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How Virginians Think About Virginia

I still can't figure out where this study or the underlying data comes from so don't make any big lifestyle changes based on this, but here's some information on how we feel about ourselves.

This survey asked people how they felt about their state in six areas: Natural Beauty, Things to Do, State Economy, Environmental Friendliness, Education and Medical Care. Here are the grades for Virginia:

  • Natural Beauty                      B
  • Things To Do                        B
  • State Economy                      C
  • Environmental Friendliness   D
  • Education                              C
  • Medical Care                         C

Overall, people seemed fairly pessimistic. That's not surprising given the overall economic gloom and doom we're all living with at the moment.

I do think Virginians were a little hard on themselves regarding the State Economy. While it may not feel this way (especially if your house is under water) our economy in northern Virginia actually looks pretty good compared to most of the country.

How would you grade us?

P.S. My home state of Minnesota fared pretty well!

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Remembering Why I Blog

Date: Aug. 26, 2011
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I'm rereading some of my favorite parts of Seth Godin's Linchpin today. This particular quote reminded me of why I wanted to do this blog in the first place.

I don’t write my blog to get anything from you in exchange. I write it because giving my small gift to the community in the form of writing makes me feel good. I enjoy it that you enjoy it. When that gift comes back to me, one day, in an unexpected way, I enjoy the work I did twice as much.

Godin, Seth (2010). Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? (Kindle Locations 2880-2882). Portfolio. Kindle Edition.

If you haven't read this book, get it now! If I was still managing a team it'd be mandatory reading for everyone. (Although that doesn't sound particularly gift-like!)

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Let's Go To The Fair!

The county fairs are starting up in a big way. Both the Fauquier County Fair and the Caroline Agricultural Fair start this weekend. And, just about every weekend for the next couple of months will feature multiple fair-going opportunities.

It's my favorite time of year! I can't wait to meet and greet the livestock, ride the rides and eat some great fair food. If you want to go take a look at this list of Virginia county fairs.

And if you want the best fair experience of your life I have to send you to my home state and the Minnesota State Fair. You'll see me there this fall and any year I can manage to get away!


Butter Head Sculpture - Minnesota State Fair from Ochen K. on Vimeo.

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Write What You Know

Date: Oct. 27, 2010
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I love writing. It's one reason I have this blog. And, as anyone who's ever taken a writing class knows, the classic advice is to write what you know. For the record, I'm guessing a lot of successful authors have completely ignored that advice!

So, what I know these days is not entirely real estate related.

My husband recently suffered a heart attack, followed by quadruple bypass surgery. Not surprisingly, life has changed significantly.

So, it's been a little quieter on this blog lately. I believe that's about to change.

Meanwhile, I'd recommend healthy eating, lots of exercise and regular check ups. You just never know!

And now I return you to your regularly scheduled real estate posts!

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Switching to Rappahannock Electric

Our electricity provider switched June 1st, from Allegheny Power to Rappahannock Electric Cooperative. We live in Amissville, but this is happening to quite a few people in these parts.

If you're one of those people you should have received a notice from Rappahannock Electric by now. If the cooperative structure is new to you, here's what REC says on their website:


So, this is going to be a little different. You'll likely not notice much difference in rates, initially. At least according to REC's web site. But their rates are higher than those of Allegheny. And, eventually we will all be moved up to those higher rates. That might make this an excellent time to look at ways to increase your energy efficiency before those higher bills hit. (And while there are tax incentives to use!)

You should also have received a package from Rappahannock Electric in the mail this week that includes an application for membership. I don't know about you, but that's definitely new to me. Their web site says that your electricity will NOT be turned off if you do not complete the application. They'd like you to, but it is not a requirement.

I had no complaints with Allegheny, but have no reason to oppose the switch to Rappahannock either. Come the next big ice/snow storm we'll all have a better idea of how good they are. Let's hope it's a long, long time before we know!



Cooperatives are local, customer-owned, democratically controlled, not-for-profit utilities. Cooperatives exist for only one reason – to serve. Anyone who receives service from the cooperative becomes a member and has an ownership interest in the cooperative. At the end of each fiscal year after all expenses are paid, any excess revenue is assigned to the members based on their patronage with the cooperative. As financial conditions allow, a portion of those assignments are retired and returned directly to the members.

