Tysons Corner, VA

This regularly-scheduled sponsored Q&A column is written by Val Sotillo, Northern Virginia-based Realtor and Falls Church resident. Please submit your questions to her via email for response in future columns. Enjoy!

Question: We are buying a home in a few weeks and one of the closing costs is an optional $1,500 for title insurance. Do you recommend buying title insurance?

Answer: Yes, I do recommend buying title insurance. It’s a one-time fee that protects your ownership in what is likely the most valuable asset you own and you cannot decide to add title insurance in the future.

I asked David Cartner, an attorney with Highland Title & Escrow, to provide a full explanation of the benefits of title insurance and some examples of when it would be used. Take it away David…

Do You Really Need Title Insurance?

It depends on what level of risk the buyer is comfortable taking. If a buyer does not purchase title insurance, he/she risks losing the entirety of the investment.

Why, then, do buyers question purchasing title insurance when the risk of loss is so high? I believe the reason is twofold: (1) buyers do not understand the benefits of purchasing it, and (2) title insurance is unlike other types of insurance in that it covers issues that have already happened.

What the buyer is hedging for are the unknown or hidden hazards that might jeopardize his or her ownership in the home.

Hidden hazards may include:

  • Liens that were not revealed in title exam or made known to settlement agent prior to closing. A title exam reveals any liens on the property which need to be paid off and released prior to closing. If the title examiner overlooked a judgment, tax, or mortgage lien on the property or failed to note it in the title exam, the buyer would be liable to pay the lien incurred by the previous owner.
  • Boundary line issues that an accurate survey would not reveal. For example, if a survey failed to note that a neighbor’s shed encroached on the purchaser’s property, title insurance would cover the cost of removing the shed and resolving any accompanying boundary line dispute.
  • Forgery or lack of authority. If there was a forged signature on the deed in the chain of title, or a person or corporation signed a deed without authority to do so, the transfer of ownership to the buyer would be in question.
  • An unknown heir of a previous owner came forth to claim ownership in the property. For example, suppose a seller passed away and his three children sold the house to a purchaser. If an unknown fourth child later came forth to claim his quarter ownership in the house, the purchaser’s title to the property is in jeopardy.
  • Instruments executed under an expired power of attorney.
  • Building permit violations. An enhanced version of title insurance is available that covers existing building permit violations. If a previous owner never obtained the appropriate building permits when remodeling a kitchen or bathroom or building a deck, enhanced title insurance would cover the cost of obtaining the appropriate permits.
  • Mistakes in the public record at the county in which the property lies.

While lenders mandate that owners purchase lender’s title insurance (which only protects the lender’s interest in the property), homeowner’s title insurance is completely optional. It is a one-time fee that covers the owner for life.

Though there are certain factors that decrease the risk of an existing title defect, like having fewer previous owners of the house, a typical subdivided lot, or a recently constructed house, a buyer takes title to a house never knowing what title defect may already exist.

In this respect, title insurance is unlike other types of insurance in which the purchaser can mitigate risk.

Contact David Cartner (703-760-3300 or [email protected]), Settlement Attorney at Highland Title & Escrow, with further questions regarding title insurance or the real estate settlement process.

If you’d like more information, or would like a question answered in my weekly column, please reach out to [email protected]. I hope to hear from you soon.

Val Sotillo is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington D.C., and Maryland with Real Living At Home, 2420 Wilson Blvd #101 Arlington, VA 22201, 703-390-9460.

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This regularly-scheduled sponsored Q&A column is written by Val Sotillo, Northern Virginia-based Realtor and Falls Church resident. Please submit your questions to her via email for response in future columns. Enjoy!

Question: I work in Tysons and often drive through the Town of Vienna. How’s the housing market in Vienna and what it’s like living there?

Answer: Vienna is a suburban neighborhood located about three miles from Tysons. The Town of Vienna has been changing and improving over the past years while still maintaining its original charm and “small town” feel. It’s beautiful, full of friendly people and rich with life.

