Tips

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.

'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. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

Simplify for Spring: Tricks to Gain Control of Your Space & Stuff

With spring officially here, we find ourselves spending more time outdoors (rightfully so) but there's always that unspoken obligation to "spring clean." While I'm no Marie Kondo and there are seemingly unlimited books and articles devoted to the topic, I thought I'd share a few tips that have served me well. These nuggets also are great if you are looking to get your property into shape before selling or paring down before making a move to (or starting the search for) a new home.

Closet Cleanup
I'm an unabashed clothes horse and, while I did install California Closets to help maximize my (in my opinion) limited space, there are a few rules I have in place to help out:

  • Slim Down: I can't say enough about leveraging slim-style hangers to maximize storage (and sleakness). I love these hangers from Bed, Bath & Beyond not only because they are slim but also because they have great rubber grips that work well in the closet and when hanging items to dry. While replacing all your hangers can seem excessive, it makes a huge difference (and you can donate the old hangers to a local charity).
  • To Every Season Turn, Turn, Turn: It's all to easy to talk yourself into keeping a dress or blouse that in reality you haven't worn in a few years. To help keep me honest, I turn the hangers on items I have worn. While it may look a little less neat than the alternative, this makes it easy to go through your closet at the end of a season and remove the pieces you haven't worn so you can donate or sell them. The feeling when you end up with a pile of empty hangers on your bed, a bag full of clothes to donate and a less crammed closet is among the best around. Seriously.

Shop Your Home
We've all done it. Seen a great deal on deodorant at the store or bought an item because we couldn't find it at home or thought we were out. If you are like me, you then end up with three half-used deodorants and multiples of too many products. To keep toiletry sprawl at bay:

  • Group Like Items: If we've learned anything from Kondo, it's all about pooling your stuff to really assess what you have. I do this with toiletries - from shampoos from hotels and free samples from Sephora to full-size items I have bought. Use easy-to-clean plastic bins to organize items by type (makeup and facial care, hair products, body products, etc.) under your sink or in your linen closet.
  • Check Before Buying: Before adding an item to your shopping list, check your stash to see if you have it - even if it's a travel size version. Use what you have at home and deplete your supply before buying more. I am currently working on a supply of body washes from travels that I will never get through otherwise. Not only does this help you save money but it will create space!

These are just a few ideas to get you going (and the toiletries tips also can apply to your pantry - and encourage you to find and/or create new recipes in the kitchen). With April 15 around the corner, take advantage of donating items to a local charity (and taking the write-off) or perhaps sell higher-value items by consigning with a local store, organizing a neighborhood yard sale (a great way to meet your neighbors, too) or scheduling a clothing/book/etc. swap with friends (with food and drink, naturally). 

So much in life is complicated, so why not simplify what you can? Happy decluttering!

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. 

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.