This is a sponsored post from Eve Thompson of Reston Real Estate. For a more complete picture of home sales in your neighborhood, contact her on Reston Real Estate.
Originally published November 30, 2013
Question: “I’m a first time buyer. I’ve been looking (online) at townhouses and condos in the Reston area.
It seems like I can buy more if I get a townhouse because there won’t be any condo fees. My father says that the condo fees pay for things that I’ll have to pay for eventually.
What do you think?”
Answer: I think your Father is a pretty smart guy. Let’s look at the question from a different perspective. For most things we own there is something called the “cost of ownership” which means simply it costs money to maintain things.
Cars need maintenance. Pets need to go to the vet. Some clothes can only be dry cleaned.
It is the same with property. It requires maintenance and repair and to maintain its value.
Hopefully part of your plan to purchase a property includes understanding what it will cost to keep it in good repair.
When you purchase a condo some parts of the property maintenance are the responsibility of the condominium association. Your condo fees include a contribution to both the day-to-day operations and something called the reserve and replacement fund.
The reserve and replacement fund is where the money for things like a new roof, replacement flooring in commonly shared hallways, maintenance of parking lots, garages and all the other things that the condo owners share in common.
What that includes will vary from condo to condo but it typically includes the entire exterior except for windows and doors.
When considering the purchase of a condo it is important to look at the condo’s financials and audit report to confirm that the reserve fund is large enough to cover anticipated repairs; an under funded reserve account is a future special assessment.
A special assessment occurs when something breaks and there’s not enough money for the repair — the condo association then has to collect extra money from the members to make the repair.
So, the short answer to your question is that your dad is right. If you buy a townhouse you’ll have to take charge of saving to replace your roof, your water heater, your furnace, etc. In a condo some of that will be saved for you through the payment of your condo fee, but you’ll want to make sure that the condo association is well run and in good financial shape.
Follow this link to a more detailed blog post about understanding condo fees.
This is a sponsored post from Eve Thompson of Reston Real Estate. For a more complete picture of home sales in your neighborhood, contact her on Reston Real Estate.
I’ve lived on Lake Anne Plaza for about 16 years now. Rick and I originally purchased our first condo, a 1 bedroom in the high rise, to help out one of our kids who needed a stable place to live while struggling with the transition into fully launched adulthood.
As we painted and prepared the condo for our daughter we were smitten with the property. Later, as we watched the community embrace and support and care about our daughter, our infatuation grew and we knew we’d found a place where we wanted to connect.
It wasn’t long before we sold our single family home and moved into a townhouse in Washington Plaza Cluster — a few years after that we moved into a large condo in the high rise on Lake Anne Plaza.
Throughout our time on Lake Anne we’ve been active in the community. I served for years on the condo board, the landscaping committee, ran the Saturday Craft Market and was active in the Merchant’s Committee. Rick has served on the condo board of directors for the past 10 years.
Whenever I work with clients that are considering condo living I try to explain the unique environment that is created when people live in such close proximity to one another. It puts a little more demand on one’s ability to interact with others in a civil manner.
It’s not that there aren’t all kinds of disagreements and even out and out feelings of hostility — but to give in to those ignoble feelings has much deeper consequences when one lives in community. It’s hard to pass someone in the hall way that you’ve publicly demonized; it divides and tears down the community.
I used to joke that living in the Lake Anne Village Center has taught me a lot about forgiveness — because when you live this close to people your only real choice is to forgive them — otherwise at the end of your first year or so you’d have to lock yourself in your condo.
I think often of hearing Bob Simon saying he wished everyone knew “how nice it was to live in close contact with your fellow humans.” I don’t think Bob was being saccharine when he said that — he was a realist about people’s short-comings, but he understood the great richness that living in community brings into one’s own life; certainly for me a great gift.
Current Market Conditions in Reston
- 203 Active Listings
- 139 Pending Listings
- 144 Sold in the past 30 days
Average Days on Market = 31
This is a sponsored post from Eve Thompson of Reston Real Estate. For a more complete picture of home sales in your neighborhood, contact her on Reston Real Estate.
Last week I wrote about what drives a move. It’s rarely as simple as “I want a different house” and almost always “I want or am being driven into a different life.”
