Tysons, VA

Ask Val: Cash vs Mortgage

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 just lost a competitive offer to an all-cash buyer. How common are cash buyers in Fairfax County? How much of a disadvantage am I at?

Answer: I have personally experienced this last weekend when I helped buyers write a great offer that lost to an all-cash offer. When I ran the numbers I expected to find a significant increase in the number of cash deals over the last 12-18 months, but I learned that the percentage of homes purchased by all-cash buyers has actually decreased a few percent in the last couple of years. I believe this drop is partly due to the current record low interest rates.

The rate of all-cash purchases seems to be spread pretty evenly across all price-points and housing types. In the past five years, condo sales have steadily been only 30% of all-cash deals, and 80% of those were sub-$400k condos.

The chart below shows the number of homes sold in Fairfax County that were bought by all-cash buyers since 2015.

Cash vs Financing a Mortgage — What’s the Difference?

The idea of getting a cash offer sounds exciting, but what exactly does it mean? After all, a dollar from a lender is worth the same as a dollar from a savings account.

  • Contingencies: Cash buyers don’t need the contractual protection of a financing or appraisal contingency because they don’t need a lender to approve/review anything. This is appealing for sellers because it decreases the possibility of something going wrong that disrupts the sale.
  • Speed: Cash deals can close faster, often in one week or less, than financed deals which usually take at least 3-4 weeks due to the time it takes to process the loan.
  • Security: Cash deals are considered more secure because the purchase funds are already available.
  • Cost: Cash deals have lower buyer closing costs because there are no lender fees or lender’s title insurance. Lenders also require a substantial about (usually 1-1.5% of purchase price) of money be pre-paid into an escrow account for future property tax payments and homeowner’s insurance.

Given how competitive the current housing market is, many buyers using a mortgage take steps to make their offers as cash-like as possible by removing the appraisal and financing contingencies and/or working with lenders who can close quickly. For buyers that have taken these steps, there’s very little difference to sellers between their offer and a cash offer.

If you are a seller considering a cash offer, make sure you verify the existence of the cash funds the same way you would verify a buyer’s mortgage qualification with a pre-approval letter. The most common method of verification is to request bank statements, but a letter from the buyer’s bank should also suffice.

If you’d like to discuss buying or selling strategies, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at [email protected].

Val Sotillo is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington D.C., and Maryland with Real Living At Home, 4040 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite #10C Arlington, VA 22203, 703-390-9460.

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Just Listed Properties: September 10

Three Stones Residential agents pride ourselves on our consultative service approach, local expertise and real estate market knowledge. With over 26 years of business experience in the DMV, we have consistently performed in the top 2% of local Realtors and are currently the #1 group at Keller Williams Metro Center. 

The following properties were recently listed in the Tysons, McLean, Vienna and Falls Church areas.

Our role is to offer sound advice and guidance to our clients in order for them to achieve their goals in either buying, selling, leasing or managing real estate. We are truly “Your Home… for Everything Real Estate.” To schedule a private showing of these or any other properties of interest please do not hesitate to contact us here or email us at [email protected].

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Ask Val: Definition of a Bedroom

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: Is it legal to list a room as a bedroom if it doesn’t have a closet?

Answer:  That’s a common debate! Of all the misconceptions about bedroom requirements, closets may be the most common. There are no requirements in Northern Virginia that a bedroom must include a closet. You’ll be surprised at what else is missing from the requirements for a legal bedroom in Virginia.

Who Makes The Rules?

Fairfax County doesn’t have any local requirements for bedrooms and defaults to the current version of the Virginia Residential Code and Virginia Maintenance Code. In these codes, bedrooms are classified as “habitable rooms” and mostly found in Chapter 3: Building Planning of the Residential Code.

