a new one is when you realize that you’re outgrowing your space. Time passes and life changes, usually bringing more stuff with it. Kids, pets, furniture, new jobs, new hobbies, working from home…all of these can add up to making you feel pretty crowded in your current home. If you’re not sure, take some time to declutter – maybe by cleaning out a lot of the old you’ll find you have room for the new. But if that doesn’t work, it’s probably time to call a Realtor.

#2: Your home feels too big

Just like a smaller starter home can start to feel too tight for your growing needs, a home that’s too big can also be a sign it’s time to move on. If you’ve recently retired, your kids have moved out and you’re empty nesters, or you just really feel like downsizing is the right thing to do, a Realtor can help you explore how selling your home and buying a smaller one might be the right move for giving you a little more freedom in your life.

#3: Your neighborhood is changing (and not for the better)

Another reason you might want to start shopping for a new home is a growing sense of dissatisfaction with your current neighborhood. More restaurants and shopping in the area may have changed the traffic patterns, make your area feel more congested, or attract a different kind of crowd. Neighbors you loved when you first bought your home may have all moved away leaving you with strangers or tensions that make your street feel not so welcoming anymore. Or maybe things like construction, flight patterns or other changes in the area are getting on your nerves. No matter what is turning you off, you should love the location you live in as much as your home. Added to that, changes in the neighborhood could affect your home’s value, so it’s a good idea to talk to a local Realtor to get the whole picture.

#4: Your home feels like a money pit

If your home is starting to need more and more repairs, your neighborhood has become more upscale, or the bills feel like they are piling up with new HOA fees, increasing utilities and more, it might be time to sell and find a more affordable home. A local Realtor can help you compare your current situation to downsizing or moving to a new area to decide if it’s the right move for you.

#5: You’ve got great equity

Instead of a money pit situation, you might have the great position of realizing that your current home’s equity has appreciated to a sizable sum. If you dream of a bigger home or a better neighborhood, it might be a good time to put that equity to use.

#6: Your job situation has changed

Transfers, new offices, or even new jobs mean that your commute can change. And that means that the comfortable 20-minute commute you’ve enjoyed for the last few years can suddenly turn into a stressful, white-knuckle 60-minute drive in heavy traffic that negatively affects your home life as well. Commuting to and from the office can take hours out of your week, add stress to your life even when you’re at home, and even affect your health. Depending on how permanent your new commute is, moving closer to your job might be what you need to get back those hours of your life you’re now spending on the freeway.