Expand Your Buying Options with Coops

Photo Courtesy of DC Housing Cooperative Coalition

Photo Courtesy of DC Housing Cooperative Coalition

With mortgage rates at the lowest they’ve been since 2016, buyers are finding their budgets stretching a bit further and maybe opening up more properties to consider for their new home. However, at the same time, inventory in bustling markets like the Washington, DC area is still low — especially at lower price points that appeal to first-time homebuyers (hovering around two-months in DC proper on average, but closer to one month in the $300-500,000 range).

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If you’re searching regularly for new homes, you may come across that “condo” that appears too good to be true, asking yourself at first, “Is it really only $X?” and then looking at the monthly fee and wondering, “What amenities could cause the fee to be that high?” While there certainly are higher-end condo developments loaded with features and commensurate fees, you may have upon second look stumbled across a cooperative or coop.

Coops are investments like buying a detached home, townhouse or condo, with the primary difference being that you don’t own real property but instead own shares in a corporation that owns the property and, as such, are entitled to exclusive use of your unit in that property. You can take out a mortgage to fund your purchase price, which will be lower than comparable units in condo communities, and in turn you will pay monthly fees to cover coop amenities (from a concierge to a pool and some or all utilities) as well as your portion of the underlying corporate mortgage payment (if one exists). Some cooperatives have paid off their mortgages, meaning reduced fees for shareholders; however, the coop may at any time decide to take out a mortgage to fund repairs or enhancements (if approved by unit owners).

Capitol Hill Tower (1000 New Jersey Avenue SE), DC's Newest Coop

Capitol Hill Tower (1000 New Jersey Avenue SE), DC's Newest Coop

Other questions you will want to ask yourself when determining if a coop is right for you include:

  • Does your lender provide coop financing? Are they already familiar with and/or approved by the coop communities you are interested in?

  • Are there financing requirements the coop requires, such as a a minimum percentage down? Do you meet those?

  • How important is autonomy to you? Are you okay with potentially more restrictive policies (e.g., on renting your unit out, etc.)?

  • How well managed is the cooperative and are the financials in good order (just as with a condo or HOA, you will have an opportunity to review documents)?

  • What does the resale market look like?

While cities like New York City may be more well known for coops, there are more than 15,000 cooperative units in the DC area and, depending on your needs, it may be worth taking a first (or second) look at them if you are in the market to buy. And, if you’d like to learn more, the DC Cooperative Housing Coalition has great online resources…or, as anytime, reach out to me!

Amber Harris is the owner of At Home DC and a licensed real estate agent with Keller Williams Capital Properties working with clients in DC, Maryland and Virginia.

Mix and Don't Match: Adding Style with Prints

From our youth, we learn how to match — like when you play one of those classic card games flipping pictures of farm animals. Matching can be helpful with games and socks, but it isn’t always your friend when creating a space with personality and style. By carefully introducing complementary colors, textures and patterns you can avoid making a space feel like it’s a page ripped out of a catalog from one store (hint: also source your pieces from more than one store…always!).

One of the easiest ways to create an original design is by playing with patterns….yes, more than one. Here are a few tips for those who aren’t comfortable mixing but want to push themselves beyond their comfort zone:

1. Pick a print you love. Start with a textile or pattern that you gravitate toward and make that the foundation you build on. It doesn’t have to be on the largest piece in the room and can even be something as small as an accent pillow.

2. Take inspiration from your print for your palette. This doesn’t necessarily mean pulling specific colors from the print or every color. If it’s a bold print/pattern, it may mean finding the right neutral in tone and saturation that will ensure your print pops. Identify primary and secondary colors that can be through lines in your space. If it’s something more subtle (like the rug pictured), think about pulling a contrasting color to feature in another piece to bring out the pattern.

3. Categorize your print and contrast. Is your primary print large or small scale? Is it floral, geometric or linear perhaps? If it’s smaller in scale, you’ll want complement it with another pattern in a larger scale. Similarly, if it’s linear, consider bringing in a floral (modern or traditional) or a pattern with more movement/roundness.

4. Pick three patterns (at least). There are many principals that invoke the rule of three. Your three patterns don’t all have to be bold but they should draw from the same palette…think a rug with a subtle geometric pattern paired with a striped accent chair and a floral accent pillow on a neutral sofa.

5. Have fun! Prints are a great way to update a space with minimal investment. If you’re afraid to commit, choose things you can return and swap easily and put a hold on those custom upholstery orders. Rugs, throw pillows , duvets, table runners and even temporary wallpaper are all easy options.

Amber Harris is the owner of At Home DC, an interior decorator and a licensed real estate agent with Keller Williams Capital Properties working with clients in DC, Maryland and Virginia.

How Do You Know It's 'The One'?

Picturesque Georgetown

Picturesque Georgetown

Some people fall in love with every home they see, while others can pick each one apart — identifying flaws that may be consequential or not. Having spent countless hours working with buyers with a range of budgets and needs, when they find “the one” it’s usually pretty clear to me (then we move onto the harder part of structuring the best offer so it becomes theirs).

While it’s true that you’ll often see a property for 15-30 minutes and then find yourself signing a contract of sale for hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy it, that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare yourself to make that swift decision more easily and recognize if you’re ready to take the next step in the homebuying process.

As you prepare to buy your first (or next home), here are a few ways I guide my clients and help them discern what’s best for them and that you can use to help you (or your clients):

  • Check(list) Yourself: Buying a home is an emotional process and you often have to go with your gut; however, that doesn’t mean throwing reason out the window. I always make sure to place a concise list of needs and wants at the top of showing sheets I prepare for my clients. This way, you can remind yourself that private outdoor space wasn’t a must but storage space was, for example. It’s easy to get distracted by shiny object (that gorgeous soaking tub!), so check yourself.

  • Compare and Contrast: While you definitely should compare each potential new home to your list of needs, you naturally may find yourself comparing it to other properties you have seen. For this reason, if time allows, it is sometimes helpful to see a few more properties after you think you’ve found the one you want to offer on — most likely confirming how your feel and strengthening your resolve to make it yours.

  • Picturing Your Future: One of the telltale signs someone is falling for a home is when they start placing their furniture (verbally) in a home and talking about how they would spend their time in the space. If you can envision not just special occasions but daily life in that home and neighborhood, it may be the perfect fit.

  • What If…: I often ask clients how they would feel if we just found out that the home in question just went under contract with another buyer. If you’d be kicking yourself for not acting faster, the game of “what if,” is a great final check before making your offer.

In the Washington, DC area, the market moves fast and it’s natural to be nervous about making such a big decision so quickly…but by stepping back briefly, holding yourself to a few simple “tests” and, most importantly, leaning on your real estate agent as a trusted advisor will make sure you can act confidently and give yourself the best chance of nabbing “the one” (or the next one)!

7 (Inexpensive) Ways to Add a Splash of Spring to Your Home

Today is officially the first day of spring (we’ll see what mother nature does), and it’s the perfect time to add some new style to your home…without breaking the bank! Here are seven ways to spruce up your interior as we welcome longer days, warmer weather and all that the season brings!

1. Update your accent pillows. Regardless of season, changing the throw pillows on your sofa or bed, is an easy way to update a space on a dime. If you have lots of neutrals, consider adding contrasting hues; if you have a more finite color palette, swap a geometric pattern for a modern floral or a solid for something with texture. I always recommend investing in down or high-quality synthetic inserts in standard sizes, so you can just wash your covers and swap them easily.

