How To Sell A Home This Fall Or Winter

Like it or not, the season here in the New River Valley is getting ready to change from summer to fall, and then winter. Like death and taxes, the seasons here in Blacksburg are guaranteed.

While it’s hard to think about winter when it’s bright and sunny outside, humor me. It’s likely your house looks so much better with green grass, full leaves on the trees, and colorful flowers in the flower beds, than it does with gray cloudy skies, scraggly trees, and patches of snow on the ground. If you’re expecting to sell this fall or winter, go ahead and have a professional photographer take photos – at least of the exterior, we can bring Sean Shannon Photography in for the inside later – while the landscaping still looks great. The inside can wait until you are done getting the house ready, but I can promise you the outside photos will benefit from having clean, crisp images and lots of color. Your listing will look better for it, I guarantee it.

And don’t worry about the fact that there’s a foot of snow on the ground outside, while the photos show a lush, green yard; buyers aren’t going to rule out your house because it doesn’t seem to “match” the season. If anything, with the right photographs, your house is going to look so much better than anything else, it won’t matter.

Want more tips for selling your house, anytime of year?  I have 3 Ls that I can’t stress enough …

  1. Lights – turn on the lights. All of them. Open the drapes and blinds, turn on the lamps, and let the light shine in. It’ll make every room look 10x better, even if there’s a wall painted deep black.
  2. Lids – put down the toilet seat lids. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been showing a house, and seen a kid’s doodie floating in a toilet with the lid up. We all know what happens there – close the lid.
  3. Leave – get out. Scram. It’s awkward for buyers to walk through a house when the seller is there; they don’t talk as candidly with their agent, which can often mean the difference between an offer and an early exit. Go watch a movie, or drive around the block … nothing says “make this house your home” like the seller following you from room to room.

And because I just think time lapse photography is so cool …

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2014 Nest Report – What Did The Market Do In The Second Quarter

To say that the second quarter of 2014 has been unusual would be an understatement. Pockets of the market excelled, while others did not. Inventory was up, median sales were down, and yet there were more contracts written in the second quarter of 2014 than there were in the second quarter of 2013.

NRV LivingWhile the New River Valley saw the strongest first quarter performance in the past five years in Q1, Q2 sales are the lowest they’ve been since 2011. Some properties have been flying off the shelves, while others – despite good prices – have been sitting idle for some time, and there’s admittedly some anxiety among sellers (and agents) as to specifically why. My line of thinking is that an extremely compressed summer for the public schools in Montgomery County is partly to blame, as families rushed to get vacation and camp plans together and not much thought was given to housing unless folks HAD to move. Nevertheless, it’s going to be interesting to see what shakes out in Q3 and Q4 of this year … the signs still tell us that there’s a potential for bounce back through the rest of the year, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

As always, I’m glad to share a cup of coffee – matter of fact, you can have your own – and talk real estate!

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Is Your Realtor Talking? Or Listening


I love this photo.

I was showing homes to clients in June, and they really liked the house. It fit a lot of their criteria, and it was in budget. All was going well. As we walked into the basement, we got to talking about the upgrades that had just been added, and then I looked over and what I saw is in the photo above. So what did I do? I shut up, backed away, and pulled out my camera. Naturally.

If we’ve ever worked together, or if we work together in the future, you SHOULD notice something a little different. My style is not one to point out the kitchen – you can figure out pretty easily which room that is. Besides, with all of the various places on the web that you can find real estate, chances are you know more about certain particulars in the house than I do. My style is to give you some highlights, or things to pay attention to, and then listen. If I’m yapping about transom windows, or polybutylene piping, or the shag carpets, I’m probably gonna miss the verbal cues you’re throwing out. Or, perhaps more importantly, the nonverbal cues.

I’d love the chance to work with you one day, but if we don’t have that opportunity, that’s cool – just make sure your agent is doing more listening than talking. It’s not something I get perfect every time out, but more often than not, I should be. And when I do, cool things happen … like the photo above. Or the one below.

home buying

Choosing the bedroom

(My mom is going to find this post ironic, since the first day of school I came home and told her I wasn’t going back – I had to sit on the Blue Line. When she asked what the Blue Line was, I told her it was for people who talked too much.)

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Graffiti in Blacksburg? Or Is It Art?

Ever wondered about those exterior walls on buildings you’ve seen around Blacksburg, the ones that have graffiti all over them? Where did the graffiti come from? Who does it?

I’ve wondered it. And now I know who does it. But he calls it street art.

What do you think? Do you like it? Do you hate it? Would you like to see more/less?

Interested in more? There are other videos on YouTube.

