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Moving On In

Dec. 5, 2011
Categorized in: Local Market Conditions

An editorial in the New York Times discusses a subject we've explored often in this space, the decline in the exurbs.

Remember that this is an editorial and not news. The writer has a stake in being right.

That said, I agree with most of what he is saying.

Local communities should take note. Our towns (Warrenton, Culpepper, Bealeton, Gainesville, Haymarket, etc.) are not set up to profit from this trend right now. We need more housing around town centers and more high paying local jobs that allow people to work where they live.

Reason Number Five - Gas Prices

Feb. 24, 2011
Categorized in: Local Market Conditions

Yesterday we talked about four reasons home prices aren't likely to rise much any time soon. Today we'll talk about a fifth reason that has the potential for an even bigger impact.           

                                                                  

Gas prices shot up 20 cents yesterday in Warrenton. Sheetz Exxon was charging $3.09 yesterday morning but was showing $3.29 on the sign last night. That's quite a one day jump. And it almost inevitably means a slow down in home sales in our area.

Like it or not, home sales in our area are primarily driven by people commuting into DC or northern Virginia. That's an ugly commute on the best of days and I often talk to people trying to figure out if it makes any sense to spend 3-4 hours a day in their cars. If you add a large spike in gas prices it becomes a lot clearer to some people that this is not a good trade off.

A recent story on Marketplace on NPR talked about the premium you now get for owning a home near mass transit. Home prices for properties near mass transit actually didn't really appear to show much of a bubble and haven't tumbled. Home prices in far flung suburbs, on the other hand, got hit the hardest. You only have to look at Culpeper to see the truth of that.

I don't know if $3.29 is the number that starts to put the brakes on what's already a fairly slow market. I know that if it goes much higher heading into the busy spring season I'll be worried.

Where to Retire

May. 17, 2010
Categorized in: Business of Real Estate

Baby boomers are starting to think about retiring. (They don't have enough money to actually retire!)

And early evidence shows that how and where they will retire is different than the preceding generation.

Baby boomers are apparently not dreaming of golf communities in Florida or Arizona.

By and large, baby boomers are hoping to retire right where they are. They may downsize. They may move closer to the city and mass transit so they can get rid of their cars. It seems the suburbs were OK for raising kids but not where they see themselves going forward.

This raises lots of interesting real estate questions. What does this do for FL and AZ? Surely it will make their recovery from the real estate slump much harder.

Access to train service into DC will be increasingly important to towns in the area hoping to keep their retirees. What else could places like Warrenton do to attract and keep retirees? (Who require fewer public services but contribute plenty of tax revenue)

Are the inner suburbs and DC ready for the influx of retirees?

What do you think? Where will you retire?

 

New EPA Lead Based Paint Regulations

Apr. 14, 2010
Categorized in: Home Improvement

The EPA has issued new regulations around lead based paint that go into effect this week. From now on, in housing built prior to 1978 there are new requirements around renovations. If more than six square feet of an interior or 20 square feet of an exterior lead paint covered wall is disturbed by a repair, then steps to prevent the lead dust from becoming airborne and contaminating the home must be taken. Contractors working on renovations of homes built before 1978 will be required to have an EPA Certification on lead based paint.

What does that mean for you as a home buyer or seller? Based on what I'm hearing so far, any renovation to a home built before 1978 is likely to cost you more than it used to. Right now not many contractors have this certification and those that have it can charge a premium. The EPA's web site lists no contractors with the certification in either Warrenton or Culpeper. The closes contracors listed are in Nokesville, Broad Run and Manassas. That may change over time, but right now, it's suddenly gotten more expensive to renovate that 1960s rambler.

As a buyer, you should think about that additional potential cost when looking at homes built before 1978. And, if you're looking at these homes in the future you're going to want to make sure that any work that was done was done by a contractor with the required EPA certification.

There's a lot of "the sky is falling" blather right now about these new regulations. That tends to be the case with any new regulation in any industry. Time will likely make this all seem less onerous.

