Be Kind, and Hold Hands.

What a world we’re living in right now. No one cares about my one little voice, and certainly less so when I’m talking about current events and not real estate, but two voices speak louder. Four voices are even louder than that. And millions are deafening.

I’m reminded of the words in Robert Fulghum’s All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten:

Share everything.

Play fair.

Don’t hit people.

Put things back where you found them.

Clean up your own mess.

Don’t take things that aren’t yours.

Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.

Wash your hands before you eat.

Flush.

Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

Live a balanced life—learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.

Take a nap every afternoon.

When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.

Wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup—they all die. So do we.

And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned—the biggest word of all—LOOK.

Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.

Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all—the whole world—had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.

And it is still true, no matter how old you are—when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

Be kind, be human. Give someone you don’t know a (socially distant) hug.

Should My Offer Include A Letter To The Seller?

Ah, the offer letter when buying a home. Does it work? It depends.

My first clients, Adam and Michelle, bought a house in Blacksburg. It was their first house, it was my first sale. I still remember what my commission check was, and I couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to get paid to sell a house.

During the process of working with Adam and Michelle, I avoided having to tell them that it was my first sale. I drove to every listing we visited in advance, so I wouldn’t get lost. Before showing them the home I would tour it separately – but only if they were vacant, because I was scared to call a seller – so that I wouldn’t open a closet door and mistakingly say “and here’s the basement!” I did everything I could to avoid showing how new I was, because I didn’t want them to think I was a fraud.

writing an offer letter to the sellerSo when the time came to make an offer on the house they eventually bought, Michelle asked “should we write a letter to the seller?” Sure! Why not, what a great idea! Turns out the seller loved hearing about their plans for the home, and it factored in to the seller’s decision. I truly had no idea that was something people even did.

Fast-forward 17 years to 2020, and our buyer just wrote a letter to a seller who was receiving multiple offers. This buyer talked about their plans for the future, and what they loved about the home. It revealed a little something more about themselves than just names and terms on an offer, and they ultimately won the house. We weren’t the offer with the best terms, but when the listing agent brought it back to us, they said our offer letter “struck a chord with the seller, and she felt they should be the ones to be there.”

So do offer letters work? It still depends. It did for Michelle and Adam, it worked for our buyers this week, and I’m sure we’ve had others over the years where it’s worked, as well. It’s certainly no guarantee, but when a seller has the opportunity to connect faces with names, and hear your plans for the home (maybe leave out the part about wanting to rip down the paneling they spent weekends putting up), it just might urn the deal in your favor.

PS – my wife and I played the “we’re having a baby!” card when we bought our house, one of eleven offers. I think the offer letter works.

Nest Realty’s Partnership With @Properties.

Dusting off the blog machine (again) after a conversation last week with my friend Jim Duncan in Charlottesville. Jim’s blog was one of the first blogs I started to follow when I kicked things off here at NRVLiving.com, and while I’ve fallen off the wagon a time or three, he’s kept on going. In fact, I think he writes a few different sites, somehow.

We were talking about things happening in our respective real estate markets, and about how he’s remained consistent with things all these years. His advice was unsurprisingly simple – “keep writing.” And he challenged me to keep going … loser buys the next round when we’re able to see each other again.

It’s good advice. There’s something helpful about being able to coalesce all of these jumbled thoughts into something that I hope is useful for those that read it. Sometimes it helps me better verbalize what I’m seeing in the New River Valley real estate market, and it certainly is invaluable to be able to reference things written 9/10/11 years ago, and see what’s different/the same.

So while there’s plenty to talk about during this global pandemic that is COVID-19, we’ll start with something a little more local – we’ve MOVE(d)Boldly and partnered with @properties.

Nest Realty – all fifteen of our offices, in five different states – has entered into a formal partnership with @properties, based out of Chicago, and we are extremely excited about it. You can read more at the link here, where some of the reasons are outlined. We’ve always been proud of our marketing collateral, which – I’m biased – are second to none to anything else in the New River Valley. We’ve always looked at our tech stack with a critical eye, looking at how we can make it better for agents and consumers alike – and when we couldn’t find something that fit quite right, we built it from the ground up. And we’ve ALWAYS focused on what makes our individual markets unique, and looked for ways to be a part of supporting and being part of those communities. We don’t believe that we can open a Nest office just anywhere and make it a “one size fits all” approach.

So what’s this mean for our clients? Nothing, from the perspective of what they see when they work with Nest Realty. We are, and will be, Nest Realty. Our agents, however, will be a part of a phenomenal network, one that will ramp up even more our cutting-edge design services, our proprietary technology suite, and – unique to our industry – health care.

