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National Arboretum is A Quiet Retreat in the Nation’s Capital

The National Arboretum, a 446 acre park in the northeast corner of our nation’s capital is a quiet, spectacular retreat and a largely overlooked treasure. Established by an Act of Congress in 1927, the mission of the Arboretum is “to serve the public need for scientific research, education, and gardens that conserve and showcase plants to enhance the environment.”

Although the Arboretum attracts between 475,000 and 525,000 visitors a year, the vast space is rarely seen by Washington tourists.  Far from the mega attractions of downtown – the Smithsonian, FBI building, White House, Capitol, etc. – or a convenient Metro stop, a trip to the Arboretum takes a bit of planning – and a good map or GPS system.  But rest assured, your effort will be rewarded.

Nestled between New York Avenue and the Baltimore Washington Parkway, the Arboretum has only nine miles of road within the 446 acres.  A trolley ride, usually available only on weekends during the summer months, provides a good overview and is excellent for a trip with small children or older adults.

Three of the most popular exhibits – the Herb Garden, the Aquatic Garden and the Bonsai Garden are all an easy walk from the parking lot.  The larger and more far flung gardens require either good legs and a stout pair of walking shoes or a car.  Bikes are allowed in the park as are well behaved dogs.

Our most recent trip to the Arboretum, a joint birthday celebration, was on a Thursday.  Not surprisingly the park had very few visitors – but even on the weekends it feels like a retreat because of its sheer size.  Benches and gazebos are tucked all through the park and visitors are welcome to picnic or sit for hours undisturbed.

Virginia and I particularly enjoy Fern Valley and the Japanese Gardens and no matter how many times we visit we always find something new to catch our eye.  A recent broadcast on WAMU radio goes behind the scenes at the Arboretum to focus on the research and development that goes into many of the trees and shrubs so dear to local gardeners – like Crape Myrtles, Redbuds and hollies.

The Arboretum also has a wide range of educational programs including “full moon hikes” which book very early.

So whether you have out of town guests who have seen every ‘tourist’ attraction or you just want a quiet get way without leaving town, head your car towards the National Arboretum, you’ll be glad you did.

Michael.

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Virginia Named Top State for Business

Virginia has been named the “Top State for Business” by CNBC.  This best-in-nation-ranking is based on a wide range of factors and reaffirms that “Virginia has what it takes to emerge from an economy turned upside down.”

CNBC, a internationally known leader in business news, evaluated each state on 40 different measures of competitiveness in 10 categories:

According to CNBC, Virginia has the 7th best economy nationally in 2009, up from 17th in 2008.  The business channel also cited Virginia’s reasonable sales, personal income and corporate tax rates as key contributors to Virginia’s ranking as America’s Best State for Business, 2009.

In the past month alone, Virginia has been ranked “No. 1 Pro-Business State” by Pollina Corporate Real Estate Inc., the second “Best State for Business” by Directorship magazine, and the second “Best State to Start a Business” by U.S. News and World Report.

Northern Virginia played a significant role in these results and, as evidenced by recent real estate trends, is a good bet for home buyers.  If you want to know more about buying property in Alexandria and Northern Virginia, give me a call at 703.937.4554 or email me at [email protected]

Michael

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Home Sales Increase for Third Straight Month in Northern Virginia

In a report released yesterday, more homes sold more quickly in the Washington area during the second quarter than in the same period a year ago.  The sales of previously owned homes (as opposed to new construction) jumped 3.6 percent in June, the third straight month of increase.

It makes sense – mortgage rates are at an all time low, prices are at rock bottom and first time home owners can look forward to a tax credit as long as they close before the end of the year.

Although home prices remain lower than during a comparable time period last year, there is some sign of strength: in 2008 prices were flat from the first quarter to the second quarter but this year prices jumped 12 percent between the two quarters.

If you want to read more, click here.  If you want to talk seriously and start looking at property, call me at 703.927.4554.

Michael

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National Night Out – One Week from Today – August 4, 2009

Just one week from today, on Tuesday, August 4, 2009, neighborhoods across the country will celebrate the 26th Annual National Night Out.

Sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch (NATW), the night is designed to:

We support all those ideas, but what we really like is the chance to block off our street, let the kids bike, skate or play with abandon, and share fun and food with our neighbors.

If you’re really organized, you could probably get your own celebration up and running by next week but if not, come join us on East Howell and see what the fuss is all about.  Click here for pictures from our 2008 gathering.

Michael

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Foreclosures Are Often in Lenders’ Best Interest

An article in this morning’s Washington Post – front page and above the fold – addresses the fact that foreclosures are often in the lenders’ best interest.  The jist of the story is that banks and other lenders have more financial incentive to let borrowers lose their homes than to work out a settlement.

The problem comes because good policy is often at odds with economic reality.  For instance, policymakers like to say that it is a good deal for lenders to work with borrowers on mortgage payments so they can stay in their home.  Researchers and industry experts note however that foreclosing can be more profitable.

Despite the administration’s ambitious efforts to address the mortgage crisis, the gains to be reaped by lenders pose a serious challenge to a significant turn around in this sector of the market.

Let’s look more closely at the three distinct scenarios facing lenders:

  1. Loan modification –  only makes sense for a lender if the borrower can’t sustain payments without it, but will be able to keep up with new, more modest terms.
  2. Borrowers who are likely to fall behind on payments even after a loan modification.  Lenders don’t want to help because waiting to foreclose will be too costly.
  3. Borrowers who can catch up with delinquent payments (although often at great personal sacrifice).  Lenders have no real incentive to help.