Here’s What Makes Vienna A Great Place To Live:

Location — It’s located minutes away from Tysons. It has its own Metro Station (last stop in the orange line) with 2 large parking garages, and it is located just a few minutes away from I-66 which provides quick access to 495 and can take you to D.C. in 25 minutes. You can get to Dulles Airport in 20 minutes. Overall, a great location!

Active Community — I lived in Vienna for a few years and I loved the great community atmosphere. The town holds parades and festivals throughout the year on Maple Avenue and Church Street. Viva Vienna! and Oktoberfest are my favorite. Here’s the full calendar.

There are parks and community facilities to meet citizen’s recreational needs. The Vienna Community Center is under renovation but it will reopen this fall.

Cyclists can take the W&OD Trail, a 45 mile trail that goes from Shirlington to Purcellville. Located right off the trail, you’ll find Caboose Tavern serving great beer made on site and delicious bites.

We can’t forget the amazing Wolf Trap for outdoor concerts! And of course, there’s a dog park.

Shops and Restaurants — Perfect place for foodies!

Must try: Taco Bamba (2 tacos and a draft for $12, yes please!), Yama (Sushi), Red Galanga; Vienna staples like The Vienna Inn, and Amphora; Date night places like Bazin’s on Church, Maple Ave (awesome brunch, and check their daily specials), and Clarity.

The Pear Tree Cottage, my favorite shop for antiques and design, has been in business for 5 years and it contributes to the community’s charm. There’s Bard’s Alley for books (and café and wine bar); and Whole Foods with the best fresh seafood selection. Vienna truly has it all.

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This regularly-scheduled sponsored Q&A column is written by Val Sotillo, Northern Virginia-based Realtor and Falls Church resident. Please submit your questions to her via email for response in future columns. Enjoy!

Question: What is an Escalation Addendum and when should I use it?

Answer:  With so much competition for hard-to-find homes that have just come to market, it’s critical for buyers to understand the purpose and risk/reward of using Escalation Addendums (EA) in their offer.

An EA allows you to make an offer at a starting price while agreeing to increase your offer to a higher price if another offer is higher than yours. It includes a maximum escalation value and an escalation factor, the amount your offer will increase by, over the next highest offer.

The contract allows for the seller to execute a purchase contract (ratify) at an escalated value, without the buyer having to agree to the new price. However, to protect buyers, the seller is required to deliver the next highest contract that was used to escalate your offer.

That other offer must also be materially similar, meaning the other offer cannot include seller credits or a material difference in contingencies (e.g. the other buyer has to sell a home before buying this one).

EAs carry a lot of risk and reward, so be sure to understand them before including one in your offer.

Understand The Risks

The obvious risk in using an Escalation is that buyers are exposing their maximum purchase price and some sellers may ask for that max, regardless of whether or not another offer allows them to get there contractually. There are strategies buyers can use to prevent a seller from doing this and, in my experience, most sellers use Escalations as they’re meant to be used.

The other not-so-obvious problem is with non-financial differences between two contracts. The Escalation Addendum says nothing about differences in settlement date, contingencies and other non-financial terms that make a material difference between contracts (e.g. no Home Inspection Contingency vs full Inspection Contingency is treated equally in the Escalation Addendum).

When To Use An Escalation Addendum

Escalations are best used when there are multiple confirmed offers and the seller has set a deadline for “best-and-final” offers. It’s important for buyers to establish expectations with the seller before they include an Escalation Addendum to maximize the benefit and reduce the risks.

This is where having an experienced agent working for you can be the difference between making a smart decision and irresponsible one or securing a home and helping somebody else secure it.

Proper Communication Is A Win-Win

I strongly believe that with proper communication between sellers and buyers, Escalation Addendums benefit both parties by allowing the seller to draw out the highest available price for their home and allowing buyers to confidently maximize their chance of securing a home. Improper communication leads to a lack of trust and a lack of trust will almost always earn sellers less and may keep the most motivated buyer out of the home of their dreams.

