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

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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. 

    Artist Spotlight: Saya Behnam

    While I have not studied art formally (save a few classes when I was abroad in Madrid), I have found myself increasingly interested in getting to know new (especially local) artists, such as Saya Behnam

    Iranian-Born, DC-Based Artist Saya Behnam Discusses & Demonstrates Her Mixed Media Work and Process

    Iranian-Born, DC-Based Artist Saya Behnam Discusses & Demonstrates Her Mixed Media Work and Process

    After seeing a post from Artist's Proof on Instagram a few weeks ago, I rallied some friends to join me for a special event the gallery was hosting with Behnam. During the evening, the artist showcased mixed media works from her Saffron & Tea series, in addition to elaborating on her process in working with naturally derived colors from saffron and hibiscus (among other elements) and pairing them with paper, gold and ink to add further dimension to her work.

    Behnam's Work on Display at Artist's Proof

    Behnam's Work on Display at Artist's Proof

    Using a mortar & pestle, hot water and Chinese paint brushes, Behnam is able to create a range of colors and tones - noting that she enjoys the unpredictability of working with teas and spices.

    The artist's work is currently on display at Artist's Proof in Georgetown, and you can see more of her work on her website and below.

    Do you have a local artist you follow? Share in the comments below or email me at amber@athomedc.com! 

    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. 

    Earthly Inspiration for the Home

    One of the many things I love about Washington, DC is the sheer number of (mostly free) museums that are minutes away from my home. That being said, it often takes out-of-town visitors to nudge me to take some time to enjoy them and their exhibits.

    A few days ago, my nephew and I spent a good part of the day in two Smithsonians, including the National Museum of Natural History. While many flock to the Hope Diamond, we ended up getting sucked into the surrounding Geology and Gems & Minerals exhibits. Design-wise we've seen geodes as bookends and lamps and seen malachite as wall art and even inspiring wallpaper prints, so I thought I'd use my visit to explore some colors that caught my eye and could add a interest to your interiors...enjoy!

    Striped La Jolla Basket (Medium: $128; Source: Serena & Lily)

     

    While I neglected to get the name of this mineral (believe it may be chalcedony), this basket reminds me of the dusty pink shards (and, like the gems and minerals we saw, no two of these baskets are the same.

    Pink isn't just for a girl's room, so try adding these to a mid-century design based in medium grays or navy blue. Baskets like these are great for adding style and storing a multitude of items - from spare throws or magazines to dog toys!

     

    Ink & Ivy Rocket Armchair (Medium: $239.99; Source: Wayfair)

    Continuing with some more muted tones, I love this pale jade-colored Mesolite - blending sharp and soft. This Ink & Ivy chair does just that with its strong structural wood lines and lighter upholstery (also comes in a bench).

    This would be a great reading chair in a bedroom (pair with a matte metallic floor lamp) or you could use a pair to create a seating area (perhaps with a c-table) or to accompany a couch in a full living room setup.

     

    Welbis Writing Desk ($321.99; Source: Joss & Main)

    A bold blue is not for the faint of heart, but this lapis lazuli-inspired desk is a great accent in a home office or as a work space in a master bedroom. If you need a desk in a master, try mixing things up and pairing it with this matching chest as a side table on the opposing side of the bed. 

    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. 

    When Perfect Isn't Available or Affordable

    Perfection. While we all realize it's in the eye of the beholder and can be overrated, when you are looking for your new home, it's where we start. 

    When I am meeting with a buyer, a good portion of our initial discussion involves their must-haves, needs, wants and nice-to-haves. While there are many reasons to hire a real estate agent to help with your home search and purchase, having a partner and consultant to regularly remind you of your motivations and musts is one of the top reasons.

    In the DC metro area right now, we still are experiencing limited inventory (aka available houses), which means it is even harder than normal for most to find their perfect home. Given this, it's easy to get discouraged, especially when you find "the one," make an offer and lose out to another. But...that doesn't mean you should lose hope; rather, you should open your eyes to other possibilities.

