The MacArthur’s go to Washington

In 1976, the country was in flux. On the national scene, Jimmy Carter was running for President against Gerald Ford,(Ford barely edged the charismatic Governor of California, Ronald Reagan. to get the nomination).

carter in victory

Locally, in the spring of the year, Metro opened the first 4.5 miles of the subway. Quietly out west, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were introducing their very first Apple computer. The Concorde began flying trips into and out of Dulles Airport.

Oh, and Gilbert Gude was running for Congress in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District, unopposed …….. again.

To this day, I do not know what possessed me. I had two small children and more indignation than brains. The more I read, the more I thought there is no way anyone should just continue to be a Congressman without any challenge. Just didn’t seem right to me.

So, without so much as a conversation with anyone, I drove to Annapolis and filed to run against the sitting Congressman. That really was the extent of my planning. It has been many years, but as I recall, it was a matter of days and Congressman Gude held a press conference. He announced that he would NOT be seeking re-election. For the next two or three hours, I was running unopposed for the Congressional seat.

me as cong candidate

Within a day, candidates fell out of the woodwork. Who knew that being a Congressman was so desirable? I forged on. I went to forums and debates. Clueless. The lessons Mrs. Goehegan (sp?) taught me in geography gave me little insight into the issues being discussed.  I smiled and took my turn at the microphone. I had a $350 budget. I was running for Congress.  I went through the primary campaign and actually left the polls on election day with some sort of nonsensical thought that I was going to win. I didn’t. Lanny Davis carried the day and faced Newt Steers in the general election. Karma is sweet and Davis (never one at a loss for snide comments) lost.

So I went on with my life. I never stopped believing that one day, I might be working on Capitol Hill. Time passed and I spent years in various occupations. Then in the early 2000’s, I found my career. I became a Realtor.

what dreams may come

Shortly after my venture into politics, Lourdes decided that she wanted to relocate from Lima, Peru to the United States of America. She worked and saved and worked some more until she had enough money to make the journey. She immersed herself in the culture. She worked with international organizations and then became a Spanish teacher in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC.  In the early 2000’s she added Realtor to her professional resume.

In 2008, John and Lourdes met, began working together, fell in love and became husband and wife…The MacArthur’s.

Dreams do come true!

Today, I am happy to share, .. The MacArthur’s are going to Capitol Hill.

DC office

We have been asked to join the most prestigious Real Estate Brokerage in the Nation’s Capitol. Century 21 New Millennium invited Lourdes and I to join their team. We have accepted the invitation and have made the move.

cartus_logo

They have strong affiliation with Cartus (the number one relocation firm in the world) and a track record of dealing with transactions here locally, nationally and world wide. They also have a strong working relationship with those in the military via ties to USAA and The Navy Federal Credit Union.

It is a happy day, the MacArthur’s go to Washington. Call us (202) 656-5710

c21nm

Home buying is simple … Not exactly ….

Wow… talk about a confusing process. You take an average person that decides…Now is the time to buy a home. This is not an easy decision. It is influenced by the “American Dream(?). This person wants information. They boot up and head out on the good old information super highway. A lot of them start at Google. One of the first places listed is HUD’s website. Seems like as good a place as any to start. HUD lists 9 steps to buying a home.

Nine steps to buying a home

  1. Figure out how much you can afford
  2. Know your rights
  3. Shop for a loan
  4. Learn about home buying programs
  5. Shop for a home
  6. Make an offer
  7. Get a home inspection
  8. Shop for homeowners insurance
  9. Sign papers

It lists all the steps. It gives direction. It really goes into great detail. In some cases it is accurate. For the first step, it does advise that you need to talk to a lender. The second step mentions fair housing and respa. As you can see the third step sends you to a lender and by step 4 you are advised to get a real estate agent.

Good advice ? … Not exactly.

Remember, even when you think you are doing what needs to be done, you may not be grasping the instructions. Sometimes words actually confuse the directions.

confused1

The same tool that potential buyers uses to get information usually gives incomplete or misleading information. We are all not alike. Everyone comes to this vast suppository of information with different backgrounds, education and beliefs. The information may seem relevant and pertinent, but is it saying what you are perceiving?

Not Exactly …

behind-the-curtain

Really? Here are some examples…

The price of the home listed on the website is the price I can pay to buy the home.