I think that one of my strengths as an agent has been to listen carefully for the driving cause of a home move and to be sensitive to the other issues associated with that cause. One of my favorite kinds of clients are the downsizers, or empty nesters. It can be such a great time of life — but one that can be fraught with a potent mix of excitement and nostalgia.
I remember the day my husband Rick and I knew it was time to give up our single family home on Buttermilk Lane. It was the fall; we were bagging up our 100th plus bag of leaves on a cold blustery November day and I thought, “Wow, I am so over this.”
Our youngest daughter had left that August for Georgia Tech so we were rattling around in our house, forever shouting to one another from the upstairs to the downstairs. It wasn’t a huge house but it was so much more than we needed and more importantly so much more than we wanted to maintain.
It seemed every weekend was dedicated to house maintenance or other related management. We were both seriously over it!
Our downsizing journey started on that cold afternoon in November. We made a side stop in a lovely townhouse overlooking the Van Gogh Bridge and ultimately landed in our perfectly sized Lake Anne condo. The townhouse was ultimately still too large and too vertical but was probably a necessary step for us in the transition process.
At the time that we decided to sell our Buttermilk Lane house I was not a real estate agent so we engaged an agent with good understanding of the Reston market and scheduled a walk-through of our home to discuss what needed to be done to get it ready to sell.
Our place was in pretty good shape — we had a few things to do but the vast majority of our effort was in purging the house of the accumulation of 15+ years’ worth of junk.
I was shocked at how long this step took. We started in November and were listed about 12 weeks later and it took every bit of those 12 weeks to get it ready.
In the end we had less junk, less to take care, less to worry about and lots more time. We also moved into a great community where a snowy day becomes a reason to host a casual pot-luck. Not a bad exchange.
Here are a few great downsizing options.
Open to different kinds of houses but want a great walkable community? Check out these great options.
Want a more urban experience with tons of dining options? Check out these Town Center options.
One of the biggest surprises of being in real estate was realizing how little the work turns out to be about houses, and how much more it is about walking with people as they navigate different life transitions.
I love the HGTV real estate shows where the real estate agent shows a buyer 3 homes and voila, they pick a house, write a contract, move in and the next time you see them they’re at a house warming party — all this in 30 minutes.
As is often the case with realty TV, it’s not very real.
In real life people are dealing with all kinds of events that are driving them from one place to another place. Some are happy, some are sad, some are speculative, but it is mostly about life changes, marriage, births, deaths, retiring, divorcing, new jobs and lost jobs.
Sometimes it’s about more than one thing, a new marriage and a new job.
Change is almost always hard for people; we are rarely at our best when we’re moving through transitions. Real estate agents spend a lot of time with people who aren’t at their best, but they might be more real than if you had met them at a cocktail party.
It’s one of the things I like about my job, the connection that is made if only for a short while.
Here are the Reston numbers. There are currently 227 fully active properties on the market in Reston. We have 172 pending properties which leaves us with a little less than two months inventory. The Condo market is sluggish with days on market longer than other types of property. Pricing continues to be critical no matter what type of property you’re trying to sell.
I’m super excited about the outdoor season this year. On March 1 I had total hip replacement and am feeling stronger than I have in the past two years — so I’m excited to talk about the walking trails of Reston.
Reston Association maintains 55 miles of foot paths that cover every neighborhood in Reston, and they are a wonderful community asset. Even in Winter RA does a fantastic job of plowing the paths so you can still use them.
Fairfax County has a wonderful interactive map of all the paths so that you can plan your route before you head out. Wandering the RA paths is one of the best ways to get to know both North and South Reston. I thought I’d share a few of my favorite walks about town — but don’t stop with these.
Town Center to Lake Anne, North Reston
This walk is just shy of 1.5 miles and winds through a few of North Reston’s original neighborhoods — Coleson Cluster and Hickory Woods (I have a great house for sale in Coleson — check it out here).
It’s fun to have brunch at Town Center than wander down to Lake Anne to shop at the farmer’s market (starting in early May through November).
