Switch up your Workout a Bit?

There are many reasons why I think DC is a great place to live.  Among the best reasons?  Its bike friendliness, abundance of running and walking trails and the many studios offering a wide array of activities from spinning to yoga to dance.

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For two years, I’ve been an avid runner.  While I realize it’s everyone’s cup of tea, it’s the best exercise I’ve ever engaged in.  Not only does it keep me fit – but more importantly, running provides me with a mental release from everyday stress.  Running doesn’t always have to be solitary, though.  There running groups sponsored by Pacers, Road Runners and Nike, and getting some of your friends together for a weekly run could become a nice way to catch up with people and avoid “lunching” – why not walk and talk?  Or run and talk?  Click here to read a NY Times article about choosing the right running shoes.

 I also practice yoga several times a week.  As I get older, staying flexible and finding ways to relax has become more important to me.  I started practicing yoga about 15 years ago and it has always been there for me.  At times, I’ve taken breaks for years – but I can always go back to it and get back up to speed.  Yoga is quite forgiving. The abundance of studios in this area, with the different practices and styles can be overwhelming.  Unknown-1However, I’ve found that most of the studios are very welcoming and if you are new to yoga, they are quite patient with you.   If you are interested, try Sun and Moon Yoga in Virginia – you can drop in on classes and they often run specials for new students.  Also, there is Buddha B in DC and Mind the Mat in Arlington.  My friend Sara Lavan, who owns Local Motion in Alexandria, offers yoga and Pilates along with dance and barre.
If you are interested in becoming more physically active or even looking to try a new hobby and get yourself moving, why not try some of these options?
I’ll shamelessly plug for Saffron Dance, where I take my belly dance lessons.  They are located in Arlington and focus on both the integrity of belly dance as an art form and also on acceptance of women from all backgrounds, of all shapes and sizes and all ages.  It’s a really wonderful and friendly place.  Check it out at: www.saffrondance.com.images
If you are already fit and want to kick things up a notch, try Solidcore?  Apparently, FLOTUS loves it. It looks hard, but I would love to try it.  Anyone in?
Want to embrace your inner ballerina?  Try a barre workout. At Barre Tech in Alexandria, they use a combination of ballet moves, yoga and pilates to give you a great workout.  I’ve tried it and it is a lot of fun.   And there is always Biker Barre in DC – where you can spin and also do a barre workout.  The classes are offered separately but you can combine them for something a little different and more intense.
We all know about Crossfit.  There’s always THAT.  I admit that it simply doesn’t look like my “thing” – but I will say that I have watched many friends go through the Crossfit program and graduate with terrific results.  Impressive results!!
Do you like to cycle? Summer heat and humidity got you down?  There are a number of studios dedicated strictly to spinning.  Get your workout in and stay OUT of the humidity.  There is OffRoad Cycling  and Soulcycle in DC, two places I have been and enjoyed.   Zengo Cycle in Bethesda (first class is free!) is also great.images-1
Or how about this crazy idea?  Try walking places that you would normally drive.  Give yourself a week or two and walk as much as you can.  Unlike cities like Los Angeles or Houston – DC is tiny in comparison and is very walkable!!  See below for articles on getting more steps into your day!  Or click here to read a NY Times article on how walking even two minutes an hour can counteract the harms of sitting for long periods.
References:
Pacers Running Club: https://www.runpacers.com
Potomac River Runners: https://potomacriverrunning.com
Local Motion Studio: www.localmotionstudio.com
Saffron Dance Studio:  www.saffrondance.com
Sahara Dance studio  (DC):  www.saharadance.com
Solidcore:  www.solidcore.co
Off Road Cycling: http://offroaddc.com
Want to walk more?

How to “Keep it Together” While Showing Your Home

For those of you who have listed your home for sale or are about to list it – you know how much work it takes to get a home ready to show.   If you’ve worked with me before, you know what I always say – the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it.  No doubt it’s exhausting to move furniture into a storage unit, declutter like a woman possessed, and go through boxes of Mr. Clean Magic erasers washing your walls and doors.

But, when your house is spiffed and shined to perfection and you’re ready to kick back and let the buyers knock on your door, here’s how to stop the insanity while your home is on the market.

 

house-for-saleBe Ready to Sell.  Sounds obvious, doesn’t it?  But if you are simply testing the waters or your heart isn’t into the move for one reason or another, WAIT.  A lot of work goes into getting a home ready to show, don’t waste your efforts if you aren’t serious.  Be emotionally ready to sell – and by sell, I mean, LEAVE your house.

