Thursday, August 21, 2008

Detached houses sell well

There aren't many houses on the market in Tilden Woods, North Farm, Old Farm, Luxmanor, and Walnut Woods. The few that come on the market and look great with fair market pricing will sell, although the current average Days on Market is more than it was in the heyday of the market rush a few years ago. Within Montgomery County, the average Days on Market (the number of days it takes for an active listing to go under contract) is just over 90. In our market in North Bethesda, the average is 44 days. This shows great strength for our area. Prices have not dropped as much as elsewhere, although most detached homes that were in the $800k-$900k range several years ago might sell now for $725k-$825k. The key to a sale in a reasonable time and at the best price is to have the house "staged" to show to its best advantage, have the entrance landscaped, the house looking fresh and clean (free of distractions inside), with, hopefully, updated kitchen and baths. Our homes are now 42 to 50 years old, and even servicable original elements now lack the pizzazz that a current buyer is looking for. Some remodeling efforts are well worthwhile. I am an expert in knowing what updates will pay you back and which ones will cost more than they are worth.

Why houses might go to foreclosure

North Bethesda is holding up reasonably well, considering the general market and media attention on the national real estate scene. It is true that, in my 25+ years as a real estate professional, I have never seen such a rate of foreclosures before, the fact remains that the current price rollback is not worse than the percentages we saw in the mid-1990s. My take on the foreclosure situation is as follows: In the lower price ranges, many people struggled to buy their first homes in the past 5-10 years, often combining several incomes from various extended family members to qualify for a loan. I have seen some of them badly used by corrupt loan officers, who placed marginal buyers in loans that were not explained to them and that would be impossible to maintain; typically, the disreputable lender would promise a low interest rate, not revealing that the loan terms would change dramatically in a few years and the payment would jump. Compounding the problem would be if the borrower's first language is not English and they were unable to understand the complicated documents they were told to sign. They might trust a lender who was only trying to get the largest fee. Another scenario would be the marginal buyer who had great credit and worked for years to afford a first home, then lose a job or get sick. There is no help for this situation, and the house can go to foreclosure. Those who owned their homes for a long time and had built significant equity from appreciation sometimes have to foreclose if they have been continually refinancing and taking the equity out of the house. Someone may have paid $200,000 for their house, but refinanced it to $600,000 when the market was high and it could appraise for a little more than that amount. There is no room for error, and when the prices dropped back so that the house might be worth $550,000, there is now a bigger loan out on the house than its value. In this case, it is not the fault of the appraiser, who placed a market value on the house based on its actual value at the time of the appraisal. These scenarios are new with this recent market, which explains the foreclosure rate rising in an area that historically had very, very few foreclosures. Be aware that the figures you see in the media can be misleading; if an area had 10 foreclosures a few years ago, and today there are 20, that will be reported as a "doubling" of the rate. This represents a very small percentage of property sales for this area, which continues to be in some demand due to its proximity to transportation and other amenities.

Condominiums in North Bethesda

A blogger on another site asked about condos in North Bethesda and wanted to know what types and prices there are, whether any back to golf courses, and if there are any designated for seniors. My answer is below: North Bethesda is sprouting condos all up and down Rockville Pike. Existing high-rise condo communities include The Wisconsin, Fallswood, Grosvenor Park, The Gallery, The Sterling, Midtown, and TenTenOne. A bit further north in Rockville are Rockville Town Center (The Palladium), The Fitz, and Americana Center. Just across I-270 in Potomac is a huge community, under construction, Park Potomac. Others are under construction. None are age-restricted at this time, but there are other high-rise communities nearby that are over-55 with various amenities. With the current market, some of the builders who were planning to construct condos have decided to make their new buildings luxury rentals. Garden-style condos include The Gables, Bentley Place, Edson Place, Parkside, and Georgetown Village. The high-rise buildings tend to have upscale facilities. Because we have 3 metro stations in the immediate area, it’s not suburban enough anymore to have golf course properties (other than a few townhouses in Rockville that back to the Woodmont Country Club), but the growing urban environment is exciting, and there is a wealth of opportunity for shopping, entertainment, employment, and outdoor recreation in our parks. Prices for a 2 bedroom unit can range from $300,000+ for a garden community to $500,000-$800,000 in a high-rise. Check my website for a property search in the area and for my pages on local communities & things to do.

