First-Time Home Buyer

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. 

5 Tips to Land Your Dream Home This Spring

Spring. The time of year when tulips, daffodils and cherry blossoms bloom (even if they are delayed)...and when homebuyers are ready to move! While market activity picks up across the country with the warming weather, it also means more competition - which can be a problem when there are inventory shortages.

U Street

U Street

According to Bright MLS, the Washington market has seen declines in year-over-year inventory for nine months (as of January 2017). This is great news for sellers, but it can lead to greater frustrations for buyers - especially first-time homebuyers who have not yet experienced the process. Of course, this doesn't mean you should throw your hands up in the air and stay put in a less-than-ideal home. Here are five tips to help put you in a better position to land your dream home in the DC area:

1. Enlist the help of a Realtor® now. Finding the perfect home is a stressful process for any buyer, so add a licensed real estate agent to your team. They'll shepherd you through the process, put your interests first and allow you to focus more on all the joys of homebuying and, eventually, homeownership. Even if you're not sure if now is the right time to buy, having an agent on your side can help you make that determination and be ready when your dream home hits the market.

2. Spring clean...your credit! If you haven't already, take a close look at your credit and take steps to bolster your credit score and increase your ability to get approved for a mortgage at the most favorable rates. This may mean reducing existing credit card debt and paying extra close attention to avoid late payments on any bills (more tips from MyFICO.com). 

3. Have your list of must-haves and nice-to-haves, but be open. Most of us have pictured our ideal home for years but they almost always are out of reach. The homebuying process is rooted in trade-offs but talk to your real estate agent about options you may not have considered, such as a fixer upper (and a 203k loan), alternate neighborhoods and properties with income potential (such as a basement unit you can rent out).

4. Be the early bird and catch the worm. In a market with low inventory, preparation and timing is key. In addition to being pre-qualified or pre-approved for a mortgage, take advantage of your Realtor®'s access to information not yet available through the many online real estate search portals. Agents - through relationships and their tools - often know about inventory three weeks or more before it hits the market (allowing you to see properties first and, if it's a fit, make an offer).

5. Choose an agent who knows your target neighborhood(s). DC and its neighborhoods are unique and diverse (part of what makes our region so great), so find an agent who knows (or, better yet, lives in) the neighborhoods you are honing in on. Google and public records can only tell you so much, so tap into the knowledge and expertise of your agent.

Here's wishing you luck on your homebuying journey this spring. If you are looking in DC area - and especially if you are interested in Petworth, Columbia Heights and Brightwood - I'd love to meet you and discuss your needs

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. 

To Rent or To Buy?

"The rent is too damn high." 

While that phrase was popularized several years ago thanks to mayoral election activities in New York and a certain Jimmy McMIllan, if you're a renter in DC, you are not imagining things when you think you may be paying much more than in other U.S. markets.

Nested released their 2017 Rental Affordability Index earlier this week, and Washington, DC is the fourth most expensive city for U.S. renters (San Francisco, New York and Boston take the three top spots). The Washington Post breaks things down further, but it begs the question: Is it better to buy or rent?

Chart via Nested.com

While financially it may make sense with our still low interest rates and the tax benefits of home ownership, any potential buyer must consider a range of factors - from how much you can put down to how long you plan to stay in the home or area. Realtor.com has a calculator that is a great starting point if you are a renter (in any market) who is considering buying. 

If you think homeownership might be right for you, reach out to a licensed real estate agent (yours truly included) who can consult with you as you evaluate if you're ready and can help make the process of homeownership as enjoyable and effortless as possible!