Same sex couples find refuge in DC

         Back in March, the District of Columbia began allowing same sex couples the opportunity to marry.  The usual suspects attempted to reverse this decision, but in July the courts upheld the original law.  DC already had a reputation for being “gay friendly” ( I personally think that the term should be “somewhat tolerant if you stay in limited areas and keep your fondness for one another private”).  Friendly is not the word that immediately comes to mind when considering the vitriol and animosity shared by the narrow minded neanderthalic and religious conservatives. To my way of thinking, the human race has bigger fish to fry than expending so much energy on trying to prevent basic human rights and considerations being afforded to EVERYONE.

          I do not live in a vacuum and I am perfectly content to accept that there is room on this mortal coil for people of all persuasions.  As long as one’s chosen lifestyle does not infringe on the right’s of another, they should have the opportunity to seek “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. ( If that sounds vaguely familiar, it is taken directly from the Declaration of Independence. A little document our founders put together without reference to marital relationships. It was directed to everyone, well almost everyone, it took the Civil Rights Act to increase the African American from 3/5th’s to a whole.)

          The DC law has ” leveled the playing field” for same sex couples. Concerns about the right to do something as basic as visiting a partner in the hospital or whom to list as an emergency contact are no longer an issue in the District of Columbia.  The law does not mean that those opposed will be silenced, it does mean that if you are in love and want to be married, DC will grant you that opportunity. It’s about time that the removal of stigmas associated with caring for a same sex partner were legislatively removed.  It’s about time we allowed couples to legally marry.

          I am sure that there will be those that decide to not do business with me because I support this basic human right.  Truth be told, I won’t miss them. I would prefer not to do business with people that have a warped sense of supremacy.  Business transactions are much smoother when you deal with people that are comfortable in their own skin.

         Had the law been passed sooner, I could have attended family members weddings (I was not able to travel to a past wedding that had to take place hundreds of miles away because two people in love happened to be of the same sex.)  I won’t drop that old ” I have lots of (gay,black,jewish, insert any group) friends” line.  Truth be told, everyone has friends from every walk of life and lifestyle (some of you just don’t know it!).

         You see, I don’t care what consenting adults do in their bedroom. Professionally, I want to be sure that they find the bedroom they want.  I don’t care who is relegated to cooking. Professionally, I want to be sure that the kitchen they find is suitable for their culinary skills.  I don’t care about the ethnic, racial, religious or sexual persuasion of the friends enjoying a backyard barbecue.  Professionally, I want to be sure that the backyard is the size they desire. My job is to help people find a place they can call home.  I like what I do.

          I am a Realtor. I am licensed in the District of Columbia.  I don’t believe that your personal comfort zone eliminates me from representing you.  I happen to believe that people want experienced assistance.  The experience may include people from all walks of life, but the common denominator is the ability to find a home, negotiate a transaction while protecting the client’s interests.  The practice of solid real estate is the basis of my business.  I love the challenge of finding the right home at the right price for my clients.  I think everyone deserves that sort of representation.

          I was born in Washington DC and I have seen it go through growing pains and metamorphis into the city it is today. I have watched it move from a sleepy southern town to vibrant metropolis.  I miss Griffith Stadium but love the new ballpark.  I still sneak a bowl of Chili at Bens now and then.  I know the traffic patterns.  I am happy that the P Street beach remains and still find spending an afternoon at Dupont Circle relaxing. I am glad the DC government seems to be functioning more smoothly and I share the angst of many with the foibles that are ongoing in the Mayor’s Office and City Council.  The city continues to improve despite their short comings.

         DC is a Capital City.  DC has taken a large step towards equality for all it’s residents.  DC is a great place to live. If you are interested in moving to the District of Columbia, I would welcome the opportunity to assist you.  I can be reached at 301-509-5111.  Isn’t it nice that same sex couples find refuge in DC?

Buyers beware … Fair Housing does not limit your decisions

Buyers beware, Fair Housing does not limit your decisions.  The Fair Housing Act was adopted in 1968 and then modified by amendments in 1988.   The law was part of the Civil Rights Act.  In short, it prohibited discriminating against people based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap, when those people are seeking housing.

The law covers those that are selling, renting or lending money to people.  End of story.