Hokie Feet:


A Walk In The Woods:

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National Bank of Blacksburg Building Auctioned Off

If you’ve been around Blacksburg for any length of time, you’ve almost certainly noticed the old National Bank of Blacksburg building – on the corner of N. Main and Roanoke Street – standing proudly but looking rather weathered and beaten up. The building was an earlier home to the National Bank of Blacksburg, and in recent years had been passed around from owner to owner while sitting vacant and, quite honestly, falling apart.

The story is muddled, of course, but here’s a synopsis.

Earlier this month, it was finally auctioned off (along with two adjacent storefronts), and the highest bidder at the auction – Steve Hill – is a real estate developer well-known to folks in and around Blacksburg.

Going Once, Going Twice, Sold to the man with the pants on!

Going Once, Going Twice, Sold to the man with the pants on!

From a professional standpoint, I was interested in the auction because of the location of the building. It is a centerpiece of the downtown core, and has sat vacant for FAR too long. And I wasn’t alone – there were probably 100 other folks there, most of watching and afraid to move in fear of bidding for a property we couldn’t buy!

From a personal standpoint, I was even more interested because I was the agent who had the building the property listed in 2005, and I had watched it for nearly 10 years continue to fall into disarray. I knew what had been planned for the building and it was sad to see it not come to fruition, but I was excited about the possibilities for the future, as well.

I tried livetweeting the auction, which was interesting – head down, thumbs furiously typing, I wasn’t real sure who was bidding what, but I tried to capture most of it.

In my opinion, Steve is a great person to head a redevelopment project like this. I know that lots of folks what all sorts of things for a site like this, but none of us know what will actually come to pass. From my interactions with him, however, I know that Steve knows and loves Blacksburg, and I have every confidence he’ll do something really nice with that spot.

Congratulations, Steve – there’s a whole Town watching!

A side note – the caption on the photo above is something my grandfather would say. He was an auctioneer – and also a rodeo clown, businessman, and quite honestly probably just a hustler – but he used to say “Going once, going twice – sold to the man with the pants on!” I had no idea what it meant – still don’t – but as a small boy I thought it was funny. So the caption is homage to Rabbit.

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July 4th Fireworks in Blacksburg, Christiansburg, and Radford – 2014

July 4th is right around the corner, and it’s time to start planning all of your Independence Day celebrations.  Certainly no Fourth of July holiday is complete without a great fireworks show, so if you’re looking for where the fireworks are, here’s the list for Blacksburg, Christiansburg, and Radford. Please be sure to check with the venue for the exact times – things may change due to weather and what not!


  • The Where – Downtown Blacksburg AND Municipal Park
  • The When – Parade through downtown Blacksburg from 2-3pm, then music, food, and more at Municipal Park beginning at 6pm.
  • The Cost – FREE
  • The Details – music and food by various artists, a parade through downtown, followed by fireworks at 9:30pm. Read more here.


  • The Where – Christiansburg High School football field
  • The When – Friday July 4th, gates open sometime in the afternoon, fireworks start around 9:15pm
  • The Cost – FREE
  • The Details – sorry, no pets. There’ll be food, games, music and more, however!
  • Read more here.
  • The Where – Bisset Park, Radford VA
  • The When – Friday July 4th, events start at 2pm
  • The Cost – FREE
  • The Details – inflatables, pony rides, a climbing wall, and more. Music throughout the night!
  • Read more here.

Have fun, be safe, and Go America!

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Q1 2014 New River Valley Real Estate Market Report

Hot off the heels of putting out the 2013 Nest Report, we’re already into May and  looking back at numbers from the first quarter of 2014. Crazy. So, without further adieu, here’s a repost of the Q1 2014 Market Report from the site.


As we do every quarter (and every year), Nest New River Valley has run the numbers for the first quarter of 2014 (Q1 2014). What did we find out?

Nest Realty New River Valley Q1 2014 Real Estate Market Data (abbreviated market analysis):

  • Total Sales: Total sales increased almost 13% in Q1 2014 for the overall MSA in comparison to Q1 2013. With 296 homes solds, this shows a strong opening quarter for 2014 which is a positive indicator that we will see strong performance in the remainder of 2014.
  • Inventory: Total inventory levels increased 3.12% from Q1 2013. However, given the increase in sales this quarter, months of inventory decreased 8.59% compared to Q1 2013, which is an indicator of a strengthening market.
  • Contracts Written: The number of contracts written rose 2.11% from Q1 2013 which is yet another indicator that we will see strong activity this spring.
  • Median Home Prices: Median home prices have decreased overall by 8.96%; however, Christiansburg saw the median home price increase by 6.45%. With the increase in the number of sales and reduction in inventory, we expect to see the median home price increase for the overall MSA in the next two quarters of 2014.

NRV MSA Total Sale

Want to learn more about New River Valley’s Q1 real estate market data? Want to be added to the mailing list for these quarterly reports or our Nest Realty Annual Reports? Email Nest New River Valley’s Managing Broker Tina Merritt today!


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What’s The Loan Process Look Like?

