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Archive for August, 2009

Mortgage Rates are Volatile But Relatively Unchanged Going Into September

Mortgage rates were volatile again last week but closed relatively unchanged as we move into September:

Folks are stepping up the intensity of their home search as the end to the 2009 First Time Buyer Tax Credit is now in sight.  Remember, buyers must close by November 30 to take advantage of the credit.  To be safe, I recommend the buyer be under contract by October 15 to insure closing on time.

No news yet on an extension of the tax credit but stay tuned as we move further into the year.

Bright spots

  1. According to the S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index, we’ve now gone two months with prices actually increasing. 
  2. The ISM Manufacturing Index isexpected to tic over the 50-mark, indicating that manufacturing is finally expanding.

For a full report on mortgage rates, click here.

As always, thank to Rob Clark at Preferred Mortgage,

Michael

Related articles:

10 First-Time Homebuyer Tax Credit Questions and Answers

What Are the Chances for An Extension on the First Time Home Owners Tax Credit?

 

 

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Scenic Sunday in Del Ray

Welcome to Scenic Sunday.  One of our favorite houses in Del Ray is on Leslie Avenue.

I’ve never been inside and don’t know the owners but every spring they plant 11 containers with the most glorious ferns possible.  These giant beauties are meticulously maintained and even on the most intemperate days are an oasis of green.

I pass this charming home everyday on my way to the gym –

 

Thanks for checking out Scenic Sunday in Del Ray,

Michael

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What It Means to Renovate a Historic Home in Alexandria, VA

Alexandria, in fact, all of Northern Virginia, is full of history and historic properties.  Narrow stair cases, high ceilings and interesting floor plans can be appealing but what happens when an owner wants to change something?  What does it really take to renovate a historic home?

Bottom line – a good relationship with your neighbors and the local historic preservation committee.

You can almost always renovate anything you want on the inside. Take a Victorian kitchen to one straight out of the Jetson’s?  No problem.  But try to move a roof line or add an extra room, particularly if it can be seen from the street and, well, you’ve got trouble.

Sticking points for getting approval generally revolve around color, architectural style and details and additions.

Alexandria historic-preservation planner Lee Webb suggests that home owners always visit with their local preservation staff before beginning work. Approval processes may vary according to the work involved too.

Webb gives this example:  Placing a new gas light in the front yard in the historic district of Alexandria or a new electric fixture where there was not one before requires full board approval as opposed to staff level approval.

And just because your neighbor had a change approved, don’t assume it will be the same for you.  A wrought-iron garden wall may be appropriate for a late 19th century home but not for your 17th century residence.

Plans to change a home formerly owned by a notable or historic figure will also get closer than normal scrutiny.

There are five historic districts in Alexandria:

Parker-Gray, the largest historically black neighborhood in Alexandria, has applied for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places and is awaiting confirmation.

Thanks for stopping by,

Michael

For more information about available properties in these historic Alexandria neighborhoods, call me at 703.927.4554

Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 1 Comment »

My Mother-in-Law Made Me Do It! Why I Became a Senior Residential Specialist.

My mother-in-law is 91 today.  She is still manages her own affairs, walks without assistance, plays bridge 3 times a week, gardens – in fact she is the veritable poster child for aging.  But, despite all that, she is still the reason I decided to become certified as a Senior Real Estate Specialist (SRES)

Four years ago my mother-in-law decided to sell her house in Florida and move to Alexandria. She made the decision on her own time (although she had evacuated 3 times in 6 weeks during a horrific hurricane season).

She also made the decision very quickly and left little time for preparation. I found her a competent agent in Florida and her house sold within two weeks. We were very lucky.

But not everyone is.   Just going through the process with her and remembering what my own parents had endured long before I became an agent, I decided that I would take the time to learn just what a Senior Residential Specialist can offer.

Consider this: my in-laws were products of the great depression and did not believe in credit.  During their lifetime they built three different houses in three different state and they NEVER, EVER had a mortgage.

It was all done with cash and a handshake.  They probably never even used a real estate agent but simply bought their land directly from the owner – with cash and a handshake.

Just think how strange today’s transactions must have seemed to my mother-in-law.

