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Ask Val: Details on Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Loans

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 funding fees on VA loans Eligible for Seller Credits?

Answer: Loans guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs are known as VA loans and provide current and former Service members with an opportunity to purchase a home with as little as 0% down.

In addition to the normal closing costs (title fees, transfer taxes, etc), a funding fee is charged at settlement, which is equal to anywhere from 1.25-3.3% of the loan amount, depending on size of down payment, type of service and whether or not it’s the borrower’s first time using the VA loan program. It’s a fee paid to the VA on every loan to offset the cost of loans that default (similar to Mortgage Insurance on non-VA loans).

Disabled veterans are eligible to have the entire fee waived.

Buyers can negotiate for seller credits to reduce or eliminate the out-of-pocket expense of closing costs at settlement. Fortunately, the funding fee falls into this category, along with the rest of the standard closing costs associated with a VA loan, and buyers are eligible to have all of these costs covered by the seller.

In theory, if a buyer is able to negotiate 100% of closing costs paid by the seller and chooses a 0% down payment loan, a home can be purchased cash-free.

If the buyer is unable to negotiate seller credits to cover the funding fee, they’re also allowed to roll the funding fee into the mortgage so that it becomes part of their monthly payment.

Did You Know?

I spoke with Myles Wilson, Private Mortgage Banker with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, and he provided a list of things most veterans don’t know about VA home loans:

  • Most people think a VA loan max is $454,150, when actually financing is available up to $1,500,000.
  • It is a myth that you can use your VA entitlement option once and only to purchase your first home. If you purchased a home with a VA loan, you can sell it and pay off the VA loan completely, and you can re-use your benefit to buy another home. Your entitlement is restored in full.
  • Most people think you cannot assume a VA loan. They are 100% assumable for veterans and non-veterans if qualified.
  • Borrowers are not limited to fixed rates only. Wells Fargo provides 5/1 arms and various fixed options.
  • VA loans are available for the purchase of condos, planned unit developments, manufactured homes and 2-4 unit properties.
  • Many think active duty or deployed service members cannot use their VA benefit. Many depending on length of service are eligible for entitlement.
  • Reserves and National Guard are eligible as well, their funding fee is slightly higher at 2.4% compared to 2.15% for regular military.

Advantages Of VA Loans

  • In the D.C. metro area, borrowers are eligible for up to 100% financing up to $679,650. They can even go higher than this by simply paying 25% of the difference between the purchase price and $679,650.
  • There is no mortgage insurance on VA loans regardless of down payment.
  • Qualifying veterans can buy a one million dollar house with $80,000 down payment and no mortgage insurance.
  • VA loans typically have lower interest rates than conventional loans.
  • If the borrower is more than 10% disabled the 2.15% funding fee is waived.
  • Once you have earned eligibility for the VA home loan, it never goes away. Those who served 20, 30, even 50 years ago often wonder whether they can still buy a home today if they never used their benefit. If eligibility can be established, the answer is yes.
  • On average, buyers using a VA loan negotiated 2.3% off the original asking price. By comparison, buyers using a Conventional loan negotiated 2.2% off the original asking price and cash buyers negotiated 4% off the original asking price.

If you would like to discuss your home mortgage options, I highly recommend you reach out to Myles Wilson at [email protected]. Thank you for the great information, Myles!

In anticipation of Veterans Day, we would like to honor all veterans for their dedicated and loyal service to this country.

If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column, please send an email 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: Why Is My Neighbor Mowing My Lawn?

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 neighbor is mowing a portion of the lawn I thought was mine, but my neighbor claims it is his. Is this something I can prove through my title work?

Answer: Clients often ask me whether or not they should purchase a property survey, which is optional, when they buy their home. I think that in almost every case it is worth the relatively small investment (usually about $300-$400 for a standard survey).

I was recently chatting with Liz Wasserman of Universal Title, one of a small group of excellent title companies in Northern Virginia (they also serve D.C. and MD) and one of the few I recommend to clients. She shared a story with me about a client who did not order a survey and ended up incorrectly assuming that a section of land was theirs.

Given how frequently I am asked about ordering surveys, I thought it was a good opportunity for Liz to share the story and provide some reasons why it’s a good idea to order a survey when you buy a home. Take it away Liz…

A new homeowner noticed a neighbor mowing part of her front lawn. When she asked the neighbor why he was mowing her lawn, the neighbor replied the property he was mowing belonged to him, even though the line of trees separating the two houses looked as if the property belonged to the new homeowner.

She called her title agent and found out the neighbor was correct. “How can that be? Didn’t you search my property?”

Unfortunately, the new homeowner did not understand the difference between a title search and a survey and failed to purchase a survey. A title search confirms ownership of property, but it does not show the details of the property location.

What Is a Survey?                  

A survey is a map of real property that shows where the property is located on the earth, the boundary lines of the property, the improvements on the land and access to the property.