 

Get a Storage Unit. This is a big part of de-cluttering and de-personalizing – having a place other than your garage to stow all the items you’ve accumulated over the years.  When it comes to showing a home, less is always more.  This is your opportunity to create a feeling of spaciousness in your home.  Take those end tables and store them away, take down family photos.  Clear away as much furniture as you can – it’s really the basics that count now.   When buyers enter your home, they spend most of their time trying to envision themselves living there.  If they spend their time navigating around your furniture or staring at all your family photos and personal art, they aren’t focusing on the right thing.   Hint: The storage unit is also a great place to store seasonal/holiday items and out of season clothing.  Declutter those closets!apm_2

 

Have a PLAN for Keeping Your Home Show-Ready.  Chances are, buyers are not going to show up just as you’ve finished your weekly cleaning.  They come any time, any day (hopefully with an appointment!).  So, before you leave for the day, take 5 to 10 minutes to run around picking up spare toys, laundry, etc.  Clear off bathroom vanities and throw out all trash.  Get in the habit of fixing your bed.  Put dirty dishes in the dishwasher and, if time allows, dry swiffer any floors.  If you’ve ever wanted to hire a cleaning crew, now would be the time to splurge.  You can also do a similar version of this routine in the evening, depending on what suits you.   You may be surprised how easy this routine is after a while and it will certainly help you keep your home ready for potential buyers.   You’ll be glad that you don’t let the work pile up – and, of course, your realtor will love you.

 

Get Your Children on Board.  I’ve sold homes for many families.  I assure you that no child has ever suffered any ill effects from their parents taking their artwork off the walls or putting toys away.  I’ve also visited many homes where parents have NOT taken the time to clean up their childrens’ art galleries and toys and it truly makes a difference in my clients’ showing experience.   To the extent you can explain the home-selling process to kids and involve them in it, the easier it will be for them when disruptions to their lifestyle occur.  Younger children can assist in putting away their toys and older kids can be coaxed into taking care of specific chores, like putting away shoes in the entryway or sweeping the floor every night after dinner.

 

c26-B000JJDI0G-4-lBe Mindful of Fluffy and Fido.  Pets can be stressed and become territorial when strangers enter your home.  Be mindful that not everyone will feel comfortable around animals.  In fact, if I have made an appointment at a home and the owner has not warned me that their pet is inside or has not sequestered their pet, I will not enter  a home.  I learned as a new agent that loose pets make poor showing companions!  So, if you work at home, take your pets out for a walk or crate them when potential buyers visit.  If you need doggie day care while the home is being shown, accept it and hopefully you can find a nice facility that is close by.

 

Protect Your Valuables.  This is among the more unpleasant pieces of advice I have to give.  Since I choose to believe that most everyone means well and is honest, it feels a bit sad to say that not everyone who enters your home will be honest and respectful.  However, the reality is that 99.99% of people are good and would never steal as much as a napkin from you, but it is better to be safe than sorry.  If you have something of value, even if it is simply something of sentimental value, please find a way to hide or safeguard it during the pendency of your listing period.  Things to think about:  jewelry, family heirlooms, medication, portable electronics and chargers.

 

Budget for a Few Meals Out.  Once or twice a week, give yourself and your home a break from cooking smells.  Eat at your favorite neighborhood restaurant and when you get home, your kitchen will be just as spotless as you left it.  I mean, if you ever needed an excuse to eat out a bit more…

 

tumblr_ml0l2gBGIy1r6m3ruo1_500Re-Framing the Selling Experience.  I know it is stressful to sell your home.  I’ve done it personally several times and I have, of course, guided many clients through the process.  One of the ways I believe you can reduce some of this stress is to re-frame the whole idea of listing your home from one of being a “hassle” to one of “opportunity” and “potential.”  It’s a really short term inconvenience, but the experience and goal of selling is to move you from point A to point B.  Taking a positive approach from the beginning will certainly make things more pleasant for you.