Lake Thoreau Loop, South Reston
This loop is just over 2 miles and circles around charming Lake Thoreau (where I guarantee you’ll decide you want to live) and past the Reston Regional Golf Course. Begin and end your loop at South Lakes Village with a coffee or delicious lunch.
Walker Nature Education Center and Glade, South Reston
There are many options for a walk from here. From the Center, follow the trailhead and see where it takes you! There is a short loop (probably a half mile), or you can venture off on the RA path that follows Glade. Whatever you choose, you will feel like you are miles from civilization. It’s a wonderful place to recharge.
North Point Loop, North Reston
This is a 4 mile loop for those who want a little more exercise. This trail is great because it really gives you a sense of the North Point community. I recommend starting at Lake Newport pool.
These trails take you through several charming neighborhoods, and you’ll notice an abundance of RA pools and tennis courts (in fact, if you do this in the summer, pop into one of the pools for a refreshing dip). After your brisk walk, cross the street over to North Point Village for coffee, ice cream or a hearty lunch!
Tall Oaks to Lake Fairfax Park, North Reston
I’m not entirely sure how long this walk is, but the park loop takes about a half hour — longer if you’re with a dog who needs to investigate all the great smells.
Park at Tall Oaks Village Center, cross under the underpass and head toward the wooden bridge. When you hit a dirt trailhead, take a left and follow the trail into Lake Fairfax Park. You’ll cross a little creek and then the path opens to what is a large loop. Go left or right and just follow it around.
It’s a gorgeous walk in the woods! Just be careful — mountain bikers train here. They’re very courteous, but they’re also usually going pretty fast!
The trails of Reston are, in my opinion, one of the greatest features of our community. You really can get anywhere you need or want to go on foot, and it’s always fun to discover a new trail and see where it takes you. I’m most often on the trails around Lake Anne — wave if you see me!
Photo by Charlotte Geary
I had a great real estate question this week. A friend who lives in a Lake Anne neighborhood wrote to say that the number of rentals had increased in her cluster; she was worried about the impact of that on the community and property values. She wanted to know “…what, if anything, could be done about it.” A quick search of her cluster and determined that in her cluster were 27.5% absentee owners.
27.5% investor ownership is probably something that would be noticed in a smaller neighborhood. You might see more a little more transience with people coming and going and it can, not always, leave things looking a little less kept-up.
In condominiums lenders look at investor ownership levels as a part of assessing risk of lending in a particular condominium. If a condominium gets above 35% investor ownership some banks start looking for higher down payments from buyers and if a condominium gets to 50% investor ownership many banks will pass on lending all together.
So what can a townhouse cluster do to minimize the impact of higher investor ratios? Here are the recommendations I made to my friend who originally posed the question.
Push for strong covenants enforcement because this is where real damage can be done to a neighborhood with high investor ratios. Absentee owners can have an out of sight out of mind attitude about maintenance and tenants are rarely responsible for more than basic yard care.
Work with your cluster board to be tough about exterior repairs and maintenance. Form a group that looks for issues, don’t let absentee owners slide on violations. They are profiting from the rental of property and should shoulder their share of the burden of maintenance to keep the neighborhood as whole looking good.
This can be a great opportunity to keep a helpful eye on older owners who may not be as able to do some of heavy lifting required for exterior maintenance. Having a group of “helpers” that pitch in where needed will keep the neighborhood looking good and provide an excuse to check in on neighbors that might need a little assistance.
And finally, remember that tenants are also your neighbors — they don’t have full control of the property they occupy, but the more engaged everyone is in the well-being of the community the better.
While helping a couple narrow down the focus of their Reston home search recently, the husband made a statement that he would never own a condominium because the fees were in his opinion “a total rip-off.”
As a condo dweller and active in my condo for years, I’ve heard this sentiment on condo fees many times before.
When you own a townhouse or a single family home you understand that sooner or later you will have to replace your water heater, roof, windows, siding, appliances. Hopefully you have a financial plan that allows you to save for the replacement of things as they wear out. It is a “pay me now or pay me later” situation, but you are going to pay.
When you defer home maintenance you won’t get top dollar for your property when you go to sell. Most people would prefer to save a little bit each month in anticipation of home repairs rather than face a large unplanned expense. Condo management requires this forced savings.