    In the past few days, I've talked to two buyers who have chosen/are looking at two alternative paths that often are ignored:

    1. Buy & Renovate with a 203(k) Loan: While most people want to offer, close and move in as swiftly as possible, you can gain the edge and equity if you consider buying a property that needs some work to make it livable, to your taste or both. In today's "need it now" culture, finding that hidden gem means we might be able to negotiate a better purchase price and you'll get exactly what you want in the end. With lots of 203(k) loan options that allow you to access the cash you need to renovate (everything from a kitchen remodel to full gut job), if you can muster some patience, you can land that perfect home. (Check out Lauren Bowling's experience for more insight.)

    2. Explore New Construction: If you have even more patience, you might want to consider designing and building your new home. While the DC area is much more densely populated than other areas of the country, there is available land (or land that can be made available by razing a poorly maintained/unsalvageable structure. Most home builders offer a range of plans that can be customized in countless ways to help you get just what you want - from layout to finishes. And, while a builder may tell you otherwise, you should make sure you have buyer representation with your own agent before heading into a sales office. (Learn more about the process from The Balance.)

    In either scenario, a REALTOR® can help you consider all the options and direct you to qualified professionals to help you create your own brand of perfect. So, would you consider a rehab or new construction?

    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. 

    Am I Ready to Be a Landlord?

    For Rent

    After you transition from being a tenant to being a homeowner, many people come upon a new decision point: becoming a landlord or not. That juncture could come about for a few reasons, including:

    1. You have to leave your beloved city/neighborhood for work, family or other pursuits.
    2. You need to up or downsize in the same market.
    3. You are contemplating investing in real estate and building a secondary (and maybe, eventually, primary) income source.

    Whatever the reason, there are several important factors to consider before becoming Mr. (or Ms.) Roper (pretty sure at least 50% of my audience might need to Google this reference). In no particular order:

    • What is your motivation? Perhaps the property holds sentimental value for you or you see an opportunity for even more equity by holding onto it. Either way, make sure you can articulate your motivation and use that to evaluate whether you become (and remain) and landlord.
       
    • What is the rental market like currently? Do you live in a neighborhood near a hospital where you are likely to get residents or in a community that has a large expat population? And, just as when you are buying or selling, you must consider inventory levels - total volume but also the availability of and demand for homes like yours.
       
    • Does it make financial sense? It is hard to perfectly predict what will happen to any given market or economy, but you should start by running the numbers. Look at what similar properties are renting for in your neighborhood, itemize other anticipated expenses such as maintenance and costs for acquiring tenants (whether or not using a real estate agent) and determine if you want to manage the property yourself (harder to do if you are moving out of town) or higher a professional company (and pay a percentage of each month's rent). This is where a spreadsheet with formulas will help you run various scenarios. And don't forget that you may not have a tenant 12 months of the year, so you have to be prepared to carry your mortgage (if you have one) during periods of vacancy.
       
    • What are the business and legal implications? In order to be a landlord, you should make sure your property is legal and licensed (UrbanTurf has a great writeup). You also need to make sure you are in compliance with any condo/HOA bylaws (if applicable) and are insured appropriately. Every market is different but some (like Washington, DC) are more tenant friendly - meaning a problem tenant can be an even bigger problem. If you're in D.C., you likely have heard of (or are familiar with) the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA). If not and you intend to rent a property in DC, familiarize yourself with it. 
       
    • Will this impact other real estate transactions? If you intend on buying a second (or third) home, keep in mind that your existing mortgage on a rental property still counts toward your debt-to-income ratio (most lenders don't want to see this higher than 36% of your monthly pre-tax income) and can affect being approved for (and your interest rates and down payment required for) any additional mortgages. Talk to your mortgage broker to understand your options.
       
    • Do you want to be a landlord? Your time is money. Whether or not you higher a property management company, think about the demands (and potential stress) being a landlord places on you and proceed with what feels right!

    Finally, remember that real estate is not an incredibly liquid asset, meaning that it cannot be quickly sold (in comparison to stocks, etc.). If you anticipate a scenario where you may need the capital invested more readily, you might want to consider investing your dollars in other ways.

    I have several clients that are thinking through becoming a landlord or selling right now, and there isn't one right answer for everyone. Consult with your Realtor and financial advisor to land on what's best for you - personally and financially.

    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. 

    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!

     

     

    Hungry? 'Washingtonian' Announces 100 Very Best Restaurants 2017

    Let's face it. DC's food scene is amazing...and still on the rise. 

    Washingtonian Magazine just released their 100 Very Best Restaurants 2017 list, and it is drool-worthy! While I already had a working list of spots I still need to hit up, this has only made me more motivated to taste all that our amazing city and region have to offer!

