Tysons, VA

Laura Schwartz is a licensed Realtor in VA, D.C. and MD with McEnearney Associates in Vienna. You can follow Laura on Instagram at @LauraSchwartzRealtor or her Facebook page. Laura can be reached at 703-283-6120 or [email protected].

Based on my predictions for 2021, you now know that we’re in a fast-moving real estate market that’s very seller friendly. With low inventory, our marketplace is fast and furious with new properties that hit the market.

What you don’t see is the months of work that go into getting a seller ready to sell or a buyer ready to buy. In this market, if you’re not prepared, you’re immediately at a disadvantage. So to help you prepare if buying or selling a house is on your 2021 goals list, here are my top five things to do now:

1. Speak to a lender.

This is critical. Rates are really low — below 3% — but knowing how much you can afford is critical. Even more important: If you have a house to sell, you MUST know if you need to sell that house first before you can buy, or if you can buy without selling. Knowing the order those must happen in will drive your entire process. A good real estate agent will lay out options for both scenarios, based on your risk aversion, and come up with a plan on how to move forward.

2. Ask colleagues, friends, and neighbors for referrals for a real estate agent.

Talk to a real estate agent earlier than you think you need to. Some of my clients have been shocked by how little they really need to do to get a house ready to sell or what small items will make a bigger impact than they expect. Going room by room with a plan and prepping early will have big returns. Maybe you want to explore staging your home — find out how much that is. Information is power — power for you to make decisions that are right for you. Remember when picking a Realtor® you’ll be working closely with that person for months, so make sure you trust them!

3. Prep your home to sell using trusted contractors.

Changing lighting fixtures, painting some walls, deep cleaning, etc. Whatever your agent suggests (and you’re comfortable doing!) to prep your home, make sure you have trusted contractors to help get the projects done. You can always download my vendor guide for free.

4. Write a must-have versus nice-to-have list.

This is for the buyers, especially when there’s more than one buyer. Make sure you’re on the same page with what you’re looking for. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people argue over a house. It’s TOTALLY NORMAL. It happens all the time. But that doesn’t make it better. House hunting is stressful, so anything you can do to minimize the additional stress is key!

5. Scout the areas.

Figuring out where you want to live is hard when you’re not familiar with the neighborhoods. Do you want Metro access? Do you want an HOA with a pool? Do you want land and no neighbors for miles? This goes hand-in-hand with the must-have list. Drive around. Ask your real estate agent for suggestions on where to start. If you have specific needs (e.g. one-mile radius of a Metro), those are very easy searches for us to run online for you. It gives you a place to start. Realtors are bound by fair housing rules, so we can’t always tell you if the neighborhood is family friendly etc. I recommend stopping to chat with neighbors out walking. They’ll be the best able to answer questions on the neighborhood.

BONUS: If you’re thinking of building, this is a bonus for you.

You MUST talk to a construction lender to understand the process, and you MUST start interviewing builders. Are you going with a design/build company, which is a one-stop shop? Are you going to hire an architect and then a builder? Do you know what lot size you need and elevation? All of that is SO critical in looking for lots. Often times lots don’t always hit the open market, so knowing which way you plan to go with a builder must be in place.

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