Every year condominiums (in Virginia) are required to confirm that they are reserving enough money to repair, replace and maintain the property. If a condo has not adequately reserved (saved) the money needed to make repairs and has a sudden failure in a common element, it must make a special assessment in order to make whatever repairs are needed to maintain the property.
So, a rip-off? Not if your property is properly maintained.
What are my condo fees paying for anyway?
In a condominium, the fees fund two categories: operating expense and reserve funds. The operating expenses are the monthly costs required for trash, grounds maintenance and snow removal, administration and condo management.
The reserve funds represent the anticipated cost of replacing and repairing common elements of the property like roofs, sidewalks and elevators. The amount of money needed in the reserve fund is determined by a study which by law, is undertaken at least every 5 years for the purpose of determining how much money is needed to repair, replace and restore the capital components of the property. Every year condominiums (in Virginia) are required to review their study results and confirm that they are reserving enough money to repair, replace and maintain the property.
Before you choose this form of own ownership consider:
- Condo life involves a lot of governance
- Well-run condos always include an active membership
Some leadership decisions might be unpopular, but ultimately protect the membership from unplanned assessments by insuring that reserves are adequate to meet the expected and unexpected repairs
When looking at condominium ownership, you will have a chance to review a resale package that will include the condominium bylaws, rules and regulations, current financial reports and audited financial reports. Review these carefully looking for potential problems. Questions to ask should include:
- What do the audited financial statements say about the reserve funds? Are they adequate?
- What major projects/repairs are anticipated for the upcoming year?
- What projects were completed in the prior year?
The other thing to consider is what type of condo environment are you looking at? Is there a doorman or a concierge? The cost of people always goes up, so if you are looking at a condo with these types of amenities you should expect a slow steady rise in condo fees.
Are my condo fees too low?
If you live in a condo where the fees haven’t gone up for years, or if you are looking to buy a condo where they are advertising a low condo fee as a “feature” take a closer look. The costs of goods and services have not gone down. Try to determine if something isn’t happening that should be happening.
When evaluating the financial position of a condominium there are some cost-of-ownership items that don’t apply in single-family home ownership. One glaring item is the cost of delinquencies — due to owners that are behind in paying their condo fees.
While this isn’t the issue it was during the post-housing crash; a well-managed condos will actually provide an allowance for some percentage of delinquent accounts to insure that they have adequate operating cushion. When looking at a condominium’s resale package be sure to look at the dollar amount of delinquent accounts and ask what that number represents as a percentage of the whole.
So what’s the upside of condo ownership? In a well-run, well-managed condominium where the Board of Directors takes its responsibility seriously, property values are protected through active maintenance and enhancement of the property. You not only get to enjoy a well maintained property while you live there and you can feel confident about the condition of your property when you go to sell.
Hickory Cluster, the first development in Reston, is one. Designed by the famous architect Charles Goodman, they represent why Goodman’s early designs changed the way developments were planned.
Architectural historian Elizabeth Jo Lample noted in Housing Washington, “The appeal of living in a Goodman house is enormous to those who share his avant-garde spirit, plus his ideals for openness, engagement with nature and liberal social values… To those who are fortunate enough to obtain them, his dwellings feel like highly livable works of art, glazed conduits to the natural world.”
One of Goodman’s trademarks is the way he used the land.
In Hickory Cluster, he arranged groups of townhouses around intricately paved terraces, which in turn are leveled into a wooded hilltop. Overlooking Lake Anne Village Center, the Hickory Cluster townhomes features sharp changes in the rooflines, varying sizes and contrasting textures.
The homes come in a variety of designs with 2, 3 or 4 bedrooms, rooftop terraces, balconies, playrooms, private studies, family rooms and recreation rooms.
The cluster backs up to Reston Association path and is just a short walk to Lake Anne, Reston Town Center and Lake Anne Elementary School. The Reston Station, Silver Line Metrorail, is a five minute drive and Dulles International Airport is within 15 minutes by car.
Charles Goodman also designed Hollin Hills, a single family home development in Alexandria VA. For an up close look at Hollin Hills be sure to check out the Hollin Hills House and Garden Tour this April 28th.