This may be one of the intended goals.

It is far from reality.

         People by nature are more comfortable with people that are from a similar race, color, national origin, or religion. People often prefer to live in an area where their particular chosen lifestyle is accepted.  People, across the board, want to feel comfortable in their new living environment.  It is just my opinion, but that seems to be human nature.

It is not a violation of the Fair Housing Act to assist them in finding a home that THEY want.

         Real estate agents seem to get confused or perplexed when dealing with buyers and/or renters.  They rebuff inquiries about neighborhoods or fall into the “strange mode” of ” I can show you anything based on your criteria, but I can not comment on the racial make up, color make up, predominant national origin or predominant religion in any area.” “I can not tell you about schools, crime or sexual offenders, but I can direct you to websites where you can discover the information your self.  I can not tell you about any potential changes to the community, but I can direct you to the planning office where you can research that information for yourself.”

          When asked, what then is your value Mr. or Ms. Realtor, I guess they can reply “I have access to the homes. I can open the door for you.”

          Oh, now there is justification for the money you earn! 

         It would seem to me that the value of an agent working with a buyer or renter is in part their knowledge of the community.  Clients come to agents and are quite open in their desires.  Should they be left to the whims of the agent? If someone asks to live in a predominantly Asian community, is the agent doing their job when they drive them all over hill and dale (when any agent that actually lives and works in the area knows full well where Asian communities are located).

          If a client wants to look at homes that are within walking distance of a religious location, is the agent doing their job when that drive them all over hill and dale ( when any agent that actually lives and works in the area knows full well where religious locations are located).

         I happen to believe that locating the right home is my job.  If there is reluctance on the part of the seller because of the race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap of my client, well then we shall seek the protection of the Fair Housing Act.  That is what the act exist for…to protect, not hinder those that are buying or renting a home.

          If you happen to be a single woman and the thought of walking through the gauntlet of young men jeering every night when you come home makes you sick,  you do have a right to find a home that may preclude that experience.  If you have a good agent, they should be able to assist you.  Just because testosterone laden cat calls are not illegal, does not mean you have to live where they might well exist.

         The internet is chock full of data that buyers can use. You can go to crime sites and see the crimes reported. You can go to city data sites and see the demographics of a neighborhood.  You can go to school sites and see the demographics of any school, including test rankings, racial breakdown and percentage of free lunch participants.  You can search and juggle data as infinitum.  Your agent should have internet access as well.

The law dictates that you can not be discriminated against on basic criteria.  YOU have the right to discriminate against anything you like when you are buying or renting.  No government can dictate where you choose to live.

          Buyers beware … fair housing does not limit your decisions. Fair housing protects your right to act on those decisions.  The law is a good law, but it is not a guideline for purchase or rental decisions.  Keep that in mind the next time you ask an intelligent question of an agent and get sent to Wikipedia or Google.

First Time Buyer Grant Money Is Now Available

First time buyer grant money is now available in the DC area.  There are several sources of this money.  The amount can be as high as $7,500. It almost sounds to good to be true!  There must be a catch. Right?  Well, there is no catch, you only need to qualify for a loan from one of the lenders participating in the plan.  This is grant money.  After you live in the home for five years, it is completely forgiven. (If you move prior to five years, it is forgiven on a pro-rated basis).

Who is funding the plan?  Well, actually the Federal Government is supporting the First Time Buyer Grant Money program by funneling the money through designated lenders across the country.  If you wish to make contact with one of the lenders, information is available at Home Buying Help.

When is the money available?  The limited funds for the First Time Buyer Grant Money have been allocated for this year.  Each lender has a specific amount of money for the program.  Once they run out of  funds, they must wait until either a possible re-replenishment  from the government or the funds are released next year. In my experience, the funds usually last until fall.  The lenders that I work with have all reported that there experience has been the same.

What does it take to qualify?  As I mentioned, the first requirement in receiving the First Time Buyer Grant Money, you have to qualify for a loan (this includes FHA loans). There are income limits.  There is a limit to the amount of home you are seeking to purchase. These limits and amounts vary and you need to actually speak with someone to see if you qualify.

Where do I find out more about the First Time Buyer Grant Money that is now available?  Information about the grant is available at  Home Buying Help.