ZZ Plant I Welcomed Into My Home Last Year (Shooting Off New Growth)

ZZ Plant I Welcomed Into My Home Last Year (Shooting Off New Growth)

2. Treat yourself to fresh flowers or a new houseplant. Greenery is the best way to add some life (literally) to your home and, if you don’t think a plant is too much of a commitment, consider adding a decorative planter and a low-maintenance addition, like a ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia). As a bonus, plants can improve your indoor air quality! However, if that’s too big a step or your four-legged friends won’t stand for it, stop by a local store and buy a few stems to arrange yourself. I’m a big fan of the hydrangeas from Trader Joe’s (about $6 for three stems) as they easily fill out a low vase and can last up to two weeks (with regular trimming and water changes). I also find the act of arranging flowers to be relaxing and a great way to de-stress….another bonus!

Add Life to Your Front Door with a Pop of Color (Image: Southern Living)

Add Life to Your Front Door with a Pop of Color (Image: Southern Living)

3. Add some color and decor to your door(s). A fresh coat of paint (and a new color) can do wonders for your walls but even updating your doors can create a stylish impact (and take a lot less time). If you have a street-facing front door, consider an accent color that coordinates with your exterior….and add a new doormat, wreath or planter while you’re at it. If you live in a condo, simply painting the interior (if you have restrictions) with a bold color adds tons of style. Need more tips? Southern Living has you covered.

4. Edit your kitchen countertops & dining room table. We’re all familiar with spring cleaning but have you taken inventory of what’s on your kitchen counters or dining table? Now’s the time to edit what’s out on your kitchen surfaces (what do you use daily and what can go in the cabinets or pantry) and perhaps add a functional accent piece, like a colorful bowl you can fill with fresh fruit and veggies from your local farmers market or a bright canister to store frequently used cooking tools. Similarly, refresh your dining room by adding a colorful runner to your table and simple accessories (maybe even those flowers you brought home earlier).

5. Let the sun shine in. Take advantage of more hours of natural light by updating your window treatments. If you have curtains, consider swapping them for a lighter linen option, like the West Elm ones here. If you have blinds or shades, keep them open and add some sheers to frame and soften your window. Now’s the time to give your windows a good clean inside and out…you’ll be amazed at the difference!

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6. Bring the outside in with photography. One of my favorite DIY decorating hacks is to use photography and gallery frames to create inexpensive, meaningful and impactful wall art. Take your camera and grab some shots of the cherry blossoms and other flowers in bloom or find a talented friend and ask if you can print some of their shots you’ve hearted on Instagram. If you already have frames, just swap out the photos. If you don’t, head to Michaels for great deals on gallery-style frames (think narrow edges, modern lines and exaggerated white mats).

7. Re-style your shelves. If you have built-in bookshelves or a freestanding set, add some flower power with a removable wallpaper in the back (like this modern floral project from Top Shelf DIY). If you aren’t ready for wallpaper, simply start by removing all items from your shelves (and other flat surfaces) and carefully select pieces to add back in. Mix books with objects, framed items and other meaningful pieces. Less is always more.

Happy Spring!

Amber Harris is the owner of At Home DC, an interior decorator and a licensed real estate agent with Keller Williams Capital Properties working with clients in DC, Maryland and Virginia. 

Become a Landlord or List?

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It is rare that a person’s first home purchase is their “forever home” for a variety of reasons — from the cost of entering the market (especially in pricier markets like DC) to ever-evolving needs (as people marry, divorce, have children, grow older, etc.). When you make that decision that it’s time to find a new home, you also may have to decide if you want to keep your current home or find a new owner…and that can sometimes be an even tougher decision.

If you have paid off or down the mortgage on your first property, you may be in a position to buy your next home without selling (either your cash on hand and DTI ratio will allow or you may be able to apply some of the equity in your current home to help purchase your new home). When that’s the case, you are going to want to ask yourself a few key questions:

  • Do I want to be a landlord? If the answer is a definite “no,” proceed ahead talking with your agent about the best way to maximize your exit from your current property (considering timing and the three P’s). Similarly, if you live in a condo or coop that won’t allow you to rent out your unit (perhaps there is a blanket restriction or a limit on the percentage of units that can be rented), get ready to sell. However, if the answer is “maybe” or “yes,” proceed to the next question.

  • How will being a landlord impact my bottom line? If you have an outstanding mortgage, use that as the base for figuring out your break-even costs. Then take into account additional recurring costs, like condo and HOA fees, ongoing maintenance and paying a property manager (if applicable). Next, compare this to the going market rate for similar rental homes (have your agent gather comps for you and make a recommendation). If the carrying costs exceed or are close to your carrying costs, are you prepared to subsidize the difference to maintain ownership of the home? Also, don’t forget to keep in mind that your home will most likely not be rented 100% of the year and you will have costs to clean and prepare the home for the next tenant(s). Be conservative and calculate a 70-80% utilization if finances may be tight and re-run your numbers.

  • How will this impact my lifestyle? If you can’t afford to hire a property manager (or prefer not to), are you prepared to play that role, potentially getting late night calls when something goes wrong? If so, will you be local and be able to be hands on to ensure repairs are completed and handled in a timely manner? What if you run into larger issues with your tenant? For many people, this isn’t a bother at all. Thinking about how finances impact your lifestyle, if you will be running in the red to maintain ownership, don’t forget to consider how this will impact your purchasing power for your new home and your budget for daily living.

  • What are the potential long-term financial implications? Real estate is an investment and often the largest source of wealth for people. If you are more risk-adverse, real property can feel like a safe way of saving money (in fact, it is forced savings). However, if you prefer to play the stock market or identify other opportunities to invest, you may be able to put proceeds from a sale to a higher and better use. This is very personal consideration and there are no guarantees on returns in any investment, so engage your financial advisor to model out potential scenarios and choose what fits your risk profile and investment strategy. If you’ve dreamed of becoming a real estate mogul, this could just be the first step!

These are just a few of considerations I discuss with my clients during our one-on-one consultations. Being a real estate agent is about more than selling houses; it’s about helping people make their best housing and life decisions. There’s no singular best conclusion, but by enlisting the help of subject-matter experts — from your CPA and financial planner to a local Realtor — you can best discern the right path to your happiness at home.

And a shout out to Pearl and all the landlords out there…may you never have a tenant like this:

Amber Harris is the owner of At Home DC and a licensed real estate agent with Keller Williams Capital Properties working with clients in DC, Maryland and Virginia. 

Downsizing & Upgrading: Boomers Choosing Urban Life, Amenities

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As people mature, it is common place to “trade up” in various areas of life — from the car you drive to the home you own. It’s a natural progression as salaries increase and investments grow, but it’s a choice many boomers are twisting a bit. Instead of buying that bigger house in the suburbs or country, they are choosing the convenience and efficiency of city living.

In some cases, older owners are selling their suburban homes and buying smaller homes or condos; others choose to keep the equity and decide to rent. In both instances, luxury finishes and ample amenities are often sought — from 24-hour concierge services to on-site pet spas for their four-legged companions. And the potential impact of this trend is undeniable, with the number of people aged 70 and over expected to increase by 90% to 28 million over the next two decades (according to a 2016 report by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies).

