Author Archives: Jim Duncan

Photos and Floorplans – A Buyer’s Response to my Monthly Note

4949 Lake Tree Ln First Floor Plan

If the “open rate” for my monthly note is only 2% yet it generates this kind of response, I’ll be happy. I’ll lead with “thank you” to the reader who took a great deal of time to email me this response, and for the three stories her response has generated.

Part 1 of 3 …

This month I asked what you (consumers) would change about the real estate process.

A reader responded – (bolding mine)

I wish house listings included a floor plan, even if it were a rough, not-to-scale, sketch. We’d be able to understand better if a house would or would not work for us if we knew the relationships of the rooms to each other. If the agent/photographer is good, we can sometimes get this from the photos — if they are presented in a rational, spatial sequence, and include the transitions from one space to the next — but the quality of the photos is many times misleading (if they look good) or downright awful.

(It amazes me that owners allow their agents to post pictures that are dark, out of focus, include inadvertent selfies in mirrors, or show clutter and junk that could have been picked up and moved out of the field of the photo for 30 seconds.)

Look – providing floor plans isn’t a difficult task; it’s not inexpensive, but neither are houses.

I noted the advent of affordable floor plan technology in 2010. I hand sketch floor plans all the time – just Saturday I drew for a client a house I’d seen a few days’ prior. From memory on a piece of scrap paper, and it worked (maps are useful when combined with verbal descriptions). I don’t know my older daughter’s phone number (which she’s had for 5 years) but can typically recall the layout of a property I saw five years ago.

I’ve written many, many times (and so have my clients!) – since at least 2007 – about real estate photos. The only thing that will change poor photos being used is for consumers to demand more. I send the photos to my seller clients before using them on anything – I want to make sure they both approve and feel good about how we’re marketing their homes.

I’d love to be able to provide recent examples from the Charlottesville MLS of head-smashingly bad photos – photos so bad I wish I could call the seller and ask them what they’re thinking. In one example, I know the agent consistently takes bad photos, and the seller would have known that if they’d spent 30 seconds researching. That the seller permits these photos to be used is confounding, but there you go.

Floorplans – yes, they cost money. So do professional photographers. So do professional Realtors’ services.

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If Only … Bike Lanes were Ubiquitous

Two and a half miles to dinner (x2) – about 16 minutes – is easy. Bicycling as transportation is something other countries (and some American cities) understand. It’s about time we did so as well.

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Albemarle County Broadband Survey (Also, Broadband Increases Real Estate Values)

Last week I asked a seller’s agent to get the download speeds from a property in a not-so-rural part of Albemarle County.

Here is what my tenant sent: … The results were: Pings 36 Download 2.89Mbps Upload 0.47Mbps”

My client will not consider this property, nor will they consider 75% of the properties that they find interesting – properties a bit outside of the City with a couple acres under $500k.

Albemarle County is conducting a broadband survey (click through for the press release).

A few thoughts before you take this survey:

1 – This is just such an opportunity where this should be a City of Charlottesville and County of Albemarle (and UVA) survey, not an isolationist one.

2 – How does this fit in with the Albemarle County School system seeking to build a “dark fiber” network? Note it’s an “upgrade” in the budget. (and who’s bidding on and building it?)

3 – High speed internet increases property values. I haven’t found the numbers defined (yet) but I’ve heard that high speed adds $7,000 to a property’s value. In more stark terms, often the “value” is a binary one – in that high speed access yields a “yes” or “no”.

4 – Not having high speed internet access in rural parts of Albemarle County negatively impacts education.

5 – Why is Korea so much more advanced than the US?

6 – If a state wants to be known as the crossroads of America and to attract local, national and international businesses – and what state doesn’t? – even its smallest communities need to offer broadband connectivity via fiber to the home (FTTH).

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A Short Look at the Charlottesville Real Estate Market – April 2014

Remember the $8,000 homebuyer tax credit? Remember how it pulled demand forward and compressed the 2010 real estate market (in Charlottesville at least)?

In trying to figure out the first part of 2014, that’s the best sort-of-analogy I can make. So far, things are looking less awesome than they would appear. There are so many nuances that I tend to look at for clients – new construction versus resale, proximity to whatever it is that is important to them and that particular sub-real estate market, interest rates, ability to walk or bike to groceries and more. But. For a brief high-level look -

It looks like the first two months of 2014 were slower than the first two months of 2013 and March is when the market starts to pick up.

Remember – “Normal” is “Now.”

When do homes Come on the market in Charlottesville - 2014

Still trying to figure this out …

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“Where Are you From?” – Something Else Real Estate Agents Can’t Ask

In a transient place like Charlottesville, “Where are you from”? is a common question.

Small talk. Innocuous, right?

The ability to make and sustain small talk is a critical skill held by successful real estate agents – learning about clients and potential clients, asking questions, listening. But. What if innocuous conversation is (wrongly) perceived to be “discriminatory”?

I’ve written many times about and told my clients about the seemingly-absurd limitations imposed on real estate agents regarding fair housing laws. This morning I read the account of a real estate broker in Massachusetts who asked a prospective tenant where she was from – and ended up being fined $60,000. The woman who filed the complaint seemingly suffered emotional distress not merely from being asked the question, but also because she’d been denied an apartment by another real estate broker ostensibly because of her national origin, but also because this case went on apparently for nearly 6 years!

I asked friend and colleague Sarah Stelmok, Principal Nest broker in Fredericksburg and licensed Fair Housing expert for her thoughts. She agreed, with more context:

Besides this being mind-numbingly stupid, here’s the thing; if a customer/ client comes into your office and wants your services, but doesn’t speak English, we are required to get them an interpreter.  If I get someone an interpreter, it’s important for me to know where they are from.  Not all Spanish is Spanish.  Not all Chinese is Chinese.  And, what, exactly, was her distress over the question?  Fair Housing laws in VA clearly state that there has to be a limitation of housing choice.  It doesn’t sound like her choices were limited at all.  What if a Venezuelan agent asked the question?  Would it have been brought to case?  Yes, this is so stupid, it defies any type of common sense.  I feel really bad for this agent.