For now, you just need to be aware of the changing regulations.

Upcoming Local Food Events

Apr. 9, 2010
Categorized in: Eating Local

Spring is here and that means an abundance of local foods are beginning to be available. Yippee!

The Local Flavor Farm Buyers Club is hosting a Meet Your Farmer Event tomorrow, April 10th at 14828 Lee Highway in Amissville. Stop by between 2 and 6 p.m. and enjoy tastings from:

  • 100% Grass-fed beef from Mount Vernon Farm in Sperryville
  • Pork & Lamb Sausages from Blue Ridge Meats in Front Royal
  • 100% Grass-fed, raw cheese (aged 12 - 24 months) from Oak Spring Dairy in Upperville
  • Fresh Salsas & Mustards from the Remington Pepper Company in Remington
  • Fresh, locally-roasted Fair Trade Coffee from Central Coffee Roasters in Sperryville
  • Tasty Chutneys from Virginia Chutney Company in Washington, VA
  • ...and much more!

There will also be wine tastings from Gadino Cellars.

As if that wasn't enough excitement, a week from today Great Harvest Bread Co. opens their doors in downtown Warrenton next Friday, April 16th. Become a fan on Facebook and watch their progress!

Happy Eating!

Local Farmers Markets

Aug. 21, 2008
Categorized in: Eating Local

                                

 

As you're making plans for your weekend, don't forget to stop by one of the local farmers markets. Here's a list of some that I've been frequenting:

Nokesville Farmer's Market - I just discovered this one but already love it. Hours are 8 to noon on Saturdays. They take "local" seriously at this one. All vendors are from Prince William or Fauquier Counties.

Warrenton Farmer's Market - Great excuse to get into old town Warrenton. This is their 33rd year. See them downtown Saturday's from 7 a.m. to noon or on Wednesdays out on Lee Hwy from 7 a.m. until 1.

Culpeper Farmer's Market - At the corner of Main and Commerce every Saturday from 7:30 to noon. I've been very impressed by the great selection of heirloom vegetables here!

Clevenger's Corner Farmers Market - This is the newest addition having just opened last Friday. This is at the intersection of 211 and 229 in Amissville. They're open Fridays and Sundays from 4-7 p.m. for all you non-morning people!

And...I hear there will be a new one in Sperryville any day now! More to come on that.

If you've got others you'd like to see mentioned here, jump into the comments and let everyone know!

 

3rd Annual Alternative Energy Expo

May. 16, 2008
Categorized in: Green Building

There's lots to talk about today.

Saturday, in Warrenton, is the third annual Alternative Energy Expo. It runs from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Fauquier County Fairgrounds. Admission is $5. If you've been thinking about making your home and/or your life more "green" this is a great place to get ideas, talk to people who can help and get inspired! It's bigger and better than ever this year!

Most of you should have received in your mailboxes this week a circular called "Northern Piedmont - Buy Fresh - Buy Local". The Piedmont Environmental Council sent this to residents of Culpeper, Fauquier, Orange, Madison and Rappahannock counties. In it you'll find a guide to buying almost everything you eat locally from produce to meat, from farmers markets to CSAs to buying right on the farm. Great publication!

The WSJ has run a couple of very interesting real estate articles this week. First up was an article called "As Dues Dry Up, The Neighbors Pay" about how as no one is paying the HOA dues on vacant/foreclosed houses, other homeowners are having to swallow large increases in dues. It's another things buyers need to take a careful look at prior to buying.

The other article in WSJ was "Will Upgrading Your Home Help You Sell It?" and the results are clearly mixed. In a declining market I'd always argue that while you want your house to shine, you should never put in expensive upgrades. This article has some interesting details.

Air Serv

Apr. 9, 2008
Categorized in: Amissville Columns

You meet the most interesting people in Amissville! I had the pleasure last week of sitting down with Ruth Zeh over a cup of coffee. Ruth has lived here in Amissville for four years. She’s a lifelong resident of the area and she and her husband were thrilled when they had the opportunity to move to Rappahannock county.