Not exactly. The price listed only represents what the agent entered into the multiple listing service. It is the price that the seller agreed to publicize. The final sale price can be more or less or the same as the listed price. If you offer the list price, your offer may not be accepted. They do not have to sell the home to you just because you offered list price. The seller has the right to review how you plan to pay and the seller has the right to accept another offer instead of yours. The competing offer does not have to be equal to or more than your offer. It just has to be a more acceptable offer. The seller makes that decision.

The amount of money someone paid for a home is a factor in what can be offered.

Not exactly. To begin with, it is a bit presumptuous to look at the price a person paid for a home and determine how much you think they deserve to profit on the sale. There usually is no way that a buyer or buyer’s agent can know how the home was financed, what equity lines may have been taken, etc. Further more, the price of the home should reflect market value and not what the buyer thinks the seller should “make” on the sale. I have never met anyone that uses this logic in determining an offer that would like the same logic used in dealing with them.

Properties labeled bank owned or REO will be handled in the same fashion as other types of sales.

Not exactly. Banks make use of every single loop hole they can find to avoid following State laws regarding the sale of property. They do not disclose any information and they do not ask the listing agent to determine if there is any information about the property they are selling. The sale of these types of property is usually “as-is where-is”. Laws regarding lead paint issues are ignored. Some lenders will correct problems identified by an appraiser. Most of these sales are handled by firms that represent several banks and they are over whelmed with listings. The best phrase regarding these sales is the old latin “caveat emptor” let the “buyer beware”.

These are but a few of the Not Exactly situations that function in the world of home buying. It is best to keep an open mind and a relationship with a real estate agent that is more concerned with you than his wallet. The truth may not be what you want to hear, but the truth is what you need to hear.

You see, a good agents does more than drive you around and open doors, the help you need and the answers you need to here is but a phone call away. Call John MacArthur at 301-509-5111. He will always listen and separate fact from fiction. All real estate agents are the same? Not Exactly. Call John and Experience the difference.

Shutdown ? Shut up and fix it !

My  wife and I live pretty close to the “inside the beltway” crowd. The Washington Post is delivered bright and early every morning and I read it from cover to cover every day. I try to balance the news intake by listening to Fox news. I have lived here all of my life. Every part of my professional life is either on hold or in limbo. The Government is shutdown.

Government_Shutdown-040ed_image_982wThis weekend, we planned to visit the mountains in Southwest Virginia so she could take photographs and we could have a mini-vacation. These sort of trips have to be scheduled, planned and paid for weeks in advance. We were able to drive around the mountains. We were able to drive below the mountains. We were able to drive by the mountains. We could not use the road that went through the mountains. It was shut down. Skyline Drive has become Skyline Don’t Drive.

I remember DC before home rule. I remember when Montgomery County Maryland kept electing Representative Gil Gude and Connie Morella and the Senator Mac Mathias (all of them members of the Republican party). The names, faces and parties have changed, but the game of political brinkmanship remains the same. I have lived through “oil embargoes”, “Cuban missile crisis” and a few “shut downs”. Every crisis has passed and the only ones that suffered were the everyday folks all across America. We are shut down again.

Enough! 

While I have some understanding of the magnitude of the calamity the House and Senate are trying to resolve, I have joined the ranks of those that are ready to “throw the bums out”. Sure, there are more zeroes on the end of the National Debt and yes Healthcare Reform is the law. Those facts can not be denied.

Not one elected official, not one Senator or Congressman has the right to pull the plug on the entire country and refuse to come up with a meaningful compromise. Not one.

The absurdity of this action can not be lost on millions. The US Government is closed down except for essential folks. (Essential determined by various yardsticks). The large part of Government employees had to pack up their plants and go home. Within days, the House and Senate began working on a bill to retroactively pay those employees. Contractors (vital to the operation of the Government) would see  payments stop, so those working for them became unemployed overnight. They will not receive lost pay. Everyone is on a forced to be paid or never be paid vacation.

The check’s in the mail. Of course, until the House and Senate do their job and resolve the problem, that mail is not being delivered. Nothing is happening. The IRS is not verifying information for Mortgage providers, fewer people are checking our food supplies, not many are available to investigate public safety problems and it is illegal to visit monuments and most National Parks. Work is piling up on every empty desk. Efficiency is not like electricity. You just don’t flip and switch and all things are back to normal. The impact of the shutdown lasts well beyond the time when grownups sit down and agree to get things back on track.  Second grade math reveals that if 10 items needing action come in every day and it takes one day to resolve them, the back up will last for years. The impact will be felt forever.

