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. 

Gird Your Loins! Getting Your Home Ready for Winter

With the first hard freeze in the DC area expected this weekend, I think we can officially say we're in fall and on our way to winter. In addition to all the fun seasonal decor inside and outside (future blog post, I promise), there are lots of things you should do to prepare your home - whether a condo, townhouse or detached home - for the colder months. 

DC Street in Winter

Here are a few tips (although there are many more) which are hopefully helpful to newer homeowners (congrats!) and veterans alike:

  1. Have your HVAC serviced and replace your filter(s). Many service providers offer maintenance plans, as well, that can save you money on regular maintenance and even put you in a priority position should you have an issue and need service quickly to restore heat.
     
  2. On a windy day, close your windows and inspect them for air leaks. Windows - both the type and the quality of the seal - can make a huge difference in how your home retains heat. Seal any gaps and, if you have been thinking about upgrading to more energy efficient windows or installing storm windows (or doors), you may still have time if you hurry.
     
  3. Install weather stripping on the sides or bottoms of any leaky doors. Just like windows, doors can make a huge difference in your energy efficiency. Weather stripping is an easy and inexpensive project for any homeowner...regardless of experience level.
     
  4. Winterize your water lines. Water and the cold can spell bad news, so make sure any garden hoses are drained and stowed away neatly.  And don't forget to turn off exterior water spigots. Once you've turned off the valve, you'll also want to go outside and turn on the exterior spigot until the water stops flowing.
     
  5. Insulate any exposed pipes. If you have any plumbing that is exposed to the elements, take time to insulate them and minimize the chance that they freeze or burst, leading to dreaded and costly water damage. 
     
  6. Inspect your roof and replace any damaged or missing roof shingles. The rain, ice and snow can be brutal on your roof, so take time now to ensure it's ready to handle what mother nature may dish out.
     
  7. Make sure gutters and downspouts are free of leaves and debris. You may have to hold off on this, since we're still losing leaves, but it's a right of fall!
     
  8. Consider adding a fresh coat of paint or sealer on your deck. The winter is tough on us and our houses, so consider adding a new layer of protection to your beloved deck. 
     
  9. Tend to your fireplace and chimney. If you are lucky enough to have a working fireplace (wood-burning or gas), make sure to have it serviced by a professional so it's ready for winter enjoyment (and Santa, too). 
     
  10. Have your list of trusted service providers (and backups) ready. Even with preventative steps and maintenance, you may still run into an issue. Be prepared by gathering the contact information for HVAC, plumbing, roofing and other services professionals in one place (on paper or digitally). Also make sure to have more than one option for each, in case you need faster service and are dealing with a high-demand time.

Finally, if you need a recommendation for a local professional who can help you with any of your home needs, please don't hesitate to reach 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. 

Fall Is the Perfect Time to Start Getting Ready for the Spring Market

As the leaves are just starting to turn, spring may seem ages away...but not when you are considering selling and/or buying a home.

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Whether you are a first-time buyer or a veteran property owner, now is the time to start making your to-do list so you can be prepared when April and May arrive and so you have a head start on the competition.

Below are a some key tasks and tips for both buyers and sellers to get you going, but please reach out if you'd like to discuss your needs in more depth. I am already holding appointments with spring clients, and I'd love to meet with you!

Selling Your Home

  1. Forget spring cleaning, fall is the time! We've all been there when moving day is around the corner and your plans to organize and purge are thrown out the window in favor of dumping a drawer at a time into a box labeled "stuff." Take advantage of the cooler days to sort through everything from books and clothes to those dusty bins under beds and in closets. If you have't used it in the past year, if you have multiples or if it doesn't fit, it's likely time to find it a new home. By paring down your belongings (including furniture), you'll be a step ahead when staging your home (where less is always more) and when it's time to ultimately pack and move.
     
  2. Make those fixes you've been putting off. When you live in a home, you tend to overlook little imperfections -- from a cracked tile or two to a window that sticks. However, it's the little things that often catch the eye of potential buyers and leads them to assume they could be an indicator of bigger problems. Walk through your home with a critical eye and identify the fixes, big and small, that need attention and then tackle one a week.
     
  3. Interview and select your REALTOR®. Most agents, including me, are already looking toward spring and filling their books with clients. Partnering with an agent now allows you to develop a rapport and prepare a detailed marketing plan to maximize the potential return on your sale. 
     
