Alexandria VA homebuyers are facing a huge dilemma right now... there simply aren’t enough homes for sale.1
Nationwide, there were 1.27 million active listings in September, down 13% from the previous year. According to the National Association of Realtors, that’s about 2.4 months of inventory, which is far less than the six months that is generally needed to strike a healthy balance between supply and demand.2
Here in Alexandria VA, you can see that compared to the national numbers, we've never even made it over two months of inventory over the past 12 months:
Given the limited number of available properties, if you’re a buyer in today’s market, you may need to expand your search to include both new construction and resale homes. But it can feel a little like comparing apples to oranges.
How quickly do you want (or need) to move into your next home? Your timeframe can be a determining factor when it comes to choosing between a new build or resale.
If you opt for new construction, you may be surprised by how long you have to wait to get the keys to your new digs. Currently, many home builders are dealing with unique challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, including rising costs, labor and material shortages, and shipping delays. While historically it took around five to six months to build a home, many builders are now reporting construction timelines closer to a year or more.3
These issues have led some builders to cancel contracts or raise the price on unsuspecting homebuyers long after agreements were signed. Unfortunately, this scenario can throw a major wrench in your moving plans and significantly delay your timeline.
To minimize these types of surprises, it’s crucial to have a real estate agent represent you in a new home purchase. We can help negotiate better contract terms and advise you about the potential risks involved.
If you’re in a hurry to move into your next residence, then you may want to stick to shopping for an existing home.
You can typically move into a resale home as soon as you’ve closed the deal (unless a post-settlement occupancy, or rent-back, is part of the transaction). The average time it takes to close a home purchase is around 30-45 days, but it can vary based on loan type and market activity.4
If you need to move even sooner, it’s sometimes possible to close faster, especially if you’re a cash buyer. In fact, many sellers prefer a quick closing, so it can give you an advantage in a competitive market.
From commute to construction to amenities, there’s a lot to consider when choosing your next neighborhood.
With a brand-new home, you’re more likely to move into a neighborhood that’s located on the edge of town and is still undergoing development.5 This could mean a longer commute and ongoing construction for some time.
However, new developments can also offer a lot of amenities that appeal to modern homebuyers. Water features, hike-and-bike trails, tot lots, and dog parks are just a few of the enhancements we’re seeing pop up in master-planned communities across the country. And some feature new schools and their own urban-like centers with restaurants, retail, and office space.6
An existing home is more likely to be located close to town in a neighborhood with mature trees, established schools, and a deeply-rooted community. As a result, you may find the neighborhood’s trajectory to be more predictable than an up-and-coming area.
But the amenities may be lacking and the infrastructure dated when compared to newer communities. And while some homebuyers love the charm and eclectic feel of an older neighborhood, others prefer the sleek and cohesive look of a newer development.
Are you a DIY enthusiast, or do you prefer a low-maintenance lifestyle? Set realistic expectations about how much time, effort, and money you want to devote to maintaining your next home.
When you build a home, everything is brand new. Therefore, in the first few years at least, you can expect less required maintenance and repairs. A 2019 survey found that millennials’ homebuying regrets often came down to maintenance issues, rather than other concerns.7 So if you would rather spend your weekends exploring your new neighborhood than fixing a leaky faucet, you may be happier buying a turnkey build.
That doesn’t mean, though, that a new home will be entirely maintenance-free. In fact, depending on the builder, you could find yourself repairing more than you expected. Some home builders have reputations for shoddy construction and subpar materials, so it’s important to choose one with a solid reputation. We can help you identify the quality builders in our area.
No matter how good a deal you got when you purchased it, you could come to regret buying an older home if it costs you heavily in unexpected maintenance and repairs. According to HomeAdvisor’s yearly True Cost report, home renovations have grown more expensive in recent years. For example, installing a new HVAC system could cost you $5,371 on average. And you can expect to pay nearly double that amount ($9,375) for a new roof.8
Fortunately, there are ways to prepare for these large expenditures. We always recommend that our buyers hire a certified home inspector, whether they buy a new or existing home. Once we have the inspector’s report, we can negotiate with the seller on your behalf for reasonable repairs or concessions.
