Creation of a home is one of the most meaningful things you are going to do

This is just some beautiful mental chewing gum for anyone interested in modern day philosophy. In my never ending search for meaning I came across Alain de Button – an author and a modern day philosopher.  I don’t know of anyone as relevant, gentle and simple. And sometimes provocative. You have to check him out at thebookoflife.org

Here is an excerpt from his book “The Book of Life” and chapter “The Meaning of Life” about creating a home. As a Realtor I found this very meaningful and inspiring. My favorite quote is: “We need to get home to remember who we are.”

Here you go:

One of the most meaningful activities we are ever engaged in is the creation of a home. Over a number of years, typically with a lot of thought and considerable dedication, we assemble furniture, crockery, pictures, rugs, cushions, vases, sideboards, taps, door handles and so on into a distinctive constellation we anoint with the word home. As we create our rooms, we engage passionately with culture in a way we seldom do in the supposedly higher realms of museums or galleries. We reflect profoundly on the atmosphere of a picture, we ponder the relationship between colours on a wall, we notice how consequential the angle of the back of a sofa can be and ask carefully what books truly deserve our ongoing attention. 

Our homes will not necessarily be the most attractive or sumptuous environments we could spend time in. There are always hotels or public spaces that would be a good deal more impressive. But after we have been travelling a long while, after too many nights in hotel rooms or on the beds of friends, we typically feel a powerful ache to return to our own furnishings, an ache that has little to do with material comfort per se. We need to get home to remember who we are. 

Our homes have a memorialising function, and what they are helping us to remember is, strangely enough, ourselves. We can see this need to anchor identity in matter in the history of religion. Humans have from the earliest days expended enormous care and creativity on building homes for their gods. They haven’t felt that their gods could live just anywhere, out in the wild or (as it were) in hotels, they have believed that they needed special places, temple-homes, where their specific characters could be stabilised through art and architecture.

For the Ancient Greeks, Athena was the goddess of wisdom, rationality and harmony and in 420 BC, they completed a home for her on the slopes of the Acropolis. It wasn’t a large home – about the size of an average American kitchen – but it was an exceptionally apt and beautiful one. The temple felt dignified but approachable. It was rigorously balanced and logical, serene and poised. It was its inhabitant artfully sculpted in limestone.

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The Greeks took such care over Athena’s temple-home because they understood the human mind. They knew that, without architecture, we struggle to remember what we care about – and more broadly who we are. To be told in words that Athena represented grace and balance wasn’t going to be enough on its own. There needed to be a house to bring the idea forcefully and continuously to consciousness. 

Without there being anything grandiose or supernatural in idea, our homes are also temples; they are temples to us. We’re not expecting to be worshipped; but we are trying to make a place that – like a temple – adequately embodies our spiritual values and merits. 

Creating a home is frequently such a demanding process because it requires us to find our way to objects that can correctly convey our identities. We may have to go to enormous efforts to track down what we deem to be the ‘right’ objects for particular functions, rejecting hundreds of alternatives that would – in a material sense – have been perfectly serviceable, in the name of those we believe can simultaneously faithfully communicate the right messages about who we are. 

We get fussy because objects are, in their own ways, all hugely eloquent. Two chairs that perform much the same physical role can articulate entirely different visions of life.

chairs

Le Corbusier chair; William Morris chair

One chair by the Swiss 20th-century architect Le Corbusier will speak of efficiency, an excitement about the future, an international spirit, an impatience around nostalgia and a devotion to reason. The other, by the English 19th-century designer William Morris, will speak of the superiority of the pre-industrial world, the beauty of tradition, the appeal of patience and the pull of the local. We may not play out such precise scripts in our heads when we lay eyes on the chairs; but just below the threshold of consciousness, we are liable to be highly responsive to the messages that such objects steadily and perpetually beam out to the world.

An object feels ‘right’ when it speaks attractively about qualities that we are drawn to, but don’t quite possess strong enough doses of in our day-to-day lives. The desirable object gives us a more secure hold on values that are present, yet fragile in ourselves; it endorses and encourages important themes in us. The smallest things in our homes whisper to us, they offer us encouragement, reminders, consoling thoughts, warnings or correctives, as we go about making breakfast or do the accounts in the evening.