Of course, I am concerned about our ability to function as a nation. Most Americans would prefer that our elected officials grasped the concept of one nation and found some way to work together. I would venture a guess that most Americans are not happy with the fact that the Congress is still being paid during the shutdown. They still work about 4 days a week and spend way too much time posturing sharing sound bites for the news media. They still seem quite removed from the reality everyday folks face. Default is on the horizon. We are shutdown.

Shutdown? Shut up and fix it !!!!

The hidden beauty of new technology

ipod-nanoSo, I had noticed several people with little buds in their ears and wires drooping to their pockets. I just figured it was a new fangled phone set up. A friend of mine was sporting one on the golf course and explained it was just like a cassette player but smaller and did not have any cassettes. Then, my youngest told me I could have her old one to listen to music. (She had inherited a newer version from her older sister. Apparently, Apple just creates new versions every so often to pump up sales.

I stopped at the local TJ Max and bought a set of those ear bud things and had my youngest explain how I could take music from a CD and put it on my computer and then put it inside this little contraption. I was stunned when, in a matter of minutes, I had 150 songs inserted and ready to play. She then pointed out that I could plug the thing into my car and the music would come out of my radio.

Phase II:  My wife takes that morning train and at 5 o’clock she takes it home again… 5 days of the week. She works at the SEC (she also works with me as a Realtor) which is located adjacent to Union Station.  Most days, around 4 p.m. I have had enough of her being absent from my side. On some days, I just ride over to Rockville so we can meet and have a little time together before we return to the fray of raising a family and running a household. Those of you that have children and pets and grass that keeps growing understand the need for even a 30 minute respite now and then.

I drove over to Rockville to meet her one afternoon this week. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and we agreed to meet in the bank parking lot and talk a walk around Rockville Center. Window shopping, maybe an ice cream cone and some time just enjoying each other was on the menu.

While I waited for her to pull into the lot, I plugged that little thing into the car and just like magic, my music came out of the speakers. Lourdes pulled in and parked next to me and like magic, that song came on. I turned it up and motioned for her to get out of her car.

I stood in the parking lot, arms opened and she smiled as she embraced me and we began to dance. We looked at each other as the song played and we were both transported to a certain patch of sand on the beach in Ocean City. For a two or three minutes, we were no longer on asphalt surrounded by parked cars. We were locked in to reliving the first dance we shared after exchanging our marriage vows. It was just Lourdes, me and Etta James. “At last” played to the last note and we were captivated, lost in moment in time that will always find refuge in our hearts.

The song ended and we walked hand-in-hand towards the shopping area. We had just started down the street when a woman parked on the corner called out to us.

“I don’t know if you are just dating or are married or what, but for the last five minutes, I just watched the two of you dance in a parking lot. I only hope that my children grow up and find the passion and love you just shared. Thank you for reminding me that love is alive.”

She loaded her two children in the car and drove off.

I just smiled at the only woman in the world and thought, I like the hidden beauty of new technology.

Never overlook any opportunity to take the one you love in your arms and just dance.

heart fingers

You can’t take a shower in a parakeet cage

Kudos’s to Roger Miller for coming up with a statement so descriptive. It really is impossible to take a shower in a parakeet cage. It is also impossible to give an accurate answer to some questions posed by buyers.

Just the other day, I was showing homes to a buyer in Washington, DC. She had brought her mom along to view the homes. Moms and dads are always welcome. I am a dad, married to a mom and I know how we parents want to be sure our children are not being taken advantage of or rushed through any life changing purchase. (For you adult kids reading, no, it is not a control issue. We have done this before and just this one time please allow us to use our experience.)

Back to the showings. We visited on particular row home. It was located in the most northern tip of South West, blocks from the National’s Ball Park. Signs of the gentrification that has washed over the eastern side of DC were plentiful. The slow but steady tide of homes redone and blocks becoming neighborhoods were in evidence.

Personally, I think the swath of blocks between the rivers and and referred to as “Southwest Waterfront, Buzzard Point and Near Southeast” are prime areas to see increased property values. The future addition of a soccer facility will bring even more amenities (shops, restaurants, pubs and parks). Even if the soccer deal falls through, these neighborhoods have Metro access, the waterfront, the parks in the old Navy Yard area and easy access to interstates and bridges to Virginia. Great locations.

Now, one row home we visited was obviously purchased and remodeled and put on the market. It seemed that there were three homes in a row that had all been redone. New kitchen, new bath, new windows and new walls. I visit hundreds of renovated row homes and condos in the course of staying on top of the market, and this unit was very well done.