It’s Not Always About Price

Being the winning offer amongst multiple offers isn’t always about price. Buyers need to focus on non-financial terms as well to set themselves apart and it’s important to understand how you can increase the strength of your offer without taking on excessive risk, but that’s a topic for another day.

If you’d like more information, or would like a question answered in my weekly column, please reach out to [email protected]. I hope to hear from you soon.

Val Sotillo is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington D.C., and Maryland with Real Living At Home, 2420 Wilson Blvd #101 Arlington, VA 22201, 703-390-9460.

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Ask Val: Living In Mosaic

This regularly-scheduled sponsored Q&A column is written by Val Sotillo, Northern Virginia-based Realtor and Falls Church resident. Please submit your questions to her via email for response in future columns. Enjoy!

Question: Can you tell me more about Mosaic District? What housing options are available within walking distance?

Answer: The Mosaic District is a new urban neighborhood. It’s lively and vibrant, and no matter how often I am there, I always notice something new going on. It’s definitely one of my favorite neighborhoods and hangout spots. You really have everything there at the convenience of your fingertips.

Here’s why I’m a big fan:

Great Location — It’s perfectly situated where Route 50, 66 and the Beltway meet. The Dunn Loring Metro station is only 1 mile away, and you can be in D.C. in 25 minutes. You can drive to Tysons in less than 10 minutes. There’s free garage parking and when they have big events, they offer a free shuttle to the metro.

Environmentally Friendly — Mosaic’s architecture is much more contemporary than is typically found in Northern Virginia, with more flat roofs, glass and steel. The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, one of the most popular green building certification programs used worldwide) for Neighborhood Development pilot project is LEED-Silver certified; and all of the townhomes were built to LEED for Homes standards. Several of the District’s buildings also have green roofs.

Activities and Shopping — So convenient! From unique boutiques to Target, fitness studios, spas and salons, Mom’s Organic Market, banks, furniture stores, coffee shops, bars, a brewery and lots of restaurants for either a quick bite or a nice date. Check out my favorite spots: Sisters Thai, True Food Kitchen for brunch, B Side for amazing drinks, Sea Pearl has the best happy hour deal and Caboose Commons with their awesome dog friendly patio. You can see the full directory here.

The Angelika Film Center is a multiscreen cinema with reserved seating, a coffee shop, full bar, gourmet snacks and great digital projection and sound technology. There’s also a giant screen on the front of the theater facing the park, where people can watch family films for free.

Strawberry Park is usually where most of the outdoor activities are held. The turf is made of recycled components and it requires no water or chemicals. Outdoor activities include yoga, Lululemon run club, seasonal festivals and Farmer’s Market. See what’s on their schedule here.

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Ask Val: Kitchen Makeover 101

This regularly-scheduled sponsored Q&A column is written by Val Sotillo, Northern Virginia-based Realtor and Falls Church resident. Please submit your questions to her via email for response in future columns. Enjoy!

Question: We are new homeowners and we’re trying to breathe new life into our outdated poorly-functioning kitchen. Do you have any tips for us?

Answer: The kitchen is my favorite room in the house, and not just because that’s where the food is! I believe the kitchen is the heart of the home and I think that’s a great place to start with your home updates.

I spoke with Caroline Goree, a Project Leader with BOWA, a local design build firm that specializes in luxury renovations from kitchens to whole-home remodels. Here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions about kitchen renovation projects:

How Much Does It Cost To Renovate My Kitchen?

There are many different factors that go into the cost of a kitchen renovation. The size of the space, level of finish, design details, appliance package, remodeling partner and trades needed (plumber, electrical, engineer, etc.) all impact what you will spend on your project.

Thinking about what you should invest in your kitchen remodel is about understanding your needs, scope of work and what is the appropriate level of finish for your home. If you want to avoid “budget creep” throughout the project, I recommend finding a partner that spends the time planning up front rather than making decisions as the project is being built.

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This regularly-scheduled sponsored Q&A column is written by Val Sotillo, Northern Virginia-based Realtor and Falls Church resident. Please submit your questions to her via email for response in future columns. Enjoy!