How to Avoid Three of the Biggest Homeownership Mistakes

How to Avoid Three of the Biggest Homeownership Mistakes

There really is truth to the idiom that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  When it comes to homeownership, you know that there is always *some* project that you have on the horizon.  However, having seen so many homes over the years, I can tell you that some of the most important preventative actions you can take are quite simple.  It’s just a question of remembering to do them!
As a homeowner myself, my biggest worries often center on the things I cannot see, my roof, my gutters, any potential water damage and I even think about what could happen if there is a fire.
Here are my tips to help avoid these common mishaps.
1. Roof. 322412390d7a8626c510affde0c794bb
Most of us don’t look at the roof every day – at least, not with a critical eye.  However, take a look outside one day, maybe after a storm has passed through.  Does your roof have branches on it?  Do your gutters look like they might have leaves or stick in them?  If so, call someone to clean off the roof and clean out the gutters.  (If you live in a one story home, it may be easy to do this yourself).  This is a relatively inexpensive way to avoid some really potentially damaging water issues.
If you can, hire a roofer once a year to walk your roof and seal up any areas that might need it, especially around vent stacks and exposed exhaust pipes.  A little caulk around these areas could go a LONG way in preventing water from leaking into your home.  My roofer charges about $250 to come out and look at every part of the roof.  I’ve been doing this annually for year and so far, dry house.
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While you are outside, look for tree limbs that are too close to the house and could hit the home or fall onto the roof during a storm.  Try to have branches trimmed back at least 6 to 10 feet away from the house.
2. Water Damage.   Of course, we use our plumbing every day. We don’t see the pipes for the most part, so much of the time the water in our homes is just easy to ignore.  BUT, haven’t you had friends whose water heater failed and just flooded the basements?
Check on your water heater as often as once a month.  Often, you will observe a small leak from the water heater before it “bursts” and that is a big clue to you that your water heater is about to fail you. th-1
Check the hoses on your appliances.  Especially on that washing machine – if you do not have metal braided hoses on your washing machine and instead have black rubber hoses, please replace them.  Metal braided hoses are very durable and the black rubber hoses will eventually fail.  These hoses costs no more than $25.  The average water damage repair can run into the thousands.
Check under your sinks regularly to make sure the pipes are not leaking.  If you ever need to shut off your water if there is damage, make sure you KNOW where your main water shut-off valve is.
If you have a drain in a basement walk out area, keep it clean and sweep leaves and debris off of it regularly.
3. Fire Damage.  It goes without saying that you should have a fire and carbon monoxide detector on all floors of the house and preferably in every bedroom.   For those of us with gas appliances, get your HVAC cleaned and serviced twice a year.  Perhaps you’ve noticed that sometimes you flick a light switch and it makes a sparking sound.  Call an electrician to look at that.  Many electrical problems are SO inexpensive to repair – however, fire damage repair regularly goes into the tens of thousands.  And it could not hurt to have an electrician inspect your wiring every five years or so.  An ounce of prevention… th-2
If you have a chimney, please have a chimney sweep clean and inspect the chimney every year before you use it.
Have escape ladders in your bedrooms and train your kids how to use them.
It’s true that home insurance may cover some or all claims relating to these types of damage.  However, you’re likely still subject to a deductible and you’ll likely endure higher premiums for years to come.  Doing your best to prevent problems before they harm your harm is a good move.

Your Credit Score De-Mystified (and tips to improve!)

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Ever wonder how your credit score is determined?  And what factors determine your credit score?  First, I’ll explain five factors that go into composing your credit score  and then give you some tips on how to improve your score.  Your credit score impacts your financial transactions – how much you pay for your mortgage, your auto loan, your credit cards and so much more.  This score can range from 350 to 850 – with 850 being the highest and 350 the lowest.

 

Your Credit Score Depends on FIVE Factors.

1. Your Payment History: 35% Impact on your score

2. The Balance You Owe vs. your Available Credit Line: 30% impact on your score

3. Your Credit History (How Long Your Accounts Have Been Opened):  15% impact on your score

4. The Type of Credit That You Have Open: 10% impact on your score

5. The Number of Recent Inquiries Made by Creditors:  10% impact on your score

 

Let’s Break it Down.

 

1. Your Payment History.

We all know the basic rule – pay your debts on time and in full.  This has a POSITIVE impact on your credit score.   Late payments, judgments, collections and bankruptcies will hurt you.  If you’ve had a bankruptcy within the last 7 years, it will seriously affect your ability to borrow or establish new credit accounts.   If you’ve had judgments within the last several years, it is imperative that you pay off any judgment and get a “satisfaction of judgment” from the court.  Any unsatisfied or recent judgments will make a bad impression on your credit scores and adversely affect your ability to borrow.

 

If you are a homeowner, pay your mortgage when they are due.  Timely mortgage payments are weighted heavily by the credit scoring systems and are one of the most vital requirements that lenders look for when evaluating your credit history. You are more than just a number, lenders will look at the timeliness of your mortgage payments and a single late mortgage payment within the last 12 months can delay any new mortgage application or mean the difference between the best interest rates and less favorable ones.

 

Credit scoring systems will analyze how many late payments you’ve had and whether they were 30, 60 or 90 days late – or whether you are in default.  Default is the worst situation.  Additionally, if the late payments were consecutive, that is going to look worse than if you have one or two minor late payments with no other derogatory remarks.  The latter will not terribly impact your credit, but you will have issues getting over the critical 700 level even with a few late payments.

 

Helpful tips to improve your Payment History.

– Make all your payments on time.

– Past due accounts will DESTROY your score.  Bring your delinquent accounts current immediately if you can.

– Pay your bills before they go to a collection agency.

– Check your credit report regularly.

 

2. The Balance You Owe vs. Your Available Credit Lines

Keeping your credit balance BELOW 50% of your available limit is very important.  This surprised me when I first looked into this.  And, if you can keep your balances below 30% of your available credit, this is even better.

 

To make this more understandable, I’ll illustrate with math.

If you have $100,000 of available credit, but your balance (money owed) is just $10,000 – then you are only using 10% of your available credit.

If you have $10,000 of available credit and have USED $10,000 of your credit line, you are “maxed out” – and your credit scores will be adversely impacted.

 

At its most pared down, the aphorism here is:  It’s not how much you owe, its how much you owe compared to what you are able to borrow.

 

Helpful tips to improve your credit score in this area:

– Don’t close your credit accounts unless it is necessary to do so.  It’s better to have several open accounts with little or no balances rather than to have just one or two accounts, regardless of the balance.

– Don’t concentrate large balances on just a few accounts.  Pay your outstanding debt as close to zero as possible and then evenly distribute the balance across your open credit lines.  (Remember, keep those balances below 50%, ideally, below 30% of your available credit limit).