  4. Identify smart upgrades that can help your house stand out with buyers. If you've done #3, this is something your agent will happily do with you, walking your home and identifying updates that will likely yield a faster sale and higher sales price. Upgrades may be painting woodwork white, upgrading a kitchen counter or even replacing light switches that are yellowed and showing their age. Together you can prioritize based on level of effort/expense and potential return.
     
  5. Follow the market! While spring undoubtedly starts the busiest time of year in real estate, there are lots of dynamics at play that can affect a market, such as rising interest rates and changes to consumer confidence. Your real estate agent will be your guide, but you should be engaged as well...especially if you are planning to buy!

Buying Your Home

  1. Check your credit. If you don't do so regularly and have not done so recently, get your free credit report from all three bureaus and make sure all the information is accurate (if not, you have time to try to remove incorrect information). You also can look for ways you can improve your credit score, such as lowering or eliminating credit card balances. 
     
  2. Interview and select your REALTOR®. While there is usually less lead time in getting ready if you are just buying, having an agent take you through the current market dynamics and home buying process (especially if you are a first-time buyer or someone who hasn't bought in many years) is essential.
     
  3. Understand your buying power and define your budget. You may already have a lender but, if you don't, your real estate agent can recommend trusted lenders...and you always should shop around. While you may have used an online calculator or app to approximate what you would be approved for, an experienced lender can give you the best idea of your buying power and what to expect in the coming months. This means you'll go into the spring market with clear expectations of what's attainable and ready for pre-approval.
     
  4. Start to research and explore neighborhoods. While you might have a good idea of where you want to live, now is the time to expand your consideration set (for example, if your budget means your ideal location may not be in reach). Read hyperlocal blogs, like Petworth News or Brookland Bridge, grab drinks or dinner at new-to-you restaurants and talk to friends about their communities. In the end, your new home may be where you least expected!
     
  5. Mind your finances. Even if your credit is stellar and you have a healthy amount in the bank, pay close attention to your spending habits to avoid penny pinching and stress closer to when you buy (and after). Most everyone is aware that there are closing costs associated with purchasing a home, but also remember you may need to hire movers, buy new furniture and more.

To set up a time for your free listing or buyer consultation, contact me today

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. 

Avoiding First-Time Home Buyer Flubs

There's nothing more exciting than making the decision to go from tenant to homeowner, but buying your first home can be daunting (the number of legal documents and signatures required before you even go under contract can be maddening enough).

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At times we all fancy ourselves chefs, handy(wo)men and more thanks to technology, social media and a generous dose of can-do spirit, buying a home is a big decision and commitment. While a wealth of information and tools — from seemingly up-to-the minute listings arriving in your inbox to mortgage calculator apps — are a great start for the novice, this is one area where a dollar spent (specifically on a real estate agent), will net more than that in one or more ways.

It's true there are about as many tales about challenging first-time home buyers as there are about annoying agents, but I find working with first timers enjoyable and rewarding. For that reason, I thought I'd share a few myths I have had to debunk with clients if you are considering starting your search:

  • Pre-qualification or pre-approval...it doesn't matter which I choose. If you are looking to buy in the Washington, DC area, you will likely face stiff competition. One of my key roles as a Realtor is to help you make the most competitive offer, and financing is a big component of that (we include a copy of your pre-approval letter in your offer). Before you walk in the door, you should know that you have the ability to buy that property if it's "the one." Pre-approval is one step beyond pre-qualification and means your lender has done due diligence and is even more confident that it can handle your mortgage needs (giving the seller confidence that if they accept your offer the deal will close).
     
  • As long as I have the money in time for close, I'm set. With the high price of real estate in the area, often clients are relying on family loans or gifts to help them with closing costs. As a part of the pre-approval process, you will need to document the sources of your funds, and extra scrutiny is usually placed on funds that haven't already been in your bank accounts for at least a few months prior. This means it's wise to have the funds in place as soon as possible and to be prepared to provide a loan agreement, letter or other documentation (sometimes from the person lending or gifting the money) in order to have your loan underwritten.
     
  • Every renovation is created equal. In the local market, many buyers want properties that are new construction or that have been recently updated. While those white kitchens with quartz countertops look amazing in the photos, not all updates are created equal. Look at the quality of the finishes when you visit the property and for signs of cutting corners (which sometimes can also been indicative of shortcuts taken behind the fixtures and walls).
     