The homes that had been renovated were pristine inside and out. The neighbor’s, not so much. As we looked out the upstairs window, “Mom” shared, “Oh dear God, is that a large dog pen next door?”.  I walked over and turned my professional eye on the neighbors back yard. Sure enough, there was a wooden structure as wide as the home and about 8 feet deep, featuring a ramp to a 4X4 trap/front door. There was a large chain, one end bolted to the ramp and the other disappearing behind the trap door. (Even the most artful “puffery” could not describe it as anything other than something that housed something that needed to be chained.)

The rest of the small yard was filled with over flowing black trash bags. OK, let’s be honest, without further information, it looked horrible and left all of us wondering what sort of neighbor might be living next door.

So Mom asks, “If my daughter buys this house, what can be done about that?”.

I don’t know. I do know the city has zoning codes, etc.. I also know that you can not predict the future or your daughter’s experience based on the contents of a neighbor’s yard. There are as many different explanations as there are neighbors.

Then Mom hit me with another, “What do you think my daughter would have to pay for this property? She has to be sure that if she buys it and then loses her job, she would be able to sell it quickly without losing any money.”

I smiled my best “I am a professional smile” and held up one finger.

“Let’s stop right there. While we are all aware that right now, DC is going through a period of rising prices, nothing lasts forever. If we have learned nothing else in the last 10 years, we have learned that home prices have become as volatile as stock market prices. Swings in the market value of homes have gone up, down and now back up again. There is no guarantee that the prices will continue to rise or that they will collapse in the near future.

All I can do is advise you of the reasonable market value of the home. I will be glad to help your daughter prepare an offer and I will negotiate in her behalf to get the best deal the seller is willing to offer. If both sides come to a meeting of the minds and a deal is struck, I will assist her in her tasks through settlement. The next day, all bets are off.

I can promise you, in most cases, before the ink is dry on the closing documents, most buyers would have to sell the home for 110% of what they just paid before they would break even. 

All other factors being somewhat equal, by purchasing the home, you have identified the market value of the home. Appreciation takes time and in most cases it takes the sale of more homes for a bit more money to occur.”

Mom frowned and said “Well, what if you are able to strike a good deal and she buys it for 10% less than the list price?’

I shook my head. “What ever your daughter pays for any home, anywhere will establish the market value for that home at the time you purchase the home. The list price is just that, the list price. The market value is the price you pay. You are the market.”

She was not satisfied and felt that there must be a way that I could wrangle a guaranteed price from the seller. (There is an old saying that is quite appropriate here “That dog won’t hunt“)

She finally looked at me and stated…”What good are you if you can not tell me how much we could sell the home for if that became a necessity soon after buying?”

Hmmm. This is my answer to her, and anyone wondering the same thing. When I show homes, my clients see a place where they can begin the next phase of their lives. While they are going from room to room, I am pondering “how sell-able is this home going to be in the future?” Their focus is on moving in and part of my attention is on moving out. It is part of my job to measure how the home stacks up against other homes on the market today and to make note of how it might stand up against other homes for sale in the future. The more narrow the attraction, the smaller the size of potential buyers in the future. I try to see the 5 year expenses (beyond renovations). While clients are marveling over the stainless steel appliances, I am taking a peek at the condition of the roof, the HWH, the size of the electric box, the condition of the sidewalk, how the water flows from the roof and lots of other things that are often obscured by the dazzle of a good home stagger. I point out things that may cost money in the future. I point out what may not be an issue today could impact the sale in 5 years. I am not a wet blanket, but I like to think that my relationship with clients will continue well beyond the settlement on the home purchased.

You can not pin point what a home might sell for at any point in the future. No one can. You can’t take a shower in a parakeet cage, but you can be happy if you’ve a mind to. Thank you Roger Miller and Mom, I do my best.

If you would like to have an agent that will represent you, tell you the cold hard facts and be committed to assisting you today and in the future, give me a call. I can easily be reached at 301-509-5111

Homebuyers, they are messing with the QRM…WTH is a QRM?

OK, so you are doing your best to stay up with all the things that will impact your ability to buy a home. You are fast discovering you don’t know what you don’t know and in some cases you aren’t really sure you know what you think you know. There must be seventy trillion different bits and pieces of information available on-line (give or take a trillion) and once you dive into the information pool, you realize it only has a deep end. Soon after you are swimming it becomes apparent that the water below the surface is murky. Nothing is really quite clear beyond your desire to buy a home and avoid mistakes in the process.