SRES agents understand that this extreme downsizing is often done under duress or when the homeowner is not in the best of health, physically or mentally.  It may occur after the death of a spouse or partner with whom the client has shared a lifetime.  It may mean leaving friends and moving to another city or state.   Each of these components is difficult and taken together it is almost a tsunami.

SRES agents learn that a “team” approach is often helpful.  If needed, I will put together a team to include a social worker, health care provider, investment counselor, family member, estate sale/moving specialist, etc. etc.  Some of the members, like a health care provider and investment counselor, may have already worked with my client for years, but having everyone working together can make a huge difference.

SRES agents learn that patience is key.  Terms and conditions need to be explained and then explained again.  The client may ask the same question every day for weeks.  Patience.

SRES agents learn about communication.  And for me, this – and patience – are key.  In two recent listings I have done for senior clients, neither had computers, fax machines, or cell phones. One did not even have an answering machine.  Because of that, most of our conversations were face to face and I had to hand deliver documents.  It was definitely a change from the way I normally do business but you know what?  I kind of liked it!  Old-fashioned simple communication at its best.

Can I help you or someone you know make the move of a lifetime?

Call me at 703.927.4554 or email at [email protected]

Michael

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What Are the Chances for An Extension on the First Time Home Owners Tax Credit?

What are the chances for an extension on the First Time Home Owners Tax Credit?  We don’t know for sure but we do know that a bill has been introduced in the House by U.S. Representative Howard Coble (R-NC).

His bill, HR 2801, is called Home Ownership Moves the Economy (HOME) and it comes with a few notable changes.

  1. Income restrictions would be removed
  2. Buyers would not need to be first time buyers

Bets are on some kind of extension but just what remains to be seen.

What you need to know now is that if you want to take advantage of the current First Time Home Owners Tax Credit, your purchase must close by November 30th.  

Let me say that again, to take advantage of the 2009 First Time Home Owners Tax Credit, your purchase must close by November 39th.

Please, don’t wait and don’t count on an extension. Act now.  Call me at 703.927.4554.  Now. Time is running out.

Michael

Related articles:
10 First-Time Homebuyer Tax Credit Questions and Answers
Real Estate Trends in Alexandria Zip Code 22314 for July 2009
July Housing Sales for Alexandria Zip Code 22301

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Diners, Drive-In’s and Dives – My Favorite Places

I am a foodie.  Not one of your Gourmet, Bon Appetit, wine swirling, truffle eating foodies (although, yes, I have been to Italy twice) but rather a dinner, drive-in and dive kind of foodie.

I love finding out of the way, often small places that attract lots of locals and where most tourists or newcomers would never stop.  Often in a “bad” neighborhood or less than obvious (even respectable) venue, the best dinners, drive-ins and dives offer cooking from the heart.  It may be authentic regional cuisine, basic comfort food, a display of ethnic heritage or simply the owner’s own eclectic take on timeless classics.

But holding it all together is a passion for serving great food, made from scratch with the best and freshest ingredients. Ummmmmmmmmm, that sounds pretty ‘gourmet’ to me!

And where do I find my dinners, drive-in’s and dives?  Well, I’m always on high alert when showing property or taking a road trip, but most often I tune into the Food TV Network for Guy Fieri’s Dinners, Drive-Ins’ and Dives.

Last September we took a driving trip to Maine and Guy’s list of places went right with us.  (You can look up locations by state and then just print the whole thing out.)  Clams and lobster rolls – need I say more?

The great thing about Guy’s show is that he gets suggestions from viewers all across the country so its just not places he has picked but places where locals eat every day.

Happy hunting,

Michael

Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 1 Comment »

Bankruptcy Will NOT Keep You From Getting a VA Mortgage

Bankruptcy will NOT keep you from getting a VA mortgage if you meet the following criteria:

Under VA requirements, if you had a Chapter 7 bankruptcy that was

You may obtain 100% financing up to 4 times your maximum eligibility – this means that if your eligibility is $104,250, then the maximum VA loan amount with no down payment is $417,000.

You must also meet standard credit requirements and debt-to-income ratios based on your income and other debt obligations.