– Call your credit card companies and try to increase your available credit lines if they can do so without pulling a new credit report.

 

 

3. Your Credit History – How Long Your Accounts Have Been Opened.

The longer your accounts have been opened the higher your score will be.  Newly opened accounts will bring your score down.

 

Here are helpful tips to improve your score in this area.

– Don’t close your credit accounts.  But if you must, close the newer ones instead of the oldest ones.

– Do department store credit cards or those 0% interest credit cards prove to be tempting?  RESIST.

– If you don’t have much of a credit history, and you are planning on taking out a mortgage in the near future, consider establishing a few credit lines and keep little or no balance on them.   While these new accounts will initially lower your credit score, they will improve your score once they’ve been open for a while, somewhat active, and paid off with little or no balance.

 

4. Type of Credit that You Have Open

No surprise here – variety is the spice of life.  It’s best for you to have a good mix of auto loans, leases, credit cards and a mortgage.  Too many credit cards – not a good thing and having a mortgage (and paying it on time) will improve your score.

credit-card-debt

Here are a few things that will help you improve your score in this area.

–       Have 3-5 revolving credit cards open

–       Have a good mix of auto loans, credit cards and mortgages.  This is better than just having credit cards.

 

 

5. The Number of Recent Inquiries Made by Creditors

Inquiries will affect your score for one year from the time that they are made.  Your score is NOT impacted when you check your own report.  Your score is only impacted if a potential creditor checks your credit.  This includes department stores, credit card companies, auto financers and mortgage companies.

 

Here are three things you can do to improve your score in this area.

–       Multiple auto and mortgage inquiries are treated as one inquiry if made within 45 days of each other.  Do yourself a favor and shop for these loans within a smaller timeframe (i.e., a few weeks) rather than prolonging your search over a longer timeframe.

–       Don’t apply for a lot of credit or open multiple credit cards at one time.

–       If you are thinking about or in the process of applying for a mortgage, close that loan first and THEN apply for any new credit.  Don’t open new credit lines when you are getting a mortgage.

 

Thank you to Craig Strent of Apex Home Loans (www.apexhomeloans.com, cstrent@apexhomeloans.com) for inspiring and contributing to this article.

Other sources include research from the CMPS Institute and the Washington Post.

My 11 Favorite Things to do in DC during the Winter!!

I know this isn’t quite real estate related, but I thought it might serve as some inspiration to you after the holiday madness and during the winter doldrums.  Aside from running trails in our VERY scenic town, these are a few of my favorite winter activities!

1. BOWLING.  For me, bowling is one part kitsch, one part competition and many parts fun!  For a new spin on this old activity, go to Pinstripes in Georgetown.  The food is yummy and restaurant-quality (Sunday brunch is particularly fun with the kids) and you can eat right at your lane with waiter service.  I love this place. 
2. ICE SKATING.  I’ve been skating since I was a kid in Boston.  I miss the outdoor rinks a lot!  If you feel the need for wind in your hair and skates on your feet, try the Canal Park Ice Rink in DC.  Kids can also skate at the Georgetown Waterfront.  And to skate where the Capitals Practice, go to Kettler Capitals IcePlex in Arlington.  P.S.  It’s also great exercise.
3. ENJOY GEORGETOWN.  I’ve loved browsing through Georgetown since I was a teenager.  Up and down M Street and Wisconsin Avenue, so many fun places and unique boutiques have popped up.  When you are done browsing, treat yourself to a snack at Georgetown Cupcake (Follow their twitter feed to find out the secret flavor of the day, ask for it at checkout and it is yours for free) or lunch at Kafe Leopold’s, which is casual, bright and features tasty fare.  For coffee lovers, there is always Baked and Wired (hint:  They also have delicious strawberry cupcakes).
4. SACKLER/FREER GALLERIES OF ASIAN ART.  One of my favorite museum venues, it’s almost always quiet and peaceful inside.  I think this place is exquisite and often overlooked by visitors and native Washingtonians alike.
5.  ROCK THE RED. Those who know me won’t be surprised by this one.  Go to a Caps Game!!  The Caps have a great crowd behind them and the games are often pretty exciting.  With our new coach, we’ve been on an exceptionally nice run lately.  Have dinner beforehand at Zengo (Latin-Asian fusion style food), which is just a block down from the Verizon Center.  Until March 31, Zengo is having a test kitchen promo – with a new menu blending Mexican and Korean cuisine. Sounds interesting!
6. DISCOVER MOVIE MAGIC IN THE MOSAIC DISTRICT. If you’re like me, you probably haven’t been to a movie theater in a while. Or you’ve been stuck at home watching things like the Lego Movie or some other animated features.  Brush off the Legos, wade through the holiday toys left all over the place and get yourself to Angelika Theater at the Mosaic Center in Falls Church.  This beautifully designed theatre has stadium seating, plush chairs and food that is several steps above typical movie food – think fresh sandwiches, bakery, wine, etc.  It’s good!!
After the movie, you can indulge in some gelato at Dolcezza, which is just steps away and enjoy the other shops and restaurants all within a walkable complex in the heart of  Merrifield.