Five Great Reasons to Purchase a Survey

  1. Undisclosed rights and easements: You may own your new home and its surrounding land, but someone else might have a right to use a portion of your property. A survey will show physical evidence of the rights of others to use your property for access, parking, utilities and other situations.
  2. Undiscovered encroachments: A survey may be the only way to tell if a third party holds a claim to part of your property because their improvements such as a garage, fence or swimming pool are on your land.
  3. House built on incorrect lot: It may seem impossible, but sometimes a house is built on the wrong lot. A survey provides peace of mind by showing the exact location of the house you are buying.
  4. Size of the property: A survey shows the exact dimensions of the property’s boundary lines and how much land is included within those lines.
  5. Adding on in the future: Many residential platted lots have building restrictions known as setbacks which prohibit building anything within a certain distance from the boundary lines. If you are thinking of adding on in the future, a survey will help you determine if the property is right for both your current and future plans.

Liz, thank you very much for sharing this story and providing some good reasons for ordering a survey. I’d also like to add that you can order a survey at any time if you did not do so when you purchased.

If you are in need of a survey, planning to sell or purchase a home and would like to work with a great title company or have title questions in general I highly recommend reaching out to Liz ([email protected]) and her team of attorneys at Universal Title.

If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column, please send an email 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: GreatSchools and Your Home Value

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: GreatSchools.org changed the ratings for Fairfax County schools. How important is it to consider school ratings when buying a home?

Answer: This summer, the popular school rating website GreatSchools.org made major changes to their ratings for most schools in Northern Virginia for the second time in less than a year. The changes resulted in a drop of 1-2 points for nearly every school.

According to GreatSchools.org changes in ratings are based on student progress (or “growth”) and college readiness data (SAT/ACT participation and/or performance and/or graduation rates).

Their school profiles now include factors such as how much a school helps students improve academically, how well a school supports students from different socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic groups, and whether or not some groups of students are disproportionately affected by the school’s discipline and attendance policies.

Many of these important themes now have their own rating, and these themed ratings are incorporated into the school’s overall GreatSchools Summary Rating.

School Ratings Influence Home Prices

Many property search websites such as Zillow and Trulia include GreatSchools information at the bottom of each listing. The ratings issued by GreatSchools.org heavily influence where people buy and how much they’re willing to spend. You can debate the merits of these ratings systems all you want, but the fact is that they play a significant role in real estate.

While Niche.com generates the most traffic, I find that GreatSchools.org is much more popular locally and I think it’s due to the fact that they grade harder than Niche (Niche gives out a ton of A-, A, and A+ ratings).

What Changed?

GreatSchools does not provide historical ratings, so I compared scores I had recorded for clients from Fall ’17, March ’18, and September ’18 to the current scores.

The Decision Is Yours

Looking only at test scores won’t tell you what the real-life environment is like. That’s why so many people rely on reviews. GreatSchools’ reviews can be written by anybody (parents, teachers, students, and even people not familiar with the school).

To make a decision based on a reliable rating, you can go directly to the Virginia Department of Education, where you can find detailed spreadsheets on pass/fail rates for every school, every grade, every subject, and every demographic.

If you’re considering moving to a new school district, I advise you to take the time to visit the school and take a tour; talk with the principal if possible. Talk to neighbors and join online forums. Take in as much information as you can and dismiss what’s not particularly informative.

I’d love to hear from readers in the comment section who purchased or are in the process of buying a home in Fairfax County, who placed a lot of weight in the GreatSchools rankings — how would these changes have impacted your decision when you bought or how are these changes impacting your current purchase strategy?

If you would like to discuss how the new GreatSchool rankings impact your upcoming plans to purchase or sell a home in Northern Virginia, reach out to me at [email protected] to set-up some time to meet.

If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column, please send an email to [email protected].

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: Tysons’ Newest Condo Project

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 any residential properties for sale at The Boro?

Answer: Verse, a 25 story luxury condominium building that will be finished by late fall of 2019. I visited the construction site to preview their model and meet with their Sales Manager, Jennifer Harlow who shared all the details with me. I’m excited to tell you all about it.

But first, what is The Boro?

If you have visited Tysons lately, chances are you have noticed the massive construction of The Boro. Located between Route 7 and Greensboro Dr, it’s the first walkable community with mixed use residential, retail, entertainment and office environment. Coming in 2019, The Boro (you guessed it, short for Greensboro) will be a whole new downtown.

Verse Condos

Verse is the first condominium built within the last decade in the Tysons area. It offers 23 different floor plans ranging from one bedroom to three bedroom with a den units. It is 40% sold out and sales prices range from $500,000 to $2.8 million. The 25th level has three Penthouse units, each with a private terrace, and they all have sold out.

What I Like About Verse

  • Modern convenience of having everything at your fingertips

It is located steps away from Greensboro Metro. That is a 20 minute commute to Dulles Airport, and 30 minutes to D.C. on the Silver Line. Properties include garage parking (additional parking can be rented for $95 a month) but the goal is for residents to enjoy the local businesses without even leaving their community.

Residents are walking distance to approximately 17 restaurants (one of them is a sister restaurant of True Food!), high-end shops, state of the art movie theaters, Bluestone Lane coffee, dry cleaners, a nail salon, fitness studios, the biggest Whole Foods in the east coast and even a pet spa for Fido!

Click here for the latest update on businesses opening in The Boro.