Want to know more about qualifying for a VA mortgage in the Northern Virginia area?  Give me a call at 703.927.4554.

Michael

P.S. Thanks to Lewis Corcoran in Brewster, Mass for this information

Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 8 Comments »

How Walkability Raises Housing Values in Northern Virginia

I have taken my title, or at least part of it – How Walkability Raises Housing Values –  directly from a new report commissioned for CEO’s for Cities because it really just says it all.

The full title of the report is “Walking the Walk:  How Walkability Raises Housing Values in U.S. Cities” and it was commissioned by CEO’s for Cities, a national network of urban leaders dedicated to building and sustaining the next generation of great American cities.

This is the first time since Walk Score was introduced in 2007, that a dollar figure has been attached to levels of walkability.

The report looked at 94,000 real estate transactions in 15 markets – including the Northern Virginia city of Arlington.  In 13 of those markets, higher levels of walkability were directly linked to higher home values. 

As Joseph Cortright, an economist and author of the report noted, “Walkable places have some of the best chances of performing well in years ahead.”

In fact, the study found that “a one-point increase in Walk Score is linked to an increase in home value between $500 and $3,000, depending on the market.

The premium for homes in neighborhoods with above-average Walk Scores ranged from $4,000 to $34,000.”

In Arlington the value of one point of Walk Score is worth $1730.  I’m sorry Alexandria wasn’t included in this study but am confident that it would have scored as well if not better.

We’ve been writing about walkability now for almost two years and know what an important role it plays in a buyer’s decision.  Here in our own Del Ray neighborhood, homes score in the high 80’s and as more businesses like the Neighborhood Pharmacy, the Greener Cleaner and Eclectic Nature set up shop, the higher those scores will go.

I’d love to tell you more about about how walkability could raise your housing values.  Call me  – 703.927.4554.

Michael

Related stories:

Eclectic Nature Gift and Garden Center in Alexandria, VA
The Neighborhood Pharmacy in Alexandria, VA
Doing Business on Del Ray’s Mt. Vernon Avenue – The Greener Cleaner
July’s First Thursday Celebrates “Main Street” in Del Ray

Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 4 Comments »

Virginia Wines Are Competing Head On with California and France

Virginia wines, not always taken seriously, are now competing head on with wines from California and France.  But a bit of background first.

In 1976 a British wine merchant organized a wine competition in Paris in which French judges did a blind tasting of top-quality chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon wines from France and California – except that the judges did not know that any of the wines were from outside of their country.

Surprise, surprise – the California wines rated best in each category.  Known as the Judgment of Paris, the contest rocked the wine community and forever changed the perception of grapes grown and bottled in this country.

Fast forward 30 years.   The Washington Post invited six area wine professionals to a similar tasting but this time the unknown wines were from Virginia.  The California wines still took top honors in each category but the Virginia wines made a strong showing or as the Post said “Virginia was nipping at their heels.”  For a complete breakdown of the ‘scorecard’, click here.

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Most Virginia wines are produced within a two hour drive of the Northern Virginia area and are perfect for a day trip.

“A loaf of bread, a jug of wine and thou . . .”

Michael

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Real Estate Trends in Alexandria Zip Code 22314 for July 2009

The real estate trend in Alexandria’s 22341 zip code for July 2009 is about stability and fewer days on the market.  Zip code 22314 embraces all of Old Town Alexandria, moves north up the GW Parkway to take in Potomac Greens and west on King Street past the Masonic Temple.

What we are seeing in July 2009 is the same number of sales as in July 2008 but with a decrease in the average number of days on the market from 105 in 2008 to 87 in 2009.

On the other hand, the average sales price in July 2008 was $1,026,178 while the average for July 2009 was $673,892.  As alarming as this may seem at first glance, it is worth nothing that in July 2008 there was one property that sold for over $4 million, two that sold for over $2 million and three that sold for over $1 million.  By contrast, in 2009, there were only three properties that tipped the $1 million mark.

The fact that the number of sales has remained steady while the number of days on the market has decreased is just another sign that the housing market is regaining its footing and adjusting appropriately.

If you want to know more about opportunities in the 22314 market, give me a call at 703.927.4554.

Michael

Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 4 Comments »

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