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Panera Doing Good

Date: May. 29, 2010
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I'm a big fan of patronizing your local businesses rather than chains. But occasionally a chain does something that warrants giving them some of my business as well.

You may want to stop buy Panera Bread this week. They just opened a new store where patrons are invited to pay what they can or what they want.

The motto hung in the restaurant says: "Take what you need. Leave your fair share."

I've heard about other tests of this theory. I hope it works. I hope Panera opens lots more of these and that it helps hungry people get fed!

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Healthiest Virginia County?

There's a new study out showing, by state, how each county ranks in terms of overall health. The factors included are:

Health Behaviors

Clinical Care

Social and Economic Factors

Physical Environment

I think I might disagree with the results. But wide open spaces improve my health more than immediate access to doctors. Apparently that's not a widely held belief!

Fairfax County came in at #1. Prince William county is #10. Fauquier is #21. Rappahannock County is #46 an Culpeper County is #56.

What do you think? Personally I think Rappahannock is a heck of a lot healthier than Prince William!

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Pardon The Interruption

Date: Feb. 14, 2010
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I haven't really disappeared into thin air! The snowstorms left us without power (or running water) for six days. I had planned on using down time during the snow storm to write a bunch of blog posts.

Best laid plans....

So, watch this space. The next snow starts tomorrow and I once again hope to spend time blogging!

Hope the snow and ice are being kind to your homes! Check those gutters and roofs!

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Facing the Mortgage Crisis

Radio station WAMU (88.5) did a week long series of special programming last week entitled "Facing the Mortgage Crisis". I think the series was misnamed. It should have been called "Facing the Financial Crisis" as it covered a much wider array of information than just what's been going on in the housing industry. (Perhaps it's their nod to where it all started!)

You can listen to all the programs at their web site, as well as join in discussions on how all this is affecting you.

It's good stuff and well worth your time. I especially appreciated the replays of the "This American Life" series on the financial crisis. It's some of the best financial journalism out there.

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Save The Ta-Tas

Date: Dec. 31, 2008
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2008 was a year in which I lost three more friends to cancer. Several more were diagnosed with the disease for the first time. And then there are the friends fighting a new bout with this old foe.

I hate problems I can't do anything about.

I can't cure any of these people. I can pray. I can hold their hands, lend moral support and do whatever else they ask. But what I really want to do is beat this disease.

So, I've once again signed up for the Susan G Kommen 3-Day Walk to raise funds to cure breast cancer. I'll be walking 60 miles in three days. And, yes, this is my second time and, yes, I must be crazy!

But I'm hoping some of you also want to do something to change the status quo. Are you looking for a big challenge for 2009? I'd love to have you make the commitment to walk with me. Or, since I've committed to raising at least $2,300, I'd be very grateful for your financial support.

I'll be posting an update from time to time throughout the year on how both the training and the fundraising are going. So watch this space for more news!

P.S. The first time I saw a "Save the Ta-Tas" t-shirt was when I did my first 3-Day. I just about fell over laughing!

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Disaster Prone Areas

Date: Oct. 5, 2008
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For those of you who are wondering what's become of me, I've taken a break to help with some of the recovery efforts for Ike in the gulf coast. I worked initially in Louisiana and am now in Houston. It's been quite an experience!

When Katrina hit New Orleans it started a conversation about that city and whether it should even be rebuilt where it currently sits because of its vulnerability to flooding and hurricanes. But after a couple of weeks down here, I think the question is bigger than that.

Those who live in the most low-lying areas, who are most vulnerable to the ravages of nature, are very often the poorest. And, so many of the same people living between New Orleans and Houston have been hit by Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike. Who knows what comes next!

The local, state and federal governments rush in to help in these situations, which is what should happen. But it's a costly exercise. And, I wonder if it wouldn't be more prudent to simply offer many of these people incentives to move away from the areas of greatest danger. Since many of these individuals are in tough financial circumstances, some of them may welcome the chance for a fresh start elsewhere. Certainly I heard many express that they didn't think they could handle any more hurricanes!

And, maybe there are some areas where we should have a new designation. There are lands protected from development for all kinds of reasons. Why not some kind of "disaster prone" designation? I wouldn't say no one could build there because I don't want to tell people what to do. But they'd sign a waiver of any right to assistance, including government flood insurance, if they decided to build there.