As a real estate agent, I can’t talk about schools, demographics of neighborhoods, and I know that I can’t ask someone their ethnic background. But it’s ok to analyze and interpret the housing preferences of different ethnicities? (This is a fascinating series by the way – What Home Buyers Really Want: Ethnic Preferences Parts I, II, III, IV.

These laws, while grounded in good intent, have become overreachingly insane speech codes that prevent reasonable people from exercising common sense. But I get it. This is the story I tell my clients that explains the absurd fair housing laws that prevent me from discussing whether there are kids in a particular neighborhood:

A couple of years ago a man called me from out of the blue saying that he was retiring and wanted to move home to Charlottesville. Ok, I can help. And he wanted to do so in a few months. Ok, I can help. And he wanted buyer representation. Ok, I can help. And he wanted an all-white neighborhood. At this point I hung up.

Discrimination is rarely so in-your-face, but reasonable people should be able to discern whether “where are you from?” is being asked in a discriminatory way.


It is undisputed that Linder violated G. L. c. 151B, § 4(6)(c), and § 1.04(i) of the commission’s amended regulations by inquiring into Mrs. Stokel’s national origin in connection with her and her husband’s application for a new apartment on July 25, 2007. While completing the application process to rent an apartment, Linder asked, `Gladys, where are you from?’ to which Mrs. Stokel responded that she was from Venezuela. The Stokels believed they were discriminated against on the basis of Mrs. Stokel’s national origin and found Linder’s question to be insulting and upsetting. Despite the fact that Linder’s comment was found to have no discriminatory animus and did not result in discrimination, his inquiry itself is a per se violation of the statute and the regulation. Therefore, on appeal Linder only challenges the amount of damages awarded.

To my layman’s reading of the Decision, the harm seems to have come from the aggregate of the rental-search process, not the small talk question asked. But.

I’ll keep practicing carefully on the knife’s edge of fair housing, pointing out signs of children (literally, the “Watch out for Children throughout Neighborhood” signs) as well as others’ descriptions of neighborhoods. Continue reading

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April 2014 Monthly Note – The Market, Reading Suggestions and Septic Systems

One of the best things I do every month is write my monthly note. Really.

This month’s note is quite interesting – I’m looking at my audience, the reasons for unsubscribing, and I’m taking a bold step in how I define the need for septic system inspections. But one of the highlights being a note from a client that exemplifies and highlights why I do what I do – and why I work so damn hard to assemble the right team for my clients.

I’m also inclined to touch on representation and an anger/sadness-inducing phone call I received in the past few weeks.

Interested in the Charlottesville market and round up of the stories from RealCentralVA and RealCrozetVA? Two clicks is all it takes to subscribe.

Posting early next week; I’d have published this week but I wanted to get a few more days of MLS data before I pull and write about the market data. Continue reading

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Wave! to the People Visiting your Neighborhood

Free Daddy and His Little Shadow Girls at The Skate Park Creative Commons

I have never shown a house in the neighborhood where the neighbors waving was deemed offensive by my buyer client evaluating the neighborhood.

Two of the criteria I and my clients tend to frequently apply when evaluating neighborhoods and areas is how friendly the neighbors appear to be. Think about it the next time you’re out for a walk. A wave and a smile go a long way.

I drive through a lot of neighborhoods in the course of a week and while there’s not yet an algorithm that measures the waviness of a neighborhood and I haven’t yet seen a smileZestimate for a neighborhood, friendliness is pretty easy to discern.

The family riding bikes together in the middle of the day last weekend? Left a great impression on my clients (and they were all wearing helmets).

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Mount Rushmore of Chefs + Blue Ridge Food Bank = Good Dinner for Great Cause

The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank has been one of my family’s preferred charities for a few years; they do tremendously important work in the Charlottesville area.

When the folks at Charlottesville 29 food blog reached out to me about my writing a story about the dinner, my first question was – how much of the $250 per ticket goes to the Food Bank? The answer:

The entire $250 goes directly to the food bank. The chefs are donating their time, and we’ve got lots of purveyors donating food and wine (The Rock Barn, Caromont Farm, Rappahannock Oyster Co., Blenheim, Trump, etc). Any additional expenses will be covered by a donation from my law firm. So, every penny of ticket sales goes to the Food Bank.

That makes for some nice, easy math. $250 x 100 tickets = $25,000 which equals 100,000 meals. So I bought two tickets. As of this writing, there are 33 tickets left.

With your support we will provide healthy, nutritious food to more than 119,000 children, families and individuals every month. Every dollar you give will provide 4 meals! And since we expect to provide more than 16 million meals this year, we need your help!

From Charlottesville 29 blog:

Last year, five chefs were named to the Mt. Rushmore of Charlottesville chefs for their extraordinary contributions to the Charlottesville dining scene: Craig Hartman, Angelo Vangelopoulos, Melissa Close-Hart, and the duo of Tim Burgess and Vincent Derquenne. On April 13, the birthday of Charlottesville’s original gourmand Thomas Jefferson, these elite chefs will come together at The Space Downtown for a once-in-a-lifetime Charlottesville culinary experience, honoring their achievements.

After a reception of the chefs’ hors d’oeuvres, guests will sit down for dinner — a set menu of five courses, each prepared by a different Mt. Rushmore chef.   Wines will be paired with each course.

If you can, please consider donating to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. You can buy tickets to the dinner here.

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