Date Archives May 2014

What Would you Change about the Real Estate Process – Conveying Space

How best to convey space? Size?

April’s note generated some excellent responses, responses for which I’m grateful – not simply for the insight offered but that readers took significant time to respond. Thank you! *

… You asked in your monthly note about what’s typically missing from real estate listings that you’d most like to see included.

For me, the answer is easy: practical information about the space. Most real estate photos – even the non-terrible ones – try to show off the space aesthetically. You rarely get photos that show off the space functionally. But on a day to day basis, the functionality of the space matters as much or more than the aesthetics. And that’s especially true if you have any sort of accessibility requirements. How narrow are the hallways? How wide are the doorways? How steep are the stairs going down to the basement? Would there be enough space to add a rail on the wall next to the toilet? Etc. These kind of things really matter to me when I’m looking at houses – they matter a lot more than granite countertops or crown molding – but I can almost *never* get information about them from looking at MLS listings.

I am not quite sure how to answer this except by actually walking through the home – whether in person or on video to send to my buyer client. I’d like to think part of the answer is through the use of floor plans, but there’s something to be said for walking down hallways, looking in closets, feeling the size of the space. I take a lot of video for my clients and while they’re nothing fancy, I’ve found them to be awfully useful – I’ve had clients buy houses entirely from the videos I’ve shot and I’ve had clients make offers on properties based on the videos.

As to the spatial aspect of the videos, and conveying size, one of the more helpful things I’ve done was to take off my flip flops and place them end to end in a doorway to demonstrate how narrow the hallway was. In writing this post, I am recalling my clients noting how seeing that was important; I had said that the doorway was narrow but it wasn’t until I showed them how narrow it was did it register.

One of the greatest limitations on marketing/describing real estate (aside from the agents being allowed by sellers to use crappy photos) is the MLS. The way our MLS is designed (and I’m assuming others are similar) is that the MLS sheet is designed to be printed on one page of paper – the allowable public remarks are absurdly short, with no line breaks or bolding or anything. Clients have told me countless times that they “found the house’s website and it had a lot more information” than the MLS. One would think Realtor organizations would work to solve this.

What I know is this – I’m now much more aware of conveying space when I’m describing and showing property to my clients.

Maybe I need to take an extra pair of flip flops with me.

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Changing the Proffer System in Albemarle County

I can’t argue with any of this.

I’d say that there has to be a balance between new homes paying their way and existing homes paying their way.

“I think the presumption of the policy is that the county needs an additional means of collecting dollars to pay for capital improvements, which presumes that the existing tools that you have are not adequate,” said Frank Stoner of Milestone Partners.

Stoner was among those who suggested that an increase in real estate property taxes would be a fairer way to raise funds. Last month, Albemarle County adopted a tax rate of 79.9 cents per $100 of assessed real estate value, a 3.3-cent increase over the previous rate of 76.6 cents.

“A 1 cent tax increase gives you almost double the revenue that you have received through the proffer policy,” Stoner said, “and at least it’s equitable and it’s an existing tool that you have.”

I’ve written about this before.

My answer to the question (what are the negatives about living in Charlottesville and Albemarle): Perhaps the single greatest negative with living in CharlAlbemarle is the collective inability of the City and County to implement plans – specifically for infrastructure. Their constant bickering, planning, fighting, planning, discussing, planning and then planning some more is remarkably irresponsible.

Is removing cash proffers an option? (from May 2013):

And … keep in mind that the City of Charlottesville is much better funded than the County of Albemarle with respect to infrastructure.

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The 29 Saga Continues


Decades and decades of planning and fighting about what to do about Route 29 and I’d argue that our region is worse off because nothing substantive has been done other than widening 29 and adding stop lights.

Anyone stepping into the morass that is the evolution of the 29 Corridor would be hard-pressed to make sense of what the County is trying to accomplish. Sean Tubbs at Charlottesville Tomorrow does a good job breaking down where we are right now in the 29 planning process.

A $203 million package of solutions to ease traffic congestion on U.S. 29 through Albemarle andCharlottesville includes one new road, a grade-separated intersection at Rio Road, study of a similar facility at Hydraulic Road, and a down payment on a second daily Amtrak train.

Pictures are worth 1000 words; this concept of what the grade-separated interchanges look like is a start.

There is a public hearing about these 29 alternatives on 27 May. Hopefully people will show up.