Question: Can you tell me about some of the walkable neighborhoods you suggest living in around Tysons?

Answer: Falls Church City is a charming community with a Downtown vibe. It’s a roughly 2-square-mile city with so much to offer. It is a walkable, bike friendly, vibrant downtown so that people don’t have to leave their community to get services, goods and entertainment.

Top Reasons that Make Falls Church City an Awesome Neighborhood:

Great Location

Metro — The West Falls Church station and the East Falls Church station, both on the Orange Line, are about two miles and one mile away, respectively.

It’s located just a few minutes from I-66, 495, Dulles Access Toll Road and just 4 miles from Tysons.

For joggers and bikers, the W&OD Trail runs east/west through the northern part of the city with intersections at North Washington Street, Little Falls Street, Great Falls Street, North Oak Street, North Spring Street, North West Street, Grove Avenue and West Broad Street.

Many Things To Do Within The City Limits.

The area has many parks with climbing equipment, playgrounds, a public library and a Saturday morning farmers market. During holidays, the city sponsors events like a July 4th parade that runs along Broad Street, the area’s main street.

There’s also a range of ethnic restaurants. My favorite are Plaka Grill (Great Greek food. Try their beef souvlaki!), Northside Social (everything from great coffee and avocado toast, to amazing pizza and wine)and Lucky Thai. Plus a number of bars like Ireland’s Four Provinces, Mad Fox Brewing Company and Clare and Don’s Beach Shack (they have trivia on Wednesdays). There’s also the State Theater with great shows every week.

Many Housing Options

There are different options from detached homes, townhomes and condos. In Falls Church City, there are currently 22 properties for sale, ranging from a one bedroom condo for $397,000, to a $1.45M 6 bedroom home built in 2006. You can see all active listings here.

Twenty properties are currently under contract, ranging from a one bedroom condo condo at $385,000 to a 5 bedroom Craftman house at $1.6 million.

In the past 6 months, 15 condos were sold for a median price of $399,000, 10 townhouses were sold for a median price of $626,000, and 54 single family homes sold for a median price of $925,000.

One of my favorite buildings in Falls Church City is Spectrum, a Condominium built in 2008. It’s located in 444 W Broad Street and it features a “green” rooftop. The roof provides a great view and it is covered with sedum plants that provide a multitude of benefits including thermal insulation for reduced energy consumption, filtering storm water and increased sound insulation for residents. 

Great Quality Of Life.

This small city Ranked as No. 1 Healthiest Community in U.S. in 2018. Need I say more?

Changes on the Horizon

While the area has a timeless quality to it, things will change a bit in the next few years. Founder’s Row is a mixed use project located at the corner of W. Broad and N. West Streets.

It will include a 6-8 screen dine-in movie theater with 850 seats, 5,000 square feet of office and 60,000 square feet of retail-restaurant space and 72 senior and 322 market rate apartments. I’ll tour it for you as soon as possible!

If you’d like more information, or would like a question answered in my weekly column, please reach out to [email protected]. I hope to hear from you soon.

Val Sotillo is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland with Real Living At Home, 2420 Wilson Blvd #101 Arlington, VA 22201, 703-390-9460.

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Ask Val: Spring Market is Here

This regularly-scheduled sponsored Q&A column is written by Val Sotillo, Northern Virginia-based Realtor and Falls Church resident. Please submit your questions to her via email for response in future columns. Enjoy!

Question: I’ve submitted two offers on homes in the past couple of weeks and both times lost to multiple offers. Is the inventory going to increase? What can I expect as spring is approaching?

Answer: Periods of low inventory and high demand, like what we’re currently experiencing, can be frustrating for buyers. If you’ve been looking for homes and are concerned about the lack of options you’ve seen in the market, do not give up because the inventory is already increasing and will continue to increase over the next few months.

What To Expect From The Spring Market

The spring market can be a great time for buyers because you’ll see a significant increase in inventory and a better chance of finding that perfect home.

You will also see a very similar increase in the amount of properties going under contract, which is an indicator of the not-so-good news (for buyers) that there will be a lot more competition. Be ready to make your best offer.