But the most interesting part of my conversation with Ruth was about her job. Ruth works for Air Serv International at their world headquarters in Warrenton. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the company, they are a nonprofit organization providing air services for humanitarian work around the world. They say that they fly where others can’t or won’t. They operate in places like Chad and Afghanistan. They were a big part of tsunami relief; where they ended up using mostly helicopters.

Ruth is the Information Technology Administrator at the company, making sure the communications infrastructure allows them to communicate with these far flung locations. She didn’t start out in the technology field. She started by answering an ad in the paper for a receptionist. But over the years her responsibilities have grown. And, it turned out, she had a knack for working with computers. So now she’s taking care of computer networks and e-mail. There are unique problems in this area because of the places Air Serv goes. She’s had company personnel calling back to the office from the top of a tree in Chad because it was the only place they could get a signal. Keeping e-mail flowing back and forth between Warrenton and the locations in the Middle East and Africa where they work most frequently is a huge challenge.

With exciting opportunities like that it’s not wonder that Ruth says she loves her job. “What’s best about it is that it’s exciting, interesting and humanitarian”, she said. She’s happiest when she’s been able to help someone out in the field to do their job by helping them through computer problems.

The company got started out in California and moved to Warrenton about eight years ago. Since much of their work is coordinated with NGOs and government agencies, being close to Washington, DC made a lot of sense. The story goes that when they were trying to decide exactly where to put the headquarters they flew into Dulles, started driving around the area and fell in love with the Warrenton area.

The company is a non-profit and like all non-profits, obtaining funding can be a challenge. Fed Ex is a big supporter but they’re just one organization. Air Serv depends on both organizations and individuals for their support. According to their web site http://www.airserv.org donations can be made to the General Fund, the Disaster Response Fund for specific emergencies, the Equipment Fund which allows them to buy, replace and repair equipment or the New Initiatives Fund.

Ruth is working to improve her skills and better help the organization. She’s hard at work on her Microsoft certification. I asked her if she ever had any desire to go out in the field. She laughed and said there are days she’d love to have that experience and others she’s happy to be safe and secure in Rappahannock! We’re glad she’s here too!

If romance is on your mind as we get closer to Valentine’s Day, think about heading over to Gray Ghost Vineyards for their Annual Irresistible Chocolates and Cabernet event on February 16th and 17th. There will be decadent desserts such as passion truffles and chocolate dipped apricots and, of course, tastings from Gray Ghost’s own gold-medal winning red wines. Tickets are $15 and include a collectible Valentines glass.

And we wanted to mention that Elizabeth Streagle is home following surgical replacement of both knees.  She appreciated and enjoyed the many visits from friends and neighbors while she was hospitalized and in rehab. Welcome home, Elizabeth!

Banks Sitting on Properties

Apr. 4, 2008
Categorized in: Mortgages

Is this happening locally?

I've been watching a house in Warrenton that appears to have been taken back by the bank, owners are long gone, and yet it's never been put up for sale, or even auction. I've been wondering about what's going on and this may provide an answer.

I'm going to attempt to investigate this particular property further.

If this is happening, think about the potential revenue implications for the local jurisdictions! Prince William thinks they have a revenue shortfall now!

Meanwhile, does anyone else have any anecdotal evidence that this is happening?

A Greener Warrenton

Feb. 11, 2007
Categorized in: Local News

Warrenton's mayor, George Fitch, has issued a call for Warrenton to become more energy self-sufficient; to, as the local newspaper put it, "go green".

First of all, I applaud Mayor Fitch for taking this step. A focus by the town on renewable energy resources is a welcome one. Every locality should be looking at ways to reduce our energy consumption and our dependence on sources of energy that are bad for our planet and increasingly bad for our country.