This is a partnership that both sides were excited to enter into, and one that’s going to pay dividends to our agents and clients for years to come. The future is going to be awesome so stay tuned, this is gonna be fun!

 

Nest Realty and COVID-19

Tap tap tap – is this thing on?

Been a while since I dusted off the ‘ole NRVLiving.com blog machine. Is that what we call this thing, I forget. Anyhow, a lot’s happened over the last few years that has taken me away from writing on this quite as often as I once did. I got married. Moved. Had a kid. Bought a business (Nest Realty NRV). Sold a business (Valley Curbside Recycling). Not all in that order. It’s been exciting, and distracting.

But one thing that’s NOT distracting, or at least something that’s gotten everyone’s attention, is COVID-19. By now we’re three weeks or so into this quarantine thing, and the end is yet to be in sight. Thankfully, most everyone is taking this seriously, and let’s all hope that attention to the situation at hand will pull us out of this sooner than later. I think often of the clients who’ve announced they’re currently dealing with COVID-19, and of the friends who’ve lost loved ones already … whether we’re sick or not, it touches all of us.

For the last few weeks, each time Governor Northam has stepped to the podium to speak, the real estate industry in VA has held its collective breath. “Will today be the day he deems real estate a non-essential business?” Thankfully, to date he has not, and all of us are navigating new, uncharted waters daily. That certainly doesn’t mean it’s business as usual; not at all. But it means that housing is still a need in the Commonwealth, and we’re doing what we can to fill that need for buyers and sellers while keeping everyone’s health and safety at the forefront of all we do.

You’ve surely received that email from Random Business USA that tells you all about how they’re operating with your safety in mind. I still don’t know why Chase Bank thinks I’m concerned as to how they’re keeping me and my credit card safe from COVID-19, but nevertheless, every company has done it. If you’d like to see how Nest is operating as an essential business in today’s environment, we wrote a little something about that – you can see that here. If you don’t care, that’s okay, too. Just know that we hope you’re healthy and safe, that your family is healthy and safe, and that you’re doing your part to keep us all healthy and safe.

Thanks for reading this far. Maybe I can do this again soon.

Is A Recession On The Horizon? Yes. I Mean, No. Well, Maybe.

Everyone’s talking about impeachment whether or not a recession is on the horizon, and of course what that does to real estate. What follows is part of an email I sent my office last week while in Williamsburg for our state association’s annual conference. I wanted to include for the team my thoughts on the market after sitting in on a session called “The State of the Economy in Virginia”, from Virginia Realtors’ chief economist, Lisa Sturtevant. Often, these reports are rosy and pie in the sky, but I was pleased to see that she seemed to both be reporting realistically, at least realistic to what we’re all feeling on the street level here in the New River Valley. I know the economics might not be something we all geek out on, and that’s fine – my goal is to summarize some things for everyone. Here’s some of what I picked up:
  • Nationally, we’re in the midst of the longest sustained GDP growth in the history of the country. In the midst of that growth, we’re seeing job growth slow, which suggests something is going on.
  • Virginia has traditionally weathered recessions better than the rest of the country, in large part because of the federal government’s influence. Even in a recession, the federal government likes to spend money.
  • Unemployment in Virginia is 2.9%, compared to 4% nationally
    • Lisa explained that while this seems like a good thing, it’s not. We don’t have enough unemployed persons in the state to add jobs, and as you’ll see later we don’t have the housing inventory for people even when they move in from other states, so we’re in a sort of a stall there.
  • Number of sales in Virginia are up 2% year-over-year through July (the New River Valley is DOWN 9.2%)
  • Median home prices in Virginia are up 5% through July (the New River Valley is UP 8.3%)
  • Inventory in Virginia is down 8% through July (the New River Valley is DOWN 15.6%)
  • Homeownership rates in VA are at their lowest rates in the last 30 years (my note – some of this HAS to be because of inventory. If the inventory isn’t there, people aren’t going to buy because there isn’t anything to buy)
  • the 25-34 year olds are starting to get a foothold, with increasing wages/savings/savings rates … if there’s a recession, will this set them back?