Here are some requirements for bedrooms that apply state-wide:

  • Dimensions: Must be a minimum of 70 sq. ft., with no horizontal dimension under 7 ft. For example, in a rectangular room, if one side measures 7 ft, the other side must be at least 10 ft.
  • Ceiling Height: Ceilings must be at least 7 ft tall. In rooms with sloping ceilings (i.e. upper level of Cape Cods), any area of the room underneath a ceiling less than 5 ft high cannot be counted towards the minimum dimensions.
  • Emergency Escape: A bedroom must have two ways to exit: one that leads to the rest of the home and one that leads directly to the outside. In most cases, the outside egress will be a window with minimum requirements that include not being more than 44 inches off the floor, minimum 24 in height, minimum 20 in width, minimum 5.7 sq. ft. total opening, and if in a basement, a minimum window well of 9 sq. ft. and ability for window to open fully. It is illegal to have locking bars or grates covering an egress window.
  • Heating and Ventilation: All rooms must have a window that can open to the outdoors and the open area must be at least 4% of the total floor area. Must be capable of maintaining a minimum room temperature of at least 68 degrees and have access to a heat source. Portable heaters do not count as an adequate heat source.
  • Windows: Referred to as “glazed area” and must equal at least 8% of the floor area, meaning you can’t have a huge bedroom with one window.
  • Ventilation: Outlets: Per the Virginia Maintenance Code, bedrooms must have at least two separate electrical outlets.

 What The Code Doesn’t Include

According to the Building Code office of the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, the following common assumptions of bedrooms are not actually included in the code:

  • Doors: The code makes no mention of having an actual door or second point of egress (Fairfax County has a local requirement for two points of egress). Presumably, this allows for an English Basement with one point of egress, not connected to the rest of the home, to be considered a legal bedroom.
  • Lights
  • Closets

What else do you think should be added to the minimum requirements for a bedroom in Virginia?

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, 4040 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite #10C Arlington, VA 22203, 703-390-9460.

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Just Listed Properties: August 28

Three Stones Residential agents pride ourselves on our consultative service approach, local expertise and real estate market knowledge. With over 26 years of business experience in the DMV, we have consistently performed in the top 2% of local Realtors and are currently the #1 group at Keller Williams Metro Center. 

The following properties were recently listed in the Tysons, McLean, Vienna and Falls Church areas.

Our role is to offer sound advice and guidance to our clients in order for them to achieve their goals in either buying, selling, leasing or managing real estate. We are truly “Your Home… for Everything Real Estate.” To schedule a private showing of these or any other properties of interest please do not hesitate to contact us here or email us at [email protected].

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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 the sellers of a home supposed to leave appliances behind for the next owner?

Answer: Clients of mine moving from North Carolina to Virginia mentioned they were moving their washer and dryer to the new house, which I found odd, but apparently, it’s common in North Carolina and other parts of the country. My theory is that one day somebody decided to take their expensive washer and dryer with them and it created a chain reaction of everybody having to take their appliances with them after that!

Over the years, I’ve picked up on customs and contract terms that differ significantly here from other markets. I thought I’d come up with a list of standard customs and contract terms in Northern Virginia that often come as a surprise to buyers and homeowners who have transacted in other markets.

I’d love to hear from readers in the comments about other local practices that surprised you if you were used to real estate customs and contracts in another market.

  • Appliances Convey — Unless specified by the sellers in the listing, all of the appliances, including washer/dryer, have conveyed (transferred to the next owner) in every transaction I’ve been part of. Buyers and sellers have to agree during negotiations what appliances and other items do or do not convey.
  • No Individual Attorneys — It’s rare for an attorney outside of the Title Company to be involved in a transaction. The same Title Company almost always works on behalf of both parties (without bias).
  • (Lack of) Seller Disclosures — Virginia is one of the few “Buyer Beware” states in the country; which essentially means that sellers in Virginia do not have to disclose any property defects, but they can’t hide them or lie about them either. For homes built before 1978, there’s a one-page lead disclosure form for a seller to note if they’re aware of the existence of lead paint on the property. Most states, including D.C. and MD, have lengthy seller-disclosure forms.
  • Dual Agency Allowed But Not Common — Dual Agency, as defined in Virginia, is when one agent represents the buyer and seller on the same transaction. While allowed, if both parties sign-off, it is pretty uncommon.
  • No Response/Counter Deadline — The contract does not require either party to respond to an offer or counter within a certain period of time unless one party writes in their own deadline.
  • Earnest Money Deposits — It is customary for the deposit (EMD/Escrow) buyers make to secure the contract to be due within 3-5 days of ratification (terms accepted by both parties) and the deposit is usually 1-5% of the purchase price
  • Days — Contractual obligations are usually measured in days from ratification. A “day” in Northern Virginia contracts is any calendar day, no skipping weekends or holidays, and ends at 9 p.m.

What’s the takeaway here? Even if you have real estate experience in other markets or past experience in our local market, it’s always good to refresh yourself on local customs and contracts.