The mayor's focus seems to be on buildng a small scale biorefinery capable of producing ethanol from locally available materials such as corn. The idea of small local refineries that are joint public and private partnerships is, in my mind, a good one. It could be good for the local economy, local farmers and, to some extent, for energy efficiency.

My concern is that ethanol made from corn, which seems to be the cornerstone of the plan is not all that efficient a fuel. Some studies show that more fossil-fuel energy is expended in the production of corn-based ethanol than we would ever save by burning it.

But it's early yet and the idea is just getting off the ground. There's time for fact-finding and, eventually, modification of the original proposal. The Warrenton Town Council has provided $5000 for a feasibility study and I look forward to hearing the results.

I hope that no one is waiting for this to solve our energy dependence problems though! This is another instance where "waiting for the world" is definitely not the way to go! Each of us can be looking at ways to reduce our own carbon footprint. Whether your motives are cost savings, saving the planet or making our country energy independent, there are plenty of good reasons to look for ways to reduce our energy consumption.

Feeding Your Neighbors

Feb. 2, 2007
Categorized in: Local Businesses

One of the things I love about real estate is that I'm working to fulfill a basic human need - shelter. It's something I feel good about! About the only more basic human need I can think of is food. And I've recently had a chance to get more involved with an organization that's working on that.

Fauquier County Food Distribution Coalition is an organization working to feed their hungry neighbors. It is truly amazing what they do using almost entirely volunteer labor and donated food and monies.

In the month of December, 2006 they served almost 200 families. I'm guessing there are an awful lot of people in the county who didn't even know there were 200 hungry families here. And they're sure they're not even reaching everyone who needs their services.

The food is distributed once a month on the third Saturday. Volunteers not only provide almost all the food, but also man the operation. They set up tables, sort food, fill boxes and help the families with getting the food to their cars. Considering it's only once a month it's not all that much food. Most of us wouldn't want to try and live on it! But you'll see people waiting for hours for this.

I believe we are our brother's keeper and let's face it, most of us have so much more than we need in terms of material goods. If you can spare time or money or food, there's a way for you to help feed your neighbors. And I'll bet it's hard to think of something that feels better than that!

You can find out more at their web site: http://www.fauquierfood.org

Or contact them directly at info@fauquierfood.org

Foreclosure Help

Nov. 27, 2006

There have always been homeowners who, for whatever reason, one day have trouble making their mortgage payments. Circumstances change, people lose jobs, medical bills overwhelm or any number of bad things happen. It can happen to the best of us. It's beginning to happen more often in many parts of the country as some of the adjustable rate mortgages suddenly require much larger mortgage payments. And, some buyers who were encouraged to stretch more than they should have to buy a home, will now find themselves in trouble.

If you know you've got a problem, the first thing to do is not panic.  It's so easy to say, so hard to do! Don't panic, but also don't avoid the situation. It's important to intervene early in order to have the best chance of a good outcome for you and your family. Approach your lender immediately when you know you've got an issue. Many of them want to work with you to find a way for you to keep your home if at all possible.  Remember that it's expensive for them to take your home and resell it. And, in this buyer's market it's definitely not easy money for them! Often lenders will try to help you restructure your mortgage. That may mean adding a little to future payments to make up for missed payments. It may even mean they forgive some debt. Your situation and your lender's policy will be unique. But rest assured that there are other options than walking away or declaring bankruptcy.

There are foreclosure counseling services out there, but you should be very careful. Many of them are simply looking to prey on people who already are feeling desperate. HUD (Housing & Urban Development) a federal government department has certified certain homeowner counseling agencies. You can be sure that these agencies are not looking to take advantage of your situation. You can find a list of these agencies on HUD's web site at: http://www.hud.gov/offices/hsg/sfh/hcc/hcs.cfm

And, if I can ever be of assistance, please don't hesitate to call! There have always been people available to help me when things looked dark. I'm happy to pass that along when I can!