Chart: Growth of Over 65 Population

In many cases, boomers are moving closer to family, allowing them to help with grandchildren, but there are other benefits to an urban lifestyle, including:

  • More public transportation options — decreasing or completely replacing reliance on driving;

  • Walkability to stores, doctors and more — increasing daily activity;

  • Opportunities for socializing and cultural activities — improving quality of life;

  • Access to more age-specific resources (such a those offered by the DC Office of Aging);

  • and many more.

Moreover, numerous studies point to the fact that people in urban settings, on average, live longer. So, is urban living right for you (or your parents)? Like everything in real estate (and many other areas of life), the answer for everyone is different. And with a boom in new urban suburban developments (like the Mosaic District in Fairfax, VA and Pike & Rose in North Bethesda, Maryland) it doesn’t have to be downtown or dirt roads.

If you or someone you love is thinking ahead to retirement and where to make the most of their golden years, feel free to contact me (just click/tap the button below)!

Amber Harris is the owner of At Home DC and a licensed real estate agent with Keller Williams Capital Properties working with clients in DC, Maryland and Virginia. 

10 Holiday Gifts Under $100 for the Home-Lover You Love

It’s hard to believe the holiday season is already upon us (even if some stores would have you think the Christmas season started in August). The winter months are the perfect time of year to re-imagine your interior spaces…and a great source of ideas for loved ones you are looking to shop for!

Here are ten of my favorite decorating finds (all under $100) that make great gifts this time of year (or really any time)!

Agate Cheese Board (Anthropologie) - $78   A cheeseboard is a great gift, but one can only have so many. What I love about this chic option is that even if your gift recipient has one, it can be used as a decorative item on a coffee table (put a few votives on it) or on your vanity. Lots of options to choose from, too!

Agate Cheese Board (Anthropologie) - $78

A cheeseboard is a great gift, but one can only have so many. What I love about this chic option is that even if your gift recipient has one, it can be used as a decorative item on a coffee table (put a few votives on it) or on your vanity. Lots of options to choose from, too!

Enamel Coated Mango Wood Canisters (VivaTerra) - $99   Decorative and functional for the kitchen, but also consider using in the bathroom, home office or as decorative pieces on a bookshelf.


Enamel Coated Mango Wood Canisters (VivaTerra) - $99

Decorative and functional for the kitchen, but also consider using in the bathroom, home office or as decorative pieces on a bookshelf.

Windowpane Pitcher and DOF Set (Mark & Graham) - $89   Mark & Graham is known for lots of quality gifts that can be monogrammed, like these pitcher and glass set (which I actually prefer without the monogram). This set will get a lot of use for everything from juice at breakfast to homemade cocktails!

Windowpane Pitcher and DOF Set (Mark & Graham) - $89

Mark & Graham is known for lots of quality gifts that can be monogrammed, like these pitcher and glass set (which I actually prefer without the monogram). This set will get a lot of use for everything from juice at breakfast to homemade cocktails!

Opalhouse White and Gold Polka Dot Vases (Target) - $14.99-$24.99   Give one or more of these fun vases to the home-lover who splurges regularly on fresh flowers and is a fan of great lines.

Opalhouse White and Gold Polka Dot Vases (Target) - $14.99-$24.99

Give one or more of these fun vases to the home-lover who splurges regularly on fresh flowers and is a fan of great lines.

Embroidered Letter Pillow Cover (Serena & Lily) - $88   This pillow cover adds a tasteful touch of personalization to a living room sofa, master bedroom or even a nursery. (Note: Pillow insert sold separately.)

Embroidered Letter Pillow Cover (Serena & Lily) - $88

This pillow cover adds a tasteful touch of personalization to a living room sofa, master bedroom or even a nursery. (Note: Pillow insert sold separately.)

Your Hometown Puzzle (Sundance) - $44   This Thanksgiving, I had a chance to do something I hadn’t down for 20+ years…put together a puzzle. It’s a great indoor activity and even more fun when the image is your hometown. It even could be framed and become wall art when you finish!

Your Hometown Puzzle (Sundance) - $44

This Thanksgiving, I had a chance to do something I hadn’t down for 20+ years…put together a puzzle. It’s a great indoor activity and even more fun when the image is your hometown. It even could be framed and become wall art when you finish!

Voluspa Maison Candle (Anthropologie) - $68   Candles may not be a unique gift, but an amazingly scented candle in a decorative container is the perfect hostess gift (and has life beyond that of the wick). If you are worried about choosing the wrong scent, stick with safer choices featuring vanilla, citrus and other crowd-pleasers.

Voluspa Maison Candle (Anthropologie) - $68

Candles may not be a unique gift, but an amazingly scented candle in a decorative container is the perfect hostess gift (and has life beyond that of the wick). If you are worried about choosing the wrong scent, stick with safer choices featuring vanilla, citrus and other crowd-pleasers.

Textured Oil + Vinegar Set (West Elm) - $39   For the foodie or home chef, this set adds some fun to the countertop. Sadly, they won’t ship until next year but they were too cute not to feature. Consider  these as an alternative !

Textured Oil + Vinegar Set (West Elm) - $39

For the foodie or home chef, this set adds some fun to the countertop. Sadly, they won’t ship until next year but they were too cute not to feature. Consider these as an alternative!

Barefoot Dreams Contrast Trim Throw (Amazon) - $99.99   What’s winter without a cozy throw? I am a big fan of Barefoot Dreams for their softness, stretch and washability (I even have a larger version of this one on my couch now…received as a gift).

Barefoot Dreams Contrast Trim Throw (Amazon) - $99.99

What’s winter without a cozy throw? I am a big fan of Barefoot Dreams for their softness, stretch and washability (I even have a larger version of this one on my couch now…received as a gift).

Faux Fur Hot Water Bottles (World Market) - $33.98   Even with more high-tech, longer-lasting options, there’s nothing like a hot water bottle to warm your bed in the winter or soothe an ache. Add in a soft faux fur case and your warm and stylish.

Faux Fur Hot Water Bottles (World Market) - $33.98

Even with more high-tech, longer-lasting options, there’s nothing like a hot water bottle to warm your bed in the winter or soothe an ache. Add in a soft faux fur case and your warm and stylish.

And, if you still can’t decide how best to delight that home-lover in your life, consider giving them expert help with a gift certificate for decorating services from At Home DC…available in the DC area and for remote consultations!

Amber Harris is the owner of At Home DC, an interior decorator and a licensed real estate agent with Keller Williams Capital Properties working with clients in DC, Maryland and Virginia. 

The Amazon Effect: Real Estate Reality or Hype?

Amazon. It has impacted our daily lives — from how we shop to what we watch — for years…but now it may have a greater impact for residents of two east coast communities: Arlington, Virginia and Long Island City, New York.

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The selection process for Amazon’s HQ2 has been in the works for a while, so speculation about how it may impact the communities who were bidding for its business has been going on just as long. With the official announcement this morning that Amazon has selected two sites (and also will be bringing jobs to Nashville), the volume has been cranked up to 11.

Aerial View of Crystal City Circa 1980

Aerial View of Crystal City Circa 1980

From a residential real estate perspective, it is something that homeowners, potential buyers and sellers, investors and renters all should pay attention to (as if you could avoid it). What it is not is something that in and of itself is the reason to make an investment or decision to buy/sell. We will learn more details in the coming hours, weeks and months about the composition of jobs, timeline for hiring, etc. but here are some initial thoughts::

  • Not All Hires Will Be Moving Here: Part of what Amazon was looking for was communities with the right type of talent for their needs, so this doesn’t mean 25,000 new residents for the Washington, DC region necessarily. You will likely see talent pulled from other organizations (for example, Discovery Inc., which has made recent changes to how many employees it has in the area). The net impact remains to be seen, but the DC area is dynamic so, while significant, it’s not as big a percentage change as it could be for a smaller market.