Because we all want and need to hear such different things, we will all be pulled towards very different kinds of objects. There is a deeply subjective side to the feeling of beauty. However, our conflicts about taste are not arbitrary or random, they are grounded in the fact that the kinds of messages we benefit from being exposed to will vary depending upon what is tentative and under threat in our own lives. 

The quest to build a home is connected up with a need to stabilise and organise our complex selves. It’s not enough to know who we are in our own minds. We need something more tangible, material and sensuous to pin down the diverse and intermittent aspects of our identities. We need to rely on a certain kinds of cutlery, bookshelves, laundry cupboards and armchairs to align us with who we are and seek to be. We are not vaunting ourselves; we’re trying to gather our identities in one receptacle, preserving ourselves from erosion and dispersal. Home means the place where our soul feels that it has found its proper physical container, where, everyday, the objects we live amongst quietly remind us of our most authentic commitments and loves. “

Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

renata

Dangers of overpricing in Arlington, VA

Price cut Arlington, VARecently I read a book written by Zillow.com guys Spencer Rascoff and Stan Humphries “Zillow Talk: The New Rules of Real Estate”. It was a very interesting read, because they were making a good attempt at interpreting tons and tons of real estate data that Zillow.com has been collecting for years. One of the chapters addressed pricing a home and perils of overpricing.  It’s such an important subject – I wanted to share their insight and how it applies to Arlington.

“Pricing your house for sale is a lot like playing The Price Is Right. If you want to take home a prize – i.e., a quick sales for a great price – you should list your home for as close as possible, but not above, it market value. Just like on the game show, there is a real danger to overpricing”. Most sellers are more afraid of underpricing than overpricing. After all, no ones wants to sell his or her home for less that it’s worth. That’s why some sellers purposely overprice. They assume that by listing high, they’ll somehow drive up the sale price and net some extra cash. But in reality, this strategy rarely works. The very tactic that sellers hope to inflate the final sales price ends up lowering it instead.

I did some market analysis for townhomes market in Arlington and analyzed sales for 2014 and January, February of 2015 – a total of 333 sales. 21% of the listings had a price cut. On average – if a listing had a price cut it sold for 92% of it’s original list price (so if you were listed at $600,000 – your sales price would be $552,000). On average townhomes sold for 98% of their original sales price for the period I analyzed. Per Zillow guys “The data tells us that when a listing is overpriced, it tends to sell for less than it’s estimated market value. In fact, the more home is overpriced, and the larger the price cut it needs to sell, the bigger the impact on the final sales price.” A lot of sellers tell me – the buyer can always make an offer – but most buyers are too scared to insult the seller and will not be investing time and energy to go through the experience.

Overpricing a home don’t only cost you money; it also costs you time. For the market I analyzed it took 27 days on average to sell a townhome vs. 70 days for homes with a price cut – that’s twice as long.  That may not seem like a big difference, but after the 1st month on the market a home becomes “stale” – with very few showings and a big questions from buyers “What’s wrong with it?” – not a great negotiating position for a seller. 

So now what? You overpriced your house. Per Zillow guys:”If you overprice, it’s better to admit your mistake and cut the price all the way down to the true market value on one fell swoop. The alternative is death by a thousand cuts” – price cut after price cut – which only serves to drag out the ordeal and compound the problem”.

If you are a seller who wants to “test” the market – none of this matters to you, but if you’d like to move and sell your home at a great price – you should take these findings into consideration. One of the most important jobs for a Realtor is to help you figure out the market value of your home.  No two homes are the same – so it’s never an exact science, but if you approach it from different angles – comparables sales in the neighborhood, assessed value/sold price of com parables homes, price per square foot, upgrades, inventory levels, etc – you can get a pretty good idea of what your price should be. Call me if you’d like a free estimate of the price of your home – I’m here to help!

 

Arlington open houses, new listings and mortgage rates for this weekend – 9/13/-9/14

Updated Arlington new listing, open house and rate list for this weekend:

Here is a link to new listings in Arlington, VA – all were submitted to MLS in the last 7 days. The are sorted from the lowest to the highest price.

Here  is a link to all open houses in Arlington, VA this weekend. Sorted from the lowest price to the highest.

If you’d like more information on a specific neighborhood or piece range – just let me know – I’m here to help!

 

Here are the weekend mortgage rates from First Home Mortgage.

Confirming 30 Year Fixed (up to $417,000) 4.25% – slight improvement over last week.