On a quest for greener living? If so, there are several factors to consider when deciding on your next home.
There’s a growing demand for energy-efficient housing, and many builders are rising to the challenge. Nearly 1 in 4 homes built in 2020 received a HERS (Home Energy Rating System) Index Rating by the Residential Energy Services Network. A HERS rating provides an index score that compares the newly-built home to those that were standard in 2006. The more energy-efficient the home is, the lower the score it receives.11
The average home rated in 2020 was 42% more efficient than those built in 2006 and 72% more efficient than a typical home built in the 1970s.11 So if energy efficiency is a top priority, a new home with a low HERS rating may be a good choice. You can also look for one that’s ENERGY STAR Certified, which means it meets a series of strict efficiency guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency. In 2020, only 7.9% of homes built in the U.S. received this designation.12
Of course, a basic tenant of sustainable living is: reduce, reuse, recycle. And since a resale home already exists, it automatically comes with a lower carbon footprint. Research has also shown that remodeling or retrofitting an older home is often greener than building one from scratch.13
With some energy-conservation effort and strategic upgrades, environmentally-conscious consumers can feel good about buying an existing home, as well.
Open floor plan? Kitchen island? High ceilings? Must-have design features could drive your decision to build or buy resale.
With a new home, you can bet that everything will look shiny and perfect when you move in. Builders tend to put a lot of emphasis on visual details and follow the latest design trends. For example, newly-built homes are likely to feature an open floor plan, central kitchen island, and 9+ foot ceilings, which are must-haves for many modern buyers. They are also unlikely to feature carpet on the main level or laminate countertops, both of which have lost mass appeal.14
However, some buyers complain of the cookie-cutter feel of new homes since they are often built with a similar aesthetic. That doesn’t mean, though, that you can’t incorporate your own style. We can help you negotiate custom features and upgrades to personalize the space and make it feel like your own.
In some of the most coveted neighborhoods, an older home with classic styling and character can be highly sought after. But unless the previous homeowners have invested in tasteful updates, an existing home is also more likely to look dated.
While some buyers prefer the traditional look and character of an older home, others crave something more modern. If that’s the case, we can help you find a resale home that leaves enough room in your budget to renovate it to your liking.
WHICHEVER PATH YOU CHOOSE, WE CAN HELP
When it comes to choosing between a new build or an existing home, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. There are numerous factors to consider, and you may have to make some compromises along the way. But the homebuying process doesn’t have to feel overwhelming.
We’re here to help.
Some new-construction homebuyers make the mistake of visiting a builder’s sales office or even purchasing a home without their own real estate representative. But keep in mind, the builder’s agent or “sales consultant” has their best interests in mind—not yours.
We are knowledgeable about both the new construction and resale home options in our Alexandria, Lorton, and Woodbridge, and we can help you make an informed decision, negotiate a fair price, and avoid mistakes that can cost you time and money. So message us today or schedule a free, no-obligation virtual consultation—and let’s start searching for your next home!
If you’re searching for drama, don’t limit yourself to Netflix. Instead, tune in to the real estate market, where the competition among buyers has never been fiercer. And with homes selling for record highs,1 the appraisal process—historically a standard part of a home purchase—is receiving more attention than ever.
That’s because some sellers are finding out the hard way that a strong offer can fizzle quickly when an appraisal comes in below the contract price. Traditionally, the sale of a home is contingent on a satisfactory valuation. But in a rapidly appreciating market, it can be difficult for appraisals to keep pace with rising prices.
Thus, many sellers in today’s market favor buyers who are willing to guarantee their full offer price—even if the property appraises for less. For the buyer, that could require a financial leap of faith that the home is a solid investment. It also means they may need to come up with additional cash at closing to cover the gap.
Whether you’re a buyer or a seller, it’s never been more important to understand the appraisal process and how it can be impacted by a quickly appreciating and highly competitive housing market. It’s also crucial to work with a skilled real estate agent who can guide you to a successful closing without overpaying (if you’re a buyer) or overcompensating (if you’re a seller). Find out how appraisals work—and in some cases, don’t work—in today’s unique real estate environment.