Cuban Food Comes to Warrenton

Nov. 21, 2006
Categorized in: Local Businesses

Mojitos and Tapas is an exciting new restaurant in Warrenton. As a big fan of Cuban food, I've been eagerly awaiting this opening and I was there with bells on for lunch on its first day.

There was a crowd there to try out the newest spot in town. It's so nice to have something new that's not a chain!

While the wind was cold and blustery outside, you feel warm as soon as you step in the doors. The decor immediately tells you you're in a warmer climate than the outside thermometer indicates! The bold red behind the bar immediately grabs your attention!

The menu is extensive, with much of it made up of tapas, small savory bites meant to be shared. Bring your friends and try a few of these. Tapas originated in Spain and seem to now have made their way to almost every corner of the world. The tapas I tried were terrific and I especially enjoyed my garlic fix! Enjoy your tapas with Cuban bread and a glass of wine, beer or sangria. Or, of course, you can try their signature drink, a mojito, from Cuba. They've got a larger variety of mojitos than I've ever seen and I lived in Miami for 13 years!

The service is warm and friendly. And there were surprisingly few first day glitches for a new restaurant.

You can find more information on their web site http://www.mojitosandtapas.com

I definitely recommend the food and will be going back soon with friends!

Centex Pull Out

Oct. 25, 2006

We've talked here before about proffers.  Perhaps the largest proffer ever was recently offered and then rescinded by Centex Homes as part of a development in Warrenton.

Word is out today that the proposed development has been cancelled. The handwriting was on the wall for this one for some time in my opinion.  This was a deal that made no sense even in a hot real estate market, never mind the cooler one we're currently in.

The development would have featured homes for individuals and couples who were at least 55 years of age.  The prices of these homes was to start at somewhere around $850K-$900K.  In return for the rights to proceed with this development, Centex offered to pay Warrenton $23 million dollars!

First of all, ask yourselves how many retirees, or people approaching retirement are looking for $900K homes? And, $900K homes in Warrenton, Virginia???  As nice as Warrenton is, I believe that price for this community would have always been unsustainable. And to offer $23 million to have the chance to build this money-losing development seemed truly foolhardy!

The only question remains, what in heavens name made them think this was ever a good idea in the first place! And maybe the other question is does this person still have a job at Centex?!

Days On Market

Oct. 12, 2006
Categorized in: Local Market Conditions

Buyers are always interested in how many days a property has been on the market. Buyers assume that the longer a property has been on the market, the more negotiating leverage they have.  And, generally speaking, that's probably true. That assumes, of course, that the seller really does need and/or want to sell!

Sellers, in this market, are very sensitive to days on market as well, and are worried about the perception buyers have as they see that Days on Market number increase.  Again, this is perfectly reasonable. They don't want to give buyers the impression they have more leverage, even if it might be true! No one wants to give away information that might hurt their negotiating position.

Sellers are asking more frequently how they reset the counter to show their property as newly on the market.  Many times they believe that if they withdraw their house from the market for a few days and then put it back on, that will reset the counter. Some believe that if they relist with a new agent the counter will go back to zero. Generally, what I tell them is that this doesn't work. But the full answer is a little more complex than that and this seems like a good place to go into a little more detail.

The Multiple Listing Service that we use in this area actually carries to Days on Market numbers for every listing.  They are shown as DOM-M and DOM-P. They stand for Days on Market-MLS and Days on Market-Property. The first one, DOM-M, does reset when you relist your home with a new agent. Or, if your listing expires and then is put back on the market a week or two later. But the second category, DOM-P does not reset unless your home is off the market for at least 180 days. Since both of these fields are available to both agents and consumers in the data they see, it's pretty hard to fool anyone about how long your home has been for sale.

As with almost everything in life, prevention is the way to go here! Price it properly, make sure it shows well and odds are most homes will sell within the average days on market for this area.