Why haven’t I heard about this First Time Buyer Grant Money before now?  Possibly, you have not had the chance to deal with a real estate agent that understands all the facets of working with a first time buyer.  The choice of a lender, the selection of a home and the process between your offer and closing take skill.  Experienced agents know there is more to helping a buyer than sending them emails of homes and taking them out on weekends.

How do I take advantage of this First Time Buyer Grant Money?  Well, your first step is to speak with one of the local lenders that has access to the funds. ( Contact Now ).  Once qualified, the money can be used for down payment and/or closing costs on your new home.

First time buyer grant money is now available. If you are interested in learning more, contact me at 301-509-5111.

The Second Step in Home Buying

The second step in home buying is making a careful determination of your needs. This determination should include, but is not limited to the size, type and location of your new home.  As mention in my earlier article (The first step in Home Buying), you should have already spoken with a lender regarding how much money you are comfortable spending on your new home.  Don’t be surprised if the figure is impacted by other monthly costs associated with the home you choose.  You have a monthly payment amount that is in your comfort zone. In addition to the cost of your loan, you will have taxes, insurance and possibly Homeowner’s Association and/or Condominium Fees.

Let’s review the best way to answer the questions regarding a determination of  your needs. Each of the basic questions must be reviewed and clarified before going out and looking at homes. It is quite possible that after your first or second or third day viewing homes, you will revise your needs based on what is available for purchase. Just as the market is always in flux, your needs list should be adaptable. Let me be very clear, adaptable means that you do have a base line for “must be” or “must have”  but there are things that are not essential to the purchase. Your determination of needs should include both “must be” or “must have” as well as “like it to be” or “would be nice to have” items.

  • The first item on the list is size of the home.  Size is sometimes thought of  in square footage and others are referring to the number of various rooms in the new home.  It is probably a good idea to initially focus on how many bedrooms and bathrooms you will need.  If you narrow your selection in this fashion, you can then evaluate the square footage when viewing homes.  The square footage that shows in the multiple listing service is only a guide.  The use of the square footage can best be appreciated when viewing the home.  You have to visit the home and visualize your furniture in the new space.  You have to feel the home.  When considering the number of bedrooms and bathrooms in the home, do not overlook your need for a home office ( second bedroom ) and if you are buying a two bedroom (or more), it is better for future resale to have at least two bathrooms.
  • The second item on the list is the type of home you want to purchase.  There are many options. Your choice should include your comfort level with the various styles. There are “apartment-like” homes that are usually condominiums or co-ops, there are “piggy back” style homes (one unit over the other), there are row houses or town homes, there are duplex (two units side by side) and there are single family homes.  The amount of money that you are comfortable spending may limit your choices in type.  I have listed them in the general order of lowest price to highest price (there are always exceptions).  A good real estate agent will be able to go over the different styles available in your price range in your market.
  • The third item shared regarding things you need to evaluate is location. The location you choose will often determine the size and type of home you can afford.  It has often been shared that all real estate is about location, location, location.  Why?  Where you actually live impacts every aspect of your life.  It is the starting point and ending point of every work day. How you get to and from the locations is every bit as important as where the location is actually on the map.  The decision about location has to move beyond the usual questions about schools and safety.  In the DC area, the length of your commute will impact how you feel when you get to work and how you feel when you get home.  The ideal home never has a chance to live up to your expectations if you are exhausted by the time you get home every night.  The caveat here is that you have to accept the reality of the commuter time before you purchase (always picture the worst case scenario).  This is another area in which an experienced agent that has complete knowledge of the area is needed.  The longer someone has lived in an area, the more likely they know the alternative routes to get from your new home to your job.  Location is much more than where, location is one piece that needs to fit into the puzzle of your life comfortably.

The second step in home buying is making a careful determination of your needs. If you share your list with an experienced real estate agent, you will find your home search is more productive.  Finding “the” home for you will still feel like looking for a needle in a haystack, but at least you will know , pretty much, the type of needle you are seeking.

If you have any questions about preparing your list, you can always contact me directly.  Contact John.

