Our New Blog

The start of the year is always an exciting time. It’s a chance to plan for the future and look back on the past year. It’s also the time of year that we hear from many clients who want to know how the real estate market ended and where it’s headed.

Getting perspective on the past year’s trends helps us see how the future will unfold. Here are a few of the key developments the real estate market experienced in 2019.

Interest rates were low, so money was cheap. While experts predicted a rise in interest rates last year, we saw drops below 4%. These low rates are expected to continue in the year ahead unless something changes bringing calm to the world economy.  Right now, that doesn't seem likely.

Demand for housing was ample, although supply was limited. It remained a sellers’ market in 2019 across most areas at the low to mid-level price points, with a continued lack of inventory for sale.  The higher priced markets seem to have considerably more inventory than we've experienced in past years, perhaps due to changing desires of buyers, as well as fewer buyers in the higher priced category.

Homeownership rates rose, thanks to low mortgage rates. Buying continued to be more economical than renting as rates dropped, and that brought a jump in homeownership rates, according to Census Bureau reports.  We have a mortgage lender who has developed a calculator for rent versus buy, if you're interested.  Let us know.

Healthy conditions were reported in the job and stock market. This past year had one of the hottest job markets in recent history, with healthy growth through the year. Likewise, the stock market hit record highs, and industry analysts see that continuing in 2020, particularly in Northern Virginia.

Concerns lowered for a potential recession. Economists talked about a potential recession in 2019 or 2020, but those expectations have dropped as the domestic economy is very strong, being driven by consumer spending.  With continuing talk of wage escalation, particularly at the lowest levels, there's little reason to think this is going to change.

Altogether, 2019 brought positive news to the housing market and 2020 is likely to see the same. If you’re interested in learning more about the market or looking to buy or sell this year (or if you know someone that may), let us know.  We're here to help you plan for your future.   Call Carol, 703-622-4441, or send us an email at info@mcewen-lunger.com .

Posted by Gerald McEwen on January 6th, 2020 11:36 AM
Virginia house Del. Ibraheem Samirah has introduced a bill that would override local zoning officials to allow multi-family housing in all neighborhoods. The bill follows others passed in at least one state, and several larger cities.  Proponents of the position say that it's better for the environment, to allow more density, and that single-family zoning promotes racial segregation.  If passed into law, the bill could allow for a considerable increase in density in Arlington, already the most densely populated county in the United States
Posted in:General
Posted by Gerald McEwen on December 24th, 2019 3:36 PM
When you let your friends or neighbors know you’re getting ready to sell your home, you probably get even more “free” advice than when raising children! Match that with all you’ll find on the Internet, and you can be buried in opinions and recommendations. What’s the best thing to do first? Call a realtor!

I know what you’re thinking, “what would you expect from a real estate blog,” but Let me tell you why before you just trash this message.

Why not just read what the experts write on the Internet? Admittedly, there is a lot of good, general advice on the Internet; however, the problem is that the advice is “general.” Advice that applies to the majority of readers will not help your house stand out from the pack.

In Arlington Virginia for example, and in older established areas like it, each house, and each neighborhood is unique in some respects. Many older houses have been modified and renovated by previous owners. Neighborhoods have had older houses replaced by newer ones at different times and by different builders, when buyers preferred different styles. And the character of different neighborhoods will have attracted different kinds of people. All of these characteristics, and more, should be considered when pricing and marketing a property, to ensure that your property is shown to the public in the best possible light. An experienced local realtor will know the importance of learning these things and incorporating them into your marketing plan.

Of course, you still want to have a few general do’s and don’ts, and you might still think you can do it yourself, or use a limited service broker, and save all that commission money. So, here are a few general statements you can keep in mind.

Although you’re probably not a salesman by profession, you need to think of the sale of your home as if you were. First, it’s no longer “your home.” It’s now a house, a property, an item you’re selling. Buyers don’t really care that you raised your children there, or that you remember your first Thanksgiving.

You may think that because you learned to live with some particular shortcoming a buyer shouldn’t be concerned with it. Get over that idea. And particularly if you’ve lived in the house for the past 30 years, and you love the wallpaper (which was the best money could buy when you put it up in 1978), don’t expect the majority of buyers to love it as well. You have to face the fact that people like you are usually not going to be the ones buying your property. People like you are selling these kinds of properties.

So, look at other properties that are on the market to see how they are being presented. Go to open houses, and strike up conversations with buyers there to see what they think about those properties. This is an easy way for you to discover what appeals and what doesn’t.