An appraisal is an objective assessment of a property’s market value performed by an independent authorized appraiser. Mortgage lenders require an appraisal to lower their risk of loss in the event a buyer defaults on their loan. It provides assurance that the home’s value meets or exceeds the amount being lent for its purchase.
In most cases, a licensed appraiser will analyze the property’s condition and review the value of comparable properties that have recently sold. Mortgage borrowers are usually expected to pay the cost of an appraisal. These fees are often due upfront and non-refundable.2
Appraisal requirements can vary by lender and loan type, and in today’s market in-person appraisal waivers have become much more common. Analysis of the property, the local market, and the buyer’s qualifications will determine whether the appraisal will be waived. Not all properties or buyers will qualify, and not all mortgage lenders will utilize this system.3 If you’re applying for a mortgage, be sure to ask your lender about their specific terms.
If you’re a cash buyer, you may choose—but are not obligated—to order an appraisal.
APPRAISALS IN A RAPIDLY SHIFTING MARKET
An appraisal contingency is a standard inclusion in a home purchase offer. It enables the buyer to make the closing of the transaction dependent on a satisfactory appraisal wherein the value of the property is at or near the purchase price. This helps to reassure the buyer (and their lender) that they are paying fair market value for the home and allows them to cancel the contract if the appraisal is lower than expected.
Low appraisals are not common, but they are more likely to happen in a rapidly appreciating market, like the one we’re experiencing now.4 That’s because appraisers must use comparable sales (commonly referred to as comps) to determine a property’s value. These could include homes that went under contract weeks or even months ago. With home prices rising so quickly,5 today’s comps may be lagging behind the market’s current reality. Thus, the appraiser could be basing their assessment on stale data, resulting in a low valuation.
HOW ARE BUYERS AND SELLERS IMPACTED BY A LOW APPRAISAL?
When a property appraises for less than the contract price, you end up with an appraisal gap. In a more balanced market, that could be cause for a renegotiation. In today’s market, however, sellers often hold the upper hand.
That’s why some buyers are using the potential for an appraisal gap as a way to strengthen their bids. They’re proposing to take on some or all of the risk of a low appraisal by adding gap coverage or a contingency waiver to their offer.
Appraisal Gap Coverage
Buyers with some extra cash on hand may opt to add an appraisal gap coverage clause to their offer. It provides an added level of reassurance to the sellers that, in the event of a low appraisal, the buyer is willing and able to cover the gap up to a certain amount.6
For example, let’s say a home is listed for $200,000 and the buyers offer $220,000 with $10,000 in appraisal gap coverage. Now, let’s say the property appraises for $205,000. The new purchase price would be $215,000. The buyers would be responsible for paying $10,000 of that in cash directly to the seller because, in most cases, mortgage companies won’t include appraisal gap coverage in a home loan.6
Waiving The Appraisal Contingency
Some buyers with a higher risk tolerance—and the financial means—may be willing to waive the appraisal contingency altogether. However, this strategy isn’t for everyone and must be considered on a case-by-case basis.
It’s important to remember that waiving an appraisal contingency can leave a buyer vulnerable if the appraisal comes back much lower than the contract price. Without an appraisal contingency, a buyer will be obligated to cover the difference or be forced to walk away from the transaction and relinquish their earnest money deposit to the sellers.7
It’s vital that both buyers and sellers understand the benefits and risks involved with these and other competitive tactics that are becoming more commonplace in today’s market. We can help you chart the best course of action given your individual circumstances.
DON’T WAIVE YOUR RIGHT TO THE BEST REPRESENTATION
There’s never been a market quite like this one before. That’s why you need a master negotiator on your side who has the skills, instincts, and experience to get the deal done...no matter what surprises may pop up along the way. If you’re a buyer, we can help you compete in this unprecedented market—without getting steamrolled. And if you’re a seller, we know how to get top dollar for your home while minimizing hassle and stress. Contact us today to schedule a complimentary consultation.