The first step in Home Buying

The first step in home buying is making an honest evaluation of your current situation.  This review should include several factors.  Of course, you may be emotionally charged about some of your reasons.  I would caution you to sit back and put everything on a pad of paper.

Right now, you might not even be aware of the things you need to consider. It is quite possible, you have read an article or had a conversation with someone and now you think it is time to buy. Let’s take a look at some of the arguments for and against buying now. Using this information will get you started in a focused manner.  Understand, you are an individual and there is no cookie cutter answer. Let’s see if I can’t separate the proverbial chaff from the grain. Hopefully, I can separate fact from fiction with the following.

  • “It is cheaper to buy than it is to rent.” This statement is usually shared by a real estate agent or a mortgage broker. As an aside, in the future when evaluating a statement, take a long look at who stands to benefit financially from the statement.  Now, if you are paying $1,500 a month in rent and you are told that your mortgage payment will only be $1,400 per month, buying still may not be cheaper.  The terms of your loan are very important.  You see, if your situation changes and you can’t pay the $1,500 in rent, you will have to move. If you break your lease, you will have to pay at least a two month penalty ($3,000). Your landlord may agree to accept the money or make a payment plan with you. Your credit may or may not be impacted. If your situation changes and you can not afford the $1,400 per month mortgage, you will have to move.  It doesn’t matter if you use a short sale or turn the keys in or if the lender forecloses, your credit will be impacted. Remember, most leases are for one year, most mortgages are for 30 years.
  • “Buying a home is a good investment”. Hmmm, this statement is usually shared by the same group that shared the first statement.  The most recent melt down of the real estate market should give you a clue to the validity of this argument.  Yes, over the long term ( 20 years or so ) the value of a home has historically  increased.  Depending on who is sharing the statistics, you home could double or triple in value over time.  I am not a financial advisor, but I did spend the night at a Holiday Inn and I promise you that no one can guarantee the future value of any home.  I do know that just about everyone that bought this line in recent memory owns a home that is worth less than they currently owe. From where I sit, that is not a good investment.
  • “Owning a home is the American Dream”. Well, this makes it a perfect tri-fecta. It is another statement shared by the folks that brought you the first two statements.  It is my humble opinion that the American Dream is much more that owning a piece of land. Part of the American Dream includes the freedom to choose whether we rent or we buy or if we just want to push a shopping cart and sleep on a heating grate.  Just because “Madison Avenue” attempts to guide your vision, you don’t have to buy into the hype.

What should you evaluate before beginning the process?  I would encourage you to ask yourself the basic questions that have withstood the test of time.

  1. Why do you have to move and why do you want to buy? Your reason for moving does not have to be the same as your reason for wanting to buy.  They are separate issues.  Wanting to buy must be tempered by your ability to buy.  Your ability to buy can best be evaluated by a loan officer.  It is a simple process.  You tell them about your financial situation and they tell you how much money you can afford to borrow.  Of course, you probably should limit your loan amount to what you are comfortable paying and you should have the evaluation done on a fixed rate loan. Using one of the fancy adjustable rates on  your first home is usually a prescription for disaster.
  2. When do you want to buy? Unless you have other reasons, you should avoid buying when the market favors sellers.  Agents will have me for this, but I believe that October through February is when buyers have the most leverage. (If you can time your purchase around the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, you may be in a really strong position.)

The first step in home buying is making an honest evaluation of your situation.  Write down the pro’s and con’s. Then sit down with a lender and get a clear picture of your financial situation. Listen to their advice. Then get it all in writing in a good faith estimate and a work sheet. Get both.  Then, if everything is a go, move to step two…make a careful examination of your needs.  I will cover my thoughts on step two in my next article.

As always, if you have any questions regarding the first step in home buying, feel free to contact me.

You DO need an agent… plain, cold real estate facts.

You think you found the house and the work is over.

Not so fast grasshopper. Who is going to assist you in the purchase? The nice agent that you met at the open house said they would help you? Really, do you want “help” or representation? You see, in the State of Maryland, that nice agent can not represent you and the seller. Maryland is one of the states where an agent (note agent, not broker) can only represent one side of the transaction. Please don’t get confused with Dual Agency, that is an entirely different matter.

What’s the big deal you say?