Now you’ve gotten into a salesman mindset, correct? Not so fast. You still have to take care not to take things personally. What does that mean? When you hear someone said the carpet needed to be replaced, and the master bedroom was too small for their furniture, and the boxwoods lining the front walkway (which you and your wife had planted when you first moved in) smelled bad and should be removed, you can’t get defensive. Maybe the comment is just a negotiation ploy or maybe it’s a way for these potential buyers to say they don’t like the house, when it’s a number of other reasons as well. Whatever it is, consider the comment, what you could do about it, if anything, and make a decision based on whether doing something would improve your chances of selling the property.

The next general statement is “don’t over-improve.” Usually, major renovations, such as new kitchens and baths, do not have a dollar-for-dollar return on your investment. Hence, doing those kinds of renovations for sale are not warranted.

Updating, however, can be beneficial. Painting kitchen cabinets, installing new door and drawer hardware and a new light fixture can help tremendously in the kitchen. Consider new flooring as well, if the old is considerably worn. Bathrooms can be helped by new sinks and vanities (from Lowes or Home Depot) and new mirrors and light fixtures, simple changes that do not cost a lot but will make a bath look new.

And, of course, painting, new chandeliers and ceiling light fixtures (again from Lowes or Home Depot), new switch plates and outlet covers, and “deep” cleaning are usually essentials. Outside, power washing and sprucing up the landscaping (trim, edge and mulch) are also essentials. The watchwords are clean, neutral and modern.

This is also the time when you, or a handyman, fix all of the little things that haven’t really bothered you much, but that will detract from the overall impression of your property, for example, the door that sticks or the one that doesn’t close right, the storage room walls with efflorescence that need cleaning and painting with DryLok, the faucet that drips unless you really strong-arm it when closing it, the light bulbs that are out in the storage room or other light fixtures, etc..

The next don’t is “don’t over-decorate.” Your buyer may not like your taste. When you paint, keep colors muted. While it’s always a good idea to add a splash of color to a room, whether that’s in the form of a decorative pillow or a throw, it’ll depend on the furnishings. A good idea is to contact a home staging professional for help with paint colors, placement of furnishings, even things like modernizing the light fixtures. They are experts in presenting properties with universal appeal, and in consultation with your realtor, who would be looking at the likely demographic of your purchaser pool, can provide you with the best guidance for how the house should look.

While these are some of the most important do’s and don’ts, there is one more that can impair your chances for sale. That’s you acting like a salesman. I know, I said you needed to think like a salesman, but doing so with potential buyers will usually turn them off. They don’t need to be told each aspect of the house you think is wonderful. Hovering around, pointing out things to them, will make them uncomfortable. Plus, they won’t feel free to discuss things about the house in your presence, for fear of hurting your feelings, and they may leave early without actually giving your house the attention it deserves.

Well, what happens if you can’t leave when someone comes to visit? Locate a place in advance, where you will be as out-of-the-way as possible, take a book, and sit quietly, reading. In other words, give them as much space as possible. The best idea, take a walk, or go to the neighbors. Next best, sit in the car. The idea is to give them ample time to consider your house, and how they would live in it.

All of this goes for pets as well. Having pets gone is the best approach, although I understand this is not always possible. When dogs must be left in the house, it is better to crate them than to use a fence to keep them in a particular part of the house or room. Remember, anything that distracts from that potential buyer’s ability to fully consider your property is something that interferes with your possible sale.

I hope some of this information is helpful, and I hope it has encouraged you to contact an experienced local realtor to help with your sale. You’ll find more helpful information in our section on Selling A Home. If you have any comments, please feel free to contact me at info@mcewen-lunger.com.

Posted by Gerald McEwen on March 7th, 2019 1:55 PM
First off, this is not about bashing Home Inspectors. The majority of home inspectors we see in Arlington Virginia are American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) Certified Inspectors who are knowledgeable and conscientious. Most have had backgrounds in the building industry prior to becoming a home inspector. To be ASHI Certified, the Inspector must have passed the ASHI technical examinations, performed 250 professional inspections, and adhere to a strict code of ethics. There are also ongoing classes and seminars of current interest provided to ASHI members.

Does this mean a home inspector who is not ASHI Certified would not be qualified to conduct a home inspection? Not necessarily. Nor does ASHI certification guarantee you will have a home inspection that will find all important deficiencies. As with any profession, there are some who are better than the average, and some who are not.

So, what to do? Your first step should be to ask your realtor for a recommendation. Experienced realtors will have worked with a number of different Inspectors, and will be able to tell you something about how each work. You can also go onto Angieslist.com, and onto Yelp.com to see what other people are saying about different inspectors. Once you have a couple of names, you can always call each and get a sense of how they will work with you. Do they sound like they’ll have enough time to answer your questions during the home inspection? If you’re concerned about a particular aspect of the house, such as the HVAC System, is this something in their background that would suggest they have particular expertise?