The latest acronym being bandied about is QRM. Sure, it sounds like something out of a high finance international meeting press release. It simply stands for Qualified Residential Mortgage. It is a measurement of the types of loans offered to consumers when purchasing a home.  You are correct in assuming that it was not a subject of much conversation during the crazy mortgage days before the crash in real estate.

One of the outgrowths of the crash ( aside from every mortgage lender denying any culpability in what occurred) has been for the Government to determine what types of loans they will guarantee in the future. In the old days, everything was covered. If you wanted an interest only loan… no problem. Looking for a loan with minimal payments for a period of time with an outlandish balloon payment later on…step right up. Looking for a negative amortization loan (the amount you owe begins increasing the day you sign) … come into my office. Hello easy money….hello housing market crash….hello – what the hell just happened?

Of course, the terms were explained and of course people signed on. The loans were being offered by reputable institutions weren’t they? People wanted to buy a home and they wanted payments they could afford (so they thought). The problem was that ugly truth beneath the surface. People were given loans they could not afford and lenders made the loans because there was no risk…they were insured by the Feds. (Oh damn, the Feds are really just all of us and our tax dollars…oops!)

Well now they are putting together a comprehensive picture of a qualified residential mortgage (QRM). Recently, they decided to offer what they have so far for comment before it becomes a rule. If it passes muster, a borrower will have to make a down payment (right now the range is between 5 and 10%) and the borrower’s debt to income ratio can not be higher than 43%.

If you fall outside those marks, the bank will be required to keep your loan. Banks don’t have all the money because of your deposits, nope, they like to make loans and sell them off. If the new rules were too strict, banks would back off loans faster than I step away from guacamole.

There are other alphabet soups designations floating around as well QM, FDIC, etc. If you need help navigating the market and understanding all the things that actually will impact your home purchase, give me a call.

I am not an amateur and I am not a part-time participant in the fray. I do this for a living. I make sure that I am up-to-date on the issues that impact your process and I stay close to the things that impact neighborhoods in the area, right down to the house on the street where you want to live.

You can reach me at 301-509-5111. It never hurts to have a guide when wandering through the uncharted waters of life.

50 years, what have you done for me lately?

mlkinjail

 

This year we mark the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. Newscasts will be filled with sound bytes and clips from the hot August day. Interviews will take place with those that were there then and have returned to celebrate the anniversary.  For a few days, hope will be rekindled and visions of the “dream” will be revived.

I was just a teenager in 1963. Living in the suburbs, I was well aware of the march. I had a vague notion about the reason for the march. Bob Dylan was going to perform and that was enough for me.

I went to see Bob Dylan. I was part of the crowd. I was swept up in the humanity and the common desire to be treated equally was palpable. Sure, I listened to Dylan sing but I heard the pain, passion, pride and promise in King’s words. I went to enjoy and afternoon of folk music and left with my eyes wide open to the disparity in treatment others were receiving.

I was a teenager. I knew little of the struggle. I lived in the DC area. All of the sudden I was aware of the signs (“colored only”, etc) that were plastered in various establishments. I became acutely aware of the actions of people in Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and all the other “Dixiecrat” southern states.

When your father writes for one of the largest newspapers in Washington, DC, you have a front row seat to the events that occur all around the country.

I have spent the last 50 years doing my best to be fair to all. I have not done enough. Oh, it is not because the desire is not there. There is nothing I can do to remove the dark stain on the soul of those that still believe they are superior. There is nothing I can do that will erase the stigma of hundreds of years of inequality.

50 years later and black people still face economic struggles. They still are labeled because of the music they create, the clothes they choose to wear and the way they communicate with one another.

A liberal have baked society points to President Obama and declares his election was proof that times have changed. Really? He barely won the election and the undercurrent on the losing side was patently racist. What are the other signs of progress?

Fair Housing? Sure, there are laws governing fair housing, but what has been done for those that can not ever afford to purchase a home? In our Nation’s Capitol, we warehouse the poor in the old Saint Elizabeth’s hospital.  Somehow, the NAR has convinced the media that a big part of the American Dream is to own a home of your own. It’s a lie. We still have thousands upon thousands of Americans who dream of just having a home. Ownership is not the issue.

Voting Rights? OK, we passed a lot of laws to protect peoples right to vote. Recently, the Supreme Court determined that once again the States could decide how to implement access to enfranchisement. It did not work when “jim crow” was the rule and it will not work now. Beyond that, states continue to gerrymander election districts in a fashion that leaves the poor lumped in small sections. Not surprisingly, the poor have a larger percentage of people of color than vanilla wafer folks.

50 years, what have you done for me lately? How long will I have to carry this sign.

i am a man