House and moneyThis morning at a home inspection, I was talking with a client who’s under contract to buy a home here in the New River Valley. As we’re oft to do, we got to talking about the timing of everything going forward, and I mentioned underwriting.

What’s underwriting?“, he asked.

Whoops. Forgot that not everyone is a real estate dork like myself, so on the drive back from the home inspection I thought I’d list out the steps to getting a loan approved and closed. There are more items within each step, of course, but this is a broad look at getting a loan approved.

1 – Make the application. The first time you speak to your lender (need a lender? Contact me – I have several good ones to recommend) about applying, they’re going to tell you that they need several items of documentation from you. These will include W-2s/1099s, tax returns, Separation Agreements and/or Divorce Decrees, and more. Start preparing before the meeting – if it’s a financial statement within the last three years, be prepared to provide a copy.

2 – Order the documents. Your lender has the documents they need to get started, so now they’ll order MORE documents (we’re killing trees here, you know). They’ll order a copy of your credit report, they’ll order an appraisal, and gather other supporting documents needed to process everything.

3 – Wait. This part seems to be the most difficult. There’s a mad dash to get everything to the lender, and then we sit and wait while everything comes in, and the lender sorts through it all. If there’s additional documentation that’s needed they’ll ask for it, but usually they’re just pulling levers and pushing buttons and we don’t hear much.

4 – Submit the loan. When everything’s been gathered, the lender will finalize the loan rate and terms, and then submit everything to underwriting, who underwrites (funds) the loan. They may have additional questions or require additional documentation, but by this time you’ve submitted an entire forest full of paper and you’ve got it – somewhere!

5 – Loan approval. It’s the final countdown. The documents have been gathered, and the loan has been approved.

6 – Preparing title. Now that we’re approved, your closing attorney/settlement company will begin to complete the documents necessary to transfer title. These will include the deed of trust, the actual mortgage, and more. These are the documents that will be recorded at the courthouse as public record of ownership.

7 – Closed. Now that everything’s been signed, the lender will review them one more time make sure that all of the T’s and I’s are dotted, and then they’ll authorize release of the funds to have everything paid. Congrats, you’ve purchased a house!

Photo credit.

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I Can’t Ask You Where You’re From

From the “Are you serious” files, comes this gem from Jim Duncan in our Charlottesville office. I’m reposting the full text below, because I think it’s so important and I don’t know that I could have written it any better.

In a transient place like Charlottesville, “Where are you from”? is a common question.

Small talk. Innocuous, right?

The ability to make and sustain small talk is a critical skill held by successful real estate agents – learning about clients and potential clients, asking questions, listening. But. What if innocuous conversation is (wrongly) perceived to be “discriminatory”?

I’ve written many times about and told my clients about the seemingly-absurd limitations imposed on real estate agents regarding fair housing laws. This morning I read the account of a real estate broker in Massachusetts who asked a prospective tenant where she was from – and ended up being fined $60,000. The woman who filed the complaint seemingly suffered emotional distress not merely from being asked the question, but also because she’d been denied an apartment by another real estate broker ostensibly because of her national origin, but also because this case went on apparently for nearly 6 years!

I asked friend and colleague Sarah Stelmok, Principal Nest broker in Fredericksburg and licensed Fair Housing expert for her thoughts. She agreed, with more context:

Besides this being mind-numbingly stupid, here’s the thing; if a customer/ client comes into your office and wants your services, but doesn’t speak English, we are required to get them an interpreter.  If I get someone an interpreter, it’s important for me to know where they are from.  Not all Spanish is Spanish.  Not all Chinese is Chinese.  And, what, exactly, was her distress over the question?  Fair Housing laws in VA clearly state that there has to be a limitation of housing choice.  It doesn’t sound like her choices were limited at all.  What if a Venezuelan agent asked the question?  Would it have been brought to case?  Yes, this is so stupid, it defies any type of common sense.  I feel really bad for this agent.

As a real estate agent, I can’t talk about schools, demographics of neighborhoods, and I know that I can’t ask someone their ethnic background. But it’s ok to analyze and interpret the housing preferences of different ethnicities? (This is a fascinating series by the way – What Home Buyers Really Want: Ethnic Preferences Parts IIIIIIIV.

These laws, while grounded in good intent, have become overreachingly insane speech codes that prevent reasonable people from exercising common sense. But I get it. This is the story I tell my clients that explains the absurd fair housing laws that prevent me from discussing whether there are kids in a particular neighborhood:

A couple of years ago a man called me from out of the blue saying that he was retiring and wanted to move home to Charlottesville. Ok, I can help. And he wanted to do so in a few months. Ok, I can help. And he wanted buyer representation. Ok, I can help. And he wanted an all-white neighborhood. At this point I hung up.