Proffers

Oct. 9, 2006

A proffer is an offer of a fixed amount of money from a builder to a county or community, intended to offset the cost of increasing infrastructure to handle the expanding population associated with a new residential development. The amount of proffers varies by county here in Virginia, but here is a sampling:

COUNTIES PROFFER AMOUNTS*
Chesterfield $15,600
Caroline $17,632
Goochland $15,803
Hanover $14,240
Isle of Wright $11,189
Loudon $37,660
Prince George $12,387
Prince William $37,719
Spotsylvania $35,295
Stafford $39,000

*For single-family detached dwellings

In theory, proffers are voluntary. In practice it's easy enough for a county to find another reason to turn down a request from a builder for a new subdivision if they don't like the proffer.

Proffers have been in the news here lately because of the largest proffer ever by a builder to a county. Fauquier County briefly thought they'd won the lottery with a $22 million proffer. But that was subsequently withdrawn and negotiations are ongoing.

Proffers are a mixed blessing. Someone does, indeed have to pay for the infrastructure to support all the additional people that move into the new subdivision. There will need to be more schools, hospitals, sewers, firefighters and improved roads. But the builders are businesspeople, not charities, and will likely pass most of that cost on to the ultimate consumer, the purchaser of the home. This drives up the costs of homeownership and hurts affordability. But if not proffers, how do we propose to pay for the infrastructure? I'm not seeing anyone lined up to ask for increases in property taxes!

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. It's a hot issue in Virginia and here locally. Who pays for the costs of development and how? Let me know your opinions!

Good News For Everyone

Aug. 20, 2006

The 30 year mortgage rates have now declined for four straight weeks! They finished this week at right around 6.5% on average, nationally. If you're a buyer, that's great news as housing continues to get more affordable! If you're a seller that's great news as some of those buyers sitting on the sidelines are going to be thinking about locking in these rates before they go back up!

Obviously none of us has a crystal ball, but it wouldn't surprise me to see a slight bump over the next couple of weeks in contracts written. In fact, if interest rates continue to fall, or even just hold steady, that could last more than a couple of weeks!

Keep your fingers crossed for no bad news on the inflation front!

Market Timing

Aug. 10, 2006

While the sellers out there are in a fair amount of pain, buyers aren't feeling completely warm and fuzzy either!  It is true that they've finally got some negotiating leverage, really for the first time in years.  But there is also a lot of uncertainty among most buyers about whether to buy now or wait.  Will the market get even softer?  Will there be even better deals down the road?

My advice is generally that if you want to buy a house and you plan on staying in that house for three years or more, this is a great time to buy. The economic conditions are not such that we seem likely to see a prolonged market downturn or steep price declines over years. In fact, one reason the rental market is so overheated right now is that there are still tons of people moving into the area.  The economy here is strong and growing and most of those people coming in really do want to buy houses!

So eventually, this market will turn around.  What I can't tell you (what no one can tell you) is when!  You've probably heard what they call someone who tries to time the stock market....BROKE!  The experts can't do it in the stock market.  And I'll tell you that the professionals in real estate can't guarantee anything either!

You may save a few thousand dollars if you wait.  But you may not. The next economic report may push interest rates back down. Interest rates are already still at a relatively low point historically.  If rates start drifting back down again, the market is likely to respond to that with higher prices.  If you've been watching your dream house, waiting for it to get cheap enough to buy, you just might see it getting more expensive and out of reach!

So, if this is a home for your family and not an investment you're intending to flip, I'd say find what you want, use your agent's negotiating skills to negotiate a tough but fair deal, and buy the house you love.

For those investors out there, if you're buying to rent and hold for the longer term, there are some great deals right now.  That's why my phone is ringing with more investor calls these days!  But if you're buying to flip I'd say you need to sit on the sidelines a bit longer!

Piedmont Real Estate Blog

Blog by Julie Emery
Amissville, Virginia

An ongoing dialog on real estate news, opinion and trends in Northern Virginia and the greater Piedmont area. Julie is an Associate Broker at Frankly Real Estate Inc, 6304 Crossroads Circle, Ste 102, Falls Church, VA 22044

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