  • Perfect balance of luxury and function

These condos start on the 10th floor and all units have floor to ceiling windows. That means natural light and amazing views. On top of that, all corner units have a wraparound balcony that allows for some alfresco dining on nice weather days.

A clean and sophisticated floor plan. The chef’s kitchen has a gas stove that vents out to the top, quartz counters, Italian integrated cabinetry (plenty of cabinet space), concealed Bosch appliances and an under-counter wine cooler. Appliances are included in the sales price.

The master suite in the corner two bedroom unit has access to the balcony, a walk-in closet, marbleized floors in the bathrooms, architectural lighting and a spa shower with integrated bench. All cabinets are spacious and soft close.

There’s generous space throughout, plenty of storage closets and additional storage available for purchase.

  • Amenities

Other than the 24-hour concierge service and the entry lobby lounge with a fireplace, there’s a club room available for rent for private parties with double height ceilings, fireplaces, billiard tables, TVs, kitchens and terrace access. Residents can also rent a hospitality suite for their visitors.

The building has a 3,000 sq. ft. fitness studio with top of the line equipment connecting to a Zen terrace and a rooftop pool.

The outdoor space includes access to Sky Park, an impeccable landscaped rooftop park where residents can lounge, grill, play bocce ball and enjoy the inviting green space.

Condo fees go for $0.65 per sq. ft. and include water and gas.

An Ideal Place to Live, Work And Play

The Boro will be a vibrant community with many walkable amenities, including pedestrian-friendly roadways, bike lanes and open greenspaces designed to bring people outside.

If you’d like to schedule a tour or discuss Verse Condominium as a primary residence, secondary residence or investment please reach out to me at [email protected]

For part two of this video, click here.

If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column, please send an email 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: Winter House Hunting

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 ready to buy a house in the upcoming months. Should we wait until spring to start house hunting or should we consider buying a house during the winter?

Answer: Winter can be a great time to buy a house! Not only do you get to test that the heating system works well, but buyers tend to have the upper hand over sellers in the negotiations. There will be fewer buyers in competition during the winter, less chances of multiple offers for the same property and the low demand may work in your favor.

Sellers who have their homes on the market during the winter may be more motivated to negotiate and willing to make a deal. In Northern Virginia, the winter market generally runs from November through January and is defined by increased buyer leverage, less contract activity and fewer new listings.

Keep An Open Mind And Open Schedule

You can buy in the winter as long as you keep an open mind.

Landscaping is not very colorful during the cold months, and depending on the weather you may not be able to perform an inspection in certain areas of the house (i.e. an inspector won’t go on an icy, dangerous roof), but you can make a list of those items and get them inspected as soon as the weather allows it.

Also, you will need to be flexible with time given that holidays, less daylight hours, and extreme weather may delay property access, inspections, title work, appraisal, etc. But hey, I like to believe that people are nicer during the holidays and everyone is willing to work it out!

Buy In The Fall/Winter If…

  • You’re a bargain hunter
  • What you like is priced just outside of your budget
  • There is a regular supply of homes you like
  • You have a flexible schedule

Wait For The Spring/Summer If…

  • You have specific, hard-to-find criteria
  • You value the perfect home over a great deal
  • Your purchase is contingent on selling your current home (requires additional conversation)
  • If you’re moving to a new school district and don’t want to move your kids in the middle of the school year

It’s Harder To Find What You Want

But, that doesn’t mean you can’t find something great in the winter. It will just take a little more effort. The chart below shows the number of newly listed homes in Northern Virginia each month, for the past three years. You will see that the number of newly listed homes for sale is significantly lower from November through January.

Pickings Are Slimmer But The Prices Are Too

The table below is made up of sales in Tysons, Mclean, Vienna, Northern Falls Church and Eastern Fairfax from 2013-2017, except for new construction, and is based on the month properties went under contract, not the month they actually sold (homes generally sell 30-60 days after they go under contract). The cells highlighted in green are the most favorable for buyers. Here are some key highlights from the data table:

  • Buyers have the most negotiation leverage in December
  • Seasonality has a much lower impact on condos than it does single-family homes and townhouses
  • The market turns favorable for buyers starting in August and usually continues that trend until January/February (tends to be weather-dependent)

So, which season is the best for home buying? The best time to buy a house really depends on what makes the most sense for your situation. If you’re on the fence about buying this winter or not sure if you have time to prepare yourself to make a purchase, send me an email at [email protected] to discuss your options and put a strategy in place.

If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column, please send an email 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: Welcome to Ask Val!

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!

Welcome to our neighborhood real estate blog! I’m very excited to be part of this community and cover all sorts of topics regarding residential real estate and the market place. I’m here to answer your questions in a very honest, informative and hopefully fun way (who says real estate is boring!?).

Before we get started with our first Q&A, a bit about me — I moved from Peru to the D.C. area in 2004 and I’ve been in property management and real estate ever since. Falls Church resident, dog and cat lover, Redskins fan, new restaurant explorer and Zumba instructor. Some of my favorite places near Tysons:

I have been collecting some great questions that I plan to answer over the coming weeks, and I can’t wait to hear yours also. If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column, please send an email 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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