If you’d like to discuss buying or selling strategies, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at [email protected].

Val Sotillo is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington D.C., and Maryland with Real Living At Home, 4040 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite #10C Arlington, VA 22203, 703-390-9460.

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Three Stones Residential agents pride ourselves on our consultative service approach, local expertise and real estate market knowledge. With over 26 years of business experience in the DMV, we have consistently performed in the top 2% of local Realtors and are currently the #1 group at Keller Williams Metro Center. 

The following properties were recently listed in the Tysons, McLean, Vienna and Falls Church areas.

Our role is to offer sound advice and guidance to our clients in order for them to achieve their goals in either buying, selling, leasing or managing real estate. We are truly “Your Home… for Everything Real Estate.” To schedule a private showing of these or any other properties of interest please do not hesitate to contact us here or email us at [email protected].

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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: How do you choose a title company to work with when buying or selling real estate? What should I look for in a title company?

Answer: Title companies handle the legal side of the transaction such as ensuring the buyer has clear ownership, reviewing and recording the deed, issuing title insurance, and preparing paperwork for the buyer and seller to sign at closing. They operate in the background of transactions and usually the less you hear from them, the better. They are not legal representatives of either party and objectively support the buyer and seller.

In Virginia (and D.C./MD), buyers select the title company. In some cases, a seller may want to use their own firm/attorney and will request a “split settlement” but that is less common and should be done for a good reason.

Most people don’t know a title attorney or get a referral from a friend, so how do you go about choosing your title company?

Your Real Estate Agent

You shouldn’t be hiring a real estate agent just because they’re the first person to meet you at a property you found online. Among the reasons you hire an agent should be because you trust their advice and want access to their network of professionals who are relevant to a real estate transaction.

Your agent should be the first person you turn to for a recommendation on the title company because he/she has likely worked with dozens of title companies before and hopefully has one or two to recommend.

It’s perfectly fair to ask your agent why they’re recommending a specific title company.

Fees

The highest fee associated with a title company is title insurance and those prices are set by the insurance company, not the title company. Different title companies work with different title insurance companies, but rates are very similar amongst them. If you see big differences in title insurance between two title companies, one may be quoting a basic vs enhanced coverage (buyer’s choice).

I rarely see discretionary fees charged by the title company vary by more than a few hundred dollars. You can always find a cheaper option for title services, but the legal support on a real estate transaction worth hundreds of thousands or millions may not be a smart place to save a few hundred dollars and risk quality of service.

Location

It’s important to use a local title company who is familiar with local real estate and tax practices, not just licensed to practice here. I use one title company (Universal Title) for most of my Northern Virginia transactions.

Attorney Experience

Most sales follow a pretty standard, predictable process that inexperienced title companies/attorneys can handle but occasionally something unexpected comes up that requires experience and expertise to identify and resolve an issue. If problems do surface, having access to an experienced local title attorney can be the difference in whether or not the problem is even identified, whether a sale closes, and/or how much time and stress it takes to resolve the issue.

Back-Office Support

The quality and experience of the support staff is equally as important as the attorney. Look for a title company who has experienced processors who have been with the company for a while. Title companies who can afford to cut fees below their competition likely do so by not having a full supporting cast or not paying to hold onto experienced processors.

Insurance Provider

One of the key roles of a title company is that they issue title insurance, which protects your ownership interests in the property from any future claims. Most title companies have one insurance company they issue policies for such as First American, Old Republic and Chicago Title.

Most buyers are indifferent about their title insurance provider, but you may want to confirm who the title company uses to do some background on them such as size (market share) and how long they’ve been in business. I generally prefer larger insurers who have been in business for a long time.

If you’d like more information, or would like a question answered in my 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, 4040 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite #10C Arlington, VA 22203, 703-390-9460.

0 Comments

Three Stones Residential agents pride ourselves on our consultative service approach, local expertise and real estate market knowledge. With over 26 years of business experience in the DMV, we have consistently performed in the top 2% of local Realtors and are currently the #1 group at Keller Williams Metro Center. 

The following properties were recently listed in the Tysons, McLean, Vienna and Falls Church areas.

Our role is to offer sound advice and guidance to our clients in order for them to achieve their goals in either buying, selling, leasing or managing real estate. We are truly “Your Home… for Everything Real Estate.” To schedule a private showing of these or any other properties of interest please do not hesitate to contact us here or email us at [email protected].