7. INDOOR AQUATICS: Cub Run Indoor Pool located in Fairfax.  A mini water park close to home – complete with zero entry pool, slides and lazy river!

8. THE SPA-AAAAAH.  Getting a nice massage is such a treat.  As busy as you all are, you deserve it.  Make the time to care for yourself, too.  A few of my favorite places are: Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon at Tyson’s Corner (but there are locations all over the DC area), Sugar House Day Spa in Old Town Alexandria and also the Spa at the Mandarin Oriental in DC, which is very indulgent. For the brave among us, there is always Spa World in Annandale for a full day experience, but apparently you should be prepared for some nudity while there… I’m a *little* too shy for public nudity, but I’ve heard the place is fun.
9. THROW YOURSELF A MID-WINTER PARTY!  For me, it’s the Super Bowl, but if that’s not your thing, the Oscar’s are presented on February 22nd.  And if you can’t wait that long – have a Friday night spaghetti or pot luck dinner with your favorite folks.
10.  YOGA.   I’ve recently taken to yoga.  It’s a great complement to running and there is no rule saying you have to do stressful or hot yoga.  If you want something more relaxing, try yin, hatha or restorative yoga.  It all quiets the mind! My favorite place lately is Buddha B in DC.  Nice teachers, a variety of programs and a laid back atmosphere.
11. DO NOTHING.  Give yourself permission to do nothing once in a while.  I mean, maybe you don’t just have to stare into space, but perhaps you could sit and read (whatever you want!) without guilt for an hour or so.  Take a walk and clear your head before tackling a project.  Sometimes, it’s not the worst thing in the world to take some time JUST FOR YOURSELF.  In fact, I think it is healthy to “indulge” in down time.  Get your work done – then give yourself a break.

DC Markets

DC has some terrific food markets! I recently decided to venture outside of my comfort zone (think: neighborhood grocery store) and explore a few food-focused venues.  There were simply too many interesting places to get to them all.  As a long-time Washingtonian, I can tell you that today there are many more avenues for locally sourced ingredients, farmers markets and interesting handmade wares than even just five years ago – especially in the outer lying suburbs.  On this low-key, food focused adventure, I visited three places – Alexandria Farmer’s Market, Union Market, EasternMarket – and here are some thoughts, and photos.

Alexandria Farmer’s Market, Old Town Alexandriaphoto 1-1
Located on the plaza of City Hall, this long time market held every Saturday, was full of flowers, foods and curiosities.  For my part, I almost always focus on the baked goods and immediately headed to the Maribeth’s Bakery table.  They certainly didn’t disappoint.  Sweet and savory breads, scrumptious scones, pies and cookies … they had me at “hello.”  I ended up with ham and cheese scones and some yummy iced cookies.  photo 4For Zoe, of course.  The cookies managed to be sweet and moist – not the typical pretty but largely inedible dry hard discs so typical of many iced cookie varieties.  Delicious!  There was also boutique of handmade hair accessories for kids.  Zoe loved that.  Add to this, jewelry stalls, fresh vegetable and flower vendors, gourmet meats, plus a sunny day and you have the makings of a nice morning stroll.
Eastern Market, Washington, DC
DC’s oldest farmest market does not disappoint.  photo 5In my opinion, it is the destination for weekend mornings in DC.  In years past, I’ve spent more time in line waiting for fresh-made crepes than I care to admit.  Eastern market, unlike the market in Old Town Alexandria, is largely enclosed, with many vendors installed there on a more permanent basis.  photo 4-1During nicer weather, there are outdoor stalls as well where eager customers can find a large selection of foods, housewares, clothing and gifts.  There is a great cheese mart and a flower vendor that sells enchanting blooms, take a look! What is extra fun about Eastern Market is that it also serves as a hub for community events (food and wine tastings, social events, book signings, etc.) and has a number of prepared food vendors if you are like me and often too lazy to cook.
Union Market, Washington DC
It’s going to be no secret that this is my favorite venue.  There is an emphasis on ready to eat foods and vendors here.  It doesn’t feel as much like a farmer’s market, more like a fair full of yummy meals cooked up for you on the spot, boutiques with unique local products and gifts (tea, cupcakes, chocolates, butchers) with an upscale restaurant attached to it all.  I’ve eaten at the restaurant (Bidwell) and it was, in my opinion, a pretty venue but the food was simply “okay.”  photo 2-4 The one caveat I have about that statement is that I’m not an adventurous eater in general, so I ended up with a grilled cheese sandwich, while my tablemates tucked into seemingly more interesting fare.  Anyway, needless to say, I was much more interested in Takorean – yeah, tacos
photo 1-4 made korean style at a small stall across from a pop-up Toki Underground shop.  But, back to Takorean – So delicious.  I also visited Salt and Sundry, an expertly curated boutique of housewares and artisan crafted foods (think piquant little pickles, savory crispy chickpeas).  It reminded me of the housewares section of an Anthropologie store, with slightly higher quality offerings.  On the morning I visited Union Market, I happened to be hosting a get-together that evening, so I had occasion to splurge on some food to take home.  Enter, Righteous Cheese – a cheerful stand replete with unique and delicious cheeses.  The helpful staff is happy to let you sample (don’t abuse the privilege).  I bought several cheeses and a raw honey for my … honey.  Sorry, had to throw that in there.  I just couldn’t resist.  Who is still reading at this point anyway?   The last two places I visited were “Gone Native” – gourmet foods made in small batches (you can’t go wrong here, my favorite is the homemade salted caramel covered homemade vanilla marshmallow smothered in dark chocolate and sea salt) and Trickling Springs Creamery for amazing milk, yogurt and ice cream products.  The moral of the story here is VISIT Union Market.  You can have a very late lunch, spend some time shopping for housewares and gifts, drop your knives off to be sharpened, eat dinner at another stall, and then stay for one of their many classes (wine and cheese pairings), events for families and maybe even a drive-in movie in their parking lot.  During the summer months, there is also a bona-fide farmer’s market on-site.  I think you’ll love it.  There is something for everyone here.  Please go – and then let me know what you think!photo 5-2
photo 3photo 3-2

