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Welcome to RVA, Real Estate, and Hez

What are we talking about here??

400 years of history; a booming food and brew capital; simply a great place to live!

— WHY RVA

In this blog, we are going to explore how live in RVA, how to eat and drink in RVA, and the best ways to ensure you are living your best life in the best home you can.

I hope that as you read this blog you will be able to see why living in the Richmond-Metro area is so amazing. I also want you to leave here with valuable content about how to care for your home and manage your real estate. We will cover an array of topics, but they are come back to one universal theme. Living your best life, in the region.

If you are able to walkaway with one tidbit, one new place to eat, one new place to drink, one new experience to try explore, then I feel that I have helped you.

Cheers.

Housing Report-April Update

March existing-home sales were down compared to 2019. These metrics were influenced primarily by COVID-19 pandemic responses such as social distancing and executive orders to stay-at-home. With that said, the decrease of this statistic was not entirely a collapse in the market.

Heading into the pandemic the first part of 2020 presented a strong and healthy housing market. In the Richmond-Metro area, home sales (1,795 homes closed) and prices ($265,000) were up compared to 2019 (1,717 and $254,000) and the days on the market had decreased. The housing market was busy, with the largest concern resting on the inventory of homes for sale, which was not a new problem to 2020

The question that has to be answered is where does the economy and the housing market go as COVID-19 continues to create a “new norm.” A positive statistic to look at is how the market continued to respond, even after the stay-home order was issued. Below are the number of pending-sales, and it is seen that pending sales in March were actually slightly higher (2,195) compared to March 2019 (2,121). Clearly, people are willing and need to home shop during this time. As we have seen in other articles, it is just be performed differently.

The expectation is the market will continue to wane over the next few months as response and recovery efforts continue. Buyers looking to use FHA loans and other low-down payment products will face greater hurdles, reducing first-time home buyer activity. Sellers will likely stall their aims at putting their homes on the market as they will wait to determine how the economy responds.

One particular segment of consumers that will likely rise are investors. With the expected rise in foreclosures and short sales, real estate investors looking to purchase rental properties or homes for flipping will increase. Opportunities will rise for all buyers who are willing to look for the right deal. The critical factor in the process is to ensure you are working with a strong team to ensure your decision-making is sound and supported by data from professionals.

Interest Rates Update-April 2020

The trend for the last several months has been a decline in mortgage interest rates. While there was a spike in mid-March, the rates have reached as low as 3.31% at the time of this article. Below are some important questions to consider.

Why are rates declining?

There are two major reasons to this. First, the Fed’s cutting their rates has allowed mortgage lenders to respond in kind. The efforts by both parties were efforts to stave off a recession and encourage market activity. Secondly, rates have dropped because the bottoming out of the economy related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

How does this impact buyers and sellers?

The biggest impact is simple, the dollars can go further. Low rates, means purchasing power for home buyers is greater and would hopefully entice more buyers to the market. Additionally, lower rates will entice current homeowners to explore refinancing opportunities.

What is really happening with the market?

According to Freddie Mac, refinancing activity has not slowed at all. With that said, home purchasing demand has with an economy in a weakened state. A year ago, many experts were predicting some lag on the horizon, but not to the current state affairs and certainly not via this catalyst.

Other news and notes?

Mortgage products are not one-size-fits-all, and this means that the rates we are seeing at all-time lows are not applicable to all of these products. For example, FHA loans are not as easily accessible as they may have been a month ago. Lenders view the consumers of these products as higher risk clients, and therefore have tightened some of the restrictions associated with these. The rate on these often is a little higher. Jumbo and renovation loans are very difficult to obtain with the current high levels of uncertainty.

Is now a good time to buy or sell?

More than ever, the answer is really a case-by-case situation. While home prices once again went up in March and the inventory maintained the trend of being low, there may be an upcoming buyer’s market. Sellers that are currently active may be looking to enter an agreement sooner than later to ensure they have a contract in place prior to potentially more economic woes. This offers some leverage to those buyers who are stable in their position. With that leverage and low interest rates, it is not a radical idea to begin a new home search. Just be ready to go about that in a more virtual way than traditionally, but. more on that in another article.

Learning the Lingo-Closing Agent

Learning the Lingo continues to come from the homeschooling desk/dining room table. The word for the week is “closing agent.”

Closing Agent

The closing agent or settlement agent is the person or entity that coordinates all closing activities for a property transaction. These activities include signing the mortgage documents, disbursing of funds, and transferring ownerships.

The closing agent is either a title agent or an attorney, and serves as the unbiased third party in the transaction. The closing agent will also be the escrow agent. They will hold funds that are to be disbursed to necessary parties as well, once the transaction concludes.

Traditionally, the seller and buyer would meet with their respective agents the day of closing. These meetings occur separately, and at the agent’s office. The closing agent than transfers the documents to the local court officials to record the transaction.

With the current orders in place in Virginia and efforts to adhere to social distancing, closing agencies have adjusted to keep everyone healthy and safe, while also maintaining efficient business operations.