Like Hickory Cluster these homes have stood the test of time with spaces that feel just as relevant today as they did more than 50 years ago.
Visit the Hickory Cluster website to learn more about this historic, and beautiful, Reston community.
Reston is one of those places where people buy a home and then live in it for 50 years.
While many houses on the market in Reston have been renovated, at least in the last 15 years, chances are you’ll fall in love with a home that needs some work. Since fixer uppers tend to sell for less than a renovated home, the thought of buying one is attractive.
I help clients work through the pros and cons of buying a fixer upper every day, and here’s what I tell them.
Buying a fixer upper
First, you need to be honest about how much of a project you can take on. If you really don’t have the time or desire to do the work yourself, don’t buy a house based on doing the work yourself. That’s a good way to end up living another 15 years with a kitchen from 1970.
Before you buy, try to get an estimate of how much the renovations will cost you. Talk to friends who have done similar renovations. Or try this free estimator (it’s basic, but it’s a place to start). You may find that they add up to the difference between the fixer upper and a renovated home. Of course, for someone who’d like to have work done exactly how they’d like it, that might not matter.
When to consider a fixer upper
- You’ve always wanted a specific type of kitchen, bathroom, deck, etc. (maybe you dream of Viking appliances and granite counters). This is a great opportunity to spend a little less on the purchase of your home and funnel that extra money into getting what you really want.
- When the repairs are actually very superficial. It can be hard to imagine how wonderful your living room is if it’s painted a color you hate or has unappealing wall paper. But paint is a simple fix and it will change the look of your whole house.
- When the structure is good, and things just need an overhaul. If the kitchen layout works for you and the cabinets are in good condition, getting new appliances, counters and painting is easy… and well worth the effort to freshen the house.
- If this is your dream house in your dream neighborhood. If you really love this house, then you should live in it!
Know when to walk away (or at least consider it)
There are some fixer upper scenarios that you really shouldn’t take on.
- A bad roof or ancient heating/air conditioning systems: Both of these are very expensive repairs. If the house you want needs a new ones, negotiate that into your price.
- Foundation issues:If you’ve got a bad foundation, it is very time consuming to fix it. Your home inspection will turn up any problems and if it does, consider very carefully if you love the house enough to deal with the headache.
- Old electrical systems: Older homes can have faulty wiring and electrical panels that could pose a risk of electrical fire. Your home inspection will reveal whether this is an issue to consider.
My advice: avoid structural issues that will cause you headaches for years — and may make it difficult to sell your house later. But other than that, if you really are handy or you have a great contractor, fixer uppers are a great investment.
Most of the Reston condominiums built in the 1970’s look nondescript from the outside. There is no way around it — they are boxy and plain. But if you take the time to go inside, you will be pleasantly surprised. Vantage Hill is a wonderful example of this.
Vantage Hill sits on 15 beautifully wooded acres that have been designated a Backyard Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. That’s 15 acres for 152 units or, more than 4,000 square feet of open space per unit — hard to come by in Reston these days!
And then there are the spacious interiors. These may be condominiums, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up space. The units are generally 2 or 3 bedrooms with generous floor plans, ample closets and spacious kitchens.
One of the beautiful things about these older condominiums many of them have been updated — new kitchens, new bathrooms and new flooring. It’s the best of both worlds — the solid construction and beautiful landscape of the 70’s with the beautiful interiors and modern designs of today.
There are 5 Vantage Hill condo’s for sale ranging from 2 bedroom 1.5 bath for $169,000 to a 1 bedroom 1 bath unit for $249,000.
Utilities are included in the condo fees. Vantage Hill is located between Reston Town Center and Lake Anne Village Center, with an easy walk to either. It’s about a five-minute walk to Lake Anne Elementary School. Older children attend Langston Hughes Middle School and South Lake High School.
In Reston we have a number of apartments that were built in the 1970’s that converted to condominiums in the late 1980’s: Vantage Hill, Park Crest and Ivy Oak are just a few of them.
As a Realtor, I always find them interesting. They are mostly tan brick with the ever present Reston Brown trim. They tend to be a little on the boxy side, a little on the plain side; but most of them are set on really large land parcels. Some are set in the woods, others have open park like areas but they all have a lot of open space.