Fair Housing…

My clients often ask me the following questions:

What kind of people live in this neighborhood?

How old do you think the people are in this building?

Do you think there are families and kids around?

What are the schools and crime rate like in this neighborhood?

Can I refuse to sell my house to a person who is [insert race/religion/color here]? 

 

No joke on that last question, by the way.  We’re not quite the post-racial society that many of us had hoped for by 2014.  Most of the time, people asking the above questions do so with simple curiosity in their heart.  They would like to have a better understanding of the neighborhood they are visiting and want to know if they will be surrounded by like-minded people. Often, demographic research is an important part of a buyer’s due diligence.

Enter the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (aka the Fair Housing Act) and how it intersects with your home search, your home sale and my ability to pass along information without running afoul of anti-discrimination laws.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in the sale or rental of housing based on race, religion, national origin and sex.  The law was amended later to include familial status and disability.  Many jurisdictions, including Virginia, Maryland and DC, have added several other protected classes to the federal list.  DC in particular has an expansive list of protected classes.

Fair Housing laws are in place to protect consumers and ensure that realtors do not engage in “steering” – sending people to specific neighborhoods based on their race, religion, color, creed, etc  – either to keep the makeup of the neighborhood the same or even to intentionally change it.    As a realtor, I can talk about the features of a specific area, but I can’t talk about who lives there.  It makes for some awkward moments when out home-searching, believe me.  Also, if a seller tells me that she would like to exclude certain ethnic groups from purchasing her home, I must refuse to represent that seller.  I have had occasion to do that several times in my career, sadly.

Due to fair housing laws, I can’t, for example, answer questions about whether the people in a specific neighborhood have a certain level of income (economic class is a protected class under many fair housing laws), whether the community is family friendly or “adults only” (your familial status is protected under the fair housing laws) or whether your prospective neighbors follow a particular religion.  In addition, sharing information about schools could also be considered steering people to a certain neighborhood.  It’s often frustrating for me NOT to be able to share information about schools in particular, since I have a school age child and know a bit about local school systems.  But I can’t. If I did, I risk being sued and having my license revoked.  It’s a violation of the Fair Housing Act for me to give you information based on what I “consider” to be a safe neighborhood or where I “consider” the schools to be superior.

I can, however, be the source of information for my buyers.  Thankfully, we really do live in the information age and there is a wealth of resources online.  Sometimes, the next best thing is to point someone in the right direction and I have to be happy with that!

For demographic, school and crime information about certain areas: www.neighborhoodscout.com

For information about schools:  www.greatschools.net

For information on safety and sex offenders: http://familywatchdog.us/

(Or google your state’s sex offender registry)

 

First Timers Looking in Arlington?

Are you interested in being a member of a warm, diverse and vibrant community?  Then consider Arlington, Virginia.  As an Arlingtonian myself, extolling the virtues of this energetic “small town” just outside the District is easy.  Seemingly endless cultural, recreational and educational activities abound, to say nothing of the myriad restaurants, pubs and eateries.  Arlington has many older and established neighborhoods, but it is also a terrific place for first time home buyers who are looking to be a stone’s throw from DC or near Northern Virginia’s business and tech centers.  There’s no doubt in my mind that Arlington is in hot demand. Here are my top five great neighborhoods for first time homebuyers:

imagesAurora Highlands/Arlington Ridge:  Situated walking distance to the Pentagon and Crystal City, this close knit community is full of character.  The sidewalk-lined streets feature a mix of older homes and newer builds.  People come here to put down roots and become a part of the community.  What makes these two contiguous neighborhoods particularly nice is the level of access to DC, Pentagon City, National Airport and Restaurant Row in Crystal City.  Super convenient!
*Clarendon: With a walkability score of 86, Clarendon is Arlington’s most walkable neighborhood.  While many of the free-standing homes are priced in the upper brackets, there are still lovely options for first time homebuyers.  Large condos with upscale amenities are just steps from the vibrant restaurants and entertainment venues on Wilson/Clarendon 4893Market CommonBoulevards.  Orange Line metro is no more than a few blocks away.
*Dominion Hills: For those of you looking for a little suburban oasis that is still close to the city, you’ll enjoy Dominion Hills.  Mostly single family homes, this neighborhood sports parks, community holiday celebrations and charming colonials.  Nearby Upton Hill park features a water park, batting cages and mini golf.  Access to trails, tennis and other recreational pursuits make Dominion Hills a great place for active pursuits.
*Westover: One of my personal favorites. This pedestrian-friendly village is nestled between the Ballston and East Falls Church metros and is anchored by the Westover shopping center, which features mom and pop stores, restaurants, a fun bier garten, ice cream parlor and grocery.  A post office branch, park, and public library make this a full service community.  You’ll find mostly classic post-war colonials in this neighborhood, many of which feature large additions to update the homes for today’s lifestyle.apples
*Shirlington/Fairlington:  Remaining one of the most affordable pockets in Arlington, the Fairlington and Shirlington neighborhoods have weathered the recent market fluctuations very well.  Fairlington features townhome-style condos for maintenance free living, as well as a community center, multiple pools and community-wide social events.  Shirlington has experienced quite a bit of development over the last decade and the community is now anchored by a village center featuring upscale condos and boutiques, a theatre, public library and Harris Teeter.  Super access to 395 for those of you commuting into DC.
No matter where you end up, Arlington has a lot to enjoy and experience.  In my opinion, you can hardly go wrong here!

Blog: Shutdown Edition

Well, it happened.  The federal government has indeed shut down.  Don’t get me started… For now, I’ll just focus on how the shut-down will effect the DC housing market (and erstwhile recovery).  After record low interest rates and a white hot spring market, in the blink of an eye, it’s October and the market has cooled.  Generally, autumn is characterized by lower market activity and longer days on market.  Needless to say, the government shut-down (while it always would have been untimely) has come at a bad time real-estate-wise.  Not exactly what the housing recovery needs.  “This is going to be very disruptive to the mortgage industry and pretty much result in a freeze of the pipeline,” says Craig Strent, CEO of Bethesda-based Apex Home Loans.  “New loans can be taken, but without IRS and Social Security Number verifications, [they] will not be able to proceed to closing.”  (For more information on Craig Strent and Apex Home Loans, click here)

The question posed to me repeatedly over the last few days is:  How will the shut-down effect the market?  Sellers want to know what will happen with potential buyers and contracts already ratified and buyers are sweating about their loans in progress.
Below are some salient points about the shut-down and its effect on homebuyers at various stages of the process.
1.  Since the last government shut-down, the regulatory (loan) process has tightened significantly – exacerbated by the market meltdown fueled by the recent sub-prime mortgage crisis.  This has made it harder for buyers to qualify for loans and extended the time it takes to close a loan.  Granted, many regulations are now in place that have improved the lending process, but it is still complicated and time-consuming.
2. The federal shut-down WILL make this process a bigger pain in your you-know-what.  Probably mine, too.
3.  As mentioned above, buyers with loans in process will be impacted because lenders will find it difficult to gather the necessary data on prospective purchasers – things like social security number and tax transcripts.  Federal employees may face additional problems because employment status verifications (usually done at the beginning of the loan process and just days before settlement), may show that the employee is not being paid anymore.  You can’t qualify for a loan if you are not getting paid.
4. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) represents about 15% of mortgages out there.  The FHA won’t be closed completely and can weather a shut-down as long as it is not protracted, but with a skeleton crew on board, there are going to be delays in loan processing and their ability to police lenders may be hampered.  That’s not good.
5. On a pretty basic level, if your loan is in process but you have not locked your interest rate, your loan will be in a holding pattern – subjecting you to the vagaries of the market.  I’m betting that there will be some rate fluctuation between now and the time the Fed opens.  I’ll keep fingers crossed for rates fluctuating in a downward motion, but a stronger than expected jobs report could result in worsening rates.
6. Are you looking for a VA loan?  You are probably better off than most.  You might even be in luck (sort of).  The VA will continue to operate as normal, despite the shut-down.  However, you are still subject to the same challenges that conventional and FHA borrowers face – delay in verifying tax transcripts, verifying employment, etc.  In a few words, a VA loan is still good, but brace yourself for some delay.
May I make a suggestion?  We are all “in this” together, thanks to Congress.  I think the best course for the time being (for your real estate transaction and your blood pressure) is patience.  Buying and selling will be delayed somewhat and since the process of settlement is already a somewhat lengthy process (30 to 60 days), in the grand scheme of things, a few more days is unlikely to hurt you.   While the shut down is not optimal for anyone, there will be a resolution at some point.  For now, a healthy dose of Zen and a healthy disdain for politically motivated drama will get you through.  Buyers and sellers, even if Congress can’t compromise and work together toward what is best for all parties, there is no reason you can’t.