  • Greater Buying Power: With attractive salaries, Amazon will likely bring on new talent who will see a salary bump, which means they may be more likely to make a real estate purchase — whether a first home, a larger home and/or an investment property. Higher salaries and attractive benefits also likely will put pressure on competing employers to match them to retain or recruit talent.

  • More Regional Moves: Current homeowners and renters who are hired by Amazon very well may decide to move to improve their commutes (as is common in an area known for commuter headaches). Expect to see greater interest in properties closest to Metro stations, especially on the Yellow and Blue lines. The region’s traffic woes are not going away anytime soon, so this will contribute to the trend of people seeking walkable communities with easy access to public transportation.

  • Rise in Renters: It is no secret that there has been a shortage of housing inventory for sale in the DC area for quite some time; meanwhile, the rental market has been less competitive. For those relocating to DC, they may choose to rent first and will be looking for nearby, updated options or those that provide a swift commute.

  • Catalyst for Change: The arrival of Amazon isn’t reason alone to buy, sell or invest but it is an important factor to consider — along with increasing interest rates, low inventory, etc. — when deciding what you best next move is.

So, what does this mean for YOU? The short answer is, it depends. If you have been dipping your toe in as a buyer, now may be the time to make that move before competition is likely to increase for the most desirable properties (as it normally does in spring but likely to a greater extent). If you are a homeowner looking to move up, you might want consider finding that new home sooner rather than later and evaluating whether listing or renting out your current home (for both the near- and long-term) is the best financial decision for you. And, if you are an investor or have been thinking about investing, there may be some good opportunities that come of this…but you’ll want to act swiftly (as many have already made their bets/investments).

There is no one answer for everyone and, no matter your feelings about the arrival of Amazon and its potential positive and negative impacts on housing affordability, traffic and more, it is a prime example of the complex dynamics you need to consider when making a real estate decision.

Is there a lot of hype? Absolutely.

Are all the accounts of potential impact exaggerated? No.

But, does hype have an impact on supply, demand and how people will act? Yes. Even if it’s more than it should have, it can work for and against you if you don’t think clearly.

Feel free to share your thoughts below and reach out if you’d like to talk about the potential impact on your 2019 (and remainder of 2018) real estate plans!

Amber Harris is the owner of At Home DC and a licensed real estate agent with Keller Williams Capital Properties working with clients in DC, Maryland and Virginia. 

The 411 on Renovation Loans with Movement Mortgage's Duke Walker

While most buyers want a turnkey new home, many have dreams of finding and updating that fixer upper (thanks, HGTV) or, more commonly, can’t find that “perfect” property in their market due to limited inventory and/or budget.

Fortunately, if you don’t have the extra cash to put into updates (which is not uncommon with real estate prices in the DC area), there are financing options that let you tackle everything from a basic kitchen or bathroom update to more extensive renovations. To shed some light on these, I caught up with Duke Walker of Movement Mortgage, a native Washingtonian and current Capitol Hill resident who has helped hundreds of families in the region with their mortgage needs.

Walker

Walker

With limited inventory in the DC area, are you seeing more buyers considering and purchasing homes that they want to make renovations to right away? What mortgage options are there for those that may not be in a position to self-fund those?

Yes, there has been an increase in buyers looking at homes that are in-between “shell/unfinanceable” and “turnkey/brand new.” At Movement Mortgage, we offer and specialize in many renovation loans, which allow people to finance the purchase of the property in additional to the construction work needed to update the house to their specifications.

Can you briefly explain the different types of renovation loans and who they work best for?

There are renovation loans offered by FHA (203k), Fannie Mae/Conventional (HomeStyle) and the VA (Veterans Affairs).

There are two types of FHA loan, 203k Standard and 203k Limited. Both loans require only 3.5% down payment. Standard covers many “major” repairs, such as structural repairs, moving or altering a load-bearing wall, or even knocking the house down to rebuild it as long as you leave part of the existing foundation intact. 203k Limited covers a max of $35,000 toward repairs. This loan type is intended for less intensive changes or updates such as roof repair, replacement of HVAC systems, flooring or minor remodeling work.

The conventional reno loan is called HomeStyle. It has a minimum of 5% down but no minimum renovation cost required. HomeStyle also has an option for investors. It can be used on a single unit property with all renovation work allowed, including luxury additions, and a minimum down payment of 15%.

Download a chart comparing the various renovation products, courtesy of Movement Mortgage.

What are the major differences in the process between a “standard” mortgage and a renovation product?

The primary difference is that a renovation loan requires a bid from a licensed contractor detailing the work to be done on the home. That bid has to be completed prior to an appraisal on the property. An appraiser will inspect and review the house in its current condition, as well as review the bid from the contractor in order to come up with what’s referred to as the “after improved value.” Often times, waiting on the bid can push the timeline out 7-10 days further than the “standard” mortgage approval process.

Click the image to download.

Click the image to download.

Can anyone do the reno? Could the borrower or a family member complete the renovation?

The work has to be done by a licensed contractor and that person cannot be the buyer or a family member of the buyer.

Are there any frequent misconceptions buyers (or agents) have about renovation loans?

The typical misconception has to do with the length of the process. It does not have to take forever. Most of our renovation loans go to close in 30-45 days, sometimes sooner. If the contractor is on board and motivated to do their part, there’s no reason it should take more than a month to close.

How can current homeowners take advantage of these options, whether they are planning to sell or not?

These renovation products can not only be used in a purchase transaction but also in a refinance. For example, if you wanted to put $30,000 into a kitchen remodel but don’t have the equity position for a HELOC (home equity line of credit) or extra cash lying around, you could roll that cost into a mortgage and build equity!

Is there any final advice you have for buyers, in general, looking to purchase in the coming year?

Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty with a property. Some of the best deals out there are livable homes that just need a little bit of love. And don’t be afraid to talk with a mortgage lender such as myself. We don’t judge people. Our job is to guide and consult you from beginning to end of the home buying process. It never hurts to see where you stand financially and what possible loan products might be available to you.

Thank you to Duke for sharing his experience and knowledge, and feel free to connect with him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, or reach out to him for your specific questions and needs.

Fall Market Update: What's In Store for Sellers & Buyers?

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If you’ve worked with a real estate agent to buy or sell a home, you know we are the first to let you know that we are many things but there are some things we are not — lawyers, accountants, tax advisors, inspectors, etc. You also can add psychic to that, meaning we cannot predict what your home will sell for in three years or what interest rates will rise to. That being said, we are in the field every day and are in a better position than most to spot signs of change in the market that could impact your strategy or decision making.

To that end, I wanted to share some statistics that provide food for thought and observations from my experiences and conversations with fellow Realtors® as we head into the fall market. Knowing when is the right time to buy or sell, while it certainly can be impacted by market dynamics, is really mostly about your personal situation. Have you outgrown your current home or are you moving out of the region? Do you have a new job and need a shorter commute? Is what you spend on rent more than what you would spend to buy a comparable or larger home? And those are just a few.