Vantage Hill sits on 15 beautifully wooded acres that has been designated a Backyard Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. That’s 15 acres for 152 units or more than 4,000 square feet per unit. I don’t know where else you’d find anything approaching that amount of open space in a more recently built condominium.
The other surprise of these 1970’s conversions is on the inside. By today’s standards these units are really large. Ivy Oak units range from 1,760-1,875 square feet. Ivy Oak is also unique because they are townhouse style condominiums; they are on 2 levels so you don’t have someone living above you. The floor plan on the main level is very open and many have wood burning fireplaces. When you look at the money for the space and the physical settings of these communities, they stack up pretty well against their more contemporary counterparts.
We all know the old adage of not judging a book by its cover — the same is true for property. You do yourself a disservice when you refuse to view a property based solely on your response to the outside. Take a look, and then decide.
Vantage Hill, Parkcrest and Ivy Oak owners, tell us what you love about your neighborhood.
In real estate, one of the things that agents look for in buyers and sellers is motivation. People have to have sufficient motivation to put themselves through the challenges associated with buying or selling a home. It’s a lot of work.
While there are a few that seem to enjoy moving, most of us require some serious reasons to uproot ourselves and move. Home buyers and sellers are almost always going through some large life event — a change that is big enough to generate the necessary motivation to go through the process of buying or selling. It might be a happy change, a new baby, a new job, a new season in life; or it might be a sad change, the loss of partner, a job, an illness, a death.
Whatever the change, it makes the work of being a Realtor interesting. Agents get to walk along side and hopefully be of some assistance in someone else’s transition. Good agents will take the time to understand the forces behind the deal rather than focusing exclusively on how many bedrooms and bathrooms are needed.
Communication is a tricky process; unless an agent gets behind the “what” and digs into the “need” there’s no way to help a buyer get to the best home choice. Buyers in particular have a tendency to translate their wants into a list of rooms that a prospective house must have. So the need for a home office often gets described as an additional bedroom when in fact all kinds of space might work equally well as a home office.
It’s the agents’ job to get the buyer to go a little deeper in explaining how they will use the space that the buyer says they need. On the selling side it’s the agents’ job to help the sellers present their homes in ways that will demonstrate flexibility in how spaces can be used.
If you’re entering the market to buy or sell, you’ll set yourself up to succeed by being open to suggestions. If you’re buying, agree to see properties that on the surface might not seem to fit. If you’re selling hear your agent out when they make recommendations on how to present your home; they’re working for you.
I don’t typically hold to the notion that one time of year is better for selling your home verses another. For as long as I’ve been selling real estate, I have always had at least one transaction around the Winter holidays, but conventional wisdom says that there is something magical about Spring.
As of this writing, there are 55 days until Spring. I have two listing appointments next with sellers that want to go over what they should do to get their property ready for the Spring market. They’ll be surprised when they find there is a long list of “to dos” to get a house ready for the market.
The first place to start is by cleaning. I don’t the mean the vacuum & dusting kind of cleaning; I mean the scrub the grout with a tooth brush kind of cleaning. I mean you do your best imitation of your crazy Aunt Saddie with the obsessive compulsive cleaning disorder kind of cleaning.
Some clients opt for hiring a cleaning crew; if you’re going to do that you should de-clutter your house before bringing in a cleaning professional; and if your “to do” list includes painting save the professional cleaning for the last item on your list.
So what does the typical seller “to do” list look like?
- Reduce contents of all closets by half. Stuffed closets speak to prospective buyers they say, “this house doesn’t have enough storage.” Which may not be the case, maybe you’re just really bad about getting rid of the excess we all seem to accumulate.
- Neutralize your home: Pre-pack most of your personal items like family photos, your ceramic frog collection and other things that can distract buyers from seeing the house
- 50% of the houses I see prior to listing need to be painted — Go neutral.
- Be prepared to put furniture and other items in storage.
- Thoroughly clean and organize the utility areas of your home, including the area around the furnace and water heater.
- Clean everything — every, nook, cranny, light switch cover, door jam, door knobs, everything.