The questions of background expertise and how inspectors present are important. Occasionally, an inspection will find something in one of the systems that may not be in the textbooks. Frequently, these are acceptable modifications or installations that are well known to persons licensed for that particular trade, HVAC technicians, electricians, or plumbers, and inspectors with the appropriate background will know about them as well. The problem can come when the inspector identifies something like this as being defective, perhaps even hazardous. This can cause you unnecessary concern, and may even lead to difficulties in negotiations with the seller.

The litigiousness of our society has caused much of the concerns with home inspection reports, hence it’s important that you have an inspector who is willing to talk with you during the inspection. The written results will always paint the most conservative picture to avoid any client saying that they weren’t properly warned about a problem. Talking with the inspector can really put the written statements, some of which are boilerplate in some of the report writing software used by inspectors, into perspective. Something identified in the written report that might have made you consider giving up the house you really loved, might not be as much of a concern once it’s explained.

While it’s important to have a home inspection to know what you are purchasing, and to be able to negotiate with the seller to try to get items fixed that you wouldn’t have been able to easily see (which you should have considered with your offer), it’s also important to remember you’re not buying a new house, and that the seller is not bound by the contract to actually fix anything. Talking with the home inspector during the inspection will help you know what’s important and its “relative” importance, and your negotiation will go much more smoothly.

For additional general information on Home Inspections, don't miss our information "Buying a Home"

As always, if you have any questions about this, or would like to comment, please contact me at info@mcewen-lunger.com

Posted by Gerald McEwen on March 7th, 2019 1:26 PM
Written by Carol McEwen
Did you know that our Central Library here in Arlington has a Center for Local History (formerly called The Arlington Room)? It houses many items including records and minutes from various local organizations. According to Judith Knudsen, head of the center, “An organization’s memory is in its records and they provide unique testimony to its achievements. When an organization donates its records to our archives, it assures that its history will become part of the community’s collective memory forever.” Currently the center has records from organizations all over Arlington, such as the Crystal Springs Study Club, the Williamsburg Woman’s Club, the Kiwanis Ki-Wives and even records from the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization and Tenants of Arlington County. So if your organization is looking to archive their records and become a part of our history, this is the perfect opportunity. After all, history isn’t made only by the big events. Grass roots organizations play a big part, too.
Posted by Gerald McEwen on February 21st, 2019 3:14 PM
With the latest news about Amazon deciding to pull out of NY for it's HQ2 because of difficulties with some politicians and locals, Arlington was quick to assure everyone that it still wanted the company here.  On the Arlington Newsroom, Christian Dorsey, County Board Chairman, was quick to point out that "nothing has changed" here.  The Board is scheduled to consider the performance incentive package for Amazon at it's meeting in March.

Still of concern to many activists is the impact of Amazon's location here on housing affordability.
Posted in:General and tagged: AmazonArlington
Posted by Gerald McEwen on February 15th, 2019 10:17 AM
In Arlington, we’ve been told what Amazon plans to do with staffing for the next 10 years, and what that will also mean for additional staffing for companies who provide ancillary products and services. Of course, some home sellers, buyers and investors have been making plans, based on those long range projections, but what if?

One possibility that may be overlooked in these projections, particularly by local and Commonwealth politicians who see nothing but rosy increases in employment and tax bases for years to come, concerns the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI). At present, AI is not quite the disruptive technology that Amazon’s business model turned out to be, but improvements in computational speed and programming (both hardware and software) have made advances in AI that were in the realm of Science Fiction a few short years ago.

We already know that AI directed robotics has decreased the need for skilled workers on assembly lines, so what about AI that can identify routine situations/questions and then respond appropriately? What will this mean to the staffing projections of Amazon? What will it mean for the ancillary companies? What will it mean to the local, Commonwealth and federal workforces? How many jobs are there we now think could not be handled by a computer that we will find can easily be handled by AI in the future? Most importantly for buyers and seller, who are looking 5-10 years down the road, is what might that do to the housing market?

The effects of what the business writers like to call disruptive technology can be predicted, but not really understood until they happen. One possible effect of AI on our housing market could be a reversal of the need for close-in housing for the workforce. Will this affect the market value of properties in Arlington, Alexandria, and other close-in jurisdictions? Time will tell, but it probably won’t take as long to have answers to these questions as many people think.

If you’d like to comment on this article, please email: Info@McEwen-Lunger.com.

Posted by Gerald McEwen on February 14th, 2019 1:50 PM