  • New is always better. While I caution first-time home buyers against biting off more than they can chew (financially, maintenance-wise, etc.), some buyers are open to renovations — from a fresh coat of paint to kitchen and bath updates. If you can look past outdated fixtures, you may get your hands on a great property that others have passed over. Whether you have the cash in hand or are considering a 203k loan, make sure to add a healthy buffer in terms of budget and time to your plans. 
     
  • It's only a starter home... When you buy a new home, you invest more than just the down payment at closing. For this reason, it usually is beneficial to own property for several years before selling. If you think you are going to stay in the area, you may want to expand your search to find a property that meets your anticipated future needs (or that could). For example, if you are thinking of starting a family, you may want to find a home that allows you to not just comfortably raise a baby but also a young child (and that takes into account their educational needs). If your budget does not allow you to buy as much house as you know you will want (with the features you want), look for properties that may need cosmetic updates you can do over time or that have a lot that would allow you to expand the house to add livable space. 

As I mentioned at the top of this post, technology, social media, a can-do spirit and even a blog post are not substitutes for a professional. If you are (or know someone) thinking about buying your/their first home, please reach 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. 

Five Fall Outdoor Decorations You'll Love

While it seems summer has flown by, I will fully admit that I am officially ready for fall (it all started with that first 60-degree morning a few weeks ago).

Of course, I love decking out the inside of my house for the season and holidays, but it's just as fun to share your holiday enthusiasm with your neighborhood by adding exterior touches. So I thought I'd compile five fun picks to add some spirit to your home:

In addition to the stores highlighted through the picks above, definitely check out your local HomeGoods, Marshalls or other favorite discount store (their aisles are already filled with fall, Halloween and Thanksgiving options) for little touches to add to your ambiance!

Happy Decorating!

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. 

    Bathroom Makeover: Small & Green to Spa-Like & Serene

    Even if we only spend a fraction of our day there, we place a premium on bathrooms. It's not uncommon for many of DC's row homes to lack a dedicated master bathroom but, often when they do have one, it's hardly a spacious five-piece en-suite. 

    My clients recently had the chance to move to a larger home in the Brightwood Park neighborhood of Washington, DC, but their new-found master bath was dated and hardly a retreat (see below). While the small space meant there weren't any options for reconfiguring the layout (without undertaking a major renovation), we were able to radically change the feel of the space with new tile, new fixtures and combining some Scandinavian inspiration with natural elements.

     Before...

    Before...

    You can see the end result further down, but I wanted to share a few tips and tricks that helped us create this miniature master spa bath:

    1. Keep your color palette simple. Less is more in terms of color when creating a serene space, especially a bathroom. While white is the go-to for a spa-like feel, adding a contrasting but muted color (in this case a lighter shade of Sherwin-Williams Bonsai Tint, created by mixing in a little more white to tone it down) with a lighter wood tone (via our tile) takes this bathroom from basic to custom.
       
    2. Limit the type of tile (color, size and shape) to create a more spacious feel. For this bathroom, we used a 6" x 24" Driftwood tile (in Greywood) from Architectural Ceramics. Meant to simulate wood planks, the tile was laid vertically in the shower to make the tight stall feel larger and horizontally along the floor to make the space feel wider. We did use a smaller scale 2" square tile for the shower floor, but you also could up the spa-feel by opting for a pebble floor (check out Island Stone's awesome options).
       
    3. Choose smart storage options. While less than 19" deep, the vanity selected features plenty of storage - concealed behind doors and using the open shelf at the bottom. While it may be tempting to add shelves above the toilet (as before), these would contribute to making the space feel smaller; alternatives, like a multipurpose baskets (as pictured below), allow you to store extra towels and toiletries in a stylish, mobile and contemporary way.
       
    4. Blend modern lines with organic materials and shapes. A clean-lined vanity and rectangular tiles could easily read cold but adding in natural textures, such as the twig-based wall art and the rope details on the waste basket and accompanying storage basket (all from HomeGoods), off sets the harder edges without going too country or rustic.

    All in all, I just love the way we were able to create a personal spa in such limited space for these deserving clients. 

    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. 

    Millions of Peaches...

    Now that I've implanted that iconic 90's song in your head (you're welcome and apologies), I figured I'd take a detour from the normal post topics spanning real estate and interior decorating to talk peaches.