But back to some recent observations:

Housing inventory continues to be tight. When talking about the supply of housing, we look at the months of supply (i.e., if no other properties come on the market, how many months will it be until there are no homes left — assuming the same absorption rate as today). In August 2018 in Washington, DC, there was only 1.76 months of supply (Source: MRIS), which was actually up 9.5% versus last year. To put things in perspective, six months of supply is considered a balanced market. In Arlington, VA, that number increases to a whopping 1.87 (but that’s down nearly 17% from the same time last year). If we look toward Montgomery County, that number jumps to 2.96 in Bethesda but is the lowest of the four cities at 1.74 for Silver Spring. Of course, these numbers vary depending on the specific neighborhood and the housing type (see above) and size (e.g., for townhouses in DC, there is only 1.37 months of supply).

Interest rates are gradually rising. Interest rates have been slowly but surely increasing. In August 2018, the average commitment rate on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages was 4.55% (Source: Freddie Mac). In August 2017, that number was 3.88% with a 2017 average of 3.99%. By contrast, that annual average was as high as 8.05% in 2000. Overall, interest rates are still competitive (nowhere near the 18% rates seen in the fall of 1981) but locking in a rate now can save you meaningful money on your monthly payment and over the life of your mortgage (or until you refinance). It’s important to note that just because the Fed increases interest rates by 0.25%, for example, that doesn’t mean mortgage rates will go up a quarter point (however they usually trend in the same direction).

Average 30-Year Fixed Mortgage Rates (Source: Freddie Mac)

Average 30-Year Fixed Mortgage Rates (Source: Freddie Mac)

It’s still competitive out there…but not as much as before. It was only earlier this year that we were hearing stories of 15+ offers coming in on area properties. Of late, however, there are still many multiple offer situations and short offer deadlines but to lesser extremes. Many agents attribute this to buyer fatigue (yes, it’s wearing on you to make offer upon offer only to lose out…again). While a buyer last year that heard there was a deadline and multiple offers in hand may have put on their battle gear, some buyers now are talking themselves out of the running and not writing.

Pricing matters more than ever. Pricing is always the most important consideration when taking any property to market. Many sellers (and some agents) mistakenly think that because of the limited inventory and high demand, they can command large premiums. The truth is that while there will always be properties that set new records and buyers willing to waive appraisal contingencies, most buyers are closely examining the comps with their agent-advisor and nervous about overpaying (thinking there may be a growing housing bubble). An overpriced property can sit on the market for weeks or months longer than it should (and time is money, if you’re the seller).

So. what does this mean for you as a seller and/or buyer?

  1. If you need to sell your home, now is a great time to do so (provided you price and market it correctly). However, be prepared to possibly face challenges buying your next home if you are staying in the region and talk to your lender and agent as to timing and how to best set yourself up for success.

  2. If you’re ready to buy but not in a hurry, run the numbers. Having flexibility as to when you can or need to buy is a blessing and a curse. Having a little bit of urgency is helpful when making a decision but, with limited inventory, you can avoid being forced to make a less-than-ideal choice. As interest rates rise, your lender can help you model out the impact of future increases so you can take the extra cost into account when considering each property and the opportunity cost of waiting.

  3. Always be prepared. As a buyer, if you’re ready to move swiftly, you may come out ahead. With lighter competition, what it takes to go from offer to contract may be less than you think. Consider working with a lender that can underwrite your file prior to placing an offer and be ready to see properties as soon as they hit the market (or to explore off-market opportunities your agent may bring to you).

  4. Don’t decide what’s best for you by what others are doing and/or saying. This is true in life and real estate, isn’t it? I started off this post by reminding us that there are dozens of factors that can come into play when deciding whether to buy or sell. Information and analysis are key, so make sure you have a partner who will ask the tough questions (often more than once) and arm you with insights that will help you make the best decision for you.

Amber Harris is the owner of At Home DC and a licensed real estate agent with Keller Williams Capital Properties working with clients in DC, Maryland and Virginia. 

Renovating with a Purpose: Setting Strategy Before Style

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When your space doesn't suit your needs as well as it used to, you may choose to make updates or move on to a home that's a better fit (which may also require updates, whether you are renting or selling). So, how do you decide what to spend your hard-earned money on?

With the proliferation of befores and afters on TV, Pinterest, Instagram and beyond, it's tempting to tear down walls and embrace the latest trend but, before making any changes, you should do so with intention. If you are choosing to sell, a top-notch real estate agent will advise you on what updates you should take on to maximize your potential profit and minimize time on market. If you're not there yet or haven't gotten advice, here are a few questions you should ask before you start shopping for contractors and finishes:

  1. Do I anticipate moving in five years or less? If you are planning to sell or rent your home immediately or in the next few years, you'll want to put the tightest filter on the renovations that you make. As you most likely have heard, kitchens and bathrooms often sell houses; however, that doesn't mean you need to re-do them. Sometimes simple updates like new appliances or countertops or painting vanities and staining grout are the smartest choice. If you are planning to keep the property but find tenants, your criteria should be even more selective and, in both cases for renovations that you do take on, remember that your goal is to not match your tastes perfectly but to appeal to the widest audience (while minimizing your investment within reason).
     
  2. How will my house stack up to its competition? If you are selling or renting, the biggest misstep is often not understanding the local market (and I mean hyper-local) and your competition. While sand-in-place hardwood floors and marble countertops and a decorative backsplash may be the best of the best, is that the norm for your neighborhood? Will prospective buyers or tenants pay a premium for that? This doesn't mean you have to throw style and aesthetics out the window, but you should run the numbers and choose the best option for your budget and your target audience, most importantly.
     
  3. Am I planning to stay indefinitely? If you do plan on staying in the home for years to come, it may make sense to splurge on higher-end finishes and custom features...if they will bring you joy (yes, happiness is worth investing in). In this case, think through the function and form of your spaces. What bothers you on a daily basis -- maybe kitchen drawers that stick or a lack of a laundry room near bedrooms? What have you seen in friend's homes that has you repeatedly saying, "I need that in my next home"? Finally, planning to stay doesn't mean you should inject every current trend in your renovation. Instead, make timeless choices and find less permanent/expensive ways to make your spaces current.

Of course, these questions are just the beginning of a project that should be purposeful. For some pouring over colors swatches and tile & hardware options is fun; for others, it's a chore. If you find yourself in the latter, don't hesitate to enlist the help of a professional. And, even if you enjoy it, an expert set of eyes can help you navigate a sea of choices at a range of price points.

Amber Harris is the owner of At Home DC, an interior decorator and a licensed real estate agent with Keller Williams Capital Properties working with clients in DC, Maryland and Virginia. 

What to Know When You Are Selling & Buying: Q&A with Greg Kingsbury

In the Washington, DC area, it's not uncommon for homeowners to climb the property ladder, gaining equity over time and upgrading to a home that better fits their longer-term needs (instead of buying that forever home from the start).

Kingsbury

Kingsbury

Some owners will hold onto their first property as an investment but many will want or need to sell it to move onto their next house. In a less competitive market, having a contingency around the sale of a home is not uncommon but, in this region, it can make getting your offer accepted more challenging. However, there are options...and we tapped into the expertise of local lender Greg Kingsbury, who leads the Kingsbury Mortgage Team at Caliber Home Loans, to answer some of the most common questions when looking to sell and buy in short order:
 
What is the #1 question or concern homeowners come to you with when they are looking to sell their current home and buy a new home?