    Photograph by Jeff Elkins for Washingtonian

    Photograph by Jeff Elkins for Washingtonian

    Of note, I'm excited to see one of my local favs, Timber Pizza Co., make the cut. Here's hoping we see some other neighborhood haunts (ehem, Little Coco's and Mezcalero) join Timber and Himitsu next year.

    Window on DC: Making Meaningful Wall Art

    Last year, my neighborhood lost a longtime resident and cherished neighbor and, as her house is redeveloped, I was able to salvage a bit of Petworth history and a memory of one of my favorite neighbors, Miss Erma.

    Miss Erma Greeting Bea on Her Porch

    Miss Erma Greeting Bea on Her Porch

    Miss Erma was among one of the first residents I met on my block when I moved in several years ago, and I miss walking by her house to say hello during daily dog walks (she's pictured at left enjoying a regular visit from my pup). As the construction crew rehabs her house and prepares it for new neighbors, I was fortunate to snag the two original windows from her house that were left for the next haul of debris. 

    I have never reclaimed a piece of history for wall art before (though I have often thought about it watching HGTV or visiting Community Forklift), so I decided this would be a worthwhile opportunity. While there are many articles and blog posts online about taking vintage windows, doors, mantels, etc. and repurposing them as art, tables and more, I was surprised how few mentioned the possibility of lead paint. Luckily I was acutely aware of the likelihood of led paint on the frames (houses on our block were built in the early 1900s), and I bought a test at the local hardware store before doing anything.

    As suspected, the windows showed signs of lead paint, so I halted further work until I could get the supplies needed to take precautions before preparing them to come into my home. I am not an environment hazard expert, but I found this information from the New York Department of Health helpful in deciding on my approach. 

    While I had toyed with keeping the glass (after removing/replacing panes, and even adding a mercury glass effect), I ultimately decided to leave the windows without glass (they are substantially lighter for hanging, as well). While wearing protective gear, I removed layers of caulk and used a wire brush to remove loose paint and a coarse sandpaper to tackle any potential splinters. After a quick cleaning with soapy water to remove any remaining dust and debris, I let them dry before sealing with Varathane Triple Thick Polyurethane in a matte finish. The poly dried to a tacky finish in two hours and was ready to come inside a few hours later (no smell at all).

    I decided to hang the windows with the weathered white paint facing out, pairing with an existing original drawing already hanging in my home. I love having a constant reminder of a dear neighbor and a bit of DC's history on my wall. 

    Have you recycled any architectural elements for your home? I'd love to hear about them!

    Own Your Own Gallery (Wall)!

    I've written before about my love of (and more recent investment in) art, but I am also a big fan of adding personality to your home by framing pictures from your travels or featuring your family to create an impactful (and cost effective) statement.

    In my own home, I have pictures taken several years ago during a trip to Latvia of my family's former farm where my mother was born (but my family had to flee during WWII) as well as photos from visits to the Great Ocean Road in Australia, Venice and South Africa (my safari at Arathusa still remains my favorite vacation to date). 

    For this reason, I was excited to share this idea with my clients who had a blank (but beautifully and newly blue) wall in their DC rowhouse living room. The couple has international roots and travel is important to both of them, so I asked that they go through their archives and find 8-10 images that meant something to them - with a few bringing out the blues and yellows in their home's first floor color palette. Pairing these with double matted white gallery frames (these are from Bed, Bath & Beyond, but you can also find them - often on sale - at Michaels, Pottery Barn, etc.) with the stunning images resulted in just the impact desired.

    Clients' Finished Gallery Wall (Note Rest of Room Still in Progress...Pics )

    Clients' Finished Gallery Wall (Note Rest of Room Still in Progress...Pics )

    Gallery walls can be intimidating but they're a great project to take on to add interest to a blank wall, whether behind a couch, in a hallway or along a staircase. If you're still nervous, here are a few tips:

    • Put the focus on images by selecting stylish but simple frames. I am a fan of white frames with white mats (as above) but you can achieve great looks with black- or wood-toned frames as long as they don't detract from the photos. To create interest, use frames of different sizes. 
       