In a study released last month by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the analysis found that “lenders lowered monthly payments of only 3 percent of delinquent borrowers, those who had missed at least two payments.  Lenders tried to avoid modifying the loans of borrowers who could ‘self-cure,’ or catch up on their payments without help and those would fall behind again, even after receiving help . . .”

For more on this story, click here.  It’s worth reading.

Michael

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New Rules That Give Buyers More Protection at Closing Is Effective July 30

If you are applying for a loan to purchase or refinance, you should be aware of new rules that will give buyers more protection at closing.  Although little publicized, this newest set of consumer protection rules will take effect just 10 days from now on July 30.

Key Changes Effective July 30

The purpose of these rule changes is to give consumers better access to and more time to consider what for many is a major financial transaction.  But, as with any new regulations there are sure to be snafus and unexpected consequences. Be sure your Realtor  – and your lender – are up to date on these changes.  And if they aren’t?  Well, it may be time to go somewhere else.

For more information, call me at 703.927.4554 or email me at [email protected]

Michael

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Buying A House ‘As Is’ – Worth the Risk?

Agents are all too familiar with the term ‘as is’.  Standard sales contracts generally say that appliances, heating, cooling, plumbing and electrical systems and equipment; and smoke and heat detectors must be in ‘normal working order‘ when a house is sold.

Legally this means that the refrigerator keeps food cool and that the freezer freezes water – not that the appliances are pristine or without flaws.  It also means that if one of these systems in not in ‘normal working order’ the seller has to fix it to complete the sale.

BUT, if a seller adds the words ‘as is’ clause to the contract and the buyer accepts it, then nothing but the smoke detectors, which are required by local law, needs to work properly.

So, is buying a house ‘as is’ worth the risk?  Read more here and decide for yourself.

Michael

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2010 Zagat Guide Adds Only Two New Restaurants in Alexandria

Every year we look forward to being the first to bring you up to date information from the newest Zagat restaurant guide for the Northern Virginia/Washington, DC area.  In fact last year we were so far ahead of everyone else that Zagat’s publicity department actually called and asked us to take our post down.  We politely declined!

This year there are only two new entries for the 2010 edition that arrived in bookstores yesterday.

Joining the Zagat family are La Strada on Mt. Vernon Avenue in Del Ray and Brabo on King Street in Old Town Alexandria.

We’re particularly pleased about La Strada because 1) it’s three blocks from our house and 2) in our first post on La Strada, we predicted that it would soon be Zagat bound and we were right!


Zagat’s notes that the “family owned Northern Italian restaurant  . . . offers a moderately priced menu of locally sourced, seasonal fare in a setting that evokes a Tuscan enoteca along with a communal dining table.”  La Strada has definitely become a neighborhood favorite and it’s nice to have Del Ray well represented.

The second addition to the list is Brabo by Robert Wiedmaier and the Tasting Room at the new Lorien Hotel and Spa on King St.  Brabo serves “upscale Belgian-French and American classics” while the more casual Tasting Room “features a zinc bar and a menu of charcuterie, pizzas, and seafood.”

It’s always fun to see what folks think of our local dining establishments, so be sure and check out what happened in 2009 and 2008.  Zagat’s rankings are from the diner’s point of view and take food, decor, service and cost into consideration.

Reservations anyone?

Michael

Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 4 Comments »

Alexandria and Northern Virginia Show Stability in Housing Market

Following on yesterday’s post about the danger of making generalizations about housing data, an article in today’s Wall Street Journal reaffirms that the “housing slump” depends on where you live.  The good news is that “The Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC . . . have shown signs of stabilizing, housing analysts say.”

The article continues, “In the Washington, D.C., area, government-related employment has held up and helped revive housing demand, says Jody Kahn, an analyst at John Burns Real Estate Consulting, a research firm. “Good locations in Alexandria and Fairfax [Va.] are seeing some emerging price stability and even small increases.”

For the complete article and fundamental indicators in 28 major markets, click here.  For video, click here.

As always, for a personalized search or Comparative Market Analysis in the Northern Virginia area, call me at 703.927.4554.

Michael

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Home Pricing Data Has Its Flaws

With the Dow reaching 9,000 today, it seems a good time look at a recent report on how media reports about have affected potential home buyers.  The bottom line?

Home pricing data is flawed

Top officials with the National Association of Realtors  (NAR) and Standard and Poor’s, which issues the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index, have agreed that their monthly reports are giving imprecise readings of price  changes at all levels – national, state and regional – because of rare market conditions that are skewing survey results.

An example – in April, the NAR reported that median home prices in the US had fallen 7.7% from March 2008.  The decline however resulted largely from a market anomaly – a steep decline in costlier home sales because of tighter lending standards and high jumbo-mortgage ratges PLUS a foreclosure driven spike in less expensive homes.

 

As NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun noted, “In normal times a median price would reflect typical homeowner equity changes, but these are not normal times.  The jumbo (mortgage) market is frozen and the buying activity is more concentrated in lower-value homes.”

Also, the S&P/Case-Shiller index is skewed for two reasons of its own – it tracks just 20 major markets, many among the hardest hit and its “repeat sales” survey pulls in individual homes both bought and sold in just the last few years.  Many of those very houses are now being dumped by distressed homeowners and investors who bought at peak market prices and face higher mortgage-rate adjustments.

You can read the entire article here, or look at this video but the final comment by Yun pretty well sums up what I have been saying to all of my clients, ” . . . saying the average nationwide temperature is 57 degrees doesn’t tell you anything and the same is true of real estate prices.”

 If you really want to know what your home is worth, talk to a professional, full time Realtor for local market conditions.  My number is 703.927.4554  – call me.

Michael

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