Discrimination is rarely so in-your-face, but reasonable people should be able to discern whether “where are you from?” is being asked in a discriminatory way.


It is undisputed that Linder violated G. L. c. 151B, § 4(6)(c), and § 1.04(i) of the commission’s amended regulations by inquiring into Mrs. Stokel’s national origin in connection with her and her husband’s application for a new apartment on July 25, 2007. While completing the application process to rent an apartment, Linder asked, `Gladys, where are you from?’ to which Mrs. Stokel responded that she was from Venezuela. The Stokels believed they were discriminated against on the basis of Mrs. Stokel’s national origin and found Linder’s question to be insulting and upsetting. Despite the fact that Linder’s comment was found to have no discriminatory animus and did not result in discrimination, his inquiry itself is a per se violation of the statute and the regulation. Therefore, on appeal Linder only challenges the amount of damages awarded.

To my layman’s reading of the Decision, the harm seems to have come from the aggregate of the rental-search process, not the small talk question asked. But.

I’ll keep practicing carefully on the knife’s edge of fair housing, pointing out signs of children (literally, the “Watch out for Children throughout Neighborhood” signs) as well as others’ descriptions of neighborhoods.Two notes:

1 – But it’s ok if data discriminates, right?
2 – This is the sort of thing I’d expect the Realtors’ trade organization to get involved with.


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Top 10 Reasons To Build a Green Home

Over the last several years, “building green” has become a popular phrase among the real estate industry. Some agents have gotten their Eco-Broker(R) designation, others certified “this that or the other”, and everyone appears to be paying more attention to what their carbon footprint might be. Personally, I’ve seen clients take a dramatic shift from wanting to be “on the edge of town, it’s just a 5 minute commute” to choosing to be within walking distance.

Lots of builders have followed the same path, as well, and have started focusing on making changes in their building processes that may – or may not – truly have an impact on whether or not a home is truly “efficient”. One builder here in Blacksburg that started doing this, years ago, and has only upped the game, is Green Valley Builders. I’ve mentioned Green Valley Builders before, here on the blog.

Recently, I was with clients in GVD’s showroom and I came across the flyer below. Apologies for the poor quality – I snapped a photo with my phone and uploaded it as a PDF – but I thought it was a good explanation of green building, and what it might mean to you, the homeowner. The flyer is from 2008, but the content is still relevant, and the build quality has gotten even better.

Green_Valley_Builders10. I hate paying high utility bills. Our average utility bill in 2008 was $145/month* for both electricity and gas. That’s because our Green Building Program produces a home that is much cheaper to live in than a conventionally built home.

9. We can breathe easy all the time. Indoor air can be 2 to 5 times more polluted than outside air. We use paints, hardwood floors and finishes with low VOCs, carpets with recycled content, and relative humidity below 50% to control dust mites and mold.

8. I care about the environment. We care about our environmental impact. Our onsite recycling program kept over 38,000 lbs of debris out of the landfill in 2008. And we’ve partnered with Virginia Tech in doing research on our wood waste. 

7. Filling up at the pump is scary. We’re close to downtown Blacksburg, Virginia Tech and the Corporate Research Center, so you don’t have to drive far to work or play. And soon you’ll have access to the walking trails and parks at Wyatt Farms and Woodbine.

6. I like to feel really important. We do things other builders don’t, like give you 24-7 access with our online client portal, sit at the closing table with you, and provide our builder initiated warranty program to ensure your home is functioning properly.

5. No more cold or ___ spots in the house. Air leaking into your house can cause rooms to feel drafty in the winter or stuffy in the summer. Green building provides a comfortable and healthy envelope to live in year-round by properly sealing your home.

4. I start my day with a nice hot shower. Each home has a tankless hot water heater that provides hot water only as it is needed. Traditional storage water heaters produce standby energy losses that cost you money. And all of our homes are solar panel ready.

3. No noisy neighbors? Music to my ears. Our advanced insulation packages using spray cellulose and foam help block airborne noise to reduce traffic sounds or the occasional noisy neighborhood to give you peace and quiet.

2. It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood. Enjoying your community means getting outdoors. Soon you’ll have access to our own community area, with convenient access to the YMCA Community Gardens, Solar Green House and community walking trails.

1. I love saving money. In addition to a monthly mortgage, homeowners pay for utilities, maintenance and repair. A durable, energy-efficient house can be more economical and affordable even if it is a higher or the same price as a home built with standard construction. All of our homes are EarthCraft and ENERGY STAR certified to ensure they are just that.

I’m hoping these clients pursue a home in the neighborhood, as I’m really looking forward to seeing more behind-the-scenes stuff from Green Valley Builders. If you’d like to talk with them, let me know … or I can get you in touch with clients who currently live in a home built by GVD, and who will give you an honest, real-life perspective.

Green Valley Builders is represented by RE/Max 1st Realty-Christiansburg.


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