One attorney’s office has procedures in place which have drastically reduced in-person interaction. They do not have a receptionist to greet clients, rather signage directing clients as to the closing procedures. They have created a YouTube video providing clear instructions. The attorney sits 15 feet from the clients, with their mask on.

Another title company has limited who is in the office during closings as well. They immediately clean and sanitize the space post-activity. For high risk clients, such as medical professionals, a mobile notary is used. They have offered clients drive-by and outdoor signings as well. These drive-by closing can be performed with almost no direct interaction.

NAR’s Weekly Update-April 13-17, 2020

Each week the National Association of Realtors publishes highlights from the market and the industry.

Here are my takeaways:

  • The real estate industry is adjusting to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over half of the buyers and sellers are slowing down their activity, but there is still business occuring. Real estate activity will not stop.
  • 25% of buyers’ agents who had clients submit offers this past week, did so without physically seeing home. I expect that number to increase.
  • Transactions are occurring with limited or not delays. Title agencies and attorneys, just like everyone else are adjusting the way they do business. Drive-by closings are the new way to do finalize a transaction.

Learning the Lingo-Addendum

This week’s Learning the Lingo is not in the car on the way to school. School is now in the dining room. The word we pulled for today is a very common piece of every real estate transaction: addendum.

Addendum

An addendum is a document attached to original Purchase and Sale Agreement between two parties in a real estate transaction. This document adds language or terms to the agreement that were not originally in the contract. These new terms possibly could change original arrangements.

One of the most common addendums would be the repair agreement addendum. This would occur after the home inspection and the two sides negotiate and agree to what repairs will be need to be made in order for the contract to be ratified.

Other common addendums include sale of another property or financing contingencies.

Today, we are adding a COVID-19 addendum to all real estate transactions in Virginia. These are protecting all parties involved, affording anyone that may have challenges related to contracting the virus an opportunity to extend deadlines and ratifications.

Forbearance vs. Deferment?

Unemployment, furloughs, and reduced earnings have dramatically increased since COVID-19 has shutdown the world. For most Americans, the biggest monthly expense is being impacted: mortgage payment. With this new reality, it does not mean that foreclosures are necessary for homeowners. There are options, and most mortgage lenders will work with homeowners.

Neil and I zooming on forbearance
Falling behind on payments.

The current landscape is will lead to more homeowners seeking assistance. The two most common options for homeowners seeking assistance is deferment and forbearance. Yet, most people do not know the difference between these two and as this topic has become more widely discussed, they are being used interchangeably. Below provides a simple breakdown of the differences.

Forbearance vs. Deferment

The key difference is how the missed payments are eventually repaid to the lender. Mortgage companies are not going to give away months of mortgages, but they do not want homes to go into foreclosure either. They will not make as much money this way. Which is why they will offer options and find ways to work with homeowners in need.

There are other options beyond these two as well. Some providers may offer loan modification programs where terms are changed with the mortgage. This could mean extending the loan term or adjusting the interest rate. There is possibility of a cash-out refinance to help supplement lost earnings, but there are closing costs associated with this. The last resort may be to sell and downsize to reduce monthly payments or seek a lower cost rental for the short term.

The most important point of this entire blog, DO NOT WAIT. If you need help, or foresee needing help as a result of this pandemic, now is the time to reach out. Contact your lender, bank, or credit card company, there is a great chance they will find a way to work with you. Lastly, know that you are not the only one potentially in this situation. Millions of Americans have found themselves in precarious times. Be sure to seek help now, before it becomes too much to handle.

If you have questions of who to reach out to or how to seek assistance, reach out.

Get help.

Stay At Home Improvement: Baseboard Cleaning

By now we know staying at home is not a snow day. Whether you are providing general care for your home or considering an upcoming sale of the property, use this time wisely. There are lots of home improvement activities that we often would let fall to the wayside as they can be meticulous, laborious or boring.

Baseboard video

One task I always seem to avoid is a deep cleaning of the baseboards. It takes time to complete, and I do not like crawling around on the floor. To be honest, I have never received a compliment from a house guest in relation to the cleanliness of my baseboards. With that said, consider what clean, shiney baseboards say about your home, especially to potential buyers.

Buyers notice how the home presents. Consider why people go look at homes that are on the market? The answer is simple, because of the photographs and video in the marketing material. A bright and clean baseboard will add to that listing media. It will also strengthen a buyer’s perspective that the home has been kept clean and maintained well. Both of these will strengthen your position as a homeseller.

Here are few strategies you can use to clean the baseboards:

  1. What you will need to do first, especially if you have pets and kids, is clear way the dry dirt and dust. You can use a Swiffer or one of the attachments on your vacuum. It is important to get this off first so you are not smearing it along the baseboards during the next step.
  2. Using a rag and warm, soapy water wipe the baseboards clean. Keep the water bucket fresh, and wring out your rag often to ensure your cleaning is effective. A great substitute for the soap, and my mother’s go-to, is distilled white vinegar. If your baseboards need a good scrub, replace the rag with a Magic Eraser.