So there are a number of positives going on:

  1. Millenials and first-time buyers are entering the market
  2. Wage and income growth is widespread across most demographics
  3. Consumer confidence is strong, but this could change. Political uncertainty around policy can certainly have an impact on whether consumers or businesses buy goods, and all indications are that businesses are slowing their purchases
  4. Interest rates continue to be at historic lows, and will be

And there are some things that are not so good:

  1. Job growth has slowed
  2. Affordability, or a lack of supply, should continue to be a growing concern
  3. Low-interest rates have encouraged lots of refinancing, but not necessarily buying

In her talk, Lisa pointed out some of the indicators of an approaching recession. They include (with an ✅ if we’ve seen it already, and an ❌ if we haven’t seen it yet):

❌ capital investment has slowed
✅ manufacturing index is down
✅ yield curve favors short-term rates over long-term rates
* When the curve is inverted, it shows that people are more optimistic about the short-term than they are the long-term
✅ housing starts have slowed
✅ global economy is slowing
✅ interest rates are already low
✅ and ❌ uncertainty abounds (maybe it doesn’t abound, but it’s there)

So … are we headed for a recession?
The uncertainty is there, and the data is there to suggest both that a recession is approaching … but it’s also there that we’ll weather the storm. Don’t you love the “it depends”, option? It seems to me, however, that indicators like lack of inventory, very few new housing units being created, and growing uncertainty regarding the real estate space, and the economy in general, suggest we’ll see a recession within the next 18 months. Shoot – as I was writing the email to the office, the Fed just cut rates by a quarter of a percentage point … that seems to back up the fact that there’s continued uncertainty, and they’re trying to use rates to stimulate. The real estate market just can’t continue to absorb the gains we’ve been seeing without a correction, and that correction will come. I want to be clear, however, that a recession is not a bad thing. Every economy ebbs and flows, and the incremental adjustments contribute to the overall health of the economy. We’re not going to see anything like what we saw in 2008-2010, which we weathered both at the state and local levels very well. 
 
I think it’s safe to say that we’re going to see the real estate market in the New River Valley, in Virginia, and nationwide, slow down. That may mean a few less homes in the NRV that are available for sale, as sellers decide not to sell until the market changes again, but it’s also going to mean fewer buyers to compete with, and less competition falsely inflating sales prices as well. There’s a silver-lining to each side of the coin – a recession, when it happens, will not necessarily be a bad thing.
Let me know if you have questions, want to dig into these more, or even have a dissenting position. We’re all smart folks, and there’s plenty we can learn from each other!

Are Zestimates Right?

Ah, Zillow. Say the word in a crowded room full of Realtors and you’ll hear boos and hisses, as well as a few things you might not want your grandmother to hear. But the fact is, Zillow is getting some things right, and consumers are using the site. So what are we, as an industry, fighting them for? That’s a post for another day, and one I don’t think I’m ready to write – yet. I don’t hate Zillow. I like the site. Used it yesterday for personal research, in fact. It’s slick, easy to use, and has a ton of information.

Consumers are using the website, and Realtors and brokerages need to learn how to play in the same sandbox. And it was funny, as earlier this week two past clients both wrote within five minutes of each other and asked “Is Zillow accurate?”. This afternoon, a text came in from an upcoming listing “Will you have it on Zillow? I believe more people use that website then when we sold last time.”

Truth of the matter, Zillow in Montgomery County is not accurate. That’s really the case throughout the whole New River Valley. It’s gotten better than it was in 2014 when I first wrote that post, but we still don’t have the kind of volume they need to really say that a Zestimate is an accurate pricing tool. As I wrote in 2014, it’s just one tool in a larger toolbox. So I wouldn’t go basing my buying or selling decisions off of a website just yet.

 

Want to talk about some of those other tools, and how they all work together? Happy to. 

Buying A Home With Private Wells and Septic Systems in Virginia

Last month I wrote “Ten Things To Know About A Well in the New River Valley”, and just this afternoon received notice that the Virginia Department of Health just last week posted a video entitled What To Know When Buying A Home with a Well and Septic System in Virginia. You can see that video below – even more timely as I had, just minutes before, met with new buyers and we’d talked about buying homes with a well and/or septic system. Thanks, VDH!

10 Things To Know About A Well in the New River Valley

Residential setting with a private water well supply

In the New River Valley, plenty of homes – particularly those in county locations – have private well systems, including my own. As someone who grew up in Virginia Beach, and then having lived in Blacksburg Town limits for almost 20 years, I’d never had a well, so after purchasing a home that’s on a private well I recently signed up for the Montgomery County Household Water Quality Program, organized and run by the Virginia Cooperative Extension,.

I’m glad I did.