Right now this seems like another case of working on eliminating the effects of the problem without ever getting at the root cause. It seems to me we're smart enough to do better!

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Termites are one of those issues that can really throw a wrench in an otherwise beautiful contract! No one wants to see the termite report come back with bad news.

Here are some of the signs there might be a termite problem with a home:

Mud tubes: These are about the size of a pencil and are connected to infested wood. They may be visible on concrete foundations or hidden under floor boards or behind siding.

Swarms: Winged termites are attracted to lights and may be found around windows or exterior light fixtures.

Wood damage: Tap wood every few inches and listen for a telltale hollow sound or see if a tool easily penetrates the wood you're tapping. Dark areas or blisters in wood flooring may also be a sign of infestation.

However, don't assume that any of these are proof of an infestation. A professional will be able to tell you for sure. Most contracts in our area are written requiring the sellers to pay for a termite inspection. Most lenders will insist on seeing proof that the home is termite free.

If you're a seller, here are some of the ways termites can be drawn to your home:

  • Cracks in foundation walls, even small ones, can provide entry for insects.
  • Leaking pipes or faucets create an enivronment conducive to termites.
  • Wood debris or firewood touching the structure provide a breeding ground for insects.
  • Sprinkler systems that hit outside walls encourage insects and wash away treatments.
  • Planters or wood trellises attached to exterior walls provide an access point for insects.

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Answering Your Questions

One of the things I enjoy most about blogging is the interaction with readers. Whether it's your comments or your questions, I enjoy hearing what's on your mind. I thought I'd take a little time today to respond to some of what you've been saying.

Someone used the Meebo functionality on the right side of the page to chat with me about Fauquier County tax assessments. The question was has the county delayed the assessments so as not to take a revenue from the reduced values of area homes.

According to the County Commissioner of Revenue's office, the assessments have been done every four years, for at least the last 20 years. Prior to that assessments were done every six years. So it appears there's no change in policy at this time. The next assessments would be done in 2009 with the new rates to go into effect in 2010. The problem with that, of course, is that current values are no where near current assessments. There's a case to be made for appealing your current assessment.

"Sarah" recently reminded me that while the decline in home prices is bad for sellers, it's a great thing for buyers. That's very true. In every market there are winners and losers.

To be honest, I probably feel the sellers pain now more than I felt the buyers pain when they were desperately trying to buy a house and were one of 20 offers (or more)! The truth is I wasn't worried about them being thrown out on the street. I did worry that some of them were taking out mortgages that weren't in their best interest, but I was usually told that they knew what they were doing. These days, some of the sellers I work with are in very serious difficulty and I do worry about them!

So, if as a potential buyer you don't feel I'm sufficiently celebrating your ability to buy a house at a more affordable price, never fear! Prices actually still need to come down more. I'll do a post next week on affordability in our area. But I rejoice for every buyer who gets a great deal on the home they want!

And for my fellow agents who read this and keep me honest, thanks!

Keep those comments coming!


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Nobody's Playing Outside

There's an interesting article in Slate, the online magazine about the disappearing lawn. I thought this exerpt was particularly interesting.

U.S. Census Bureau data tell us that as American house sizes have grown (despite shrinking family sizes), the size of lots has actually shrunk. It is now not uncommon to see massive houses crowding to the very edge of their property line. Whatever lot is left is typically barren grass with a few random shrubs installed by landscapers (the lawn version of a bad hair-plug job). The scalped appearance of these lots is usually not accidental—developers often find it easier to cut down mature trees than to work around them.

And so then one sees it: the asymmetrical, triple-garage-fronted, architecturally confused house, towering over a lawn that's utterly stark—as if surrounding a prison so escapees can be seen—except for the assemblage of plastic junk and recreation equipment scattered here and there. Which is not being used, of course, because the entire family is inside the giant house, where the sounds of Nintendo echo off the high walls of the great room. The bright plastic begins to look like a memorial to the noble, dated idea of children playing outdoors. As historian Kenneth Jackson notes in his book Crabgrass Frontier, the shift to largely indoor living, accompanied by the much-reported decline of gardening and encouraged by everything from air conditioning (often now needed because houses seem to lack shade cover from trees) to front porches being replaced by garages, has left yards—when they even exist—curiously empty. "There are few places as desolate and lonely as a suburban street on a hot afternoon," he writes.