Of course all situations are different so many prospective borrowers will have different questions based on their individual scenarios. If I had to narrow it down to a single question, it would be how to qualify for a home prior to selling their current home. Most of the time this is based upon wanting to declutter and make minor improvements to their home so it looks best and will command the most value on the sale.

The advice that seems to get thrown around the most is to just go get a bridge loan. I find that most clients are told to go get one, but don’t really know what a bridge loan actually it is.  Many think it is some kind of magical loan that just gives you your equity to allow you to buy something new. The truth I find is that most people won’t qualify for a bridge loan. When getting a bridge loan, you have to qualify carrying your current mortgage, the new mortgage and a payment on the bridge loan. There usually also are substantial costs to the bridge loan, generally in the form of a few points paid on the amount (in addition to closing and recording costs). The other common misconception is that you can get a bridge loan for all of your equity.  Most providers of bridge loans don’t want to exceed 80% of the value of the residence you are departing inclusive of any outstanding debt.  

So, what options are available to sellers who are looking to qualify for and finance their new home purchase? 

There are several options to consider when trying to qualify to move up and buy a new home. There is the bridge loa, but often times, as noted above, that doesn’t work or isn’t cost effective.

There is a lot of misinformation out there, so do yourself a favor and talk to someone that is local and, even better, someone that has been referred.
— Greg Kingbsury of Caliber Home Loans

The second option is doing a lower down payment with the intention of paying down that loan after closing with the proceeds of the sale after the departed residence sells. This is usually accomplished by a principal reduction followed by a loan recast. (A loan recast is when your loan servicer re-amortizes your loan after a large principal payment.) Usually the minimum required for a recast is $5,000. This allows you to get a lower payment without having to refinance your loan and allows you to keep your current interest rate. The recast just takes your new principal balance and adjusts the payments to still keep the original loan maturity date.

A third option is a combo loan. This is where you have a first and second mortgage with the intention of paying off the second mortgage after the sale of the departed residence leaving you with just the single first mortgage. 

Aside from working with a top-notch agent, what recommendations do you have for your clients who are looking to "move up"?

Do your homework upfront and budget accordingly. Make sure you get all the numbers and consider things on a worst-case scenario. You never know if the market is going to turn, and you have to hold onto a property longer than anticipated. Consider backup plans in the event you can’t sell. Find out what the rental market would command for your property. Would you be able to carry both payments if you had to hold onto it and rent? 

Are there any potential pitfalls when selling and buying as it relates to mortgages? If so, how can clients avoid or minimize the chance of these?

The only pitfall I can think of is not having everything reviewed up front to make sure you really qualify for what you are hoping to get into. You may have your credit pulled and someone take a quick look and think everything is ok but, if they aren’t asking questions about the total picture, you could all of a sudden not qualify. If the debt ratios are close and a bank is only looking at a credit report and not asking if there are additional items such as condo fees, taxes not included in the mortgage, child support/alimony, etc., it could look on paper like you’d fully qualify and once all the pieces are put together you end up not qualifying.

This can all be avoided by being upfront about everything and making sure that the lender you speak to has the full picture when they are reviewing your file. 

The DC area real estate market is competitive and buyers often need few or no contingencies to win with sellers. How do you work with a buyer’s agent to strengthen their offer?

We try to get as much information at the beginning to make sure that there are no concerns with their ability to get financing. If there is an option to waive contingencies, this definitely helps win offers. However, waiving contingencies can put borrowers in a difficult spot and prove to be very costly if something were to go wrong. But, with the right questions asked and the appropriate documents supplied and reviewed, these risks can be mitigated to protect the borrower while also allowing them to present the strongest offer possible. We’ve been able to help buyers with financing beat out all cash offers with these strategies. 

What is the best piece of advice you have have for prospective homebuyers today? 

Take some time to set up a call with a trusted loan officer before you go out looking at anything. You should be able to have a conversation about your individual situation and get a real understanding of your options. From there, ask for scenario sheets to show you perspective loan options.

There is a lot of misinformation out there, so do yourself a favor and talk to someone that is local and, even better, someone that has been referred. A random contact from the Internet has no vested interest if they steer you wrong or something goes wrong. They can just move on to the next online lead. A local person lives on the referral. They have a more vested interest to see you succeed as their livelihood depends on satisfying each customer to keep the referrals coming.

Thank you to Greg for sharing his experience and knowledge, and make sure to connect with the Kingsbury Team on Facebook and Twitter for more mortgage insights.

Three P's of Selling Your Home

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In a hot real estate market, like the Washington, DC area, there sometimes is the misconception that all you need to do to sell a house is put a sign in the yard and list it on the MLS. However, there is much more that goes into selling a home...and doing it for the maximum price possible in the current market. 

While there is a list of more than 100 things I do before listing a home for a client, I like to focus on the "Three Ps" when advising homeowners on what to expect in our initial consultation:

1. Preparation: Depending on the condition of your home, the market and your ability to invest in repairs and updates, there may be a short or long list of recommended items to tend to. Some will be absolutely necessary, like ensuring major systems are operational or that there is fresh, neutral paint throughout; while others may be advisable to increase your potential of top dollar, like updating features and fixtures in kitchens and bathrooms or staging your home.

Every property is different, and we'll talk through the reasoning behind each recommendation and why it may be a smart investment. Some projects may take a quick trip to Home Depot and a day of labor and others may require more planning and a professional. For this reason, you should consult with a real estate agent as soon as you know (or are fairly confident that) you will be selling. This allows Realtors like me to prepare a recommended plan and timeline, so you don't add undue stress to the homeselling process.

2. Pricing: At every initial consultation with a client, I will be prepared with a range of market insights, including relevant comparables (aka comps), so that I can make a recommendation on list price after seeing a client's home. That recommendation begins as a narrow range and where we land ultimately depends on the repairs and updates made, recent sales and available inventory at the time we list and other circumstances and requirements (e.g., you need a buyer who will allow you to rent back your home for 30-60 days). 

Pricing, ultimately, is a means to an end...maximizing your net after paying off your mortgage (if applicable) and other closing costs. The right price will get the greatest number of potential buyers in the door and, in some cases, you may get multiple offers that could escalate above list price; in other instances, you may find the market telling you that it thinks your home is priced too high -- either by a lack of offers or only offers that are effectively below list. The goal is to price right from the beginning leveraging data but to be prepared to make a swift changed if needed.

3. Promotion: Preparing your home with repairs & updates, as well as staging and pricing it correctly are the foundation, but promotion is key to ensuring that you reach the right audiences. Promotion spans dozens of activities, including:

  • Professional Photography
  • Signage & Flyers
  • Custom Websites, Tours & URLs
  • Email Marketing to Agents & Potential Buyers
  • Open Houses for Neighbors, Agents & Buyers
  • Social Media Content, Especially Graphics & Video
  • Buyer Incentives, Like Home Warranties

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to promotion, so having an agent versed in PR, marketing and social media strategy is a huge asset. Strategic promotion will try to maximize the reach, but be targeted toward those who have the greatest potential of bringing or being a buyer.

As you can see in this brief exploration, there are seemingly limitless considerations that can have clear consequences on how much your home sells for (and how quickly). Ultimately, you're behind the wheel...but let a trusted agent be your navigator and partner on the road to the closing table. 

 

Amber Harris is the owner of At Home DC and a licensed real estate agent with Keller Williams Capital Properties working with clients in DC, Maryland and Virginia. 