See the chart below for a month to month breakdown on New Listings in Fairfax County since 2014. This chart highlights how the lack of new inventory you’ve seen over the winter is going to increase significantly starting this month and will almost triple over the next few months.

See the chart below for New Pending Contracts (properties going under contract) in Fairfax County since 2014. Contract activity is seasonal, just like new inventory.

What Can You Do To Get Ready For This Market?

Spring can be a frustrating season because you may watch your dream home go to other buyers who have made smarter, but not necessarily higher offers. So be prepared to make a strong offer with these tips:

  • Financing — Have a pre-approval letter from a reputable local lender who has reviewed all relevant documents and is able to close quickly. A strong lender letter gives the seller confidence you will close on the home on time, without complications.
  • Don’t Play Games — We all want to negotiate a great deal, but when a seller has multiple similar offers, they often put more weight in who they think is most likely to close with the least complications. In that scenario it pays off to make it clear how much you want the home instead of acting like you could take it or leave in an attempt to negotiate a lower price. This is not a hagglers market so don’t expect a lot of negotiations.
  • Contingencies — Understand how an Escalation Addendum works and consider giving up your right to negotiate repairs using a Pass/Fail contingency or doing a pre-inspection instead to make sure there are no major issues with the property. You can also offer to cover up to a certain dollar amount in the event of a low appraisal, if you are offering to pay above the asking price.

Good luck on your house hunting! If you’d like more information, or would like a question answered in my weekly column, please reach out to [email protected]. I hope to hear from you soon.

Val Sotillo is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland with Real Living At Home, 2420 Wilson Blvd #101 Arlington, VA 22201, 703-390-9460.

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This regularly-scheduled sponsored Q&A column is written by Val Sotillo, Northern Virginia-based Realtor and Falls Church resident. Please submit your questions to her via email for response in future columns. Enjoy!

Question: I’m looking to purchase a home that’s less than a 10 minute walk to a Metro Station. What are the options around Dunn Loring?

Answer: The Dunn Loring neighborhood is one of the fastest changing areas in Fairfax County in a few short years. It is now a vibrant and walkable community with many different housing options to offer just a few steps from the metro.

Here’s what I love about the location:

Easy Commute

The Dunn Loring/Merrifield Metro is located between Interstate 66 at Gallows Road and it services the Orange Line which gets you to D.C. in about 25 minutes.

There’s also easy access to the Capital Beltway, I-66 and Route 50, making it convenient for public transportation and driving. And let’s not forget about cyclists! The W&OD Trail is in your backyard and it goes all the way from Shirlington to Purceville. The W&OD Trail has a maze of paths for hiking, biking, running and walking.

Everything Is Just Steps Away

You can walk to almost everything. From Home Depot, to Harris Teeter (this one has a wine bar, cheers), to a doggie day care, spa services, to the Merrifield Garden Center. You can also take a bit longer of a walk to the Mosaic District but I’ll cover that neighborhood in a separate column.

Here are some of my favorite food spots: Blackfinn Ameripub (great trivia, many tv’s for watching sports and live music), District Taco and the newest Peruvian restaurant Inca Social.

They also have a small dog park.

Bonus: There is free retail parking.

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This regularly-scheduled sponsored Q&A column is written by Val Sotillo, Northern Virginia-based Realtor and Falls Church resident. Please submit your questions to her via email for response in future columns. Enjoy!

Question: My mortgage lender told me a homeowner’s policy was the last thing needed to fully approve our home loan. I want to shop around and make sure I get the coverage I need. What should I know before deciding on a home insurance policy?

Answer: It’s important to understand the basics of homeowners insurance so you can purchase a policy that meets your needs. It primarily covers your home and the stuff inside of it in the event of theft or some disasters (fire, windstorm, hail, lightning, smoke, explosion, theft, vandalism, riot and vehicle collision).

If your house is destroyed by a covered peril, a standard homeowner’s policy will go a long way toward repairing or rebuilding your home.