So true! Anyone driven around Bealeton or Remington lately?!

On a completely unrelated note, I've added a Meebo box to my blog here. If you'd like to chat with me about any of this, give it a try any time it shows me online! And, to the first person who gave it a try, I apologize for being so slow to respond! I didn't recognize the pinging sound at first!


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A Few Odds and Ends

Did you know that only 2% of homeowners ever challenge their property tax assessments? But the ones who do have a 75% success rate!

What if the dying inner cities of a generation ago will now be replaced by dying suburbs as gas prices soar? We're already seeing evidence of revitalized city centers and emptying suburbs full of McMansions. Temprorary blip or permanent restructuring?

A court in California ruled that the clause in a new home purchase contract mandating that disputes after settlement go through binding arbitration rather than court was "unconscionable" and therefore unenforcable. The court said it was unconscionable because of "oppression" and "surprise". According to the court "oppression arises when the parties have unequal bargaining power, leading to no real negotiation and lack of meaningful choice. Surprise may arise when challenged terms are hidden in a 'prolix wordy or long-winded printed form' drafted by a party in a superior bargaining position." I find the rationale in this as interesting as the decision itself. What does this say about builder's contracts in general?

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Three Media Outlooks on Real Estate

The Virginia Association of REALTORS has an excellent blog. Their CEO, Scott Brunner, has written a very interesting post highlighting some recent media stories. I very much appreciate our state association's willingness to look at the facts rather than to always spin the data and dispense happy pills!

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Charlottesville REALTORS Target First Time Buyers

The Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS has a great plan for giving first time home buyers a little additional help and incentive to get out there and buy.

It's proactive, targets the right group and isn't based on hype. That's a great plan!

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Rural Connectivity

There are many wonderful things about living in this rural paradise that I call home. Easy and cheap availability of high speed internet access would not number among them!

But the options are increasing and since this is a topic that's almost always of interest to potential buyers in this area, I thought it rated a blog post.

DSL and cable are most people's first choice for high speed internet. Unfortunately, both are difficult to find out here. DSL is the rarer of the two. Cable is available in most of the villages such as Flint Hill and Washington in Rappahannock County. You'll find cable available in some of the larger subdivisions such as South Wales, Quail Ridge or Wildwood Forest.

Broadband wireless cards are good in certain areas. I recently tried Sprint's card, which is supposed to have good coverage in Rappahannock County and had no success at all from my house. A neighbor about two miles down the road from my house has terrific access using the same card.

VABB (Virginia Broadband) has some installations in the county. They provide high speed wireless connectivity using radio frequency technology. Your ability to use them will vary depending on your proximity to one of their towers and the site line.

The most widely available solution is satellite. We're currently using HughesNet at  our home in Amissville. It's expensive, but customer service and connectivity (outside of heavy thunderstorms and snowfalls) has been very good. While it's technically high speed, it does not rival what you experience with DSL or cable. And the price is very high compared to other alternatives.

If this is an important issue to you, make sure you ask about this BEFORE you buy your house! Many people now depend on high speed access to work remotely. The options available to you will vary depending on which house you choose. Each county has their own challenges. As with most things related to buying a house, do your homework!

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Date: Feb. 11, 2008
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Tomorrow is the Virginia presidential primary. Whatever your political persuasion, please take time to vote.

I was raised in a family that believed that voting was a responsibility. And, I still believe that!

So, please, go do your patriotic duty tomorrow!

And, yes, this is related to real estate. Whoever ends up in the White House will certainly still be dealing with fallout from the subprime debacle!

And, if you don't participate, don't be complaining to me about our government!

Back to topics more directly related to real estate tomorrow!

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Pets Need Help

I saw today that a TV station in Charlotte, NC did a story on how the real estate market is increasing the numbers of homeless pets. As families are forced to leave their homes they often can not take their pets with them. Sometimes that's because they have to move into a rental that won't accept pets. Some families are moving in with family members and the home can't accomodate any more pets.

I've got calls into the local shelters to try and get a feel for whether we're seeing that same effect here locally. My suspicion would be that we are.

If you're thinking of getting a pet it's an excellent time to check out the local shelters. Here are links to some of them.





Too many pets end up here in the best of times. In hard economic times it gets worse. If you can adopt a pet or just help them out with a donation, now's the time.

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