Project Spotlight: Small But Unboring Bathrooms

While we've previously covered a small bathroom makeover on this blog, today's post expands on it by digging into ways to inject personality into private spaces that are best known for function over form.

Earlier this year, I worked with my clients in Rockville to help them add new life to two of the bathrooms in their lovely home. While it would be easy to go with a standard 3x6 subway tile surround and standard pre-fab vanity, these homeowners were open to ideas and finishes that would add style to these smaller spaces. (You can see one of the before and afters below.)

While each homeowner and space is unique, I want to challenge you (whether you are working with a designer/decorator or not) to take these tips to heart before you start your own bathroom project:

1. Find At Least One Feature/Finish to Splurge On: As with any room, you want to have a focal point or feature that draws the eye initially and that is complemented by the rest of the design. In small bathrooms, one easy way to do this is through floor and accent tile. In both of these bathrooms, we chose conversation-worthy tiles — a black and white cement tile for the hall bathroom (LiLi's Marrakesh 1 from Architectural Ceramics in Chevy Chase) and a blue-toned marble chevron tile from TileDaily for the master bathroom.

LiLi's Marrakesh 1 Tile in Bathroom Niche (Also Used on Floor)

LiLi's Marrakesh 1 Tile in Bathroom Niche (Also Used on Floor)

Chevron Mix Blue Marble Mosaic Tile from TileDaily

Chevron Mix Blue Marble Mosaic Tile from TileDaily

2. Make Small Changes That Feel Custom: You may not have the budget for custom cabinetry but consider swapping the hardware or adding a custom countertop to a pre-built unit. In the master bathroom, we swapped out the silver hardware for a square-shaped brushed gold finishes to match the other hardware and paired it with a quartz top (Emerstone Quartz Carrara White from Architectural Stones in Rockville) that matched the in-shower bench added during the renovation. Other ways to add a custom feel without spending too much include using tiles in different shapes (we used 3x9 in the hall bathroom and 3x12 in the master bathroom) or with a contrasting grout (as we did in the hall bath to complement the cement tile floor).

Strasser Woodenworks Vanity (from Wayfair) with Updated Hardware

Strasser Woodenworks Vanity (from Wayfair) with Updated Hardware

Custom Quartz Countertop Added to Pre-Fab Vanity

Custom Quartz Countertop Added to Pre-Fab Vanity

3. Include Contrasting Elements to Add Interest: As in other spaces in the home, don't hesitate to play with tone and texture to add personality. In the hall bathroom, we paired a more modern natural wood vanity with the starker black and white tile work. My client chose to go with brushed silver hardware but another option is to add matte black/iron finishes to tie together the modern vanity and the vintage-feeling tile. Contrast can also come in the form of color, like the Behr Vintage Mauve paint in the aforementioned bathroom or the blue towels in the master bath (bringing out the blue tones in the chevron tile and contrasting with the Behr Sandstorm paint).

LiLi Cement Tile from Architectural Ceramics Contrasts with Fresca Milano Vanity (from Wayfair)

LiLi Cement Tile from Architectural Ceramics Contrasts with Fresca Milano Vanity (from Wayfair)

Behr Vintage Mauve Contrasts with 3x9 Goose Down Matte Tile from Sonoma Tilemakers via Architectural Ceramics

Behr Vintage Mauve Contrasts with 3x9 Goose Down Matte Tile from Sonoma Tilemakers via Architectural Ceramics

Project Spotlight: Focusing on Function & Family in Southeast DC

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While interior design is thought to primarily be concerned with aesthetics, some of the biggest transformations when working with a designer or decorator are measured by the function of the space for the person(s) that call it home.

That is exactly the case with the family I had the pleasure of working with in southeast DC recently. While they loved their DC rowhome, with two rambunctious kids, the space (and more importantly the furniture) they had did not match their style or need for flexibility. At the heart of this challenge was a beautiful, traditional six-seat dining room table that rarely was used partially for fear of it falling prey to adorable but potentially destructive young hands. This piece was creating a physical and emotional block that was preventing the space from meeting their needs. 

Other challenges that came up through our consultation included:

  • Frantic feel when you entered the house and a need for organization;
  • Limited space for kids to play (especially important with all the rainy days we've had lately);
  • Multiple dining spaces but none of which met all their needs; and
  • Untapped space in the kitchen that housed a mostly unused desk turned drop area.

To tackle these problems, we identified a few keys tasks and pieces that would transform the design and function of the home:

  • Consolidate dining spaces from three to two, including adding a cost-effective dining nook and new, kid-friendly drop-leaf dining room table (allowing the dining room to become a larger playroom, when needed);
  • Bring more modern lines and finishes to the space, playing into existing wrought iron elements and adding more casual/weathered wood elements;
  • Modernize the color palette, while working with the existing wall color (Benjamin Moore's Spanish Olive);
  • Incorporate flexible pieces that can work in multiple spaces and be moved easily, as well storage options (primarily for toys); and
  • Add sophistication by juxtaposing patterns and textures.

And here's where we are now (photos by Beth Caldwell):

While there is still room for some more touches (new/updated upholstered cornices above the windows, removing baseboards in dining nook for a more custom look with the benches, adding a console in the dining room for extra serving space, etc.), the transformation has helped my clients enjoy their home even more...which is always priority number one from the outset.

Goods Guide

Living Room

Dining Room

Dining Nook

Amber Harris is the owner of At Home DC, an interior decorator and a licensed real estate agent with Keller Williams Capital Properties working with clients in DC, Maryland and Virginia. 

'Trading Spaces' Tidbits: Lessons from Our Favorite TV Designers

Photo Credit: TLC

Photo Credit: TLC

While I've always been interested and invested in interior design on some level (i.e.,I would redecorate my room as often as my mom/budget would allow in middle school), there's no doubt that the debut of Trading Spaces on TLC in 2000 was a big moment for me and millions across the country (and later around the world).

As a junior at Georgetown University, TLC was always on in our dorms and living rooms (can't forget A Baby Story and A Wedding Story, too), and Trading Spaces had a great role in making interior decorating accessible. Fast forward to today where stores likes Home Goods  and Wayfair and platforms like Houzz and Pinterest help individuals pull together their perfect space or, at the least, articulate their vision to a decorator or designer.

Little did I know in 2000, that I would be working for the company responsible for TLC and Trading Spaces two short years later. Over 14 years, I worked my way to VP and also had a chance to meet a range of talent, including a few of the original designers. With the return of the series earlier this month, I thought it would be fun (and informative) to reflect on a few design lessons we can gleam from the cast (and that often come up as I'm consulting with clients).

Photo Credits: VernYip.com, LaurieHSmith.com & GenevieveGorder.com

Photo Credits: VernYip.com, LaurieHSmith.com & GenevieveGorder.com

Vern Yip: Timeless Design Doesn't Have to Be Boring
While there were always designers you loved to hate, I found myself drawn primarily to Vern Yip's work. Last month, I had a chance to meet Vern (again) at the Washington Design Center's Spring Market, where he gave the keynote, and his approach to timeless design remains. Trends will come and go, but classic lines, patterns and finishes aren't the opposite of "on trend." When creating a space, bigger spends are best spent on furniture and accessories that will pass the test of time. Layer lower cost, trendier pieces on top of those (think an accent table or decorative object) if you want to be "of the moment"...then you won't feel guilty when you want to move on.