We were asked to provide ~ 1200mL of water from our homes, with very clear and specific instructions on how to collect, when, etc. We turned those in, and today received our results. If you’re on a private well in the New River Valley, you need to sign up for this program. Wow! The data they provided was outstanding, and they even work with the Flint lab – think Flint, MI – to dig deep into the results. It was truly phenomenal. My thanks to Erin Ling of Virginia Tech for organizing, and the follow-up presentation. They provided us details on each participant’s well, as well as well water safety, that I thought helpful. The following 10 points comes direct from a pamphlet provided by the Virginia Household Water Quality Program.

  1. Make sure your well is properly constructed. Well casing should be 12″ above ground, with a sanitary, sealed well cap or secure concrete cover to prevent contamination from insects and surface water. Unsure about your well construction? Visit www.wellwater.bse.vt.edu/wellcheck for more information.
  2. The ground should slope away from your well to prevent surface water from pooling around the casing, which can cause contamination and damage your system.
  3. Ensure your well is at least 100 feet away from potential contamination sources, such as chemical storage, oil tanks, and septic tanks. If you have a septic tank, have it pumped regularly.
  4. Keep the area around your well clean and accessible. Make sure the area is free of debris, paint, motor oil, pesticides and fertilizers. Do not dump waste near your well or near sinkholes, as this may contaminate your water supply.
  5. Have your water tested once a year for total coliform bacteria, which will give an indication whether there is a likelihood of more dangerous bacteria present that could potentially cause illness. Every three years, test for pH, total dissolved solids (TDS), nitrate, and other contaminants of local concern.
  6. All water tests should be conducted by a certified lab. After you receive the results, compare them to the drinking water standards for public systems by the EPA, which serve as good guidelines for private systems.
  7. Inspect your well annually for any cracks, holes, or corrosion. Ensure your well cap is secure. Every 3 years, or if you suspect a problem, have your well inspected by a licensed well drilling contractor with a Water Well and Pump (WWP) classification. For a list of contractors who provide well inspections, visit wellwater.bse.vt.edu/wellcheck.
  8. Keep careful records of your well installation, maintenance, inspections, and all water tests.
  9. If a well on your property is no longer in use, have it properly abandoned by a licensed well contractor. Wells that are left unsealed or improperly abandoned can serve as a direct pathway for surface water to enter the groundwater supply, causing contamination. Remember: groundwater is a shared resource!
  10. If you have a spring instead of a well, make sure the spring box is sealed to prevent contamination. Springs are very susceptible to contamination, so be sure to test your spring every year for coliform bacteria. Continuous treatment for bacteria is often required to ensure spring water is safe to drink.

We’re fortunate to have really great water sources, and water quality, in the New River Valley, and I knew it was important to pay attention to the well. But I mistakingly assumed that all that fancy equipment in the basement just magically took care of everything for us, and it does to a point, but knowing more of the details about our water supply gives me even more peace of mind that the water we drink is safe for consumption.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go work on softening my water.

signing_paperwork_real_estate

Terms to Know When You’re Looking to Buy

As Realtors, we act as both buyer’s and seller’s agents all the time but, in my opinion, and in the opinion of all of us at Nest Realty, never at the same time. Legally we can do it, but ethically? It’s a slippery slope.

Coming Soon

When it comes time to buy your first house (link), there’s a few terms that get thrown around. You’ll be expected to know what they mean like it’s all your first language and not the Realtor-speak we’ve become accustomed to.  It really helps to understand what the people around you are talking about.

Buyer’s Agent

The buyer’s agent represents you, the buyer. I hope, especially if it’s me, that you’ll come to know and trust this person for your homebuying needs. I like to say that you’re going to date your agent for a while, so you’d better like them – if you don’t, get another one!

As the buyer agent, sure we help you search for properties, we walk through them with you, and we fill out the contracts … all the stuff you see on HGTV. We will also negotiate with the Seller’s agent when it’s time to make an offer, working towards getting you the deal that accomplishes your goals. More than all of that, though, the real worth of a good agent is helping you drink from the firehose of information that’s coming at you, answering all your questions and helping you navigate the process. If we can do all of that, we’ve done our job well.

Seller’s Agent

The “Seller’s Agent” represents the person selling the property. They are the ones whose name appears on a yard sign and is eager to show the property to prospective buyers. They should be the one working with you to establish the marketing plan, the pricing strategy, and constantly monitoring how well the home is performing next to the competition.

Think of Coming Soon as a teaser to the real show. It’s a property’s opening act–there to drum up interest before a home  really goes on the market.