There is a very big difference between writing down terms that you dictate and explaining and guiding you through an offer. An agent representing the seller can not negotiate for you. An agent representing the seller can not legally suggest the terms of your offer. Those are the facts, period.

But that agent can take a cut in their commission you say. Sure they can, as a matter of fact, why not, they are not doing any work for you. They are not liable for any mistake you make. They weren’t going to get the buyer’s side anyway, so it is easy for them to smile and say no problem.

You weren’t going to pay the buyer’s agent commission either! It is offered through the terms set up by the MLS. It is part of the listing agreement, and the agent may offer to cut the price of the house and still keep the total commission. You will never know, they are not required to tell you and they certainly CAN NOT NEGOTIATE FOR YOU.

Seeing the world, collecting both sides now

The State of Maryland has a fund set up to cover the illegal behavior of agents. If they do not represent you, you will have little luck filing a complaint. The stack of paperwork you signed most likely included a document where you agreed to go forward on your own.  Everyone in the industry is well aware that by the time you start signing paperwork, you are more inclined to just sign where indicated rather than read every line. The comforting words, “oh this is a standard form” or “everyone signs this”, do not absolve you from responsibility for what the documents indicate. Within but a moment, you sign or initial and you have agreed that the agent sitting with you represents the other party.

 

Don’t try this alone

There is a reason that buyer’s agents will do searches, show you property and patiently explain the process. There is a reason that these agents assist you in the preparation of an offer and negotiate for you. Beyond the niceties of their passion for help others… that is what they are PAID to do.

I can not fathom why anyone attempting to accomplish one of life’s most expensive ventures would do it on their own. There is not room in the blog world to go over every challenge your agent must face. There is no way I can share the hurdles you must accomplish. I do know that I do this for a living and I read the same internet advice and I read the same books that claim to make it easy and I promise you….there is nothing as valuable as experience.

If you are in the buying mode and you would like to have your own personal representative, we would welcome the opportunity to assist you. We do this for a living and our success depends on your happiness.

The MacArthur Group

ReMax Realty Centre

301-509-5111

The effective way to purchase a home in 2012

Diogenes

This is not the way that people seek the truth today.

This is an example of where consumers seek the truth today.

For all you marketing geniuses out there, the landscape has changed. Big firms and yesterdays marketing pro’s have always tried to stay ahead of the curve. They also did everything possible to picture their product or their style as being the best in the market. The time has come for them to get in the fast lane or risk being kicked to the information super highway curb. The consumer of 2012 and beyond is not some hapless spender hoping that the wise, well imaged owl will rescue them from their own ineptitude and deliver what they need.

The consumer today does more research and is more prepared to make a decision than any other time. Today’s consumer is not visiting open houses for kicks. Today’s consumer knows more about the houses that are available than most real estate agents. They are armed with information. Some is accurate and some is not. Today’s consumer just wants the truth…the truth at a fair price!!!

Buying a home in 2012 is like peeling an onion.

The disconnect between the desire to buy and actually doing so in a comfortable fashion is filled with layer upon layer of processes. Each time a buyer peels back one layer, there is another waiting and it seems each one is so convoluted that the buyer finds his or her eyes welling up with tears. The industry’s zeal to minimize all liability has created, in some cases, an atmosphere of tempered information and in others, responses that resemble “my lips are sealed”. Consumers want answers. They want answers to their questions. They do not want sanitized sales pitches. They do now want to hear that they must follow blindly along because the agent is “in the top 5% of real estate agents in the USA”. They want to be represented by the top agent in their transaction – period.

They want agents to STOP selling and start representing.

Basic overview

Keep it simple. Let’s start with the premise that most buyers DO NOT have cash to buy a home. Sure, some do but most don’t. They are going to have to finance the purchase. Lenders just have to accept that a lot of people don’t find them very trustworthy and they find the whole borrowing process mystifying. Lenders you did it to yourself. I have never met anyone buying a home that had the opportunity to pull in a little TARP money if they fell short on cash. You did, most of us don’t have a clue what it was or why you got it. The general feeling is that you made a lot of money off bad loans and discovered that you had no money left after lining your own pockets.

Deal with it, there is a trust issue.