Laurie Smith: Beautiful Fabrics Can Elevate Any Space
Laurie Smith was well known for spending the largest portion of her limited budgets on fabrics, adding color and pattern through silks and other luxe textiles. Throw pillows are a great way to update a space, whether a living room, bedroom or dining nook and you can find new and vintage fabrics to make custom pillows or search your favorite store for pre-made covers that make a statement through color, texture, pattern or special details like trim, fringe and beading. 

Genevieve Gorder: Fun is Part of Function
When choosing someone to partner with on your space, you want to have good communication and good energy, and Genevieve Gorder definitely always (and still has) both. Gorder always brought an energy to the rooms she designed not taking herself or the task at hand too seriously. Your home should bring you joy....so ditch that expensive white sofa that you hover over when guests sit down with wine and find furniture and accessories that are stylish and livable.

Were you a fan of the original Trading Spaces and/or are you watching the reboot? If so, what are the tidbits you've taken away and from whom?

Amber Harris is the owner of At Home DC, an interior decorator and a licensed real estate agent with Keller Williams Capital Properties working with clients in DC, Maryland and Virginia. 

Get Ready for Spring & Summer with Upcoming Free Workshop!

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In February, I had the pleasure of presenting an interactive session on designing for small spaces in conjunction with the DC Public Library. With more than 20 in attendance and positive feedback, I am excited to share that I'll be returning to the Petworth Library in May...this time with a superstar of landscape design!

Edamarie Mattei and I met more than 10 years ago by chance in a tennis class, and we connected over the sport, our shared alma mater (Georgetown University) and our interests in potentially pursuing careers beyond our current (at the time) lines of work in education and media, respectively. Since then Edamarie has built a thriving landscape design company, Backyard Bounty

That brings us to today as we both run our own businesses and decided why not tackle the topic of entertaining during warm weather months from both our areas of expertise! We hope you'll join us on May 15th:

Indoor & Outdoor Entertaining: Making Your Spaces Function & Flow
Tuesday, May 15 | 7-8:30pm
Petworth Library (4200 Kansas Avenue NW) | Lower Level Meeting Room

Amber Harris is the owner of At Home DC, an interior decorator and a licensed real estate agent with Keller Williams Capital Properties working with clients in DC, Maryland and Virginia. 

Setting the 'Stage' for a Successful Sale

Staging. If you turn on HGTV or talk to anyone who actively stalks neighborhood listings online (you know you do!), it's a hot topic that generates various opinions — from being expensive and overrated to a must in this market.

As an interior decorator and real estate agent, I have clearly seen the value of staging for sellers but also know that the process can be challenging for homeowners. With that in mind, I thought I'd share a few tips for those selling their home on how to approach the topic when the time comes to list:

Property Staged with Owner's Furniture & Accessories

Property Staged with Owner's Furniture & Accessories

  1. Staging vs. Interior Design: While it is not uncommon for interior designers and/or decorators to run staging businesses, interior design is not the same thing as staging. Staging focuses primarily on the visual aspects of spaces, while interior design (well, good interior design) focuses on the function just as much, if not more. 
     
  2. Staging Is Expensive: While staging an empty house is not inexpensive, market research has proven time and time again that staging has a positive correlation with the contract price and length of time before contract. It is important to look at staging as an investment and not simply an expense because, if done well, you will recoup and make money because of it.
     
  3. It's All or Nothing: While you certainly will have more work to do if you are starting with an empty house, staging doesn't always mean fully furnishing every living space. For properties with more than two bedrooms, I sometimes recommend selective staging. You want to focus your efforts on the most important spaces to most buyers (living room, kitchen, master bedroom, etc.) and then add on other spaces as need and budget allows. For example, you may want to stage a smaller or potentially awkward space to illustrate how it can function, say as an office or nursery. 
     
  4. No Need to Stage If I'm Living Here: If you are living in a house while it's on the market, that's an even bigger reason to stage your spaces. One of the services I offer my clients (and other Realtors) is working with their existing furniture and accessories to highlight their home and appeal to the most potential buyers. Decluttering and depersonalizing spaces is the first step in any staging plan. 
     
  5. It's Personal: Selling a home is an emotional process, and it's important to realize the moment you decide you are selling that the home is no longer yours. As an agent, my goal is to help you meet yours — whether that's a high offer, quick close or any other number of terms. When you separate yourself from the property and realize the recommendations made and actions taken are necessary to reach your goals, you can appreciate (or at least tolerate) creating and living in a show home temporarily. 
Leave Room for Buyers to See What a Space Could Be

Leave Room for Buyers to See What a Space Could Be

If you are thinking about selling your home, you have many choices when it comes to hiring a Realtor. Beyond setting the appropriate list price, marketing (which includes staging) is the most important factor in optimizing your outcome. Make sure your agent is an expert in real estate as well as all aspects of marketing (design, social media, digital advertising, etc.) and you'll be on your way to the closing table. And, of course, if you need that breadth and depth of experience in the DC metro area, you know where to find me!

Amber Harris is the owner of At Home DC and a licensed real estate agent with Keller Williams Capital Properties working with clients in DC, Maryland and Virginia. 

DC Real Estate: 2017 Market in Review

There's no question that Washington, DC is a hot market for real estate. With a growing population and limited inventory, the city is still what we consider a seller's market. 

Copyright © 2018 MarketStats by ShowingTime. All Rights Reserved. Data Source: MRIS. Statistics calculated January 4, 2018.

Copyright © 2018 MarketStats by ShowingTime. All Rights Reserved.
Data Source: MRIS. Statistics calculated January 4, 2018.

A few 2017 stats of note (with more in the chart above and downloadable here):

  • With 9,250 sales last year there were nearly 9% more transactions in 2017 vs. 2016 (but demand still dwarfs inventory). 
  • Average Days on Market continues to decline year of year and, while the average was 35 for 2017 we saw a peak of around a week at times during the year. Nearly half of those homes sold in 10 days or less.
  • Average Sold Prices are up nearly 5% vs. 2016, with detached units outpacing attached counterparts. 

What does that mean for you? Well, if you own property in DC (or one of the nearby Virginia or Maryland suburbs), now is a great time to sell if you are looking to move up or downsize or (gasp!) leave the region. However, if you are looking to enter the market as a buyer, you likely will still need to call upon your preparation, patience and persistence...but you can do it!

In order to best prepare, consult with a local market specialist well in advance when you want to make your moves (and move). If I can be of assistance, reach on out

Amber Harris is the owner of At Home DC and a licensed real estate agent with Keller Williams Capital Properties working with clients in DC, Maryland and Virginia. 

Free Local Event on February 8: Small Spaces, Big Style

DCPL & At Home DC Logos.jpg

One of the many things I love about my line of work is getting to meet (and work with) neighbors, and I am looking forward to meeting many more next month at a special workshop I am hosting with my friends at the Petworth Library:

Small Spaces, Big Style
Thursday, February 8 | 7-8:30pm
Petworth Library (4200 Kansas Avenue NW) | Lower Level Meeting Room

RSVP Today!

Inspired by my work with clients that have small spaces (like this bathroom), I'll be sharing tips on how to make the most of all types of tight spaces. I also have asked participants to share their dilemmas before the session for potential inclusion (just email me).

Click the link above or the button below to let me know if I'll see you there!

Amber Harris is the owner of At Home DC, an interior decorator and a licensed real estate agent with Keller Williams Capital Properties working with clients in DC, Maryland and Virginia.