Jumbo 30 Year Fixed (up to $1,000,000) 4%

VA 30 Year Fixed 3.75%

FHA 30 Year Fixed 3.75%

Click here for more programs.

Have a great weekend!

How was the 1st half of 2014 for Arlington Real Estate market?

Arlington real estate market 2013 vs. 2014So how does 2014 Arlington Real Estate Market compare to 2013?  Is it better or worse? Well, it depends on who is looking at the statistics – buyers or sellers. The market is a simple law of supply and demand and I am seeing the demand has decreased and the supply has increased.

Here are the main statistics and my interpretations:

Average and median sales price remains almost unchanged. Average sales price in the 1st half of 2014 was $617,708 vs.$605,277 in 2013 (2% increase), Median sales price increased $100 from $525,500 in 2013 to $525,600 in 2014.  So the market has not reacted to the changes in supply and demand yet.

I think the market is slowing down a little, because of the the lower demand – total sold volume dropped by almost 7% (from 896mil to 835 mil), total units sold dropped by 8,65% (from 1,480 to 1,352), new “under contract” listings dropped by 8% (from 1,722 to 1,588).

The inventory is up – which means more supply. At the end of June, 2014 there were 591 available homes for sale vs. 394 in June of 2013 – which is 38% increase. This means buyers have a lot more to choose from than last year.

Here is a chart that shows the months of supply of homes in Arlington (All active listings divided by current demand)

So I am predicting a small slow down overall, fewer multiple offers and longer days on the market. Now all real estate is local and there are some submarkets that won’t follow these trends.  If you are trying to buy a decent single family home in a popular neighborhood under $800,000 – you are out of luck – you’ll have to compete and submit your escalation clause.

Luckily interest rates for 30 year fixed loans are staying around 4% – which is keeping real estate a little more affordable.  On the other hand buyers are hoping that it will stay this way for a long time and aren’t in a rush to make real estate decisions – and in my opinion that’s a bit risky.

So Arlington real estate is doing well – not crazy well, but well.

Want more numbers?  Click here: Arlington Real Estate Stats 1st half 2014

 

Arlington Real Estate Stats – 10 Years of Inventory, Demand and Closed Sales

2013 Arlington Real Estate StatisticsI am not a data person, but while helping clients with real estate needs I  have to deal with statistics and numbers a lot.  And once I get down to it – numbers are truly fascinating.  I was just playing with some real testate charts today – available homes for sale (Supply), new contingent contracts (Demand) and actual sold homes. This graph shows you the decline and the upswing in the last 10 years – I think it’s quite a revealing chart.

Take a look:

Here is the chart for Average Sales Price in Arlington for the last 10 years – the changes are very suddle – as we never had a crashing downturn, but you could’ve predicted the slow down.

 

If there are any specific statistics that you might be interested in – shoot me an email.

Can Furniture be Sold with the Property in Arlington, VA?

Arlington property for sale with furnitureAbsolutely – yes! BUT:

1. Make sure it is not in your sales contract, because your lender will have a big issue with it.  They don’t know how to “value” personal items like furniture and will give you a hard time.  So you will have to create a separate bill of sale for any personal items.

2. Make sure you make a very clear list – most people hire professional movers and they pack everything. Including items you purchasing.

3. Do a walkthrough before settlement to make sure everything you agreed upon is left at the house.  If you upset the seller after the home inspection and if you don’t have anything in writing that certain pieces will stay at the house – the seller might just decide to sell it.

Very very rarely do buyers buy the furniture, but everything is negotiable – don’t ever forget that!

 

How a radon inspection can go really wrong (this just happened!)

Radon real estate radon testingEPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) recommends that every home in the US is tested for radon gas.  What is radon gas? It’s an odorless, tasteless and invisible gas produced by the decay of naturally occurring uranium in soil and water.  It is also the 2nd leading cause of lung cancer in the US. You can read more about it on the EPA’s website.  It is a common practice to have a radon test done when you purchase a home in Arlington, VA and it costs about $150 – well worth the investment.

Arlington, VA is considered a Zone 2 area – which means radon should not exceed the levels of 4.0 pCi/L – anything above 4.0pCi/L should require remediation. A remediation system is not that expensive – around $1,000. Here is radon info and Zone map for Virginia. Radon test kit involves 2 canisters placed in a home for 48 hours. It collects radon gas – once 48 hours are up – then radon levels are measured.