In competitive areas, a “Coming Soon” sign can help encourage prospective buyers and drive up the value for the seller. If you do see this on a home you’re looking to buy–be ready. Side note – some markets, including the New River Valley, are reconsidering the use of Coming Soon advertisements, and whether they are in the best interest of the consumer.

MLS

The Multiple Listing Service (MLS) is a technology that makes Real Estate transactions more efficient. Think of it as the Google of real estate search in the New River Valley. It’s where brokers list the information about a property, allowing other licensed agents and brokers to share in that information and, through the magic of technology, consumers far and wide via websites like Realtor.com, Zillow, Trulia, and dozens hundreds more.

If a home is listed as “Coming Soon”, it isn’t yet on the MLS. Once it appears, your Realtor can provide you with information and also learn a lot that might help guide buyers to–or far far away from–a property. We live and breath the MLS and use it everyday … it’s the most frequently used tool in our toolbox.

Under Contract

We’ve been saving the most asked two for last! What’s the difference between “Under Contract” and Closed?

“Under Contract” is easier to understand than it seems. It simply means that a buyer has made an offer and a seller has accepted, contingent on the terms on the contract. It hasn’t sold yet, technically, but both buyer and seller have agreed to terms, and are working toward closing.

A house is “Under Contract” while all of the nitty gritty homebuying stuff happens. There’s a lot of steps that we’ll cover in another post, but it’s things like the appraisal, inspection, and final approval of your mortgage, as well as removing any other conditions established by the buyer.

Closed

Closed! That’s an exciting day for everyone involved. It’s the day when you sit in an office and sign more papers than you ever thought possible. With a good Realtor, it can be a fairly straightforward process. There may always be a hiccup or two but for the most part, we’ve learned to maneuver what goes wrong, and with the right team in place you might even know about the hiccup!

What to Look for When Buying your First Home

You’ll remember your first homebuying experience, I guarantee it. When you’re looking to buy your first home, it’s easy to feel like you’re in a rush. A rush to get pre-approved, meet a realtor, and look at homes. And the process in all likelihood will be a little hectic. Sometimes you need to strike at the right time and that might mean some decision-making. A GOOD agent will take what is admittedly a stressful process and help make it less stressful – we can talk about some ways to do that. A bad agent? A bad agent will make you want to never buy a house again. And that’s sad.

There’s a lot of excitement surrounding buying a house, but there are many reasons to slow down and make sure you’re doing things right, as well. I like to tell clients “if you feel me pulling on the reins, just let off a bit and let’s find out why.” It’s a large financial decision–one of the largest many of us make. The good news is, working with a good Realtor can save you a lot of frustration.

Here are some of my tips to help you when it’s time to buy your first home:

Don’t go over-budget

Overspending is all too easy to do–just *one more* bathroom would be great. Same with that spare bedroom. When you start looking at homes, those just outside your price range will seem so much better. They’re priced that way!

One great way to prevent overspending is to know exactly what you can spend going in. And what you can spend is NOT the big number, the sales price. Sure, $200,000 is a lot of money, and most of us can’t afford to write that check in one fell swoop. But the big number doesn’t matter – it’s the monthly payment that makes the difference. Ever heard the phrase, “there’s only one way to eat an elephant”? Well, there’s only one way to pay a mortgage – one month at a time. Which brings us to…

Get pre-approved

I say it all the time. Pre-approval is a great idea and will save you time and stress as you look at homes with your Realtor. You build a house from the foundation up, shouldn’t you lay the foundation of your purchase first, as well? Once you understand what you can spend, your experience gets easier overall. I promise.

It’s the first–not the last

It’s hard to not stress yourself out–after all, this will likely be the biggest financial decision you’ve ever made. But it’s important to remember this moment is fleeting. Try to find a home that works for you now and a few years down the line. And while a good agent will not be able to eliminate that stress, they should be able to help you manage it.

A great tip is to figure out how much house you need and stick to it. Your next home in a few years can tick more boxes. You’re never going to get everything you want, so make sure this home sets you up for the future as a sound investment.

Enjoy the journey

Preparing for your first home is a great idea. Getting all your documents in order, pre-approvals done, and research is wonderful–but don’t forget to enjoy the ride. This should be fun! You’ll only buy for the first time once, and you might as well enjoy it.

It’s exciting! You’re looking at homes, deciding what you’re looking for, and maybe even falling in love with some parts of your first home. It’s a truly enjoyable  journey if you allow it to be.

Are you ready to begin your journey towards your first home? Give me a call. Or an email. Or tweet me … or Facebook. You get the point – I’ll answer.