Monday, August 4, 2008

EcoBroker certification coursework- Initial Topics

The Association of Energy and Environmental Real Estate Professionals has created a certification course for real estate agents. The EcoBroker certification process is broken up into three main courses, each of which covers a series of topics relevant to energy concerns and environmental health. I have now completed the first course, which covered health and safety issues in real estate. The specific topics, covered in some depth, are:
  • Radon
  • Lead
  • Water quality - private well systems, public treatment programs, and sources of contamination as well as remediation techniques
  • Mold
  • Asbestos
  • Indoor air quality - irritants from volatile organic compound (VOC) off-gassing, allergens, pesticide residue, mold, and radon
  • Historic contamination - any type of property contamination, such as leaking underground storage tanks or industrial contamination that occurred during prior ownership
  • Green buildings and health - contruction programs and certifications for new and existing property, along with government-sponsored incentive programs

I have access to certified and insured professional inspectors and remediators who specialize in each of these areas of concern.

The second area of study, which I am currently working on, addresses energy efficiency, materials, and techniques for a sustainable environment.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Birds attracted to flowers

On a walk this morning, we saw several bright yellow goldfinches feeding on the seed heads of a neighbor's coneflowers. These particular flowers are, I believe, a species of rudbeckia, which includes black-eyed susans. I don't know what attracted these gorgeous little finches to this patch, but the flowers are a light purple in color, with the signature rudbeckia downturned petals and large spherical seed head.
I don't know if the goldfinches are attracted to the type of flower or the specific color of this variety. They don't seem to feed on the black-eyed susans or daisies that I have in my yard, so I will be buying some of the purple rudbeckia and will make sure not to dead-head my flowers to allow them to go to seed and, hopefully, bring some more goldfinches to my yard.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Handling air quality inside your home

Lately, I have been involved in several cases of homes with poor indoor air quality. In each case, the owners have been coughing or have become ill repeatedly, but they have not tied their health concerns to problems with mold, dust, allergens, or other air contaminants. The worst offenders are mold spores and airborne dust. There are specialists to help identify sources of irritants and to give you do-it-yourself remedies or to carry out professional remediation. In the case of mold, I am in the process of assisting an elderly friend in 1. bagging & throwing out all of the moldy materials in his basement (using a proper respirator so that I won't get sick!), 2. identifying & bagging the things he wants to keep so that they can be properly sanitized later, 3. scheduling the mold remediator (in this case, RTS Environmental Services- certified & experienced) to safely kill the mold and coat surfaces so that it won't recur. Mold requires moisture (as do termites!), and my friend had not checked his house for leaks in many years. Our first item was to have a plumber go over the house, top to bottom. He found a leak in the hot water tank and most of the faucets and valves upstairs. The problem in the basement was so severe that we have found both mold and termites. So, the takeaway lesson is to be sure, first, that the moisture issues that started the mold blooms is corrected. That way, the remediation that kills the current mold (and the termite treatments) will not be wasted and the problem can be "solved." As for dust and allergens, consider a good filtration system on the furnace. We won't have to have the ducts and evaporator coils cleaned in this case, since the HVAC system is nearly new & doesn't show signs of mold blooms. Upstairs, we will be placing a few portable air purifying devices. I am avoiding any device that adds ozone, which can be a respiratory irritant. The best one I have found is the BlueAir 402 (sold at Bed, Bath, & Beyond for $399- your 20% off coupon will help), which will scrub the air and not add ozone. If you have these issues and your carpet is more than 15-20 years old, you should replace the carpeting, which, over time, becomes a haven for mold spores. Shampooing it can cause the mold to bloom. It is now possible to buy carpet with low VOC (volatile organic compounds, which can be hazardous) emissions. I can refer you to a good carpet company with "green" and low VOC options.