Most buyers really don’t care how tough the new GFE is or how the requirements make it more difficult on you. Most buyers did not understand what the hell was going on with the old GFE, so the fact that you find this one less clear does not matter. Muddy water in a jar and muddy water in a bowl is still muddy water. Buyers want to know what information you need, how much cash they have to have and what they will be paying each month. They want to know how much house they can afford comfortably. (Here is a little secret, you can still blow smoke up their rear end and convince them they can afford more…they don’t understand….but when things get tight and they walk…you really have to stop blaming them.) Here is a fact, there are a hell of lot more people facing foreclosure than there are lenders that made the loans. I don’t have the numbers, but I sure can read the papers and I know there are not a million different lenders out there. (Remember Jonestown? One crazy preacher and hundreds dead. Seems like a fair analogy)

IMPORTANT EDITORIAL COMMENT: During the recent real estate fiasco, appraisers got paid, lenders got paid, agents got paid, ancillary service providers got paid. Apparently, by the time the Feds are done even the investors will get paid. The American Taxpayer is footing the bill. Everyone had their greedy finger in the pie. Advisors (read agents and lenders) were the ones that convinced buyers they could afford what they were purchasing.

OK. so can you simplify the process? Can you just explain how things will pan out in the real world on a month to month basis? May be you could actually do that as an added value service.

Folks pay a lot of money for this logo. It would be prudent to discover if they live up to the creed.

Realtors, most buyers don’t need you to find them a home. You can offer to send listings, but you better have a cracker jack website for them. At least tell the truth, they don’t have to use your site. There are 100’s of sites that have the local listings. You do not have a secret stash of homes for sale. (If you claim that you do and you have listings that you do not list in the MLS, you are violating the law. Why would anyone want to use an agent that can not even obey the law?).

If I could share anything that I have culled from conversations with buyers today… lose the fake smile, fake laugh and patronizing attitude. Do not load buyers in your car. Let your buyers tell you what they want to see. If you think they might have missed something, tell them and let them decide if they missed it or not. You can follow them, unlock the doors and stand back. You should be using your eyes and ears. Enough with the guided tour remarks, let your clients focus on what they see. They really don’t need you to point out that a counter is granite or that the 6 foot wide, double door in the basement is a walk out. Your endless prattle is only annoying background noise. Let them think!

The perception out there is that agents seem to have control issues.

Well, you know what, most agents do have that problem. It is no longer acceptable. Lose it or send resumes to CarMax or Best Buy. The buyers of 2012 want to tap into your knowledge and not your opinions. They want you to be the expert on determining value and negotiating and looking out for them. They want your focus to be on helping them own a home. They are really turned off if you seem to be more concerned about your paycheck than their welfare. They really do have a right to know that you have done this before. Experience is very important. 

Oh, and one last thing…lipstick on a pig? It is still a pig.

You can hide behind your fancy terms of puffery, etc. It is a damn lie, that is obvious to buyers, when you use remarks in your listing, that a home just needs some TLC and actually are  full of trash, missing appliances and smell like a public cat urinal. You are not doing the seller any favor. You are just wasting the buyers time. If the house is a dump, tell it like it is. Oh, and those pictures you post on line that were taken before the stove was removed, they need to go the way of the high school photo you still have slapped on your business card. (The younger generation really wonders if you think they will be struck blind from the time they see that out of date photo on your web page and the 10-15 years older version that is also 2o lbs heavier that walks through their door. If you can’t see the difference between the image you share on line and person you see in the mirror, how can you be expected to be aware of all the intricacies involved with represent the buyer?” They want to buy a house and your glamour shot will not enhance their chances …. use the money on education or better yet one of those self help courses that teaches folks to accept themselves.

Final Word

Pinocchio was really cute in the movie. Today’s consumers don’t want cute, they want the truth. Opps, they also want just a little respect. Little respect…no…they want total respect. Total respect means listening to them, letting them take the lead and protecting them as they move through the process.

When are you people going to get it?

If you are currently in the market for a new home, let us take you through the process…step by step. We use all of the gadgets and still find a way to get beyond the bells and whistles and offer our clients help.

We are John MacArthur and Lourdes Tudela and our phone number is 301-509-5111.

 New Years Eve 2011

Cheesy but up to day picture of us