0 Comments

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: With mortgage rates in the record lows, we have decided to buy our first home this year. Do you have any recommendations on how we should start the home buying process?

Answer: There’s plenty of advice on the topic all over the internet, so I’ll include some suggestions I don’t see on most sites and also put my own opinion on advice that you may have heard before.

Your Search Criteria

Challenge yourself early to come up with 12-15 things that are important to you. Then give yourself 100 points and allocate points to each based on how important they are to you and you’ll end up with a weighted criteria list to help you focus your search and objectively compare properties.

Length of Ownership

This is one of the most important conversations to have with yourself/your partner. You should focus on the following:

  • Likely length of ownership
  • Difference in criteria for a 3-5 year house vs a 10-12+ year house
  • Difference in budget requirements for a 3-5 year house vs a 10-12+ year house

Appreciation is not guaranteed and difficult to predict, but the value of longer ownership periods is undisputed. One way longer ownership adds value is the potential for eliminating one or more real estate transactions, and the associated costs (fees, taxes, moving expenses, etc) and stress that comes with moving, over the course of your lifetime. If you have an opportunity to significantly increase your length of ownership by stretching your budget, it’s often justifiable.

Influencers (not the Instagram ones)

Family, friends, colleagues… they’re all happy to offer opinions and contribute to your home buying process, but the input can be overwhelming and unproductive if you don’t set boundaries. Try to determine up-front who you want involved in the process and how you’d like them to be involved.

Does Your Dream House Exist?

Spend a little bit of time searching For Sale and Sold homes on your favorite real estate search website to see if the homes selling in the area you want and within 10% of your upper budget are at least close to what you’re looking for. If not, try adjusting the price, location and non-critical criteria to figure out what compromises you’ll need to make and then compare those compromises to your current living situation.

Know Your Market

We’re in a strong seller’s market right now with low supply, high demand and increasing prices. Each sub-market behaves a bit differently and comes with its own unique set of challenges and opportunities, so take time early on to understand the sub-market(s) you’ll be involved in and what you’re likely to experience. This is something your agent should be able to assist with.

Pre-Approval & Budget

There is a lot of value in working with a lender early on in the search process. For starters, you’ll have somebody who can provide real rates and advice based on your specific financial situation and needs. A lender can only do this if they’ve reviewed your financial documents and credit. The more you put in, the more you get out.

You’ll need to have a lender pre-approval to submit an offer so if you have to do it anyway, why not doing it early on so you get the most value out of your lender? It also means that you’ll be prepared to make an offer if you find the right home before you expect to be ready.

Given how competitive the Northern Virginia real estate market is, the quality of your pre-approval can make a big difference when you make an offer. You should strongly consider partnering with a local lender with a great reputation to give yourself an advantage when making an offer. Pre-approval letters from big banks and online lenders don’t go over as well in our market. If you’re looking for a recommendation I’ll be happy to connect you with a great local lender.

Find an Agent

The least surprising suggestion on this list! Agents come in many different forms and finding somebody who suits your personality and goals is important. Ask friends, colleagues and family for referrals and meet with multiple people until you find the right fit.

The worst thing you can do is choose your agent based on whoever responds to an online showing request faster. A good agent can provide a ton of value being involved in your buying process months before you’re ready to buy. Be wary of anybody who wants you to “wait until you’re ready” before working with you.

If you’re considering buying (or selling) in the DMV in 2020 and would like to meet, feel free to email me at [email protected]!

Val Sotillo is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington D.C., and Maryland with Real Living At Home, 4040 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite #10C Arlington, VA 22203, 703-390-9460.

0 Comments

Three Stones Residential agents pride ourselves on our consultative service approach, local expertise and real estate market knowledge. With over 26 years of business experience in the DMV, we have consistently performed in the top 2% of local Realtors and are currently the #1 group at Keller Williams Metro Center. 

The following properties were recently listed in the Tysons, McLean, Vienna and Falls Church areas.

Our role is to offer sound advice and guidance to our clients in order for them to achieve their goals in either buying, selling, leasing or managing real estate. We are truly “Your Home… for Everything Real Estate.” To schedule a private showing of these or any other properties of interest please do not hesitate to contact us here or email us at [email protected].

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