About 2 weeks ago my client hired this very highly recommended  (not by me) home inspector to do a radon test. The house was just recently built and I was sure there will be no radon issues – new homes are very air-tight and don’t let outside elements in. The results came back at 9.2pCi/L!!! (way above recommended safe limit!!!) This is the highest reading of radon gas I’ve seen in the whole 11.5 years of doing real estate. As we dug deeper into the way this test was performed we found this “highly skilled inspector” placed this radon test on the bench above an open sump pump – that raised a red flag for me.  Sump pumps are openings directly into the ground and are usually in the utility rooms – areas that are not meant for regular daily living.  I went to the EPA website, other radon testing guidelines and found that radon test should not be placed anywhere near a sump pump.

When I shared this with the “highly recommend inspector” he got very defensive and told me he learned the 4ft from sump pump idea (which he did not even follow) at one of his radon testing courses. Really?!  I asked him to re-test in a different area of the house and he of course denied. The seller arranged a re-test performed in the basement bedroom and radon levels came back at 1.9pCi/L – which is typical for the area.

So there is this highly recommend professional placing radon tests above sump pumps. I bet he has the record of high radon test readings in the US (and maybe the world) and he claims to be protecting his clients’ best interests. Please do let me know if you want his name – I will gladly share it with you. You should not use him – at least for the radon testing.

Update 4/14/2017

A blog reader and a concerned Arlington citizen contact me in regards to this blog post. She was concerned that my attitude towards radon was not right – that I should have had more concern for high radon levels regardless of where the test was placed. She had personal experience with elevated radon levels in her home and it did affect her health and well being. And I think she is right – I fully agree. If the high radon level is registered – further investigation is needed and radon remediation is necessary – even in utility rooms.  Elevated radon is a health risk that is not worth taking.

 

 

Arlington, VA Real Estate Statistics for May, 2014

Another month of higher inventory less demand – which tells me the market is definitely slowing down.   If you are looking for a single family home under a million – there is barely enough homes for sale to satisfy all the buyers, but homes in higher price ranges, condos are not doing as well.  In comparison to May of 2013 we have almost 29% more homes for sale (447 in 2013, 575 in 2014) and almost 11% less homes under contract.

Average and median sales price is still climbing by a few percent, and actual sold properties are only down by 6%. In my opinion based on current supply/demand trend we should see a slow down.  So if you are thinking about selling your home – you might want to get your expectations in order.

Here are all the monthly statistics:

May 2014 Arlington real estate statistics

Real estate is very local – if you want statistics for your neighborhood, Zip Code, street – just contact me and I would be happy to send it to you.

Lessons from a Recent Flooded Basement Experience

Just recently I was representing a buyer in a purchase of a home that had a flood in the basement – right in the middle of the transaction. What a mess! Take a look at these photos – this could’ve been your home:

Flooded family room

Yep - it's water

Flooded stairwell

Flooded utility room

Flooded den

 

 

So what did I learn from this?

1. It is impossible to get a reputable waterproofing company to come and help you right away.  Spring is the worst time to have drainage or flooding issues as most waterproofing companies get completely swamped.  I called maybe 10+ companies for an appointment and they are booking appointment for a month/two in advance. B’Dry had an appointment about 3 weeks out, Newberg Drainage was booking for August, Metro Drainage July and so on.  Really??!!  We had water in the drywall, mold growth was about 48 hours away and we could not get anyone to help us.  Luckily I did find a waterproofing contractor through a colleague that was able to come quickly, but that was more of a miracle than reality.

2. Did you know that your outside drain (like the one in the picture at the bottom of the steps) might be connected to your sump pump inside of the house?  If your sump pump fails or electricity is out – you might be having this situation.

3. If you do have a basement or are planning on having one – you should set up an appointment with a drainage company and make sure the systems and landscaping are sufficient to steer water away from the house.  Also make sure your sump pumps have battery back-up for those storms that knock the power out.  To repair the damage in this home will probably be about $27,000 – water damage is very expensive to repair.

4. If the house is vacant – you better insure it as a vacant home, because if your basement flood and it takes 2 weeks for you to discover it – repair costs can escalate.

5. Do put tile floor in the basement – that will save you thousands if your basement ever floods.

The lesson here – don’t take this issue lightly and don’t hope for the best – do your due diligence and install systems to protect your most valuable asset. If you’d like the list of reputable companies that were recommended by my colleagues – please shoot me an email – I will be happy to share.