I know this; my younger daughter will be driving by the time this thing is halfway started.

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30+ Tips for First-Time Homebuyers

This week I had the opportunity to talk to a small group of first time homebuyers. In preparing, I asked social media, “What one piece of advice would you give a first-time homebuyer?”

The answers – from clients (recent and not), friends, and good real estate professionals – were outstanding. I’m grateful for their sharing. I thought about highlighting one or two or ranking them in order from best to not-quite-best, but each is the best piece in its own category.

How does one rank these? They’re all really important – and these aren’t even a third of the great advice offered.

– Buy below your means

– Profits are made when purchasing a house not selling

– ignore HGTV

– Pay attention to the things that really matter (layout, size, neighborhood, etc.); don’t focus on aesthetics like paint color and appliances that can be changed.

Have savings after you close; cash solves a lot of future problems

– Don’t be afraid to ask questions, even if you’re worried they’ll make you sound dumb.

There are a lot more after the break.

Some of the notes I used to prepare and speak: (naturally, in writing this post, I was able to find and references stories I’ve written over the past 9 years)

– When to start? I’d say to engage with a good Realtor and lender about 9-18 months before you’re aiming to close. Take time to learn the area, the market, your life patterns, growth and development patterns. Read all that you can.

Rent first.

Always visit the area around your house before you buy – at multiple times of day on multiple days.

Questions a Realtor can’t answer (related: Big data and civil rights. Also:

Questions to ask your prospective Buyers Agent (My advice: don’t hire a part-timer) Also: Why hiring family may be a bad idea.

How to search for homes without a Realtor (in Charlottesville)

Assembling the team. How your Realtor helps assemble the necessary A-Team.

Work with a local lender. These are the two I tend to recommend the most.

How to choose the right buyers agent (hint: it’s sort of like dating)

– I highly recommend reading RealCentralVA and, if you’re interested in Crozet, RealCrozetVA. But at the very least, please do subscribe to my monthly note, in which I summarize the best posts from the previous month, among other original stories. In fact, the quote I read during the talk from a buyer client was published in my monthly note.

And because I’m writing this post purely as advice from a real estate professional, my name is Jim Duncan. I’m a real estate agent. I’m a partner at Nest Realty in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Call or email me anytime with questions – even ones you think are dumb.

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Costco Coming to Charlottesville, Bringing Traffic With It

Who woulda thunk that dropping 150,000 square feet of retail would bring traffic with it? The Stonefield shopping center is challenging at best to navigate – from Trader Joe’s to Pasture, for example, and is remarkably so for a pedestrian (I haven’t yet tried to bicycle there as 29 is scary).

If you’re curious to read some of the background, these are some of the stories I was writing in 2006 about Stonefield, which was originally called Albemarle Place.

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Friday Reading – 7 May 2014

Nice soccer fields, Albemarle County. A solution has to exist to create more fields in Albemarle. I’m not yet sure what those are.

The employment situation is … complicated.

“Everybody says they want your opinion, but no one’s really listening.” The 29 Corridor conversation in 11 words.

Theories on why the housing market is stalled.

Barry Ritholtz at Bloomberg View adds two more potential factors on why buyers aren’t showing up. One is simple psychology: Mr. Ritholtz argues that the housing crash of 2006 to 2010 was so deep that it scarred potential buyers, leaving them convinced housing was fundamentally risky.

A second argument from Mr. Ritholtz is more subtle: The number of homeowners with low or even negative equity in their houses is significant enough to gum up the normal ebb and flow of the housing market. When people owe more on a house than they can sell it for, the normal churn in the market dries up

Mr. Ritholz goes on to describe the chain of homebuyers that’s required for a healthy, sustainable real estate market … definitely worth a read.

A Builder with a sense of humor.

Regarding bicyclists and bicycle-friendly infrastructure, visibility matters

One way to encourage more dense urban development .

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Evolving West Main Street

West Main Street is changing. If you haven’t driven down it recently, you might want to do so soon, for no reason other than when all the new apartment buildings are built, driving on West Main in a car may be darn near impossible.

This is from Estes Street (the street parallel to West Main Street leading to the Walker Square condos).

Click through for a video of West Main Street. I took the video for a prospective client who hasn’t been to Charlottesville in a while; I thought it would be useful to send him a video and then thought it’d be useful for others who may not have been to Charlottesville in a while.

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