A super clean and orderly home says, “I have been well maintained.” A clean house reduces buyer anxiety.
One of the first things I do for clients after signing a listing agreement is to drop off 100 office sized boxes to be used to de-clutter, or as we like to call it, pre-packing. A home that is free of clutter makes room for the prospective buyer to mentally picture themselves in that home; which in turn helps to move the buyer from thinking to acting… writing a contract.
The more you can do, clean, organize, neutralize, paint, upgrade, the faster your home will go from being on the market to sold.
When Your Cluster Board Won’t Keep Things Up…
Living in a townhouse means that you live in very, very close proximity to your neighbors. It also means that what your neighbors do or don’t do will have an impact on you and on your home’s value.
I recently showed a great townhouse in the Lake Anne area. The place itself was in fairly good shape — it needed some updates but generally it wasn’t too bad. What stopped the buyer wasn’t that the home needed a new kitchen, it was that the areas of the property that are owned in common, the parking lots, sidewalks, retaining walls, large trees and even light poles all needed attention, everything looked under cared for and a little worn.
I started looking more closely; the buyer was right. The asphalt in the parking area was in kind of shabby condition at best, the sidewalks needed power washing, the light poles were peeling, the trees needed trimming and a few significant retaining walls were in bad shape.
The buyer asked me to get information about how the Cluster Board was going to address these issues. The listing agent relayed there was no active plan in place to address any of the issues my buyer identified. End result; the buyer just couldn’t get comfortable with the lack of action on obvious maintenance issues and so decided to keep looking.
Neglecting your property has consequences. Next to location, condition is the next single biggest factor in determining if your property will fetch a price at the top of your market range or at the bottom of your market range. When you live in a townhouse this means that it’s not only the condition of your home that counts; it’s the condition of all of the property you own in common with your neighbors.
So, what do you do when the “powers that be” don’t or won’t take action to address maintenance issues?
I think the first thing to do is to read and understand your Cluster Bylaws and to know your Cluster financials. Most Cluster Bylaws state specifically that the Board is directly responsible for maintaining the commonly owned parts of the property in a way that keeps it safe and that maintains and enhances the property values. It’s important to know your Cluster financials because if the Board has been under reserving, (not saving enough for repairs, replacement and maintenance), the problem is bigger than just inactivity.
The next thing to do is to get involved. Cluster Boards are notoriously over committed. Volunteer to get bids for work that needs doing, organize a Cluster clean up day and be willing to participate on committees. Do not just be a person that complains.
And If That Doesn’t Work…
It’s time for a Coup. Organize your like minded neighbors, identify candidates and get them elected to the Board. In most communities this isn’t too difficult to do. I think that 99% of what doesn’t get done is really a function of inertia and a lack of leadership.
You can have a huge positive impact on your community and your property values if you are willing to take on the responsibility and the time it takes to get projects done.
What you will find once you’ve taken over the reins of power is that it’s easy to understand where the inertia comes from. One day you’ll find yourself looking at bids from asphalt contractors and you’ll realize, “hmmm… I don’t actually have any experience with replacing a parking lot” then you’ll know why it’s so easy to do nothing. When you are seized with anxiety… push past it, your neighbors need you and you won’t regret it, well you might regret it but do it anyway.
It was an interesting year in Reston real estate. Overall more than 1200 properties traded hands accounting for more than $572M in volume. These numbers sound great but they represent a third straight year of declines in average home prices. While home prices were somewhat flat, demand was strong and housing inventory was low, an equation which would typically trend towards a Seller’s Market.
However, intense price sensitivity kept the market fairly balanced with well-informed buyers not being willing to pay more just because there were so few. The attitude seemed to be, “if not this one, I’ll get the next one.” Given that prices haven’t been moving much it’s up to sellers to create motivation in the buyers by presenting the very best option possible in the price category in which they’re competing.
We currently have just 120 properties on the market; 70 homes sold in the past 30 days and 81 homes are pending.
All of this indicates that if you’re ready to sell in 2018 you shouldn’t have too much trouble, provided you work with your agent to get your house ready and dig into the numbers to really understand what the market is doing in your neighborhood.