2. US News & World Report - https://realestate.usnews.com/real-estate/articles/what-is-a-home-appraisal-and-who-pays-for-it
3. Rocket Mortgage –
5. S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-City Composite Home Price NSA Index - https://www.spglobal.com/spdji/en/indices/indicators/sp-corelogic-case-shiller-20-city-composite-home-price-nsa-index/#overview
6. Bigger Pockets -
Imagine the first place you lived as a young adult. Now imagine trying to fit your life today into that space. Not pretty, right?
For most of us, our housing needs are cyclical.1 A newly independent adult can find freedom and flexibility in even a tiny apartment. That same space, to a growing family, would feel stifling. For empty nesters, a large home with several unused bedrooms can become impractical to heat and clean. It’s no surprise that life transitions often trigger a home purchase.
While your home-buying journey may not look like your neighbor’s or friend’s, broad trends can help you understand what to keep in mind as you house hunt. No one wants to regret their home purchase, and taking the time now to think about exactly what you need can save a lot of heartache later.
The financial and legal commitment of marriage has provided a springboard to homeownership for centuries, though these days more couples are buying homes without exchanging rings. In the last few decades, changing demographics have shifted the median age of first marriage and buying a first home into the late 20s and early 30s, planting most newly married or partnered buyers firmly in the millennial generation.2,3 But no matter your age, there are some key factors that you should consider as you enter into your first home purchase together.
There’s no doubt about it—with high student loan debt and two recessions in the rearview mirror, many millennial feel that the deck is stacked against them when it comes to homeownership. And it’s not just millennials—Americans of all ages are facing both financial challenges and a tough housing market. But stepping onto the property ladder can be more doable than many realize, especially in today’s low mortgage rate environment.
While many buyers are holding out for their dream home, embracing the concept of a starter home can open a lot of doors.4 In fact, that’s the route that most first-time homebuyers take—the average home purchase for a 20-something is about 1,600 square feet. While the average size increases to around 1,900 square feet for buyers in their 30s, it’s not until buyers reach their 40s that the average size passes 2,000 square feet.5
Chosen carefully, a starter home can be a great investment as well as a launchpad for your life together. If you focus on buying a home you can afford now with strong potential for appreciation, you can build equity alongside your savings, positioning you to trade up to a larger home in the future if your needs change.6
Mortgage rates are historically low, making now the perfect time to purchase your first home together. A lower interest rate can save you tens of thousands of dollars over the life of your loan, which can significantly increase the quality of home you can get for your money.
But what if both halves of a couple don’t have good credit? You may still have options. First, boosting a credit score can be easier than you think—simply paying your credit cards down below 30% of your limit can go a long way. But if that’s not enough to boost your score, you might consider taking out the mortgage in only the better-scoring partner’s name. The downside is that applying for a mortgage with only one income will reduce your qualification amount. And if you take that route, make sure you understand the legal and financial implications for both parties should the relationship end.
Whether you’ve lived in a rental together for years or are sharing a home for the first time, you know that living together involves some compromises. But there are certain home features that can make life easier in the future if you identify them now. The number of bathrooms, availability of closet space, and even things like kitchen layout can make a big difference in your day-to-day life and relationship.
Your home’s location will also have a significant impact on your quality of life, so consider it carefully. What will commuting look like for each of you? And if you have different interests or hobbies—say, museums vs. hiking—you’ll need to find a community that meets both your needs. Need some help identifying the ideal location that fits within your budget? We can match you with some great neighborhoods that offer the perfect mix of amenities and affordability.
Having kids changes things—fast. With a couple of rowdy preteens and maybe some pets in the mix, that 1,600 square foot home that felt palatial to two adults suddenly becomes a lot more cramped. Whether you’ve just had your first child or are getting to the point where your kids can’t comfortably share a bedroom any longer, there’s plenty to consider when you’re ready to size up to a home that will fit your growing family.