    I recently had a chance to take a road trip to visit a dear friend in St. Louis, and we crossed back into Illinois to spend the morning at Eckert's Orchard in Belleville to pick peaches...lots of peaches. I'm a big fan of the fruit, so I have been revisiting some of my favorite recipes and trying some new ones (including one combining the sweet summer fruit with my renewed obsession with crepes).

    Follow the links below for recipes, and feel free to share any of your favorites in the comments!

    Peach Oatmeal Muffins
    This recipe came courtesy of a friend and former colleague thanks to her post on Facebook. To lighten the recipe, you can swap Greek yogurt for the sour cream.

    Balsamic Grilled Peaches
    I first made these a few years ago for a birthday BBQ and they are easy and a hit when served with vanilla ice cream. Bobby Flay also has a savory version with prosciutto that I haven't tried but sounds divine!

    Bourbon Peach Slushes
    We made this on as we grilled out for the 4th of July with a few modifications (used fresh peaches and added more ice since we hadn't already sliced and frozen our fresh peaches). You can also sub whisky if that's what you have around/prefer!

    Peaches & Cream Crepe Cake
    Working through my crate o' peaches, I just made this yesterday and it turned out great. If you're comfortable making crepes and plan ahead, it's easy. I was a bit worried I overcooked the pastry cream, but it came out amazingly well. Also note that this gets better with a little more time in the fridge, so it's a great one to make ahead for an event.

     

    Also, for those in the DC area, peach season is under way at several farms in Maryland and Virginia that make a great day trip. Pick one and pick some!

    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. 

    7 Tips for Enjoying the 4th of July in DC

    It's hard to think of a better place to spend the 4th of July than Washington, DC. Decorating the front porch this morning with some seasonal red, white & blue (including these burlap stars from Pottery Barn that are on sale now), made me realize that there are so many layers to spending the holiday in DC than just taking in fireworks on the Mall.

    So, here are a few observations and tips (in no particular order) - whether you live in DC or are just visiting:

    1. The Mall isn't the only place to be. While you definitely should experience the 4th on the Mall at least once, it can take up most of your day and means arriving early, fighting crowds, etc. You might want to consider other prime viewing locations in DC, such as the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Petworth. The hilltop location provides great viewing and the sixth annual celebration features food, drinks, music and kids can even fish in the Soldiers Home pond! (Curbed has more recommendations, as well).
       
    2. Fireworks aren't just for the 4th. You may have already seen fireworks stands pop up in your neighborhood and DC's residents love to celebrate well before (and sometimes after) the holiday has passed. While most often you'll hear smaller fireworks, don't be surprised if neighbors bring in larger scale fireworks (legal or not) and create impromptu displays. If you have a dog that isn't a fan of fireworks, plan ahead with the remedy that works best for them - from a ThunderShirt and mood music to natural and prescription medications. 
       
    3. Plan ahead. Whether you are hosting family and friends for the holiday or just a BBQ/get-together, run your errands early to avoid lines and picked over aisles. Of note, during a Target run yesterday, I found some great party favors and decor, but I am pretty sure they won't last long. 
       
    4. Get to know your neighbors. Okay, so this is general advice for any person in any community, but the 4th of July is a great time to introduce yourself to and spend time with your neighbors. Maybe you can host an impromptu popsicle party for the block on your porch (Firecracker® popsicles are my favorite) or you can set up a sprinkler in the yard or along the sidewalk for the kids to cool off in. Invite neighbors with fliers or through your local listserv or through Nextdoor.
       
    5. Check out the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. This year, the Smithsonian is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its Folklife Festival. As always, it's a free event held on the Mall and featuring music, food, shopping, special presentations and more. The Festival runs from June 29 – July 4 and July 6-9, so hit it up before the 4th to beat the crowds (as much as possible).
       
    6. Beat the heat at one of DC's pools. DC's Department of Parks and Recreation oversees 18 outdoor pools throughout the city. As a DC resident, admission is free...and non-residents can purchase affordable passes online (available for the day, month or longer). Arrive early to get a prime spot/lounger!
       
    7. Visit a new-to-you restaurant or bar. While much of the activity will be downtown, take advantage of the holiday to explore neighborhoods further away from the bustle (ehem, Petworth)...they'll appreciate the business, you'll avoid the crowds and you may discover a new favorite haunt!

    However you choose to spend it, I hope you have a fabulous 4th of July holiday! And if you have any tips and recommendations, feel free to leave them in the comments below!

    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.