    • Select more photos than you need for the space. As you piece your layout together, sometimes you'll find one or two images may not be working. It's always good to have options so you can play with alternatives on the fly. And, if you don't use the for the gallery wall, you may think of a new location to pair two or more of them (like your bathroom).
       
    • Embrace the flexibility of a gallery wall. Gallery walls can be permanent but they also can be dynamic - replacing images, adding new ones, playing with arrangements, etc. I highly recommend using Command Universal Picture Hangers for projects like this. Even if you own your home, no one likes an overly holey wall and these are reusable and allow you to make easy adjustments. I also love the mini strips for ensuring photos are secure and level .
       
    • Play with the layout on the floor or a table, diagraming on paper with measurements. I find the best way to find your ideal layout is to frame your images, measure the horizontal and vertical space you want to fill (you can event tape it out with painters tape on the floor/table) and then experiment. Don't forget to use consistent spacing between frames, as this ensures the wall looks purposeful but doesn't have to be grid-like. Once you have your planned wall, document it on paper - including frame sizes, spacing, etc. With this, you can then hang your frames in relation to the previously hung frames easily (taking into account the additional measurements for the placement of the nail or hanger). 
       
    • If you're not using an interior decorator or designer, enlist a friend or two! You'll find at times that you'll be wishing you had a third or fourth hand as you balance the hanger, level, measuring tape, etc...not to mention who doesn't want at least one more pair of eyes! Put on a pot of tea or pour a glass of wine and make an afternoon of it!

    This is by no means an exhaustive or step-by-step list, but hopefully these tips will help you if you decide to embark on your own gallery wall! Happy hanging!

    New Year's Decorating Resolutions

    New Years Day 2017 Brunch Spread

    Happy New Year!

    While I am not a die-hard resolution-maker, 2016 involved a lot of (good) changes personally - most notably starting At Home DC! I have a big personal and professional list of goals for the year, but I thought it might be more fun to share some of my décor-related resolutions (or perhaps they are more of mantras for 2017):

    1. Step outside your comfort zone. It's easy to gravitate toward one style, color palette or even furniture or accessories store. While I firmly believe you should have a personal style, look for people to challenge what you'd normally choose when redecorating or adding to your home. Through my interior decorating services, I strive to help people do just this (but I need to remember to remind myself to do the same in my own house).
       
    2. Decorate your home to impress but, most importantly, live! A living room or bedroom straight out of a design magazine is a thing of beauty...but it has to add to your enjoyment of your home (and not your list of worries, chores, etc.). The two are far from mutually exclusive but, as with many things in life, it's all about balance (and being smart about paint, fabric and flooring choices to ensure the four- and two-legged ones in your life can enjoy your home, too).
       
    3. Embrace color, pattern and texture. Much like virtually reality has created more immersive experiences (sorry, former life as PR gal in media), bold or unexpected color choices and introducing new patterns and textures in everything from flooring to textiles only adds to the complexity and enjoyment of your space. 
       
    4. Share your home and embrace your community! Okay, perhaps this is me being influenced by this year's election or more likely by the amazing neighborhood I call home, but take time to open your home by hosting friends, family and neighbors. I have always enjoyed hosting  small and large events at home, but I am stepping things up in 2017 starting with a relatively casual but oh-so-enjoyable brunch this morning (pictured above). Not only does this mean you can show off your beautiful home, but you'll also be exposed to new people, new perspectives and (hopefully) new friends. 

    Do you have any home-related resolutions? If so, I'd love to hear about them! Here's to a happy, healthy and homey 2017!

    Emeralds Are A Girl's Best Friend

    With the arrival of October, comes the return of rich seasonal colors. One of my favorite tones in fashion (as a redhead) and design is emerald green.

    While it may have been Pantone's color of the year back in 2013, I still find that it can add a nice pop to any room and ups the sophistication (especially when in a lux fabric, like velvet). Emerald is great with various shades of blue, but you may want to save the navy pairings to smaller pops if you have a smaller room since both are such strong colors that can make a space seem smaller than it is. The jewel-toned green also pairs well with medium to light grays, as well as taupes and creams.

    Emerald can certainly inspire a room re-design, but that doesn't necessarily mean a full living room or bedroom makeover. Just imagine how cozy and posh a powder room could be with the right wall paper and metallic accents!

    Below are a few emerald OODs (objects of desire) that I would love to add to my home or another. Let's obsess together...