 

Local Flavor Series: House of Steep in Cherrydale

Recently, while walking in the cute and close-knit community of Cherrydale, I happened upon House of Steep.  The sign on the front window read, “tea house and foot sanctuary.”  You certainly don’t see that every day so I looked inside and saw a contemporary, yet welcoming interior, with small café tables, a petite couch and an orderly, attractive bar and food prep area. Not being a tea-drinker, I moved on, but not two days later, a friend asked me to lunch at House of Steep.  I agreed and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  The food was light and satisfying, the atmosphere was warm and inviting and the foot soak I indulged in was a much needed respite from my usually frenetic days.  I admit, I found the concept of a teahouse and foot soaking/reflexology venue an odd combination at first – but my opinion is that this concept works (and works well) due largely to the vision and mission of Lyndsey Clutteur De Palma, the owner of House of Steep.

house4

I sat down with Lyndsey recently because I was curious about the inspiration behind House of Steep.   Lyndsey radiates an aura of quiet energy, mindfulness and accessible wisdom.   Her strong sense of purpose is apparent at House of Steep.  While working as an HR manager at a large company, she became increasingly aware that many people found it difficult to “unplug” and wind-down from busy workdays.  After years in the professional arena, she could not help but notice that in the daily rat race, people often arrived at work stressed out rather than energized, and more disconnected than focused.  As a former attorney myself, I related to this observation almost immediately!

Her vision behind House of Steep was born out of a longtime interest in herbal teas and natural remedies as well as a desire to create a sanctuary from the everyday balancing act of work, family, obligations and commitments.   Her belief that many of us have become progressively disconnected from our inner selves is coupled with a strong conviction that there is a burgeoning movement centered on personal awareness and self-care, both physical and emotional.  House of Steep is a haven for those who would like to become more aware of their needs and become more centered and authentic – even if just for an hour out of the day!  Lyndsey feels that a visit has the potential to change the whole trajectory of your day.  In other words, if you arrive tired and careworn, Lyndsey’s goal is that you’ll depart more centered, relaxed and at ease.

House of Steep was not designed in a day.  Rather, it was an evolution of ideas and inspirations culled from years of observation and trial and error.  Almost everything here bears Lyndsey’s imprimatur.  From the imaginative menu, to the themed and flavored foot baths to the inventive skin care and aromatherapy lines, I felt that everything there had been personally curated for her patrons.

House1When I indulged in the foot bath, I truly didn’t know what to expect.  A member of Lyndsey’s staff gave me a menu of foot soaks that sounded so delicious that at first I wasn’t sure if they were herbal teas or foot soaks.  Think lavender, citrus, cinnamon, and lemongrass to name a few.

After seating myself in their sanctuary, an area screened off from the café and stocked with pillows and a plush couch, my soak arrived in a copper tub with small beads or stones at the bottom.  After the infusion of herbs, the tub was filled with warm water and in went my feet.  It was a lovely experience  – sitting on the couch, with my feet immersed in the clean, warm bath.  To be completely upfront about it, I did not relax immediately.  My mind still swirled with my daily task list, what calls I needed to make and worries about whether my iPhone was within easy reach.  Luckily, I resisted the temptation to multi-task and instead focused on the idea that it was OKAY to just “be” and enjoy the relative quiet of the sanctuary.  It’s amazing how hard it is to do that sometimes.  Ten minutes later, a staff member came back with MORE lovely warm water.  Yes Please!! Fill ‘er up!  By that time I was thoroughly committed to letting my mind go blank and true to Lyndsey’s vision, I left more relaxed and calm than when I arrived.

While House of Steep is primarily a destination for tea in my opinion, Lyndsey strongly encourages the very well priced foot baths and reflexology if you have time for it.  If you have an hour, her suggested “itinerary” is to have a pot of tea, indulge in a light meal and then have a foot soak or reflexology.  I say go for it!!  I think you’ll like it.  I know I’ll be back.

Here is a summary of what you’ll find at House of Steep, just based on my observations.  For a more complete description, please visit the website:
house2Tea – many different varieties.  Her staff will let you smell the teas beforehand and can make recommendations based on your taste, your mood, and your needs.

Food – these are some of Lyndsey’s favorite recipes, which she has collected over time.  The emphasis is on light healthy fare (except for the dark chocolate sandwich, but it’s so yummy no one cares – doesn’t dark chocolate have anti-oxidants?). Seasonal rice bowls have been a huge hit as well.  Whenever I visit, I snag a salty oatmeal and dark chocolate cookie by Out of the Box Bakery and resident baker Kerry always has a few of her own specialties out for you to enjoy.

Beverages – waters, coffees, fresh juices and delicious hot cocoas for those among us who aren’t tea savvy. (I can personally attest to how indulgent the cocoa is).

Skin Care and Aromatherapy – Bring the relaxation home with you.  Lyndsey has partnered with local artisans to create signature House of Steep scents like Invigorating, Carefree, Grounded, Lovely and Balance.  Products include bath salts, foot soaks and candles.  Absolutely the perfect gift for that special someone, you.