I’m not an insurance expert, so I talked to Matt Deadrick, with DDM Insurance, and he provided great insight that will help you understand basic insurance coverage and choose additional coverage that will fit your needs.

Dwelling Replacement Cost Coverage On Your Homeowners Policy

The value of your home may vary and this may cause concerns when you think about the amount of insurance you carry on your homeowner’s policy and whether it’s enough or too much. But the bottom line is that what your home can be rebuilt for versus what you can sell it for are two completely different things.

With Market Value, location, school district, distance to shopping and public transportation, etc. go into the calculations.

With Dwelling Replacement Cost, a completely different set of parameters is taken into account. The location is much less of a factor than the square footage of the house. The construction of your home and its features are what count.

When a new application is taken, your agent should ask questions about your home and it’s features such as square footage, age, number of rooms, if there is a finished basement, etc. This will be used to calculate an estimate of what your home can be rebuilt for, and determine the “Dwelling Coverage” on your policy.

Because there is no way to know exactly what a house costs to rebuild until it actually has to be rebuilt, it is imperative to include some coverage that takes into account that the “Dwelling Coverage” may need to be increased in the event of a catastrophic loss such as a fire.

No one wants to find out they didn’t carry enough homeowners insurance after their home is destroyed.

This is where the right homeowner’s policy can save the day. Basic homeowners policy will only pay up to the dwelling limit listed on the policy, even if it costs more to rebuild your home. However, there are several options available which help to make a homeowners policy much more flexible.

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This regularly-scheduled sponsored Q&A column is written by Val Sotillo, Northern Virginia-based Realtor and Falls Church resident. Please submit your questions to her via email for response in future columns. Enjoy!

Question: Are there certain considerations to be aware of when re-listing your home in the spring/summer market if you listed and then pulled it during the fall/winter market? Are there things that you would need to fix up in a slow winter market that you could let slide in a hotter market?

Answer: You’ve been on the market for months, had a few interested buyers, but nothing has stuck. Your house is still for sale during the coldest and darkest days of the year so you’re asking if you should pull your listing and wait for the market to heat back up in the spring.

There are three scenarios that I’ll consider advising sellers to take their home off the market during the winter:

  • You are living in the home, are under no pressure to sell, have been on the market for more than 60 days without an acceptable offer and have exhausted conversations with any buyers who have shown interest.
  • You have received feedback from agents and potential buyers that the home needs work and you will take time over the winter to make the necessary improvements, providing that the cost of those improvements will net you better terms than an immediate price reduction and avoiding additional carry cost.
  • A key selling point of your home is landscaping and/or a view that is difficult to recognize during the winter.

Pros & Cons Of Re-Listing

Pro: More Buyers. The number of homes that go under contract drops substantially from November-January and picks up quickly in February. On average, the number of new purchase contracts more than doubles by March compared to December and January.

Pro: Faster Sales. The increase is buyer activity (demand) results in homes selling a lot faster in the spring/summer.

Con: Not Necessarily Higher Prices. The increased buyer activity impacts days on market a lot more than it does pricing. The amount somebody is willing to pay or qualified to pay for a home often does not change based on the season, rather larger economic factors.

Con: If you decide to re-list in the spring, you are probably planning to do so at a higher price. Be careful with this decision because agents and buyers have easy access to previous asking prices and if you have not made any substantial capital investments to your home to justify the increase, most buyers will base their negotiations on your previous asking price, not the new one.

Pro: If you’re off-market for 60 days or more, your days on market count officially resets to zero when you re-list. This is a system rule for BRIGHT (the database of record for agents), although most buyers use sites that show the full listing history and can easily see that something was withdrawn and re-listed.

The Spring Isn’t Easier

Don’t ease up on the marketing of your home in the spring just because there are more active buyers than the winter. You will be competing against 2-3 times more homes for sale so you could make a case that you need to do even more to stand out in the spring, not less.

However, if you’re on a budget, you may want to allocate your repair, improvement and staging funds differently based on the season such as the warmth of the family room in the winter vs outdoor dining in the spring.

If You Decide To Keep It On The Market

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