For many parents, the desire to give their kids the best education—especially once they are in middle and high school— surpasses even their desire for more breathing room. In fact, 53% of buyers with children under 18 say that school districts are a major factor in their home buying decisions.7 Of course, better funded (and often higher ranking) schools correspond to higher home prices. However, when push comes to shove, many buyers with kids prefer to sacrifice a bit of space to find a home in their desired location.
But when you’re moving to a new community, it can be tough to figure out what the local schools are actually like—and online ratings leave a lot to be desired. That’s why talking to a local real estate agent can be a gamechanger. We don’t just work in this community; we know it inside and out. We’ll be happy to share our first-hand knowledge of the local schools and which neighborhoods are most welcoming to families.
For many families, living space is a key priority. Once you have teenagers who want space to hang out with their friends, a finished basement or a rec room can be a huge bonus (and can help you protect some quieter living space for yourself).
A good layout can also make family life a lot easier. For example, an open plan is invaluable if you want to cook dinner while keeping an eye on your young kids playing in the living room. And if you think that you might expand your family further in the future, be sure that the home you purchase has enough bedrooms and bathrooms to accommodate that comfortably.
Try to think about how each room will fit into your day-to-day. Are you anticipating keeping the house stocked to feed hungry teenagers? A pantry might rise to the top of the list. Dreading the loads of laundry that come with both infants and older kids (especially if they play sports)? The task can be much more bearable in a well-designed laundry room. Imagine a typical day or week of chores in the house to identify which features will have the biggest impact.
Chances are, you won’t find every nice-to-have in one home, which is why identifying the must-haves can be such a boon to the decision-making process. We can help you assess your options and give you a sense of what is realistic within your budget.
When we talk about empty nesters, we usually think about downsizing. With kids out of the house, extra bedrooms and living space can quickly become more trouble than they’re worth. While the average buyer under 55 trades up to a larger home, buyers over 55 are more likely to purchase a smaller or similarly sized but less expensive home. Even in the highest age groups, the majority of home purchases fall in the single-family category. According to research by the National Association of Realtors, by the time buyers reach their 70s, the median home size drops to 1,750 square feet.5 But there’s plenty for empty nesters to think about besides square footage.
What factors are driving your decision to move? Identifying those early in the process can help you narrow down your search. For example, do you want to have space for a garden, or would you prefer to avoid dealing with lawn care altogether? What about home maintenance? In many cases, a newer home will require less maintenance than an older one and a smaller one will take less time to clean. You may also want to consider townhomes, condos, or other living situations that don’t require quite as much upkeep.
Many empty nesters have retired or are nearing retirement age. This could be your chance to finally pursue hobbies and passions that were just too hard to squeeze into a 9-5. If you’re ready to move, consider how you’d like to spend your days and seek out a home that will help make that dream a reality. For some, that might mean living near a golf course or a beach. For others, being able to walk downtown for a nice dinner out is the priority. And with more time to spend as you wish, proximity to a supportive community of friends and family is priceless.
Let’s face it—we can’t escape aging. If you’re looking for a home to retire in, accessibility should be front-of-mind.8 This may mean a single-story home or simply having adequate spaces on the first floor to rearrange as needed. While buying a home that you plan to renovate from the start is a viable option, being forced into renovations (because of the realities of aging) a few years down the road could seriously dig into your nest egg. Location matters, too—if your family will be providing support, are they close by? Can you easily reach necessities like grocery stores and healthcare? While it’s tempting to put it out of our minds, a few careful considerations now can make staying in your home long-term much more feasible.
One thing is for sure—life never stands still. And your housing needs won’t, either. In the United States, the median duration of homeownership hovers around 13 years.9 That means many of us will cycle through a few very different homes as we move through different life stages. At each milestone, a careful assessment of your housing options will ensure that you are well-positioned to embrace all the changes to come.
Whatever stage you’re embarking on next, we’re here to help. Our insight into local neighborhoods, prices, and housing stock will help you hone in on exactly where you want to live and what kind of home is right for you. We’ve worked with home buyers in every stage of life, so we know exactly what questions you need to ask. Buying a home—whether it’s your first or your fifth—is a big decision, but we’re here to support you every step of the way.