That is it. There are not more steps. This is not a complicated task. Here are some other tips and tricks that may be useful.

  • Make sure everyone is involved. You are not the only one home. Hand the kids a rag, and get them to help.
  • Be sure to pay attention to all the crevices and hard to reach places. Try using a toothbrush or even cotton swabs.
  • Stay on top of the baseboards with your weekly cleaning. This will ensure you will not have to perform a deep wipe down regularly.

Once again, this is not the most exciting task to perform, but this could really add to your sparkling clean home. Which if you decide to list it for sale, this will be another task you can have checked off in the pre-listing preparation.

Homeschooling and Screen-Time

As we continue to navigate homeschooling in the Butler household, we are having ongoing discussions with how much screen-time should be allowed and when to allow it.

Like many of you, I compare notes with friends who are in the same circumstances. Everyone is finding what works for them in their unique environment, something that I have to remind myself often. My kids are different than yours. I am home during the week by myself with two kids, ages 6 and 3. My two kids have very different personalities and interests.

Amazon Fire Tablet

In our house we are using screen-time as a supplement to the homeschooling, mostly. Both kids children have a Fire tablet. We use the Freetime app that allows us to control the content and utilize age-appropriate apps. As an example, Macon (3) is able to explore books and shows that focus on content like shapes, colors, numbers, and basic pre-school style content. His favorite right now is Blippi.

Macon’s screen time

We also purchased ABCmouse for the kids to use on their tablets. The platform is a self-guided tool that provides digital education in almost all areas. Macon can practice with shapes, colors, and numbers. Charlotte continues to work on literary and math skills, while being able to explore animals and the world. Once Macon and Charlotte gave it a chance, they have really enjoyed it, and we have seen why ABCmouse is successful and popular.

Charlotte’s many screens.

Admittedly, we have not shied away from appropriate content on Netflix, Disney+, and Nick Jr. Everything from educational-based content to nature programs. Most of it is not mindless entertainment, but if it is occasionally that is okay too.

Ultimately, our focus has been to use it as support to the other educational activities we use each day. It is not a substitute for going outside, arts and crafts, and the other traditional “classroom” activities we work through. The screens do allow support for me too. I have to have the ability to focus one-on-one with Charlotte or Macon, and allowing the other to hop on the tablet while I do that is very helpful. Let us not forget that I have professional responsibilities and tasks that I have to perform daily as well, and tablet time affords me that. Lastly, we need a break from each other, me from the kids, and the kids from me.

This has not been easy for anyone. Flexibility and adaptability has been, and will continue to be essential. We have had emotional outbursts, by everyone. A break with a little Blaze and the Monster Machines or Frozen II is not going to erase their minds. We will not do it all day, or even all morning, just for a quick snap out of this new norm back to the old one.

I would love to hear what others are doing in the comments below.

RVA, Restaurants, and Real Estate: Episode 15 – Taylor Made Chocolate

This week’s episode of RVA, Restaurants, and Real Estate has us sitting down with the head chocolatier of Taylor Made Chocolates. These guys are producing incredible truffles, bars, and all sorts of confectionary from fresh and socially conscious gathered cocoa beans.

TMC head chocolatier

Steve and Kim Taylor set out a few years ago to make a difference in the world. Their cause was the fight against human trafficking. They begin by altering their daily buying habits, realizing modern slavery is alive and well across the global economy.

Eventually, they were compelled enough to find more ways to be involved with this cause. This led them to discover that about 80% of cocoa was being harvested and produced via slavery. They had found their niche and opportunity to fight the good fight.

The Taylor’s are now producing chocolates that are not only sold locally, but up and down the east coast. Be sure to check out their page for more details. This bean to bar artisan chocolate shop is certainly a hidden gem in the Southside of RVA, and one that you need to check out.

What to do in RVA, from your home-April 2020

RVA was full of activities and festivals for the Spring. Unfortunately, we are in stay at home mode. Therefore visiting all the museums, parks, restaurants, and breweries is not an option.

Social Distancing

While the new norm is to flatten the curve, we can still appreciate most that our community offers. Below are some suggestions for us to practice social distancing while still exploring and enjoying this great city. 

Museums are closed around the nation, but many have utilized their social media platforms and websites to offer virtual tours and activities.  Here is a short list of RVA museums and what they offer:

Parks are still open for now.  While many have restricted playground equipment, ball fields, and basketball courts, the trails are still open.  This is a responsible way to get out of the house and maintain social distancing recommendations.  Virginia State Parks are open for day-use, and if you visit their site you can find a local park.    

The GRID, a Greater Richmond news outlet, has recently begun hosting virtual happy hours where local musicians will be featured and connection can still occur across the community remotely.  Check out full details on the GRID site.

There are many activities that we can still experience from home. RVA is a great town to live in and around. Let us know what you are up to.