Save McMillan Park

McMillan-Park-Green-Tower

Sometimes progress is not accomplished by destroying the old and replacing it with the new. Lives are not always enhanced when yesterday becomes nothing more than rubble to be removed and history is paved over with parking lots. History is littered with bureaucratic “oops” over decisions made that resulted in the loss of pieces of yesterday, that can never be recovered. Let it be said – Save McMillan Park is not the battle cry of those opposed to improving the quality of life in Bloomingdale (or any other part of the Nation’s Capitol). It is a plaintive cry echoing from the voice of reason. Save McMillan Park.

Millions of people have driven by the old brick towers located off North Capitol Street just south of the VA Medical Center/Washington MedStar  Complex. It has been fenced off since after WWII. I remember sitting in the back of my father’s old Buick, looking out the window and wondering what that mysterious place might be. Little did I know or understand the wheeling and dealing that was occurring regarding the structures and the future of the site.

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McMillan Park is actually the site of a water filtration plant. McMillan was the city’s first water treatment plant, built in 1905, and played an important element in the city’s water supply system, preventing the spread of typhoid and other water-borne diseases. It was in use until 1986 when the Army Corps of Engineers updated to a newer system. In 1987 ownership and control of the park was transferred to the District of Columbia (The choice for DC was accept the land and existing structures for $1 with the caveat that it would be used as a park or pay $9.3 million with no caveats). DC (using logic that totally escapes me) chose to pay $9.3 million. Oh there was hope that they could just raze the structures, pave it over and have a shopping center with a brand new K-Mart. Fortunately, those plans were placed in the large circular file when the property was listed on the DC Inventory of Historic Sites. Now the site has also been added to the National Register of Historic Places. Today, plans for the future of McMillan Park are in the hands of a team of developers, now known as Vision McMillan Park(VMP), to design new space for housing and retail on the site.

The quiet voice that has increased it’s volume regarding the future of McMillan Park emanates from the Friends of McMillan Park. Before you support the destruction of this beautiful site, you should spend a few moments reading about the park and what it could be on their site.

reservoir

The beautiful reservoir pictured is located minutes from the US Capitol Building. As a matter of fact, if you stand at the center of its prominent vista, you’ll find a gorgeous view the National Basilica to the northeast, Howard University’s Independence Hall to the west, and the Capitol and  Washington monument to the south. There may not be a more beautiful spot in the city. It should be saved.  The final plan should dovetail with the one that the Friends of McMillan Park endorsed.  If we have learned nothing else in our mad rush to raze, pave and construct on every patch of dirt left in the area, we should have realized that preserving historical sites enhances the quality of life in the city.

Progress does not have to be accomplished through the removal of every scintilla of the past. Parks are for people. Parks are a place where we interact with one another. Shopping malls and K-Marts are get in and get out destinations. The people of Bloomingdale and the rest of the city will be better served now and in the future if the DC government heeds the call to Save McMillan Park.

images used have been garnered from sites supporting saving mcmillan park. they are not mine and only represent a bit of the beauty found on the grounds.

Home buying in DC area Fall 2013 … tips for buyers

humpty dumptyOld wives tales claim that home buying comes to a halt just before the holidays and then nothing happens until Spring. The economy that used to support that notion no longer exists. I am not sure it ever existed. Herd mentality regarding seasonal swings in real estate sales had more influence on the general public than any other reason. When reality was exposed via the internet, lots of suppositions fell by the wayside, crushed under the weight of exposed facts.

This is 2013. The buying public is no longer in the dark. The truth found in common sense is rising to the surface. People move when they have a need for more space or when they have to change locations. The life events that create the need for more space or the need to change locations are not written in stone.

This is not rocket science, this is the real world. All weddings do not occur in the Spring and Summer. For that matter, all decisions to live as one do not occur only in the Spring and Summer. Children are adopted and children are born in every month of the year. Hard times strike when they strike and the need to provide for a loved one can happen any day, any week in any month.

Relocation is a 365 day occurrence. New jobs are found. Transfers from one area to another happen every week. People are discharged from the military every day. Life changes daily. It does not wait because Thanksgiving is here or Christmas is coming. Life suffers winter weather, it does not stop.

Worried about homes to buy?  Home owners live in the same world you do. There is always a supply of homes for sale. Sure the quantity rises and falls with the needs of the sellers, but there always homes for sale.

The Fall 2013 tip for buyers? Make sure you follow the proper steps when entering the home buying market. Your first step is ALWAYS the same. Speak to a few lenders, to find out where you are and what you need to do to get where you want to go. An agent has no value until you have an a factual understanding of what you can afford to purchase.

Make sure that you keep your lender inquiries (one, two or three) within a 14 day period. Each inquiry reduces your credit score, but inquiries within the same industry that occur within the same 14 day period are treated as one inquiry.

The lender(s) will evaluate you based on your earnings, your savings, your debt and your credit history. You should approach the information with a range of monthly payment that is in your comfort zone. Do not believe anyone that tries to convince you that even if it is tight in the beginning, future raises will make it easier. That sort of advice is coming from a jackal. Immediately sever ties and seek counsel elsewhere.

After you talk with a lender, I would be glad to help you. Oh, just like damn near every other agent, I work pretty much 12 months of the year. I too can tell war stories about Christmas Eve ratifications, etc. I just happen to know that buying and selling goes on when buyers and sellers have a need. When it is right for you, I will be there to assist you.

Questions? Call me at 202-656-5710. Comments…….always welcome.

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